|From: TimF||11/21/2019 8:41:51 PM|
|California Tried To Fine a Company $10,000 for Ordering Blind People Ubers and Lyfts Without a Permit|
GoGo Grandparent gives people without smartphones a way to use rideshare services. Regulators think that's a problem.
Christian Britschgi | 11.18.2019
California regulators are trying to crack down on a company that orders Ubers for the blind and elderly.
In February, the Consumer Protection and Enforcement Division (CPED) of the California Public Utilities Commission—the state body that regulates transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft—issued a citation to GoGo Grandparent for operating a for-hire transportation service without permission.
Regulators demanded that the company pay a $10,000 fine and obtain the necessary permit to run a transportation network company, which would involve getting $1 million liability insurance for its vehicles and handing over lists of its drivers to the state.
But GoGo doesn't own any vehicles, and it doesn't contract directly with any drivers.
Instead, for the past four years, the company has been providing a toll-free hotline that customers without a smartphone can call to order an Uber or Lyft ride to their home or another prearranged location. Using customer-provided information, GoGo's software automatically orders a ride, then charges a 27-cent-per-mile fee for its services.
GoGo's service is aimed at elderly and disabled people who either don't have or can't use smartphones. Its novelty and perceived public benefit—improving mobility for seniors—has earned the company coverage from such outlets as The New York Times and TechCrunch.
State regulators have taken a more negative view.
California law defines a for-hire ride service—referred to as "charter-party carriers"—as any "person engaged in the transportation of persons by motor vehicle for compensation." CPED argues that this applies to GoGo. In regulatory filings, it has used the Merriam-Wester definition of "engaged" as "involved in [the] activity."
The division officially cited GoGo in February. In March, the company filed an appeal, arguing that the regulations it was being asked to comply with were inapplicable to its business model.
"GoGo allows a flip phone to act as a substitute for a smartphone for the rider summoning a ride through a such as Uber or Lyft," says the appeal, which notes that the company neither employs or contracts with drivers. "For the [Public Utilities Commission] to regulate them would be equivalent to regulating a smartphone or the Google Alexa Device or a computer code."
In an August opinion, an administrative law judge agreed with GoGo, noting that the CPED had used a more narrow definition of transportation service in the past—and that if regulators' expansive definition of what it meant to be "engaged" in transporting people were accepted, those same regulators might themselves be labeled a for-hire transportation service.
CPED regulators "are 'engaged' in the transportation of persons by motor vehicle by virtue of this enforcement action and they are compensated for their activity," the judge noted. "This absurd result of relying on its dictionary definition demonstrates the ambiguity of the term 'engaged.'"
The full utility commission still needs to vote to ratify this decision, and the vote keeps getting delayed. The five-member commission was initially supposed to vote to dismiss the citation issued against GoGo in October, but that was moved back to November, and now early December.
A spokesperson for the California Public Utilities Commission told the San Francisco Chronicle that a few delays are pro forma. Not so, says Tom MacBride, GoGo's attorney, who told the paper that multiple delays usually happen only for major commission business, not a minor citation like the one issued against his client. He speculates that CPED staff could be holding up proceedings.
Regardless of what's behind these delays, it's ridiculous that GoGo is in this position in the first place. The company is performing a useful and innovative service by helping seniors to make use of technology that might otherwise have left them behind. For their trouble, they've been beset by dictionary-quoting regulators who are stretching state law to penalize the company.
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|From: TimF||11/22/2019 7:48:53 PM|
|Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax might sound like nothing. But the numbers aren’t small. |
By Megan McArdle
November 12, 2019 at 7:27 PM EST
The District of Columbia exerts a strange sort of force field that makes small numbers sound big and big numbers sound small. Which is to say, when an ordinary person hears that some change to the tax code would raise $3 billion over 10 years, that sounds like a huge amount. But at the moment, the federal government spends more than $4 trillion a year — more than $40 trillion over the course of a decade. In context, $3 billion isn’t even a rounding error. It would take hundreds of such changes to make a noticeable dent in our debt or deficit.
