Grounding

On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Air flight 409 crashed shortly after takeoff from Beirut. Radar and cockpit communications showed that the pilots struggled to keep the plane flying from the moment it rotated off the runway, eventually just falling out of the sky in a stall.

It was eerily similar to the rash of Lion Air 610 out of Jakarta on 29 October, 2018. Both crashes were of a kind that simply should not happen to a modern aircraft.

Since both incidents involved the relatively new Boeing 737 Max airplane, attention immediately centered on how safe the plane was. It seems like a simple decision – is this plane safe? But if you read a lot of the coverage of it, you might think this was entirely a political issue. Has everything, even safety, become a matter for politics and the questions at hand involving money and who looks bad?

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Brexit: Talking Past the Point

It is a busy week in the UK House of Commons. At this writing, Meaningful Brexit Vote 2.0 (We Really Mean It This Time) has failed by 149 votes.  This deals an apparent death blow to PM May’s attempts to negotiate an orderly retreat from the EU. The likely result will be a lot of hand wringing and a vote to delay the process.

The entire exercise appears to be based on what Winston Churchill once accused Americans of doing, namely “Once we have exhausted all the other possibilities we do the right thing.” Ignoring the will of the people after a referendum requires a period of slow torture and likely another popular vote (We Really, Really Mean It, We Promise).

All of this is quite impossible for one simple reason: Brexit isn’t really about Brexit. Like most political issues in developed nations today, the cause of all this noise and nonsense isn’t really the issue at hand. It’s not about whether the UK should be in the EU or not – in an ideal situation it’s rather obvious that it should be. The problem is that we are so far from ideal that no one can make any sense of anything.  And that’s where this American politely, humbly, offers his opinion on this situation.

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Trade Deficits Tell Us Something

The US trade deficit in goods jumped a solid $80 billion per year in 2018 to $878 billion, a net increase of 10% over 2017. This rather abstract figure is naturally spun to reflect either a rebuke of Trump and his policies or as a sign that the economy is particularly strong, depending on your perspective. From the point of view of China, it’s a sign that they might well be “winning” a trade war.

Is that what any of it means? The long answer is no, of course, but it begs the question as to what any of it actually does mean. It’s important to put the trade deficit into context and reach a deeper understanding of the flow of money around the world. The resulting analysis does show that there is a problem in the world, a fundamental imbalance, but does not tell us how much we should be worried about it.

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You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

We live in a world of instant gratification. McDonald’s is not the cause, but one of the many symptoms – and more like the diabetes its product can induces. Another can easily be found in the internet, where headlines proclaim shock, outrage, and amazement fighting to get the attention of bloated and lethargic minds.

The unfolding Trump series of scandals moves to a different timeline, however. Justice moves slowly as it gathers evidence. It takes time to turn the insiders and have them fully repent. But that’s not to say that after a long, slow burn there isn’t some room for dramatic testimony that lays the entire case out.

There’s a time for everything to finally turn into explosive headlines. Fur Trump, that time is now.

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Negotiating, Away!

Wall Street is cheering as trade talks with China progress. A full-on trade war may be averted. Is this reason to celebrate?

While it’s always good to avoid any kind of war, there is still reason to be concerned. Two very different nations with different economies still have to come to some kind of terms over the long haul. More to the point, it’s not about the differences in the economies but different approaches to very basic aspects of being a nation-state, including law.

Leaders sitting down and working out a deal seems like a good thing. But as always, the nature of the deal itself is very important.

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Emergency Powers

Queen Elizabeth II (or I, if you’re Scottish) is one of the most powerful people in the world. She can dissolve Parliament on a whim, declare war, revoke passports, and commit just about any act that would be a crime to anyone else with no consequences.

This may surprise you, given that she never does any of these things. Yet the main reason why the monarch of the UK still holds all these powers, what with the Magna Carta and Commonwealth and other historical tidbits, is a simple one. She absolutely never uses them. If she did, you can bet the UK would become a Republic faster than you could sing, “Rule, Britannia.”

This may seem like a rhetorical point, even with Brexit turning far further South than the Treaty of Rome ever enabled. But we’re about to see this principle in action. Not in the UK, but here in the US.

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Rail is Dead, Long Live Rail

Governor Newsom has officially ended California’s main high speed rail effort, cutting the project to the small section currently under construction. It’s a sad day for those of us who are supporters of high speed rail across the US for many reasons.

The most important reason to find this announcement upsetting is that it simply had to happen. This line, as conceived, planned, and implemented was dangerously flawed. Moving forward with this as the standard of rail in the US would cripple implementation across the nation.

It’s better off dead.  We’re all better off with it being dead.

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