Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Winds of Change

When I set out to build a website I had spectacular ambitions. It was to be a place where the masses would flock to read, listen and digest the latest musings of a perpetually restless individual and his cohorts desperately attempting to make sense of everything. That, inevitably, led to us trying to cover and produce a ton of content which, also inevitably, led us to failing to cover a few things really well.

After discussing our "core competencies" at length with the writing team, we have decided to pivot away from general political commentary toward more veteran-related content. We are in the process of designing and rolling out an entirely new website, with a new focus, and we think that our efforts will have a much greater impact within that niche.

What does this mean for the BrainBust?

At the moment, not much. Jeff, Seth, Johnny and I will still continue to roll out our bi-weekly BrainBust Podcast as usual. What will be affected is our written content. I will still use the website to publish non-veteran related articles, but our Weekly Bust news product is done. I've had to kill it. We don't have the team, experience, or set of skills necessary to immediately and effectively cover the broad range of "important news" every week. Some of you have read them regularly, and we appreciate that immensely! However, everything has an opportunity cost, and the insane amount of time I spend putting the Bust together takes away from more productive work.

So what's this veteran stuff all about?

I thought you might ask. I don't want to put the entirety of our mission out there before we're ready to release, but I will offer enough to (hopefully) whet your appetite -- even the non-veterans appetites out there.

Today, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel commented on the overwhelming lack of veteran involvement in nearly every key level of politics. We too have recognized this trend. But unlike Mr. Hagel, we're going to do more than pay it lip service.

We believe that rank-and-file veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have a wealth of wisdom and experience that goes largely ignored and unnoticed in policy discussion and debate. We intend to bridge that gap by seeking that wisdom and experience, producing content based on it, and disseminating it to the public-at-large in a novel manner. We believe that this will not only make for a unique, engaging perspective, but will also help veterans "find their voice" and assist civilians in understanding that voice (mostly by telling them to ignore all the F-bombs).

That is all I am at liberty to tell you for now. I just wanted to let listeners and readers know that we are actively involved in "Operation Do Awesome Shit" and that has led me to kill the Bust. I didn't have much of an original mission when we started writing and publishing on; we now have a clear mission, clear objective, and I believe that it will lead us to producing much better content.

To everyone who has been there since the first episode of our podcast, thank you. We would not have gone this far down the rabbit hole without your support, and I just want to let you know that it means the world to us. More to come soon.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

I Love Cheap Gas

My wife and I paid $1.65 for regular, unleaded gas after grocery shopping yesterday. I haven't seen prices this low since my high school years (2000-2004). I am sure Americans across the country are enjoying their newfound wealth.

But what the hell is going on? Is this a short-term blip in the oil markets? And at what point does the benefit of cheap gas get overwhelmed by the detriment of bankrupt oil and gas companies?

Gas is so cheap right now because of a massive game of chicken between the U.S. and OPEC -- the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Beginning in the mid-2000s, we here in America figured out a way to pump oil and gas out of tight rock formations with new drilling technologies (fracking being one of them). Our production of hydrocarbons erupted and we no longer found ourselves desperately dependent on imports.

Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations were less than pleased with this development. As the world's oil spigot owners and supervisors, they're used to being able to keep oil prices high by limiting production when prices get soft.

US oil companies and energy policy-makers likely expected that OPEC would continue to cut production as our oil began hitting the market.

But they didn't. And here's why: At $20 a barrel, roughly 62% of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves can still be sold for a profit. That means their production break-even is less than $20 per barrel.

How much of our oil reserves are above break-even at $20 a barrel? Less than 1% -- roughly .60%.

So, really, this isn't a game of chicken -- it's a race off the edge of a cliff. It's the wrong kind of contest in which to have a head-start.  And we (the U.S.) have a head-start.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Socialism Isn't Cool: An Obituary

Note: This is a tongue-in-cheek response to a Future Female Leaders article. You can read it here. I suggest you do it before proceeding.

Friends, we gather today to celebrate the life of a precious article: “Open Letter to Millenials: Socialism Isn’t Cool.” Despite the author’s lack of familiarity with spellcheck (Millennials), the worthwhile piece received the beloved attention of young, neo-conservative sympathizers the social-media world over. It is almost shameful that such an earnest attempt at informing the public met with such a sudden end. Let us remember the article.