Meanwhile, looking through the other end of the Washington kaleidoscope makes staggering sums seem rather dainty to the unpracticed eye. Take, for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth taxes. In their current iteration, the Massachusetts Democrat’s plans would have the government take 2 percent of all wealth above $50 million, and 6 percent of all wealth over $1 billion. Her supporters are fond of saying “Two cents!” (on every dollar), which sounds like nothing so much as .?.?. nothing. I mean, two cents won’t even buy you a penny candy any more.
Six cents is three times that of course, but still, what is six cents? Most people would dump that in the “give a penny, take a penny” jar if they got it back as change. Billionaires who have greatly benefited from living in the biggest rich country in the world sound a wee bit ungrateful complaining about such a trivial sum.
But of course, six cents on every dollar taken out every year would be an enormous chunk of their wealth. Estimates from two of the economists who advised Warren on her wealth tax found that if the tax had gone into effect in 1982, famous billionaires such as Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and Warren Buffett would have lost most of their fortunes by now.
In fact, this analysis actually understates the scale of the decline, because it excluded many of Warren’s other taxes on capital income. There’s a 14.8 percent Social Security tax on net investment income for everyone making more than $250,000 a year ($400,000 for a married couple). Plus the top 1 percent of households would have to pay capital gains taxes every year, at the same rate as their wage and salary income, instead of paying a reduced rate when they sold the asset.
If we run those numbers for someone worth $10 billion, and earning the 8 percent historical average return for an S&P 500 index fund, we find that our hypothetical billionaire would have made about $800 million over the course of the year. They would then owe a wealth tax of roughly $600 million. But they would also have to pay taxes on their unrealized capital gains, and since those gains would be taxed as regular income, that means they’d owe about $300 million. On top of that, they’d have to make that Social Security contribution, which would add another $120 million in taxes. All in all, they’d end the year about $200 million poorer than they started.
And so what, one might ask. They’d still be fabulously rich. And if compounding of the taxes over decades eventually reduced them to centimillionaires, aww, boo hoo, you have to scrape by on $1 billion.
And perhaps that’s the whole point of the tax. But if so, you cannot then claim, as Warren does, that you’ll use this tax to fund significant new spending. In our hypothetical example, after five years of perfectly steady 8 percent returns, the billionaire tax base would have declined by 10 percent. No important program should depend on a revenue source that is — by design — going to shrink so quickly.
Nor is that the only area where funding problems would arise. Such high capital gains taxes would effectively bar wealthy Americans from buying U.S. Treasury debt, which is yielding between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent, far too little to keep them even with the tax man. The abrupt and simultaneous exit of all the nation’s rich people from the Treasury market would mean at least one of two things: Either interest rates would have to rise to entice them back, or we’d become even more dependent on foreign money to fund government operations. Quite possibly, we’d see both.
Maybe you think that would be a small price to pay for shrinking the gaps between the ultrarich and the rest of us. And maybe you’d be right. But no matter how you squint, you cannot make those numbers look small — or fail to notice that enormous economic disruption must inevitably follow.
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|From: TimF||11/22/2019 7:52:28 PM|
|Freedom Means a Right to Discriminate|
Laurence M. Vance
Should employers have the right to discriminate in hiring on the basis of obesity? The Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled that “it is illegal for employers in Washington to refuse to hire qualified potential employees because the employer perceives them to be obese.”
That follows guidelines released by the New York City Commission on Human Rights stating that discrimination against people based on their hairstyle will now be considered a form of racial discrimination; the refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal from a lower court’s ruling that the owner of a bed and breakfast in Hawaii violated the state’s public-accommodation law, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, when she refused to rent a room to a lesbian couple; and guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) making it tougher for homesellers and landlords to discriminate against applicants who have criminal records.
Here is what happened in the state of Washington:
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), part of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), the compilation of all laws now in force in Washington State, generally prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because the employee has a disability. That echoes the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which “makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability.”
