Archive for June 2018

Ideological Turing Test Fail

Kevin Drum claims to want to really understand the Trump voter.  I will let you read it to see what you think, but here was my comment:

I am all for promoting understanding between our two great national tribes. But you ruin your attempt by whipping out a statement like this: "There are plenty of people who are simply beyond reach for liberals. They’re either racist or sexist or they love guns or maybe they’re just plain mean" Seriously? Back to the old "if you don't agree with me you must be racist?"

Further, you execute the classic tribal maneuver of choosing to take on one of the opposition's silliest niches, rather than their best. This is the equivalent of a Conservative making blanket statements about liberals and environmentalists based on a few of silly folks caught on video signing a petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide.

This does pretty much zero to promote understanding, and in fact is smug arrogance and virtue signalling masquerading as an attempt at understanding.

I think the high minimum wages in California are misguided and actually hurt the poor and unskilled, and I have written about why I think so. But you know what? I can sure as hell publish a one or two paragraph defense of minimum wages that you would never know was written by anyone but a hardcore progressive or Bernie Bro. As another example, I am pro-choice but I have really engaged with anti-abortion folks enough in social settings to infer that they really, truly think that abortion is killing human beings. We pro-choicers like to make ourselves feel better by saying that the anti-abortion folks are anti-women or religious fascists or something, because it is much easier to hate those folks. But it is much harder to hate someone who really, honestly thinks a baby is dying, even if we think they are misguided.

A lot of hate in this country would disappear if people really tried to understand their opponents in terms other than crude smears, like they are racist or sexist or fascist or snowflakes or whatever. So much so that if I were a professor, I think that every day in a class discussion at the halfway mark I would make everyone reverse positions and try to credibly argue the opposite side of the question. When I run my once a year high school economics class, I do exactly this. And I did that for years in high school debate. For a whole year, despite being an ardent free trader, in every other debate I had to argue in favor of protectionism. I think it was good for my soul.

I post this because there seems to always be a 50/50 chance that I will get banned after every comment on Mother Jones.  I never use profanity, and always try to be reasonable, but I am on my 3rd or 4th ID at Mother Jones because they keep banning me.  I still will always treasure the first time they banned me -- the comment that got me banned is below.  I am pretty sure they thought I was promoting the National Rifle Association in my comment, when in fact I was referring to the National Industrial Recovery Act and the NRA blue eagle of the New Deal.

The authors portray this (at least in the quoted material) as an anti-trust issue, but I suspect a bigger problem is the cronyist certificate of need process. In many locations, new hospitals, or hospital expansions (even things as small as buying a new cat scanner) require government permission in the form of a certificate of need. As one may imagine, entrenched incumbents are pretty good at managing this process to make sure they get no new competition. This, by the way, is a product of classic progressive thinking, which in its economic ignorance saw competition as duplicative and wasteful. We are lucky the Supreme Court shot down FDR's NRA or we would have this sort of mess in every industry.

If Socialists Understand the Free-Rider Problem, Then Why Are They Socialists?

There was a funny sideshow to the recent Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME decision.  That decision essentially made it impossible for local or state governments to require that all employees pay support to certain public employee unions, even if they are not a member of that union and/or don't support that union's activities and, particularly, that union's political speech.  Progressives, many of whom feel increasingly confident to admit that they are socialists, rushed to point out that this was a death knell for these unions because of the free rider problem.  If workers who benefitted from the union's collective bargaining activities were not forced to pay, then what incentive exists for any one employee to pay the union if they still will enjoy the benefits without paying.  Soon, everyone will become a free rider and the union will die.  America's most famous socialist Bernie Sanders demonstrates that he understands the free rider problem completely in this

Sanders’ bill, called the Workplace Democracy Act, would remove several of the major barriers to organized labor’s growth.

It would ban “right to work” laws, which allow employees to opt out of paying union dues even though the union must still bargain on their behalf, leading to what unions call “free-riding.”

This is all very ironic.  Socialism fails for a number of reasons, but perhaps the easiest one to explain to laymen is the free-rider problem.  Anyone who has had to do group projects in school likely understands the concept to its core.  If all output belongs to the collective, and is divided up based on need rather than productivity or innovation or even diligent work, then where is the incentive for an individual to do anything?   The collectivization of agriculture in both China and Russia was a disaster (meaning millions died of starvation) because of this free rider effect.  If socialists understand the free rider problem, as they clearly do (at least in Janus v. AFSCME), how can they be socialists?

The answer to my question may also be in this legal case.  For the free rider problems in public unions in this case (and in private unions as well in the Sander plan linked above), progressives intend to use force as a solution.  If people don't see value in the union and don't want to pay, well they are going to have to be forced to do so anyway.  Literally, we will put free riders in jail.  You can probably get away with this solution for a niche issue like union dues is a generally law-abiding country like this one.  But even Stalin and Mao were not successful in getting more agricultural or industrial production at gunpoint, though they killed a lot of folks trying.  And if force did not work on rice production, imagine how well it will work, say, trying to get innovation out of someone's mind when that person has zero incentive to do anything but just show up for work.

Power, Privilege, and Free Speech

This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to the Daily Princetonian a couple years ago in response to an editorial calling for speech codes of some sort (e.g. bans on "hate speech")

This is why I think Progressives are making a huge mistake in opposing free speech, on their own terms.

Speech codes are written by and for the privileged.  They are written by the oppressor to shut up the oppressed.  George Wallace did not need the First Amendment, black kids trying to go to the University of Alabama needed it.  So the progressive opposition to free speech (e.g BLM shouting down the ACLU over free speech) is either 1) completely misguided, as the oppressed need these protections the most or 2) an acknowledgement that progresives and their allies are now the privileged, that they are the ones in power, and that they wish to use speech codes as they have always been used, to shut up those not in power.  In our broader society the situation is probably #1 but on university campuses we may have evolved to situation #2.

The folks who wrote the first amendment were thinking about this dynamic.  Had they instead decided to write a speech code, it likely would not have been good.  It might well have banned the criticism of slavery, for example, if Jefferson and his Virginians had anything to say about it.  But they didn't create a speech code, thank god.  In fact, I am trying to think of any time in history I would have been comfortable with the ruling elite locking down the then-current norms of their society into a speech code, and I can't think of one.  What gives you confidence, vs. the evidence of all history, that you can do so today with good results?