The bottom of the work reads “Jennifer,” no doubt the maker’s mark, in a bold, pinkish hue. We are left to wonder why the mark of ownership excluded a surname. Whoever she is, this is for her (“Jennifer FFL Contributor”). 

The early sentences of the article’s life were filled with angst and frustration over the increasing popularity of Bernie Sanders and “capitalism bashing.” The young work bursts forth from the confines of adolescence, vowing to consider the facts. She then stumbles a bit, opening the very next sentence with “I think.” Not deterred, she rages onward. The early mistakes of her life have taught her to refer to experts in order to deliver her arguments; she borrows Glenn Reynolds’ assertion that people aren’t that poor compared to a thousand years ago. It was a bold strike, but laughably irrelevant. 

Unlike most adult-aged articles, which typically grow in their understanding and clarity with age, this one did not. The first attempts at her adult-life, where she rested on examples of the “socialist” countries of Cuba and North Korea (Communists), seemed to have suffered an Orwellian-like removal from the record. Without those linchpins, she points to a Greek income tax rate of 46 percent without ever mentioning that more than half of the population bribes tax collectors and turns their tax returns into complete works of fiction. The words are pleading with readers to understand that socialism is collapsing Greece, when in reality, bad debts that were born out of the sacred free-market is one the millstone tied to the Greek foot – EU-implemented austerity is the other. 

Realizing, in her older years, that much of her life’s work was either erased or based on misunderstood statistics, she pleads with socialists and Bernie Sanders supporters, “do you really want this? The economy would plummet and service quality would decrease dramatically according to math and statistics, which Sanders ignores.” It can be difficult to remember the lives of loved ones honestly, but let us do our best: this statement is the equivalent of saying, “I know a2+b2=c2 because of numbers and stuff.”

Her final gasps of air were spent in a desperate plea to millennials, be economically intelligent and aware. We find it almost unbearable that the one thing she asked her successors to be was the one thing she knew she had never been herself. Farewell, dear friend. 

Note to Millennials: Ignore everything from Future Female Leaders.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Please, Don't Help Us

This is going to be the only new content for the website this week. We're doing a lot of "soul searching" at the BrainBust right now. Trying to figure out where we fit in the spectrum of political commentary is a daunting task -- it's akin to waking up in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic and trying to decide on which direction to start paddling.

Nevertheless, paddle we must.

Christmas came early for those of you who live for political drama, as much of this year's presidential election ballyhoo started unfolding last summer. To be fair, the success of Sanders in nipping at the heals (now the heart) of Hillary and the vitriol of Trump provided a lot of headlines. Last week's results in Iowa have provided even more. The tone of this election is starting to take on one of serious importance, especially considering that the electorate may face the decision of whether or not to include a de-facto democratic-socialist party in the United States body-politic for the first time in five decades.

As political ads begin dominating local airwaves at an increasing rate, I am bracing myself for the inevitably cliche and liberal use of the idea of leadership:

"America needs [insert favorite politician here]'s proven leadership."

"[insert favorite politician here]. The leader America needs."

The United States needs capable and tenacious leadership, indeed. But where should we look for it?  Some would have you believe that the best model comes from the private sector -- moguls and magnates are often admired for their leadership skills. Others might have you believe that the military serves as a pool of some of the most tried and tested leaders -- many of the world's commanding officers have risen to (inserted themselves into) political importance throughout history. Others still might try and convince you that leaders should be found among public servants and office holders. If we could just find the best businessmen and women; the best soldiers or Marines; the brightest and most successful governors and senators; then we would be selecting from the best leaders in the country (world), right?

Not necessarily -- We might just be confusing position with leadership.

Merrill Lynch executives received millions in bonuses after nearly collapsing their own investment bank. H&M and other "fast-fashion" retailers regularly exploit weaker (poorer) foreign governments in order to provide dangerous jobs to the local populace (the carrot is almost always just big enough to hide the cliff) in order to lower the company's operating expenses. Coca-Cola and Pepsi executives sell poisonous amounts of sugar to children; they even push to get soda in schools (you just can't give 12-year-olds a choice between water and sugar).