According to Taylor v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings , the case in question decided by the Washington State Supreme Court in 2007, Casey Taylor received a conditional offer of employment as an electronic technician for BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), contingent on the results of a physical exam and a medical history questionnaire. A medical exam found that Taylor’s height was 5 feet 6 inches and his weight was 256 pounds, resulting in a body mass index (BMI) of 41.3 — numbers different from those self-reported by Taylor. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [ CDC ], a BMI of 40 or higher is categorized as “extreme” or “severe” obesity.) BNSF treats a BMI over 40 as a “trigger” for further screening in the employment process. BNSF told Taylor it was unable to determine whether he was medically qualified for the job “due to significant health and safety risks associated with ‘extreme obesity’ and ‘uncertain status of knees and back.’” BNSF offered to reconsider if Taylor would pay for medical testing, including a sleep study, blood work, and an exercise-tolerance test, but being unemployed at the time with no medical insurance, Taylor could not afford the testing. BNSF told Taylor that it was company policy not to hire anyone who had a BMI over 35 and that if he could not afford the testing his only option was to lose 10 percent of his weight and keep it off for six months.
Taylor then sued in King County Superior Court, alleging that BNSF violated the WLAD by refusing to hire him because of a perceived disability — obesity. BNSF removed the case to federal court and moved for summary judgment, relying on federal cases interpreting federal law to argue that obesity is not a disability under the WLAD unless it is caused by a separate, underlying physiological disorder. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington dismissed the case, ruling that that “under the WLAD, a plaintiff alleging disability discrimination on the basis of obesity must show that his or her obesity is caused by a physiological condition or disorder or that the defendant perceived the plaintiff’s obesity as having such a cause.” Taylor appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled that whether obesity may constitute an impairment, and thus a disability, under the WLAD is an unresolved issue of state law and certified the question to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Washington State Supreme Court, in a 7-2 vote, concluded,
We answer the certified question as follows — obesity always qualifies as an impairment under the plain language of ROW 49.60.040(7)(c)(i) because it is a “physiological disorder, or condition” that affects many of the listed body systems. Plaintiffs making a disparate treatment claim under the WLAD need not show that they actually had an impairment, e.g., that they actually were suffering from obesity. They need show only that their actual or potential employers perceived them to have a statutory impairment. RCW 49.60.040(7)(a)(iii). Because obesity qualifies as an impairment under the plain language of our statute, it is illegal for employers in Washington to refuse to hire qualified potential employees because the employer perceives them to be obese. See RCW 49.60.180. The two dissenting justices agreed with the majority on most points, but concluded that “the majority’s answer to the certified questions, that obesity is always an impairment for purposes of the WLAD, ignores the need for an individualized inquiry.” Nowhere in their dissent is there any indication that the WLAD was bad law or that BNSF had the right to medically screen job applicants as they saw fit.
Whether obesity should be included as a disability, and therefore protected from discrimination, is similar to the debate over whether discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal agencies and courts are currently split on the issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argues one way, and the Justice Department argues otherwise. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the Second Circuit have ruled one way, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled to the contrary. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases and settle the matter.
The real question here is not what constitutes obesity, what constitutes a disability, or whether obesity is a disability. The real question here is whether laws that prohibit discrimination in employment are just laws.
Liberals generally favor any and all anti-discrimination laws. Conservatives are woefully inconsistent. Although they oppose some anti-discrimination laws, they generally support laws against discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, age, or sex (narrowly defined). Liberal are consistent, but that doesn’t mean that they’re right.
What, then, do libertarians say about the subject of discrimination? The libertarian position on discrimination is simply this:
Since discrimination — against anyone, on any basis, and for any reason — is not aggression, force, coercion, threat, or violence, the government should never prohibit it, seek to prevent it, or punish anyone for doing it. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that any or all acts of discrimination are necessary, justified, or fair. It just means that, as far as the law is concerned, whether an act of discrimination is based on stereotypes or prejudices is irrelevant, whether an act of discrimination is due to racism or sexism is immaterial, whether an act of discrimination is thought to be unfair or nonsensical is of no consequence, and whether an act of discrimination is unreasonable or irrational is neither here nor there.
