• Company sites: DJ Gongol & Associates and Heartland Generator
Radio shows: Available on live streaming Saturdays at 1p and Sundays at 9p (CT), or listen on-demand
• Social media: Google Plus or Twitter

April 27, 2017

Business and Finance White House says it will propose biggest tax cut ever

Everyone like the idea of a tax cut, but it's not always the right prescription. If indefinite tax cuts led to infinite growth, then we should cut the rates to zero. But they don't, and so we shouldn't. The fact is that if we're going to spend 20% or 21% of GDP on the Federal government, then we need to collect taxes within a percentage point (or two, at most) of that amount in order to have a sustainable budget. But we don't: The Federal government only takes in about 17.5% of GDP as revenues (usually taxes). Economic growth can make up a small gap, but not a big one. Borrowing against the future only creates conflict between generations and raises the ultimate cost of our borrowing.

News Separation of powers is good for its own sake

The House Oversight Committee requested information from the White House about Michael Flynn. The White House is stonewalling the request. So now, regardless of partisan alignments, the House has a reason to stand up for itself and insist on its own authority to conduct an investigation -- for the good of the institution. That's a good thing.

News Spinning around and around on NAFTA

First, the President said we were cutting out of NAFTA. Then he got a couple of angry phone calls and decided to reverse course. Free trade is a much bigger and more important principle than that, and it deserves far more serious consideration than he has given the matter.

Broadcasting Unbundling is killing ESPN

The network announced a whole bunch of layoffs, and the ultimate cause is that people have more choice than ever about getting programming without the channel bundles. So a whole lot of people who used to pay for ESPN (as part of cable or satellite TV bills) but rarely or never watched it...still don't watch it, but now they don't pay for it, either.

Aviation News $10,000 for a bump

United revises its rules to offer a whole lot more than before in order to bump passengers voluntarily. The market will take care of the rest.

April 26, 2017

News Stop jerking NAFTA around

The President has wobbled back and forth between threatening to withdraw from NAFTA to, now, saying he's been convinced by phone calls from Canada and Mexico to leave the agreement in place. It's absurd and self-defeating. Anyone who thinks free trade is unilaterally bad for America hasn't seen the hoops that Canadians will jump through to buy US-made products, just for example. Restricting trade hurts many and helps a few, but the many often don't realize it. The harm done is real nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards Falling behind in information warfare

In addition to the substantial cybercriminal/cyberwarfare behavior that had some impact on the 2016 election, there's also an ongoing battle in the court of public diplomacy -- one from which the United States has been ill-advisedly retreating. With propaganda tools like RT on the rise, the United States needs to turn around and stop depleting and neglecting the tools of public diplomacy that helped shape the outcome of the Cold War. For altogether too long, we've been cutting back on conventional (even analog) means of communicating with the world to promote a message of transparency, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Excuses have been made about the economy of using online means to achieve the same ends, but the reality is that they are not true substitutes. They should be seen as complementary tools -- just like a terrestrial radio station, its online stream, and its website are each complementary of one another, to be supplemented by things like social media, podcasts, and "street presence". That's the model we need to resurrect in public diplomacy, and we need to be willing to invest in it.

Health Two teams qualify for big money in Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize

The "Tricorder" medical device of "Star Trek" fame is now, at least tentatively, a real thing in our own world. Two teams have been awarded substantial prizes in an X-Prize to come up with a device that measures for 10 conditions (anemia, atrial fibrillation (AFib), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, leukocytosis, pneumonia, otitis media, sleep apnea, urinary tract infection, or the absence of all nine problems), a few additional elective conditions, and vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature). A truly fantastic development in technology. Inducement/innovation prizes really work. Now the task is to get the devices to FDA approval so we can start to use them.

Business and Finance A tax-reform plan? Kind of.