Unfortunately, in the time since I wrote this, the ACLU has apparently abandoned its absolute support of free speech and seems ready to knuckle under to Progressive speech codes.  But never-the-less, I was thinking about this issue of speech codes and power when I read this:

Police officers in Crafton, Pennsylvania, arrested a 52-year-old black man, Robbie Sanderson, for shoplifting at a CVS in September of 2016. He called them Nazis, skinheads, and Gestapo as they cuffed him.

Because of those epithets, Sanderson was charged with "ethnic intimidation." Insulting the officers in such terms was an anti-white hate crime, from the perspective of the authorities. Sanderson had made bias-motivated "terroristic threats," they claimed. The alleged motivation increased the seriousness of Sanderson's crime from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

Anyone with any education about history could have predicted such an outcome with total certainty.

A Few Thoughts on Recent Supreme Court Decisions

Trump vs. Hawaii More Interesting Than I Thought

The Conservative and Progressive responses to the Supreme Court's Trump vs. Hawaii decision that upheld v3.0 of the travel ban are pretty predictable -- Progressive writers have argued that of course it violated the first amendment because Trump made clear any number of times that he was animated by distrust of Muslims, while Conservatives said it was clearly not just aimed at Muslims (he included Chad!) but anyway it was a bad precedent to infer intent from campaign speeches even before he was President.

What I didn't know until I read Eugene Volokh was that there are some really interesting precedents that make immigration law one of the few areas effectively outside the Bill of Rights.  I don't really like what I see in this, but it is an issue I never understood before.  You really need to read the whole thing to get the gist, but here is his summary:

The U.S. has nearly unlimited power to decide when foreigners are admitted to the country, even based on factors (such as ideology, religion, and likely race and sex) that would be unconstitutional as to people already in the country.

Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 In An Alternate Universe

In this case, a state worker was suing to prevent a public employee union from deducting an "agency fee" from his paycheck despite the fact that he did not want to join the union.  The union argued that the employee benefited from their collective bargaining and should have to pay something for it.  Apparently the case turned on First Amendment issues -- while technically the union could not spend these agency fees on political speech, the reality is that money is fungible and at some level almost everything a public union does is political.

As a quick background, I totally support private union bargaining as a fundamental right under the First Amendment, though we could argue whether current law overly tips the power balance toward or away from unions vs. a free market.  On the other hand, I have deep, deep doubts about public sector unions, largely because there is no real bargaining going on.  In most cases, the public sector unions and the officials they are nominally bargaining with are on the same side and opposed to taxpayer interests.

So I am not unhappy to see public unions take a hit here, but addressing my concerns should be a legislative issue (as exemplified by a number of "right to work" states that have banned this practice).  But this is a judicial case and should not be dealing with legislative issues but issues of the law, and the case confuses me because I could easily see the Right and the Left arguing opposite sides on legal issues of this case given a slightly different world.  After all, requiring employees to pay these fees is a condition of employment -- wouldn't we expect Conservatives to support the right of employers to freely set the conditions of employment?  If these are too onerous, Conservatives would argue people would just not work there.  In this world, wouldn't we expect, then, Progressives to argue against such open-ended freedom for employers to set work conditions on the argument that there is a power imbalance between employer and worker -- exacerbated because the employer is the state in this case -- and they can't easily fight these onerous conditions?  Huge swaths of employment law, written mainly from the Left, are dedicated to circumscribing allowed employment conditions.

Modern Guide to Analyzing Complex Multivariate Systems

  1.  Choose a complex and chaotic system that is characterized by thousands or millions of variables changing simultaneously (e.g. climate, the US economy)
  2. Pick one single output variable to summarize the workings of that system (e.g. temperature, GDP)
  3. Blame (or credit) any changes to your selected output variable on one single pet variable (e.g. capitalism, a President from the other party)
  4. Pick a news outlet aligned with your political tribe and send them a press release
  5. Done!  You are now a famous scientist.  Congratulations.

What Tesla Is Doing This Week

I do not have any insider knowledge, so this is pure speculation, but I have worked in a lot of organizations that did insane things to try to reach milestones or goals, and so I think it is educated speculation.

A lot of Tesla's market valuation comes from the prospects of getting a lot of volume with their mid-priced (sort of) Model 3.  They need to get production rates up both to reduce costs and to try to get ahead of a huge oncoming rush of competitors entering the BEV space.  Last year, they promised to have Model 3 production at 5000 a week by the first of this year, a goal they missed by a mile.  So now they have set the expectation that they will be at 5,000 a week production by the end of the second quarter, which is basically this week.

One of the weird things about Tesla is the difficulty in getting good information about its operations, particularly since it is a public company.  So many investors, for example, were trying to figure out Model 3 production numbers that an entire cottage industry of VIN analytics and delivery reporting has arisen.   But the basic story is that they are not there yet and that's not going to change by the end of the week.

But that does not mean they won't be trying to achieve something that looks like 5,000.  In the past Tesla has resorted to the "run-rate" claim, that their run rate for a day or an hour was at such and such much higher number.  So that is, I think, what is going to happen this week.  Parts and subassemblies are likely being stored up so that in a great burst 714 can be completed in one day or if not that, 30 or so can be completed in an hour so that the company can claim a 5,000 unit weekly run rate was achieved.  This is obviously BS -- any bottlenecked process can usually be juiced for a short period of time (examples:  Transcontinental Railroad track laying record, Liberty ship build time record) -- but I predict we will see it.  I also wouldn't be surprised if you found the numbers for last week were actually below trend due to Tesla hoarding sub-assemblies and parts for huge one-off production push this week.

As an aside, we are coming up to June 30, which for taxpayers can be considered Tesla subsidy day.   I have written about this before, but if Tesla can manage its deliveries down a bit in the second quarter, it can extend the taxpayer subsidy of its vehicles another 3 months (the subsidy starts winding down after the 200,000th electric vehicle sold in the US and Telsa is right about there, so much so that rumors are it is sending all its output to Canada this week so it doesn't put them over the US number.  Bloomberg estimates that pushing the 200,000th sale from June 30 to July 1 will cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars:

In my previous post I wrote about Tesla's attempt to prolong the $7,500 U.S. incentive for electric cars by pushing sales into the next quarter. A reader on Twitter who goes by the handle @Smack_Check did the math on how much such an effort would be worth to Tesla's customers: $366 million.