Employers should have the right to discriminate against applicants on the basis of obesity for the simple reason that they should have the right to discriminate against applicants on the basis of disability. That is because they should have the right to discriminate against applicants on the basis of any medical condition, seen or unseen. But that’s not all: employers should have the right to discriminate against applicants on the basis of height, weight, age, scars, facial hair, race, color, complexion, tattoos, hair color, hairstyle, piercings, dress, or anything else related to appearance. That is because employers should have the right to discriminate against applicants for any reason and on any basis.
To prohibit discrimination in employment is to infringe upon freedom of association, freedom of thought, private property, free enterprise, and the free market. All anti-discrimination laws should be repealed, regarding employment or anything else.
I wouldn't say that they should all be repealed. Federal laws against discrimination by the feds (or even their contractors) would be something that I not only would accept but would support. The same for state laws appling to state and local governments and companies contracting with them. (At least I'd support those categories of laws, the actual details of each law would obviously be relevant in choosing to support a specific law or not).
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|From: TimF||11/24/2019 11:06:11 AM|
|Cancel Culture Impoverishes Both the Heart and the Intellect|
By Fred Bauer
It’s hard to shake the feeling that part of what’s involved is a breakdown in personal charity.
It is trivially — yet essentially — true that all societies have prohibitions; after all, part of what constitutes a society is having prohibitions. But “cancel culture” seems more than just the support of social prohibitions, and the tendencies of this movement might reveal some more-troubling elements.
Because “cancel culture” is an emergent phenomenon, it is hard to create a comprehensive taxonomy of it, but its distinctive elements seem to involve some combination of the following: the destruction of art that either is problematic or whose creators have believed or said something problematic; rendering unemployable those who have believed or said something problematic, especially on social media; the de-platforming of problematic individuals; and participating in a crusade to “cancel” either problematic art or individuals (that is, calling for “cancellation” as cultural participation).
“Cancel culture” is in part about enforcing a set of cultural values (an enterprise not unique to that movement), and it often does so through social-media pressure, which is sometimes aided and abetted by major media institutions. So, for instance, a hubbub starts on Twitter, which CNN then magnifies. It would be naïve to read this as digital democracy; often, major media institutions give a megaphone only to those social-media controversies that they find helpful for their preferred predetermined narrative. For instance, after Halle Bailey was announced as Ariel in a live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, major media outlets focused on a few random tweets in order to portray America as a whole as a seething cauldron of racial animosity. Though social media are an important vector for cancel culture, they are often a vehicle rather than a cause.
Cancel culture includes other technological elements, too. Perhaps one of its more distinctive elements is that it occurs during a moment of near-universal legibility. Earlier efforts at ostracism often occurred within discrete localities or subcultures. For Internet-based cancel culture, anyone anywhere can launch an attack on anyone anywhere. Moreover, these attacks are available for all to see over an indefinite period of time. As Helen Andrews has noted, one of the core elements of modern shaming is its endurance. A video clip, a private text message, a Facebook post — anything can be transformed into a cause for public, personal ridicule, which the amber of the Internet preserves across years or even decades. Nor is cancel culture simply about criticizing others on social media. Instead, it is often about translating this digital criticism into real personal pain: to cause jobs to be lost, college admissions to be revoked, and media platforms to be shut down. (There’s a reason why it’s called cancel culture and not criticism culture.)
Cancel culture does not have a single ideological orientation, but, in this present moment, it intertwines with the Great Awokening. Cancel culture is a great tool for evangelical wokeness, in part because of those demographics where wokeness is most concentrated: the college-credentialed meritocrats who reside in major urban areas and function as gatekeepers in tech, major media outlets, educational administration, institutional nonprofits, and so forth. Cancel culture has been a way for the woke to flex their burgeoning muscles as they suppress and splinter dissenters. The suppression part is clear, but this splintering tactic plays a key role; even those who are putatively non-woke have an incentive to go along with some cancellations in order to prove their respectability (that they are not that deplorable). Again, though, the impulses of cancel culture are not confined to the Great Awokening — the “cancellation” of the Dixie Chicks for opposing the Iraq war, for instance, offers a forerunner to contemporary cancel culture (even if the band paid a relatively mild price compared with some of those who endure cancellations today).