I was in the infantry for five years. I have seen, first-hand, captains and majors that hadn't the slightest clue on how to lead suddenly thrust into leadership positions. It didn't take long for them to think they were leaders -- why else would they give me the job? More often-than-not they acted the part, the world didn't fall to pieces under their charge and they got promoted to go "lead" somewhere new.

The lowly public servants and office-holders aren't spared here, either. Are the public employees in Flint, Michigan leaders? Their position says so, but the $100 million they're gearing up to spend on an infrastructure overhaul after a failed effort to save $5 million might say otherwise (not to mention their willful endangerment of up to 100,000 people). This is just the latest big example.

Pundits and politicians often talk about America's leadership position in the world. Does our country really possess the best leaders, or just the most successful people? And is our success really, at its heart of hearts, because we're such amazing leaders? Or, combined with a touch of historical happenstance, did we exploit, connive and usurp our way to such a vaulted position?

There are no clear cut answers to these questions. But if I were the president of some tiny nation, facing the proposition of doing business with the esteemed leadership of some American company or politician, I might be reluctant to acquiesce. I might consider the countless executives that have moved American jobs overseas to take advantage of the weaker leadership of some poorer country. I might consider the fact that companies in America can write laws. I might consider the American generals that command their troops out of the trenches from the safety of the pentagon.

I might even respond to their proposition with a clear message: Please, don't help us. We don't need your "leadership."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Forbes: Your Math Sucks

"There's no such thing as a free lunch."

Everyone has heard this bludgeoned-to-death economic axiom, regardless of whether or not they have ever stepped foot in an economics class. The reasoning is as follows: even if lunch is free for you, someone, somewhere, bore the cost of that delicious meal. There is no denying this; it is an a priori fact.

Our friends at Forbes have been hellbent on reminding everyone of this truism lately. It typically looks something like this:

     "Bernie Sanders fails again to understand that there is no free lunch."

     "Unnamed Democrat forgets economics 101: there's no free lunch."

     "Now, a quick economic lesson for our democrat friends: There's no free lunch."

It goes on like this forever. They sit atop their pseudo-intellectual tower, incessantly giving the public free economic lessons. Gee, that sure is swell, misters! 

But their free-lunch lessons are nonsensical.

In economics, deciding whether or not to do anything comes down to a simple question: does the marginal benefit outweigh (or equal) the marginal cost? If the additional benefit you receive from doing some activity x is greater than or equal to the additional cost of doing that activity, then you do it. Every time.

For you Econ nerds out there, here's the equation: If MB ≥ MC, then do it. Whatever "it" happens to be is irrelevant; your net benefit is greater than your net cost.

So, back to Forbes. What is missing from their ad hoc lessons? You guessed it -- the marginal benefit. They don't even mention it. That leaves us to wonder whether, a) Forbes writers and columnists do not realize they're forgetting this important little bit and are therefore just stupid; or b) they know it and they're intentionally leaving it out of their math in order to serve a political end. Are they charlatans or imbeciles?

I don't think they're stupid, which sucks for them because it would have been a lot more forgivable. 

According to this logic, no one would ever spend any money on anything, because without including a benefit, the cost is always too high -- zero is never more than MC. I am sure the folks over there are aware that this is not how the world works, and yet they insist on publishing this rubbish anyway.

Please, Forbes, pray tell, what in the hell are you doing?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Did Trump Just Take a Poison Pill?

In the midst of the junk-bond-fueled takeover craze of the 1980's, companies that were the targets of hostile takeovers discovered a clever way to fight back: the poison pill. The whole point was to make the target company "sick" -- or just unattractive to the buyer.

Donald Trump welcomed an endorsement from Sarah "Me Too!" Palin last week -- did he just swallow a poison pill?

Since Mr. Trump entered the political landscape in June as an unlikely candidate for president, Chris Flannery of the Mandatory Sampson Podcast has insisted that his campaign was a farce. I was inclined to agree. But then the unexpected happened -- Trump began dominating the stage. This seemed all the more unlikely considering his regular insistence on public statements that would make most political strategists tremble.