That's the value of additional credits available if Tesla waits just one day (July 1, instead of June 30) to record its 200,000th sale in the U.S. Here are @Smack_Check's fairly conservative assumptions:

Tesla will produce an average of 5,000 cars a week in the third quarter, all models combined (that means about 3,000 Model 3s/week, on average).
Each quarter after that, total weekly production will rise by 1,000.
U.S. sales will account for half of all Tesla sales worldwide during the subsidy period.

Disclosure:  I am short Tesla via the ownership of one (1) put option which in my mind constitutes more of a bar bet than an investment.  Shorting fan-boy stocks is risky, as is shorting companies the CA legislature is probably scheming right now to bail out somehow with their taxpayer money.  If it were not for these two problems I would be all-in on the short like James Bond at the end of Casino Royale holding a straight flush.   The odds that Tesla will really be worth $60 billion * (1+i)^10 in ten years is pretty much zero.  Also, it's amazing how many of Elizabeth Holme's behaviors at Theranos as documented in Bad Blood one can observe in Musk.

Update:   Fixed Tesla current market value, which is closer to $60 billion today.

Good For Princeton

This is great news from my alma mater, which I have criticized in the past:

Much of the news regarding free speech on campus is enough to make anyone despair. Year after year more people and ideas are muzzled.

But some very heartening news of late comes from Princeton. Due largely to a new book promoting free speech by Princeton University political scientist Keith Whittington and the unusual support and campus-wide promotion of the book by Princeton’s president Chris Eisgruber, Princeton is now in the forefront of those American colleges and universities that have said “stop” to the onslaught of thuggish campus militants intent on shutting down free speech. This latest development comes on the heels of several other very positive developments on the free-speech front at Princeton.

Three years ago, in April of 2015, the governing board of the faculty at Princeton adopted the main body of what has come to be known as the Chicago Principles of free speech and free expression. Originally drawn up by a committee of the University of Chicago chaired by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, these principles condemned the suppression of views no matter how “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed [they may appear] by some or even by most members of the University community.”

I Can't Believe I Have Been Taking Long Driving Trips Without Consulting This Site First

Roadside America.  I feel like tourist traps have been going a bit out of vogue, but I feel like this is exactly the sort of thing that is going to make a comeback as millenials have kids and start travelling with their super-hip airstream trailer.

Wow, Public Schools Must REALLY Suck

The title was my first thought when I saw this over at Kevin Drum's:

The Gates Foundation has spent about $200 million since 2010—in addition to other sources who kicked in about $400 million—on an education initiative designed to increase student performance:

The school sites agreed to design new teacher-evaluation systems that incorporated classroom-observation rubrics and a measure of growth in student achievement. They also agreed to offer individualized professional development based on teachers’ evaluation results, and to revamp recruitment, hiring, and placement. Schools also implemented new career pathways for effective teachers and awarded teachers with bonuses for good performance.

They helped out all teachers; fired bad teachers; promoted good teachers; and paid bonuses to effective teachers. So how did it work out?...

Long story short, there was no improvement at all in student achievement, despite the fact that funding was far greater than it would be in any real-life reform of this nature. There may have been some other successes in this program, but if the ultimate goal is better students, it was a complete failure. Whatever the answer is, rewarding good teachers and firing bad ones sure doesn’t seem to be it.

The organizations around these teachers must really suck because no reasonable person would expect that, in a service business, increasing employee accountability and upgrading the employee base would have no effect on customer service.

I have written before about how bad, senescent organizations destroy the value of good employees.  For example, in the context of the General Motors bankruptcy:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as "management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.  You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix it.

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to process to history to culture could better be called the corporate DNA*.  And DNA is very hard to change.  ...

Corporate DNA acts as a value multiplier.  The best corporate DNA has a multiplier greater than one, meaning that it increases the value of the people and physical assets in the corporation.  When I was at a company called Emerson Electric (an industrial conglomerate, not the consumer electronics guys) they were famous in the business world for having a corporate DNA that added value to certain types of industrial companies through cost reduction and intelligent investment.  Emerson's management, though, was always aware of the limits of their DNA, and paid careful attention to where their DNA would have a multiplier effect and where it would not.  Every company that has ever grown rapidly has had a DNA that provided a multiplier greater than one... for a while.

But things change.  Sometimes that change is slow, like a creeping climate change, or sometimes it is rapid, like the dinosaur-killing comet.  DNA that was robust no longer matches what the market needs, or some other entity with better DNA comes along and out-competes you.  When this happens, when a corporation becomes senescent, when its DNA is out of date, then its multiplier slips below one.  The corporation is killing the value of its assets.  Smart people are made stupid by a bad organization and systems and culture.  In the case of GM, hordes of brilliant engineers teamed with highly-skilled production workers and modern robotic manufacturing plants are turning out cars no one wants, at prices no one wants to pay.

Postscript:  From some experience with private schools, I would say the biggest difference is that private schools set higher expectations.  Even starting in kindergarten, my kids were doing WAY more advanced work than in public schools.  I understand that public schools are public and thus tasked with teaching everyone, so there is pressure to pace the work to the slowest student.  But the slow pace of public school starts even in the early grades before the school reasonably knows who the slowest kids are.  Public schools that have low expectations for student performance are not going to be suddenly improved by better teachers.  Putting Gordon Ramsey behind the counter at a Long John Silver fast food restaurant is not going to make the food suck any less.

Are You (or Trump) Really for Free Trade? Here is a Hypothetical to Test You

A few days back, we had a debate in the comments about whether Trump really wants free trade.   In my view, Trump looks at tariff rates and trade deficits like a simple scorecard of winning or losing without really understanding trade and its benefits.  Sure, Trump proposed a zero tariff rate agreement in passing with our European trading partners.  I think he did this because it made him look good and he knew they would never go for it.

But no matter the case, even if he is sincere, he still is judging this proposal by a very different standard than economists would.  Take European tariffs on passenger cars.  My understanding is that they are about 10% on US cars vs. our 2.5% on theirs  (this ignores the absolute hypocrisy in this whole thing that our light truck tariff on imports is like 25%, but put that aside).  Trump sees taking these two passenger car tariff rates to zero as a win NOT because it would be a benefit to consumers but because in his thinking the US gets a 10% concession out of Europe and only gives up a 2.5% concession in exchange.  Winning!