Revealingly, opposition to cancel culture reaches across a broad ideological and demographic range. Critics of this movement range from comedian Dave Chappelle to Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang to novelist Walter Kirn to polemicist Camille Paglia. It is not too surprising that many of those invested in the arts should be so wary of cancel culture. There may be something philistine about the idea of canceling someone because he holds objectionable opinions. Ezra Pound was a literal Fascist — a man who turned his back on the United States and produced propaganda for Mussolini — and yet his poetry is scintillating; striking it from the libraries of the world would deprive us of some of the gems of poetic modernism. W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk is one of the most penetrating and imaginative surveys of race and identity in the American canon, but he praised Stalin and the USSR. From one perspective, the iron logic of cancel culture leads to gradual intellectual impoverishment, as one figure after another is tossed into the bonfire of the canceled.
And it’s hard to shake the feeling that part of what’s involved in cancel culture is a breakdown in personal charity. The idea that someone should be expunged from society for holding controversial (or, frankly, even objectionable) ideas can have troublesome implications. We are all of us flawed people, and part of living in brotherhood with others involves trying to see the virtues in others — to not let errors obscure the personhood of another. It is, of course, true that social opprobrium and even state coercion can be instruments for discouraging vice; the first has helped diminish the use of some racial slurs, and the second helps curtail robbery, rape, and murder. But it’s also true that stigmatization alone hits diminishing returns in encouraging virtue and that some efforts at stigmatization can be motivated more by atavistic cruelty than by a deep devotion to human dignity.
As with many other issues, talk of “rights” can confuse the question of how to approach cancellation. A legal right to do something doesn’t make the action either prudent or virtuous. For instance, members of Congress might have a legal right to denigrate private religious organizations (such as the Knights of Columbus), but it’s not clear that such behavior serves the interests of American pluralism or good government. Someone might have a legal right to denigrate the poor and suffering, but such a display would offer anything but an edifying example. Likewise, the teeming crowds on social media might have a legal right to call for someone to be fired, for a book to be expunged by its publisher, or for a work of art to be destroyed. A tireless agitation for the personal destruction of others might, however, corrode both personal lives and public norms.
Within some opposition to cancel culture, it’s possible to see an impulse toward openness, expansion, and pluralism. For this countervailing impulse, another person’s problematic trait doesn’t mean that he or she has nothing valuable to contribute to one’s own life and to society as a whole. You might not want a flat-earther as a geological adviser — but why not as a carpenter, a neighbor, or a comedian? A Christian might read Homer despite his polytheism, a liberal might read Pound despite his fascism, and a humanitarian might read Du Bois despite his Soviet sympathies. The point is not to destroy impure people but instead to see virtues in this mottled world.
From this pluralist perspective, there might indeed be times where some form of “cancellation” is appropriate. For instance, college students might protest if their institution paid for a literal neo-Nazi to be a commencement speaker. Different institutions would, of course, be able to formulate their own internal norms, but one might make a case for at least some institutions to have a place for some kind of pluralism. Politics might complicate some of this. Citizens have a right and even a duty to deliberate on those norms that will guide a government, so some level of “cancellation” might be inherent in any politics. But taking this pluralist approach, we would turn to cancellation as an emergency measure, not a standard practice.
Crucial to maintaining a free society is disciplining both the power of government and the power of individuals. A government without internal balances can soon degenerate into tyranny or anarchy; a citizenry who do not show the virtues necessary for sustaining a republic will soon undermine the foundations of liberty. Maintaining norms of tolerance involves some modes of discipline — to see beyond outrage, to grasp the possibilities of others, and to recognize one’s own limits. That discipline might bring great rewards, too. The bonfire of the canceled casts a far dimmer glow than the raw flames of charity, beauty, and cultural daring.