According to opensecrets, Trump has only raised $5.8 million for his campaign. This pales in comparison to the $30+ million raised by most candidates (without accounting for Super-PACs). Trump also lacks a Super-PAC, which takes away from his campaign's legitimacy but has likely helped his popularity.

So with everything going Donald's way, it seems unconscionable that he would welcome an endorsement from the most embarrassing political figure of the 21st century. Mrs. Palin derailed John McCain's bid for the presidency in 2008 with erratic behavior and astonishingly incoherent speeches. She is political kryptonite.

So is the Donald sabotaging his own campaign? Only time will tell. But those of us betting against Trump have been watching his steady ascendance in disbelief -- the equivalent to betting on Steven Avery's innocence after the second episode of Making a Murderer

I'm starting to think that Trump understands something we don't.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Are You Listening?

Ellen O'Leary, a staff writer at, wrote a piece in December 2014 about the increasing number of new cars that are hitting the showroom floor with wi-fi capabilities. The "Big 3" U.S. car manufacturers -- Ford, Chrysler and GM -- have 67 models, combined, that turn into mobile hot-spots.

Increased tragedy due to smartphone stupidity while driving notwithstanding, I think this trend has huge implications for something we hold very near and dear to our hearts: podcasts.

According to work done by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans (12 and older) that have listened to a podcast within the last month nearly doubled to 17% in 2015, from a paltry 8% in 2008. Let's break the numbers down: 8% of 300 million is 24 million people. 17% of 300 million is 51 million people. That's a big meatball.

One of the main drivers of this rapid growth is how easy it has become to plug your smartphone into your car. I haven't listened to the radio since 2013 and, in all honesty, I'm not sure why anyone would.

As cars become increasingly internet-ready and on-board entertainment suites begin incorporating podcast interfaces, I believe that traditional radio will be almost completely replaced. Why subject your ears to whatever is on the radio when you can play on-demand content of your choosing? It's a no-brainer.

One thing is for sure: if you're not currently listening to podcasts (and you're under the age of 60), you will be in the near-future.

With that in mind, we want to produce more shows. The BBP is great, and we love doing it. However, I believe there is a lot of room left to grow for shorter-length shows that have clearly defined purposes and audiences.

If I were a bettin' man, I might even throw $20 bucks on the chance of one of those new shows being available next weekend. But I gave up betting a long time ago.

Just kidding. Where's my wallet?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Making Bullying Great Again

When I was in elementary school, I rode the bus to and from those hallowed halls of education every day. On one particular trek back home after an arduous day of multiplication tables and bagged milk, I was caught staring at a cute, older girl by one of the "cool" kids. I immediately felt as if I had swallowed a house -- there was a solid ten minutes before my stop. I was no longer riding a bus, but instead found myself in the clutches of a childish thunder dome.

One of the kids found out my name was Daniel. "More like, Danielle!" The dig was met with uproarious laughter -- oh, the humanity. I think that was the day I officially decided that I would go by Dan forever.

I had, no doubt, broken a sacred rule for school-aged kids: older kids (especially of the opposite sex) are off limits. And in breaking that precious rule, I inadvertently opened myself up to some good, 'ole fashioned public humiliation. I can remember the moments on the bus like they were yesterday. I can even remember the Phoenix Suns hat (snap-backs before they were cool) I was wearing. Backwards? Of course.

But I do not have any memories of the aftermath. None. When I got home that fateful day, I met up with my neighborhood friends and spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out how to sell pizzas (made of play-dough, topped with nickles, dimes and pennies) to kids' parents. I didn't have a Facebook, Twitter, or any form of social media with which to bear my soul and recent trials. I was forced to get over it.

So what has changed? Why are 7-year-olds wearing bullying bracelets, that, with the touch of a button, stream a live audio feed of the unfolding events directly to their parents? More importantly, why are parents rushing to the aid of their special snowflake at the earliest sign of trouble?

I contend that bullying, measured both by number of incidents and their severity, is not on the rise. Organizations claim that it is, but I imagine there are lots of "bullying" incidents being reported that would have little claim to legitimacy if the public mood surrounding the subject wasn't so hellbent on justice for bullied children, no matter the cost.