I tried to think of the best way to highlight the difference between Trump's thinking and good economic thinking on trade, and I came up with this hypothetical:

Consider two trade regimes.  In Regime #1, the US charges 0% tariffs on German steel and Germany charges 0% tariffs on US steel.  In Regime #2, the US is able to charge 10% tariffs on German steel while Germany still charges 0% tariffs on US steel.   I would bet quite a bit of money that Trump would say that Regime #2 is a better deal for the US, while free traders like myself and most economists would say that Regime #1 is not only better for the world as a whole, it is better for the US.  Zero tariffs allows the division of labor and comparative advantage to all work their magic to make sure capital and productive effort in this country are employed for the highest return.  I believe from reading the comment section of this blog that there are many many people who call themselves a free trader but who would say that Regime #2 is a better deal for the US.  If you believe that, you better have done a lot of work educating yourself on the issue because the great mass of economic theory and practice is against you.

I am not an economist and I am too busy today to give the whole explanation today, but here is one hint at part of the answer:

As of mid-2017, there were 29,288 steel-consuming firms, employing more than 900,000 workers who face higher prices versus just 916 steel-producing firms with 80,000 employees who benefit from those higher prices and reduced competition.

The Sales Tax Problem for Small Businesses

I am, perhaps surprisingly to many readers, NOT going to go on a rant about the Supreme Court's decision yesterday that states can collect sales tax on interstate sales over the Internet, at least I am not going to rant about taxing internet sales per se.  Realistically, it was never realistic to think the government would keep its hands off this piggy bank, especially as Internet sales have skyrocketed.  However, this decision creates absolutely enormous practical problems for small businesses and Congress needs to act quickly to mitigate some of these.

The problem is the management problem this presents, particularly for many small retailers, and I don't think most consumers understand this.  Sales taxes seem simple from the consumer point of view -- say your sales tax rate is 7%, the cash register collects 7% and it all seems to be handled automatically.  But even at your local store, things can get complicated.  Your food purchases may well be taxed at a different rate (perhaps even 0%) than your other purchases.  You probably don't notice, but if you go over the city limits into a neighboring town or unincorporated area, the rates may suddenly be different.

Take Arizona, which seems from my experience to be roughly average.  The sales tax rate table is 18 pages long in a small font.  There are 29 separate rate categories which each have different rates in each of Arizona's 15 counties.    My business is in 6 counties and we have 3 rate categories that apply, or 4 if you consider items with no tax as another rate category.  This is 24 different state/county sales tax rates we charge.  But that is the easy part.  Because then there are, in addition to county taxes, 92 different towns and cities that have their own rate tables with up to 29 different rate categories that add to the base state/county rate.  Other states such as Washington (rule of thumb -- if the state has no income tax then it has a LABYRINTHIAN sales and business tax systems) have additional overlay taxes such as for transit and stadium districts.

When my company opens a new location, we have to spend hours on the Internet and with maps trying to figure out what sales taxes to collect, and even with good due diligence we sometimes get it wrong and find in an audit we are actually just inside or outside some line where the rate changes (we once had a location 30 miles outside of Seattle on a long dirt road where we found we had to collect the Seattle Rapid Transit tax).  Thatcher, AZ is a town of like 4000 people but has its own special sales tax rates -- do you know where the town line is?  Well neither do they, because last time I checked they did not have any sort of online lookup system to tell one automatically if the address is inside or outside the town and its sales tax district.

So it's a hassle for my business, but a one time hassle when we open a new location.  Now imagine that you are a small retailer on the internet selling fruit cakes.  You don't go out and establish sales tax locations, in some sense the location comes to you.  John Smith wants to buy a fruitcake and has an address that says Thatcher, AZ, but in the rural world one can easily have a town's name in your address but live outside of the town  (we have a campground with a Grant, Alabama address that is well outside of the city and tax limits of Grant but the town fathers come after us every year or so trying to see why we are not collecting their sales tax).  What sales tax do I collect from this customer?  Is there even a tax on food in that location?  If there is, there might be separate rates (as in California, for example) for prepared vs. packaged food.  What kind of food is my fruitcake?

But it actually gets even worse.  Because now all I have done is collect some amount of tax.  That is the easy part!  The hard part is registering with all the sales tax authorities to collect and pay the tax.  Well, you say, I guess I have to grit my teeth and register 50 times, which I can tell you is a gigantic pain in the ass because every state manages the process differently.

But even after registering in all 50 states, you are STILL not done, because many states don't have a fully unified sales tax collection system.  In Arizona, for example, the larger cities require their own registration and monthly reporting.  Each of these towns in AZ require a separate registration and monthly report:

Apache Junction,

Douglas, Arizona is a town of freaking 16,000 people but make sales there and you have to have a separate local registration and reporting.  And this list is for one not-very-urban state.  Currently my company does business in 9 states but we are registered and pay sales taxes to about 25 different authorities -- and we are mostly a rural business, so we are not in the larger urban areas that are more likely to have their own sales tax systems.

By the way, you might be thinking, "well, if I am a small business, I can just file with such and such authority in the months I have a sale there." Wrong.  Once you register and file once, you will be expected to file every time, even if they are zero reports.  The one source of relief is some states allow less frequent reporting.  It used to be there were states where I had low volume we filed once a year, but that seems to be a thing of the past.   Most states seem to have a minimum of quarterly reporting, no matter the volume.  Politicians want their money NOW (last sentence should be pronounced using Veruca Salt voice).

This is why businesses tend to have to sign up for very expensive sales tax management services.  But even that is not the end of difficulties, because registering for sales tax in an authority also forces one to register and pay other taxes and fees.  For example, Tennessee has another tax called the state and county business tax, which is essentially a revenue tax.  Even if you are an out of state company, you must file and pay this tax on any revenues.  If you sell in all of TN, that is one additional state registration and 95 different county registrations and 95 different county tax forms  (our company has to do about 8).  But wait, there is more!  Because a business also has to register with any of about 200+ cities in TN for payment of city business tax.  If you are selling all over TN, that is another 200+ registrations and 200+ annual reports (if this seems all very complex in TN, remember that TN has no income tax and note what I said earlier about the sales and business tax systems of states with no income tax).