We have, quite literally, only bullet points to describe what the administration says it wants to pursue for tax reform. But the headline above those bullet points is "The biggest individual and business tax cut in American history". Nobody with the slightest bit of sense can argue that the tax code isn't in need of simplifying reform. What we have now simply doesn't make any kind of comprehensive sense. But to promise a tax cut of historic proportions when the Federal debt stands just a hair shy of $20 trillion -- or, if you do the math, more than $61,000 per person -- is to put an irresponsible degree of faith in the power of a tax cut to stimulate economic growth. Rapid economic growth makes up for a whole lot of fiscal sins...but the amount of growth required in an economy that annually produces in the neighborhood of $18 to $19 trillion is far more than even the most enthusiastic Keynesian would probably permit. It's the expansive view of government that is the root of the problem -- the belief that government can and should do quite a lot. But once we have committed to having government do something, it is generationally irresponsible not to pay for it as we go. We can pass along debts on things that have inter-generational benefits (like the Interstate highway system, or winning WWII) -- and do it with a clear conscience. But our present problem is, quite simply, that we want too much and are willing to pay too little for it. That's a titanic failure of both math and morals. Lower tax rates might easily feel good, but their real impact really just won't be enough to pay for itself, likely not even by a long shot.

Computers and the Internet Ten years after cyberwar on Estonia, the former president thinks Europe still doesn't take the problem seriously

Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves: "One of the problems is that many political leaders don't really quite get it. They don't understand the technology and then they will repeat things that they've heard..." That doesn't mean we have to fill the US Congress and the parliaments of Europe with computer programmers, but it wouldn't hurt if they had at least a modicum of digital and technological literacy before occupying those roles. Learning about cyberwarfare is today as important a job for a national-level politician as learning about bombs. You don't have to know how to use them, but you'd better have a general understanding of how they work. With mounting evidence that nefarious forces have been conducting cyberwarfare against the centrist candidate for French president, it should be clear to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to the matter that cyberwarfare is a pressing issue now and will continue to be.

April 25, 2017

Business and Finance Stock options will enrich Marissa Mayer by almost $200 million when Verizon buys Yahoo

Assuming that everything proceeds as expected with the acquisition, the Yahoo CEO is lined up to make a huge amount of money off her vested stock options. And that's compensation for a performance that it's quite hard to dignify as "successful". Yahoo is, by any reasonable account, a diminished presence on the Internet from what it was when she started her tenure. Would it have done worse in other hands? Maybe or maybe not. But the fact that equity compensation in the form of stock options makes it possible for someone to make so much money -- a fairly incomprehensible amount, really -- without delivering a dramatic success ought to cause shareholders to really question whether they're being fleeced by management and the boards who set management compensation. It's hard not to think the answer is too often "yes". Or, in the words of New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, "Another CEO is rewarded with generational wealth for accomplishing absolutely nothing." Calling it "absolutely nothing" may be a bit harsh, but it's certainly not a rousing success story. The people who own businesses -- shareholders -- need to speak up for themselves and demand better.

News Illinois stumbles towards junk-bond status

Imagine a state that reaches a point where it can no longer pay its bills, nor get anyone to lend it money at less than outrageous rates. Would the Federal government have to step in with a bailout?

Threats and Hazards Russia's been hacking the Danish defense ministry

For the last two years, say the Danes. That's a whole lot of cyberwarfare against a NATO member state.

Business and Finance Health insurance is killing family budgets for farmers and ranchers

Farmers and ranchers are highly likely to buy their health insurance in the individual marketplace, which has turned into a pretty catastrophically high-cost area for a lot of buyers.

Business and Finance IKEA wants to capitalize on its food division

They're seriously talking about opening up IKEA restaurants detached from the furniture stores, employing (of course) the lessons they've learned from operating the in-house food service as a tool to get shoppers to stick around for longer. As crazy as standalone Swedish fast-food outlets may sound, it's a bad idea to bet against IKEA -- they've demonstrated a strong capacity to figure out how to create greater demand than they can supply.

News We should use the right words when discussing prisons

The word "corrections" should only apply if we're trying to release better people than the ones who entered prison. How hard are we really trying to do that?