So why all of the anti-bullying campaigns, Facebook groups, .org's, PTA meetings? For the love of all things, why the damn bracelets?

Because we have completely lost our perspective. And without the ability to put things into perspective, our capacity for handling adversity is in serious decline.

The permanence of the internet, and our plethora of channels to immediately access that permanency, is a powerful thing. And for young people, it's the gateway drug that can lead to the complete loss of one's sense of purpose and value. And young people are learning these habits from their parents -- constantly checking their feeds, updating here, quipping there.

This is the equivalent of drinking yourself into oblivion in front of your child, and then gracing them with a bottle of Maker's Mark for their 11th birthday. The only problem with this analogy is that when you are drunk and you do something reasonably stupid, people know you are drunk. They know that tomorrow, when sober, you will be back to your old self.

But the internet doesn't know that what you say when you're 12 probably has no bearing on who you actually are. To the internet, what you say is what you are. Kids no longer learn to forget about the silly little mistakes they make, because those mistakes follow them for a lot longer. And heaven forbid they go viral.

We are no longer free to make mistakes. Therefore, we are no longer privy to the treasure-trove of learning experiences that come from those mistakes.

Some perspective: there are probably a lot of parents out there concerned, right now, about bullying. Let's say there are 10 million moms and dads fretting, up all night, because O'Doyle (rules!) took Timmy's ball at recess.

Now, how many of those parents are going to vote for Donald Trump in 2016? Before you ask me what's wrong with "making America great again," ask yourself this: how many people did Mr. Trump bully the living shit out of to get to where he is today?

Now, off to find that lost perspective. On the internet. Oh, dear god. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Why We Exist

Well, it's here. The website is done. I'm sure some of you thought I would never get around to it. I did, and it's glorious.

I thought about doing one of those Our first blog-type posts, but it's so cliche it makes me sick. Instead, I'm just going to get right to it.

In the spirit of competition, I've decided to highlight the work we're doing at The BrainBust by completely dismantling the efforts of one of our competitors -- Young Conservatives. I'm ashamed that I actually linked that text to their website. If you can get past the barrage of advertisements that fly at you from all angles, you'll find that the site is dedicated to bringing a conservative message to younger voters.

I first found this conservative "news" site when doing some research on the actual impacts of minimum wages on local economies. Michael Cantrell, a regular contributor to YoungCons with "8 years of professional experience," whatever that means, wrote a piece highlighting an OpEd in Forbes. The article went on to explain the ills facing Seattle as they audaciously began to hike their local minimum wage.

Tim Worstall was the author of the Forbes piece. He used a couple of outside sources to make his claim that businesses were already closing their doors in anticipation of the wage hike. He linked the sources, but didn't mention them explicitly in the article. Here's a quote he used:
"As the implementation date for Seattle’s strict $15 per hour minimum wage law approaches, the city is experiencing a rising trend in restaurant closures. The tough new law goes into effect April 1st. The closings have occurred across the city, from Grub in the upscale Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, to Little Uncle in gritty Pioneer Square, to the Boat Street Cafe on Western Avenue near the waterfront.
The shut-downs have idled dozens of low-wage workers, the very people advocates say the wage law is supposed to help. Instead of delivering the promised “living wage” of $15 an hour, economic realities created by the new law have dropped the hourly wage for these workers to zero.
Advocates of a high minimum wage said businesses would simply pay the mandated wage out of profits, raising earnings for workers. Restaurants operate on thin margins, though, with average profits of 4% or less, and the business is highly competitive."
What he failed to mention was that this bit of "reporting" came from the American Enterprise Institute. What's that, you ask? Excellent question. It's a "think-tank," a non-profit organization. They have a board of trustees. Dick Cheney is one of them. His politics aside, do you trust an organization that is overseen, in part, by one of the most notorious politicians of the 21st century? I do not.

Michael Cantrell and I had a little spat on Twitter. He rested his argument on the loosely-supported Forbes OpEd. Fortunately, Barry Ritholz had some great things to say about the article. I asked Michael to come on the show and share his thoughts, perhaps have a little debate. No response.

This is why we -- the BrainBust -- exist. Because blowhards with "8 years of professional experience" can regurgitate another person's broken arguments and get 24,000 shares on Facebook.