I have written many times that regulation tends to benefit larger companies at the expense of smaller companies.  Who is more likely to be able to comply in this world I have described, Amazon or the fruitcake company?  Jeff Bezos is turning handsprings today because a) this kills a lot of his competition and b) to survive, many small venders will have to move to larger retailing platforms that can do some of the sales tax work, of which the largest and best is.... Amazon.

Congress needs to act.  It is going to have to be a compromise, because states are going to be putting a lot of pressure to let this situation stand because they want the money.  I would propose a national sales tax system on interstate retail sales that preempts any state sales taxes.  It will be hard to keep it from growing out of hand but it would be nice to establish a principal in law that the tax would be some sort of weighted average of the states' internal sales taxes.  The Feds would add a percent or two for themselves and there would be one registration for all -- as easy for me to do as it is for Bezos.  Yes, I know all the problems with this, but I don't think the status quo is tenable and I don't think Congress has the votes to go back to the old untaxed system, so this is the best we can expect.

Scam Alert - Fake Utility Company Call

Someone called one of our locations claiming to be the local utility company (they had the correct name, phone number and service address) said our power was going to be shut off that day for non-payment unless they were paid immediately over the phone.  Fortunately our managers hung up and called the utility main number and found out we were fully paid up and that this was a scam.

Here is the simplest protection for you in your personal and professional life: never give anything -- any information, any passwords, any numbers, any money -- to someone who calls you. If they claim to be the FBI or the IRS or the power company or whoever, you should hang up and if you are worried it might be real, look up their number and call them back. Sometimes a credit card company will call you with legitimate fraud alerts but I still never talk to them when they call me. I hang up and then call the number on the back of the card.

Fraudulent Caller ID

You guys know me, I am not calling for some new law or government program.  But I would like to see the telephone companies exercise a little bit of basic professionalism.  The last several spam marketing calls (50/50 it is either for toner or credit card processing) have had legitimate-looking caller IDs that have caused me to actually pick up the phone when I would have normally let it ring through.  This morning's call from a credit card processor showed up as "Pediatric Urology" in Phoenix.  Really?  I guess they are pissing on my time, but other than that I think this is BS.  I don't think it is too much to ask that the caller ID match the business name or individual who is paying for the phone line.  I have this problem even more on calls to my cell phone where spam businesses have somehow obtained caller IDs that are just for individual's names.

Postscript:  It is amazing to me, given the sheer volume of calls I get for merchant (credit card processing) services that there actually seems to be an expectation someone might actually say, "wow, I never ever thought of accepting credit cards, tell me how it works?"  I find this super hard to believe but it must happen or else people wouldn't be paying a lot of real money to make these calls.  So PLEASE, all you business people out there, do not buy things from cold callers.  I promise you can just google whatever they are selling and likely find a better deal online.

Also, if you are starting your own business, do not -- whatever you do -- put any personal phone in your state business registration files.  These are the files all these spammers mine for prospects.  I finally had to change my home phone number because I made this mistake and we could not stop getting 5 phone calls a day from toner and credit card processing sales people.

Bernie Sander's Jobs Plan

A while back Bernie Sanders proposed a plan for "government jobs for all" -- a guarantee that the government would hire you at $15 an hour plus benefits and medical care.  All a worker has to do is bother to show up each day to get paid.

The Saudis have done something similar for years.  And now that the program has been in place for a generation, no one in the country has the skills or motivation to do productive private work any more

Nobu’s challenge points to one of the biggest obstacles to Saudi Arabia’s grand economic makeover: How to put Saudis to work.

The architect of Saudi Arabia’s economic overhaul, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wants to rev up growth and create more opportunities for citizens. Companies, however, are struggling to meet the government’s demands to employ them.

For decades, expatriate workers from countries such as India and the Philippines helped sustain Saudi Arabia’s high living standards by doing jobs Saudis wouldn’t do in kitchens, at construction sites and behind store counters. The oil-rich monarchy endowed citizens with what were essentially jobs for life in the public sector, which means the labor force doesn’t always have the skills, and sometimes lacks the motivation, to fill private-sector jobs.

The pressure to meet the quotas has pushed companies to offer Saudis better salaries and shorter working hours. Some businesses, risking fines and visa troubles, hire Saudis who count on the registered workforce but just sit at home.  Abdulmohsen, an executive at a Saudi logistics company, estimated that half of the Saudis on his payroll are employees in name only.


Republicans Have A Learning Problem

Trump supporters are complaining that similar immigration actions that were essentially ignored by the press under Obama are now taking up half the nightly news broadcast under Trump.  As an aside, this is only partially true -- the Trump Administration has antagonized and worsened what was previously a bad, admittedly ignored, situation.  But my main reaction is this:  Well, no sh*t.  What about the major news outlets reporting Republican actions differently than Democratic actions surprises you in the least?  Seriously, at what point do you accept this as totally expected behavior and plan around it?

If I were CEO of, say, Exxon-Mobil (XOM), and I had my PR guy come into the room after a PR debacle and tell me that the press was not being fair to oil companies, that Apple (say) did the same things, I would retort the same thing I did above:  "Well, no sh*t.  What planet have you been living on?  The media has hated us and attempted to score points off us since 1972.  That is a FACT and it is your job to help this company navigate given this FACT."  I would fire the guy immediately.  His complaint would merely demonstrate he was a terrible choice to do communications for us.

I don't understand why the Republican rank and file keep enabling this behavior from their party.  I am not going to tell them to support different policies, though I disagree with them.  But why do they keep accepting that these constant PR disasters are not the fault of their leadership, and that somehow the only way out is some sort of not-going-to-happen remaking of the media?  Conservatives like to think of themselves as hard-headed realists, but good God there is sure a lot of whining going on about stuff that ain't going to change any time soon.

But On the Positive Side, They Got Rid of Plastic Bags

The City of San Francisco seems to have odd litter preferences.  After a huge program to ban and/or charge for plastic bags to get them out of the litter stream ( a program that for all my whining about it seems to have achieved that goal pretty well), the city seems to have substituted used syringes:

City Health Director Barbara Garcia estimated in 2016 that there were 22,000 intravenous drug users in San Francisco - around one for every 38.9 residents, while the city hands out roughly 400,000 needles per month.