Humor and Good News Why Kris Bryant won't flip the bat after a big home run

He won't do it because he thinks it's rude to the pitcher. Imagine...we're talking about the Chicago Cubs as heavy hitters, after a century of loveable loserdom

Computers and the Internet Apple will overhaul its retail stores

Anyone who didn't like the Apple Store before will likely find it positively nauseating after the changes, which appear to be intended to make the stores more of a "destination" than a place to shop. Ugh.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

April 21, 2017

Business and Finance Tax reform proposal by next week?

The White House claims it will put forward a proposal for tax reform by next week. Any proposal needs to reflect two important conservative principles: First, government shouldn't take any more than necessary. Second, one generation shouldn't take from another.

Threats and Hazards Russia went after Trump advisors to try to influence the 2016 campaign

Nefarious. Just nefarious.

News President Obama returns to the stage

Next week, he will speak on a major stage for the first time since the end of his presidency. The lingering trouble for the Democratic Party is that his electoral success was more personality-driven than policy-driven, and his "movement" in the meantime severely undermined the kinds of policy objectives that helped the Democrats put Bill Clinton in office. To get back into they White House, they'll need more Clinton-esque policymaking and less nostalgia for Obama. He managed a unique presence in electoral history, but it was not good in the long term for his own party.

News The trials of a captive audience member

Vice President Pence forced everyone aboard Air Force Two to watch "Hoosiers" because he's from Indiana and they were stuck on a flight to Australia

Broadcasting A push to eliminate the "main studio" rule in broadcasting

Does it matter anymore if a station has a main studio in its city of license?

April 20, 2017

News Does China's economic growth make some Westerners soft on authoritarianism?

It's possible -- it was easy to oppose Communism when its public face was the grim, depressing, and economically-backwards Soviet Union. But China has the ability to put a lot of shine and sparkle on display (like the cities built practically overnight from scratch), and that may cause some people to think that an authoritarian government might not be all that bad, especially if it's able to "deliver the goods" that make the difference between poverty and at least some form of wealth. But we proceed down a dangerous path when we let this kind of thinking run about unchecked. ■ First, it's hazardous to assume that the economic success of a nation like China is more than skin-deep. Other countries have achieved substantial transformations in their economic status, too -- Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are all relevant examples from the same region of the world. But they each had important fundamentals undergirding their economic growth, and they each have paid a toll in the modern day for shortcuts that were taken in the past. South Korea's government intervened heavily in order to promote development in heavy industry -- and today, they continue to pay back a sort of civic debt in the form of political scandals tied to the favoritism that went unchecked a long time ago. Japan's economy had one of the world's great booms, but their strong resistance to immigration seems to have created avoidable obstacles to future growth. Singapore, being much smaller than the other two examples, is perhaps a less informative case study, but it is not without its own internal critics of the strength of the state. Ultimately, China will pay a major penalty for its growth if it doesn't start to rectify some of the weaknesses in its own structural approach. ■ Second, economic growth in a country that starts out very poor will happen at a much faster pace than in a country that starts out in the world's middle class or better, just like a startup company can show much faster growth rates than a mature one. Moving from poverty into the middle class will tend to look like a much faster and bigger achievement than moving from prosperity to greater prosperity, simply because it starts from a lower base. That doesn't mean they've discovered some special form of mastery. ■ Third, if looking to other countries causes Americans to think that the answer to prosperity is found somewhere in stronger centralization of power by a political elite rather than from the diffusion of power and control, then they're taking away exactly the wrong message. Sometimes, government has managed to concentrate a whole lot of attention and brainpower on select goals and achieved great success -- the Manhattan Project, for instance, or putting men on the Moon. But most of the transformative improvements in American life have come about from the accumulated small improvements made in many places by many self-interested individuals, families, and firms, which taken together have produced great rewards. Individual ambition among lots of people who are free to exercise their own motivation is a whole lot more effective at making great things happen in the long run than putting some purportedly great planner in charge. As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote, "The depression convinced the public that capitalism was defective; the war, that centralized government was efficient. Both conclusions were false." ■ Fourth, the economy isn't the only thing that matters. So does liberty. So does character. So does honor. So does dignity. So does the rule of law. These things all require hard work -- and though they may be harder to quantify than per-capita GDP growth, they should never be sacrificed in the name of simply making more money. Prosperity is good, necessary, and desirable -- but wealth shouldn't also cost our souls. Economic prosperity is more important as a tool for defending our freedoms and liberties than as an end unto itself. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."

