AP: “Equipment Didn’t Detect North Dakota Oil Leak”

The Associated Press via ABC:

Electronic monitoring equipment failed to detect a pipeline rupture that spewed more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek, the pipeline’s operator said Monday.

It’s not yet clear why the monitoring equipment didn’t detect the leak, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche Pipeline, said.

A landowner discovered the spill near Belfield on Dec. 5, according to Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the North Dakota Health Department.

I can’t tell if this is unbelievable or completely believable, but either way this is terrible.

United Airlines will charge for overhead bins

Ben Brooks:

United has a new ticket fare, where no luggage is included in the price (except what fits at your feet). If you want overhead bin space, or to check, you pay. I actually love this, though I would much rather checked luggage be free and overhead charged for everyone.

I have no doubt this scheme is at least partly motivated by a desire for increased revenue on the side of the airlines, but I’m pleased that people will now be forced to more deliberate in the size and location of their bags when flying – a couple of times I’ve had pieces of luggage damaged by people cramming in overheads.

ProPublica exposes professors being hired by corporations to justify their mergers.

The most straightforward example of corporate purchase of academic economic research in their favor that ProPublica found was Dennis Carlton:

Dennis Carlton, a self-effacing economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and one of Compass Lexecon’s experts on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, charges at least $1,350 an hour. In his career, he has made about $100 million, including equity stakes and non-compete payments, ProPublica estimates. Carlton has written reports or testified in favor of dozens of mergers, including those between AT&T-SBC Communications and Comcast-Time Warner, and three airline deals: United-Continental, Southwest-Airtran, and American-US Airways.

This is the elitism that is the source of America’s growing populism, with academic class gorging themselves on corporate-funded and government subsidized hit-peice publications that justify decisions that benefit that same academic, political, banker, and corporate class. The politicians making the most noise about this are hugely popular: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ron Paul, and Donald Trump come immediately to mind. ProPublica continue:

In addition, politicians such as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren have criticized big mergers for giving a handful of companies too much clout. President-elect Trump said in October that his administration would not approve the AT&T-Time Warner merger “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

The merge has the same affect as trade deals: while it’s true that a broad view of the economy shows that there’s more capital in the system, it disproportionally benefits the rich and punishes the poor. Democrats and Republicans alike have been increasingly cozy with ex-corporate interest “independent” lobbyists which later become politicians themselves before getting hired by a corporation again. Obama in 2008 had a populist message, and moving to 2016 he’s become everything people didn’t vote for: bigger trade deals and bigger mergers and acquisitions:

A late Obama administration push to scrutinize major deals notwithstanding, the government over the past several decades has pulled back on merger enforcement.

The rest of the article explores how Apple’s iBooks price fixing scandal and the AT&T/Time Warner deal are examples of being technically advantageous to the United States on grounds that while the customers face a bigger burden, the corporation can take advantage of efficiencies to deliver more value to shareholders. And if this difference is net positive, they argue, it is a good merger. But this is false because empowering the people at the base of the economy with competition for cost and features is better for more people and has broader positive economic effects. When consumers have more money, they can afford more, take a chance at starting a business, have a kid, and many more positive outcomes. But when a very narrow group of executives, politicians, and academics funnel more money into their accounts by taking advantage of efficiencies in economics of scale, they’re actually delivering capital to where it is least needed. ProPublica conclude:

Today, AT&T’s much grander takeover of Time Warner will be an early test case for president-elect Trump, who feuded during the campaign with CNN, a Time Warner property.

If Trump blocks the deal, I hope it’s the first in a series of good decisions; if he allows the deal, he’ll have completely repudiated his claim that he’ll “drain the swamp.” Ideally, the populist liberals and conservatives in all the branches of government can unify to fight this establishment corporatism.

I’m going independent

I’ve big news: I’ve left my 9-5 job to freelance full-time.

For a while now, I’ve offered my development services to clients in free time. I’ve consulted with startups on strategy, built apps for agencies, and even done some photography and writing. What inspired me to do this is that it’s fun – I love meeting new people, working on new projects, and helping people. Starting today, I’ve taken the leap to make this my full-time job, and I’m so excited to see where this takes me. Taking on a new job has always seemed to me like a big risk – you need to make a life-changing decision with limited information. And every choice comes with a series of compromises, including being a freelancer vs. being an employee – for instance, guarantee of income, commuting, use of an office, withholding tax, etc.

Last time I took a job I did it with a company I had never heard of before, and it was only after a few months of working there that I understood the decision I made. I think this is another one of those cases, where I don’t have the experience of being exclusively a freelancer yet, and so I can not in principle know the consequences of my decision. Perhaps this is part of the appeal, because I know I am excited to do this, just like I was excited to take my last job. I’ll be documenting my experience on this blog to help people in the future make this decision with more information. Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to work on a project together!