Of the 400,000 needles distributed monthly, San Francisco receives around 246,000 back - meaning that there are roughly 150,000 discarded needles floating around each month - or nearly 2 million per year, according to Curbed.

I am pretty sure if they were to divert some of their plastic bag tax revenue to paying 5 cents per needle on return (or about $20,000 a month) that the needles would disappear from the streets in a matter of days.  Not sure if this would create some problems with safety or new crime incentives, but I would l think it would be worth a try.

When the F*ck Did We Give The President So Much Power? Trump Unilaterally Raises Taxes Again

Republicans that used to lament the imperial presidency under Obama sure seem to be OK with Trump unilaterally levying tens of billions of dollars of new taxes on American consumers.  I presume since no one has seriously questioned his power to do so that he must have this power.  Yet another example in the shameful history of Congress delegating its powers to the Administration.

A Thought Experiment Wherein Coyote Makes In Intersectional Argument, Sort of

The following is a thought experiment:

Modern SJW's argue that it is impossible for one gender or ethnicity or sexual preference to understand another.  Taking that as a launching point, there appears to be a crisis in psychology that can only be fixed by government intervention. 

Begin with a basic fact:  Between 3 and 4 times more men in western nations, including the United States, commit suicide than women.  This is clearly a public health crisis of the highest magnitude(1).  

Unfortunately, it is getting harder and harder for these men to get the help they need.  Most psychologists today, and based on current graduation rates, almost all the psychologists of the future are women.  In fact, in 2016 22.4% -- less than one quarter! -- of all psychology graduates were men.  Men with existential crises in their lives are not going to be helped by someone woman-splaining the world to them.  How can any man be helped by psychologists who can't understand their most fundamental problems(2)?

Take this web page at the top of the google search on mental health and gender.   90% of the page covers only women's issues!  There is not even a single mention of suicide or the disproportionate male suicide crisis.  This is just further proof that the strong imbalance of the psychology profession to female providers inhibits any focus on or recognition of male issues.  You can see from this site that men are not even seeking help --"Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men (29% compared to 17%)" -- almost certainly because men cannot find sympathetic male psychological help(3).

As a first step, the government needs to step in and find ways to eliminate the barriers that young men are facing in entering the psychology profession.(4)

OK, I have no idea if this is a credible effort but other than the fact that it is pointing out a unique male issue, I feel like this is at least as viable as any other SJW article I have read.  You will note the four tricks I used in the article that are common in many other more serious articles of the same sort

(1)  I assert this a public health crisis, but compared to what?  Are the deaths a lot or a little compared to other preventable causes.  Are the numbers rising or falling?  And how preventable are suicides?

(2) This is the underlying assumption in the article, that a psychologist of one gender cannot well serve a patient of another gender.  Is that really true?  Is there any science on this?  I have had physicians of both genders and have not really noticed a difference.  Of the psychological interventions I am aware of in friends and family, the most successful was a female helping a male.

(3) This is twisting a fact around the opposite of how most people would interpret it.  Most folks would interpret this as women have more mental health issues over their life that they need help with, a finding that seems to be pretty consistent in the scientific literature as well.  The clever conspiracy builder, though, can use almost any fact in their favor.

(4) Why do we assume that a gender imbalance is the result of barriers and discrimination, rather than just preferences? Typically, the media treats such imbalances asymmetrically.  Professions that skew female such as health care or psychology or education are treated as skewed due to preferences.  Professions that skew male such as software programing are treated as skewed due to discrimination.

One of the More Useful Articles I Have Read in a While

I often read articles that clarify my thinking on certain issues but this one helped clarify my thinking on why I come in conflict with people over a broad range of issues.  In-Groups, Out-Groups, and the IDW by Jacob Falkovich.  I will add that my one turn-off in this article is the focus on the so-called intellectual dark web or IDW.   I am suspicious of faddish-sounding things, particularly in the intellectual world.  At this point I am not even sure the IDW is even a real thing (many on whom this title has been slapped reject it).  What does seem to be real is that there is a budding resistance to post-modernism and intersectionality coming from folks it would be hard to label as traditional Conservatives (though Progressives and SJWs still try to label every one of their opponents as alt-right white nationalists).  I will accept IDW as a temporary and imperfect shorthand for this resistance.

Anyway, here is a sample from the article but I found the whole thing illuminating

In a thorough analysis of the Harris-Klein controversy, John Nerst suggests that what is actually at issue is whether the discussion of the racial IQ gap is a matter of science or of politics. Harris sees Murray as a scientist whose arguments and conclusions fall well within the academic consensus of genetic and cognitive science. Klein sees Murray as a ‘policy entrepreneur’ who advocates for reprehensible conservative policies. The notion that racial differences are genetic (and, in Klein’s understanding, therefore immutable), Klein argues, has historically been used to support destructive policies of bigotry and discrimination.

This isn’t merely a difference in emphasis. Underlying this debate is a divergence in modes of thought so wide that the two men were left practically at cross-purposes.

Harris is a scientist by training, and scientists depend on what rationality researcher Keith Stanovich1 calls “cognitive decoupling.” Decoupling separates an idea from context and personal experience and considers it in the abstract. It is the approach used in the scientific method, when performing thought experiments, and when generalizing principles from individual examples. In decoupling thought, arguments follow one another according to the formal rules of deductive logic.

The contrary mode of thinking sees every argument embedded in a particular context. The context of an idea includes its associations, implications, and the motivations and identities of those who advance it.

Note that this is NOT an article about IQ differences, it is merely used as a convenient example to illustrate differences in two different ways of approaching the problem.  But I did think the author did something fun towards the end of the piece -- the author seems to argue that the tribal positions on this genetics issue(and I presume on other things) is almost arbitrary by running a thought experiment of reversing the tribal positions: might re-imagine liberals embracing genetic differences and supporting their position in the following way:

IQ differences are purely genetic, a matter of luck for which neither the individual nor his community bears any responsibility. We should be generous with welfare and assistance towards those who lost out in the genetic lottery, just as we are towards the sick and disabled. Conservatives who argue that the IQ differences are ‘man-made’ are looking to shift the blame to the victims and excuse their own bigotry towards the least privileged.