The United States of America Giving extraordinary power to the former Presidents

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has proposed that a council of former Presidents and Vice Presidents be given the authority to conduct a 25th Amendment review of their successors, just in case an out-of-control President seeks to remove his or her own Cabinet in a bid to prevent removal.

News When celebrity overwhelms character

David French's analysis of the "toxic conservative-celebrity culture" in the National Review is quite good. Particularly this: "[B]ad character sends a country to hell just as surely as bad policy does, and any movement that asks its members to defend vice in the name of advancing allegedly greater virtue is ultimately shooting itself in the foot." There are great thinkers and a great intellectual tradition on the center-right of American politics. But just as surely as those ideas should be heard, the clowns who masquerade as "conservatives" in the name of self-absorbed publicity-seeking ought to be booted from the stage wherever possible. There's a lot of work to be done in defense of the classical values that support Western Civilization -- the policies that protect classical liberalism are rarely spontaneous or regenerative without heavy commitment from enlightened leaders. The distractions of noxious celebrity-seekers suck the air out of the room.

Business and Finance At home and not working

The Census Bureau says that a solid third of American adults ages 18 to 34 live at home with their parents. That's a big number, though there are plenty of reasons why that might be. And a quarter of those people living at home don't work or go to school. The total number is 2.2 million people. People who fail to get on the economic escalator early on are going to find themselves falling farther and farther behind in later life if they don't reverse course. A lot of things -- like marriage -- are happening much later for this generation of young adults than for their predecessors. But if you combine social delay with economic idleness, then there's a real problem to behold.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuelan government steals an auto plant from GM

GM says it's only been making parts at the plant since 2015, but they're going to shut down operations in the country rather than surrender. The Venezuelan economic disaster is entirely man-made and entirely correctible...but it would require that the socialists acknowledge that they're at fault, which isn't something they do.

News Take off your hat when you're in the Oval Office

That's not political correctness, it's dignity. Someone should tell Ted Nugent.

April 19, 2017

Threats and Hazards No child -- anywhere -- should have to live like this

A photo shows a small Sudanese refugee child -- perhaps two years old -- sleeping on a hard, dirty floor in threadbare clothing. No child should have to live like that. If we don't have sympathy for the refugee (and do something to help!), then we have no business calling ourselves civilized.

Threats and Hazards The risks to the classical-liberal order

The notion of limited government and individual liberty isn't assured or permanently guaranteed anywhere. It takes effort and commitment. Much of human history rewarded the concentration of power, while the broadest benefits come from diffusion of it. It's much easier for people to slip into a sort of hypnosis that "strong" leaders can fix everything than to undertake the hard and sustained work of self-government.

News Executive order requests report on H-1B program

In general, anything that permits the United States to act as a willing and open recruiter of talent from the global marketplace ought to have a positive impact on our economic standing. We should be "greedy", as the President likes to say, for as much talent as the rest of the world can send us.

Business and Finance Caterpillar headquarters to move from Peoria to suburban Chicago

The company says access to O'Hare makes a big difference since the company exports so much of its output. But it's also worth asking whether this is a case of the company chasing an agglomeration economy -- trying to move to where they think a willing population of management talent might already be (Chicago) rather than trying to dig in deeper and protect itself by entrenching further into Peoria, where its own employees are (perhaps) likely to have to be more committed to the company. By moving to suburban Chicago, it could just as easily lose valuable managers as gain them.

Business and Finance Federal government didn't act on 700 whistleblower warnings about Wells Fargo

If government is going to spend $10 doing something, it's worth spending $1 to see whether it's using the other $9 well. In this case, we have a report documenting insufficient internal oversight over their activities -- which happen to be external oversight.