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|From: TimF||11/29/2019 12:19:31 AM|
|A Lincolnshire businessman (and former police officer), Mr Harry Miller, has sought a judicial review of one of the more sinister aspects of current policing, the recording of ‘hate incidents’ by the police even when there is no offence (on their own admission). The case is ongoing, and a report in The Telegraph (paywall of sorts) indicates that the judge made a remark that might indicate that he was surprised at the position of the ‘College of Policing’, one of those quangos that isn’t needed and might even have been invented to hammer nails in to the coffin of the liberties of Englishmen.|
The “right to be offended” does not exist, a judge has said, as the High Court hears that British police forces are recording hate incidents even if there is no evidence that they took place. samizdata.net
The College of Policing, the professional body which delivers training for all officers in England and Wales, issued their Hate Crime Operational Guidance (HCOG) in 2014, which states that a comment reported as hateful by a victim must be recorded “irrespective of whether there is any evidence to identify the hate element”.
Mr Justice Knowles expressed surprise at the rule, asking the court: “That doesn’t make sense to me. How can it be a hate incident if there is no evidence of the hate element?”. Mr Justice Knowles made the remark on the first day of a landmark legal challenge against guidelines issued to police forces across the country on how to record “non-crime hate incidents”.
He added: “We live in a pluralistic society where none of us have a right to be offended by something that they hear.
“Freedom of expression laws are not there to protect statements such as ‘kittens are cute’ – but they are there to protect unpleasant things.
“Its utility lies in exposing people to things that they do not want to hear.”
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|From: TimF||11/29/2019 9:50:48 PM|
| Creating Conspiracies By Reading History Backwards |
November 12, 2019
Sorry for the absence, I have taken a bit of vacation and simultaneously been consumed in a deluge of interest for our company's new offerings.
I saw this story a while back, titled " Japan's General Staff Office Knew About Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombing in Advance and Did Nothing, According to 2011 NHK Documentary" I am only going by the author's summary because I can't understand the Japanese original, but this fits in with a whole class of revisionist history of which I have written before. A historian digs through piles and piles of intelligence reports and decrypts and finds 2 or 3 that seem to point in advance to some catastrophic event in advance of that event. A classic example was the revisionist claim that FDR knew in advance of Pearl Harbor but willfully ignored the warnings because he wanted a reason to pull isolationist US into the war with Germany. More recently, whole conspiracy theories rest on similar hints that the GWB White House knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
The problem with all these theories is that they are reading history backwards. Intelligence agencies weed through thousands of rumors, decrypts, and hints every day. The historian can wade through this mass and latch onto the couple of correct and prescient such rumors because she knows how history turns out. She knows Japan bombed Pearl Harbor so she knows how to jump right to the needle in the haystack. But officials at the time had no such foreknowledge. Sure there may have been hints of attacks on 9/11 but there were also likely hints that turned out to be incorrect on scores of other potential plots and attacks, plots that would have (at the time) looked no more or less realistic than a hinted attack on 9/11.
There is a related problem that is a pet peeve of mine related to probability. Let's say I offered you a 50/50 bet that you would win if a 6-sided die came up 1-5 but lose if the die came up 6. Clearly, all day long the right decision is to take the bet. But then imagine you took the bet and the day came up 6. Was this, in retrospect, a bad decision? I would argue absolutely not, you made a great decision that simply did not work out this one time, but over time making similar decisions will be a winner. On the flip side, imagine someone who took the opposite side of the bet, a 50/50 bet that only pays off with a 6. If a 6 comes up, did they make a good decision? Absolutely not. It was a terrible decision that they got bailed out on by luck, but over time they are going to bankrupt themselves.
These may seem like contrived examples, but I see exactly this sort of bad analysis all the time of risky decisions taken in an array of fields from sports to business. I am sorry, but a football coach that goes for it on 4th and 8 from his own 30 and makes a first down did NOT make a good decision, despite the fact it worked out okay this one time. But almost everyone in the media brings a retrospective bias to analysis of such decisions, rating them a good decision if they worked out all right and a bad decision if it did not work out all right, irrespective of whether the decision, when made, made a lick of sense.
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