And the conservative response:

IQ differences are purely environmental. According to evidence, the main environmental difference among blacks and whites is culture. We therefore need to replace the multicultural free-for-all that is hurting American children with traditional American family values, and limit immigration from countries with low-IQ cultures. We need to promote monogamy by cutting support for single mothers. We should probably outlaw hip-hop music too, just in case rap is what lowers black IQ.

This may look outlandish to you but it does not to me.  When I grew up in the 1970's, Republicans considered themselves a pro-business party (not to be confused with free market) and Democrats were much more dominated with labor and union concerns.  In those days, Republicans were much more pro-immigration, because it brought in cheap labor for its business supporters, and Democrats were much more anti-immigration, because it created low-wage competition for its union supporters.  I have seen the tribes reverse positions on a number of issues in my lifetime.

The Wrong Way To Educate: How I Would Have Handled the Pictures of White Dudes at Harvard Medical School

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, is going to remove pictures of medical luminaries from the walls of its auditorium because they are mostly all white guys.  Now, I don't really get freaked out about this the way some folks seem to.  I can totally understand why a University might not want to give the message to an incoming class that they somehow need to look like those pictures to be successful.  But I am exhausted with the notion that the way to handle uncomfortable things in society or in history is to hide them from students.  This seems the opposite of education.  I have had several great teachers in my life who would use uncomfortable facts as a springboard for learning.

I can't necessarily match the teaching greats, but here is how I might handle it.  Imagine a speech to an incoming group of Harvard Medical Students in this auditorium.

Welcome!  And congratulations!  All of you have followed very different paths to get here, but the one common denominator is that every one of you has the demonstrated intellectual and personal excellence required to meet the rigorous standards of this institution.  As I look around today, I see an incredible diversity of people -- a diversity of genders and ethnicities and home countries and family incomes but who all share in common the desire to help mankind through medicine.

If you look around the room you will see a bunch of paintings of medical luminaries who all made great contributions to medicine and this institution, and in the process helped save lives and make the world a better place.  But the odds are that you will also notice that the men -- and they are all men -- may not look like you.  There is a reason for that.

The issue is not that these 30 men should not be on this wall -- they all made important contributions to the study of medicine and everything you study over the next 4 years will build in part on their work.  The issue is not with these pictures, but the ones that are missing.  For every one of these pictures there should be at least one more of a woman or a person of color.  But those pictures are missing.  Even worse, the contributions of those people are missing.  They are missing because our world, our country, and even this institution made it difficult or impossible for brilliant people who were not white and male to reach the place where you are all sitting.  Medicine -- and our society -- are far poorer for this loss.

There are those who have suggested that we take down these pictures and hide this legacy from you.  These people have good intentions and want to avoid demotivating people who might look at these paintings and assume success will be impossible for them because they look different.  But I say that these pictures-- and all the ones that are missing -- should be your motivation.  All of you who might have been left out of this institution in the past are here now.  Look around the room, the world is truly changing!  This is your chance to make those advances in medicine that we lost in the past because we so short-sightedly excluded so many outstanding people.

Imagine you are back at this school 50 years from now with your grandchild.  You have spent the day dodging Harvard's frequent entreaties to donate money and you duck into this auditorium for shelter.  You point up to the walls and tell your grandchild, "do you see, about halfway along that wall where all the faces go from looking the same to being quite varied -- that was when your grandma was here at school."

Book Review: Bad Blood

Over the weekend I read John Carreyrou's book Bad Blood, which is a narrative of the fraud at blood analyzer startup Theranos that Mr. Carrreyrou broke in the WSJ.  To save me summarizing the story, here is the Amazon description:

 In Bad Blood, the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou takes us through the step-by-step history of Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup that became almost mythical, in no small part due to its young, charismatic founder Elizabeth Holmes. In fact, Theranos was mythical for a different reason, because the technological promise it was founded upon—that vital health information could be gleaned from a small drop of blood using handheld devices—was a lie. Carreyrou tracks the experiences of former employees to craft the fascinating story of a company run under a strict code of secrecy, a place where leadership was constantly throwing up smoke screens and making promises that it could not keep. Meanwhile, investors kept pouring in money, turning Elizabeth Holmes into a temporary billionaire. As companies like Walgreens and Safeway strike deals with Theranos, and as even the army tries to get in on the Theranos promise (there’s a brief cameo by James “Mad Dog” Mattis), the plot thickens and the proverbial noose grows tighter. Although I knew how the story ended, I found myself reading this book compulsively

In short, I really enjoyed the book and found it hard to put down.  Carreyrou has made it an interesting narrative, that gets bogged down only slightly by the fact that there are just so many people's names that pass through the narrative, an unavoidable problem given the huge employee turnover at Theranos.  There is a meta-narrative that repeats over and over:  new employee shows up full of passion, new employee starts seeing bad stuff, new employee reports bad stuff to visionary founder, visionary founder fires employee on the spot, employee gets harassed for months and years by Theranos lawyers.

I will warn you that a book like this was always going to be catnip for me.  I love business craziness and disaster stories (e.g. Barbarians at the Gate and the Devil's Candy).  Possibly this is just schadenfreude, or possibly it was from my personal brush with another one (I worked for Jeff Skilling briefly at McKinsey & Co. on the Enron study).  But I think many will enjoy it, if for no other reasons that while Skilling at Enron or Johnson at RJR were not well known to the average person, Elizabeth Holmes was a household name, almost a pop culture figure.  She was  on the cover of every magazine and on every talk show.  She was both admired and envied, both as a young female billionaire and as someone who had a real vision to help humanity.  How did she go so far off the rails?

I followed this story originally in the pages of Carreyrou's WSJ articles, and as it unfolded I was asking, like most everyone, could this be true?  As he continued to report, it became steadily clearer that there was real fraud involved.  So I wanted to read the book and see where the fraud started.  I assumed that the central mystery of the book would be when that fateful step over the line occured.

But it turned out that Holmes was going over the line almost from the very beginning.  The real mystery became:  when and how is someone finally going to blow the whistle on this?  And also, given that I knew the whole thing doesn't start to unravel until 2016 or so, how is it going to take that long for this to come out?  Part of the answer is the insane security and non-disclosures put in place in addition to borderline-unethical legal pressure brought on potential whistleblowers by lawyers like David Boies.  But there are other causes as well, including:

  • People wanted her vision to be true.  My wife is a borderline diabetic who has to give a lot of blood -- she was very passionate about this technology.
  • Companies like Walgreens operated from a fear of missing out.  They had a lot of clues there were problems, but if they didn't pursue it, what if it really did work and their competitors did the deal instead?
  • The oddest cause of all (and one Carreyrou does not really dwell on) was that rich older men fell for Holmes hard.  Hardened, seasoned business people time and again fell under her sway and followed her almost like a cult leader and helped protect her from accountability.  The list is like a who's who:  Larry Ellison, Steven Burd (CEO of Safeway), Rupert Murdoch, David Bois, James Mattis, George Schultz, Henry Kissinger -- the list goes on and on.  She had the highest power board I have ever seen at any company ever and she completely dominated them.  On the other hand, I don't think there is a single young female in the story who fell for her BS for more than a few months.

One other note that I think is worth mentioning:  Rupert Murdoch gets a lot of cr*p for being the poster child of destructive corporatization of media.  In this story, he was the single largest investor in Theranos with $125 million of his money in the company.  He was one of the older men who fell totally for Holmes.  But when Holmes came to him several times asking him to shut down an out of control reporter at Murdoch-owned WSJ, Murdoch said no, despite the fact that this reporting would eventually make Murdoch's $125 million investment worthless.

Postmortem on SolarCity

Two years ago, I wrote about the acquisition of SolarCity by Tesla.  I thought this represented near-criminal self-dealing at the time and there has been little since to convince me otherwise.  As I wrote then:

This is honestly one of the weirdest acquisition proposals I have seen in a long time:  Elon Musk's Tesla offers to buy Elon Musk's Solar City.

This makes zero business sense to me.    This is from the press release:

We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers. This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered. With your Model S, Model X, or Model 3, your solar panel system, and your Powerwall all in place, you would be able to deploy and consume energy in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, lowering your costs and minimizing your dependence on fossil fuels and the grid.

I am sure there are probably some hippy-dippy green types that nod their head and say that this is an amazing idea, but any business person is going to say this is madness.  It makes no more sense than to say GM should buy an oil production company.  These companies reach customers through different channels, they have completely different sales models, and people buy their products at completely different times and have no need to integrate these two purchases.  It is possible there may be some overlap in customers (virtue-signalling rich people) but you could get at this by having some joint marketing agreements, you don't need an acquisition.  Besides, probably the last thing that people's solar panels will ever be used for is charging cars, since cars tend to charge in the garage at night when solar isn't producing.

One might argue that some of the technologies are the same, and I suppose some of the battery and electricity management tech overlaps.  But again, a simple sourcing agreement or a battery JV would likely be sufficient.

So what do these companies share?

I went on to discuss several possible reasons for the deal but settled on this one as the best explanation:

I have no inside information here, but this is the best hypothesis I can put together for this deal.  SolarCity has huge cash needs to continue to grow at the same time its operating margins are shrinking (or getting more negative).  They are having trouble finding investors to provide the cash.  But hey!  Our Chairman Elon Musk is also Chairman of this other company called Tesla whom investors line up to invest in.  Maybe Tesla can be our investor!

The reason I call this two drunks propping each other up is that Tesla also is also burning cash like crazy.  It is OK for now as long as it has access to the capital markets, but if it suddenly lost that, Tesla would survive less than 6 months on what it has on hand.  Remember, SolarCity was a golden child just 3 years ago, just like Tesla is today.  Or if you really don't believe that high-flying companies that depend on access to the capital markets can go belly up in the snap of a finger when they lose their luster with investors, I have one word for you:  Enron.

Essentially, I saw the SolarCity deal as a bailout of Musk's and his friends' and family's investments in SolarCity by Musk-controlled Tesla.  Nothing that has happened since has convinced me this is wrong.  The most prominent evidence has been the dog that never barks -- SolarCity, or Tesla Energy as it is called, is almost never mentioned in conference calls and investor communications by Tesla any more -- certainly the rooftop business is not.  The only thing that ever seems to get a mention are a few big standby battery installations in Australia.   Turns out there was a reason (via Seeking Alpha):

This was a dying business when Tesla bought it an insiders all knew it.

Disclosure:  I tend to short Tesla when it reaches the 350/360 level and cover when it drops into the 200's.

Update:  Here is a great timeline of the whole sorry history of the SolarCity acquisition by Tesla.  This paints an even worse picture than I was aware of.

Trade Wars Are Weird

Trump:  I'm going to raise taxes on the consumers and businesses in the US that buy things from overseas.

China: Oh yeah?  I will show you, I will raise taxes on my citizens even more!


From the vaults:  Our sister publication in China complains about Chinese tariffs.  Note the date, way back in 2006.  If history doesn't repeat itself, it at least rhymes.

Milton Friedman, The Prophet

Milton Friedman once wrote, "If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."

Today Simon Constable writes that Venezuela "which has the largest oil reserves in the world, is now considering the idea of importing the stuff."

Ugliness at Harvard

Long time readers will know that several years ago I became convinced that Princeton was discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions process, a process I had participated in for over a decade.  Princeton, as far as I am concerned, can bake its academic cake for whoever they want, but I in turn don't have to participate in it so I quit.  I found the disconnect between Princeton's pious words on diversity and the reality of their actions to be distasteful, and I really really did not like having to toe the party line when Asian interviewees asked me if I thought they had an equal chance of admission with other students.

More data on this issue is just becoming public as various briefs that have been filed in a lawsuit representing Asian-American students against Harvard are being released.   I thought this bit from the Wall Street Journal looks pretty ugly.

Asian-American applicants have higher academic and extracurricular scores than any other racial group, as well as the highest overall rating from alumni interviewers, according to the plaintiffs. However, Harvard’s admissions officers assign Asian-Americans the lowest score of any racial group on the personal rating, which includes a subjective assessment of character traits such as whether the student has a “positive personality,” the plaintiffs said.

Do you think they mark them down as "inscrutable?"  Remember, this is from an institution that criticizes pretty much everyone else on the planet for propagating racial stereotypes.