Threats and Hazards How Russian efforts sought to influence the US election

They were (and likely are) actively trying to undermine faith in the electoral system

News An undignified and unproductive change of style

Prominent Democrats think they can swear their way to success. They've even used the party's official Twitter account to do it. They're dead wrong: Their problem isn't that they aren't using enough foul language, and if they think that's what's keeping them from winning, they're going to keep on losing.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela inches toward collapse

And socialist mismanagement of government and national resources is entirely to blame

April 18, 2017

News British Prime Minister Theresa May calls snap election

Likely a gambit to consolidate popularity gains by her party versus a chronically weak Labour Party

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges shortcomings in "Facebook Live" content reviews

Brought to the forefront by the broadcast of a murder this past week, though that's certainly not the only disturbing incident. It was evident the moment that Facebook Live came out that bad purposes, bad actors, and bad audiences could drive out the good.

News NY Times gives devastating review of Clinton campaign autopsy book

Have no doubt that the campaign made major strategic and tactical mistakes. But if the Democratic Party concludes that it would have won the White House if only it hadn't been hobbled by the Clinton errors, then they're going to make terrible mistakes leading up to 2020.

Threats and Hazards This should reassure no one

Turkey's president says the new powers granted to him via a referendum don't make him a dictator. If the question even has to be asked, the answer probably isn't a good one.

Socialism Doesn't Work Of course Sen. Bernie Sanders wants a radical transformation of the Democratic Party

That's because he's not actually a Democrat, and his campaign for their nomination was intended as a hostile takeover. Sanders has a view of government that is incompatible with the notion of limited government.

Threats and Hazards "Strong leadership" is overrated in national politics

It's probably too easy for us to project tribal instincts onto nation-state frameworks, making "strong leadership" look better than it is. It takes conscious choice to recognize and adequately support restraint, openness, and flexibility among high-ranking leaders.

News The President should do most of his business from the White House

Senator Joni Ernst -- critical of the President's over-use of his own privately-owned facilities for both business and (abundant) vacation time -- is right to expect that the people's business predominantly be done from the people's house.

News The first Federal Form 1040

Rather simpler than the form most Americans complete today. Donald Rumsfeld has a terrific letter to the IRS that he sends each year to acknowledge that "I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and tax payment estimates are accurate...despite my best efforts, despite having a college degree, and despite having the assistance of an experienced tax accounting firm, I do not have confidence that I know what is being requested."

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

April 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Abominable cruelty: 68 children killed in bombing of Syrian refugee convoy

What kind of monsters would do such a thing? And can people begin to see just why so many refugees would be on the run? They're not the perpetrators -- they're the primary victims of the awful war.

News So many things getting better

And yet, still so far to go. The astonishing declines in characteristics like extreme poverty, illiteracy, and child mortality over the last two centuries truly reveal a world getting vastly better over generations. But it's up to each generation to keep pushing forward and avoiding the awful prospect of civilizational decline.

Business and Finance Perspective: US government spending as a share of a $100 budget

In the words of the Wall Street Journal editor Dennis Berman: "America has become a giant insurance scheme with an army".

Threats and Hazards No good options with North Korea

There's very little that can be done to punish the country economically that hasn't already been done, and the legitimacy of the government there basically depends upon fomenting a state of crisis and its related high-stress mentality. So escalating conflict with them only serves to reinforce the one thing that appears to be holding the power structure in place. Consequently, it's not especially productive to show up and try to do our own chest-thumping: That's what the totalitarian regime is hoping for.

Aviation News Meet the Jetsons

Dubai expects to be the first place in the world with drone taxis -- later this year. Really: They're getting autonomous drones that can carry passengers, called the "EHang 184".

Aviation News Boeing layoffs cut 300 engineers

As well as 1,500 mechanics. But the notion of layoffs affecting hundreds of aerospace engineers ought to attract special attention, as those would normally seem to be relatively bulletproof jobs in a high-income, high-status occupation.

Threats and Hazards Right-wing extremists claim responsibility for bombing a German bus

The investigation is incomplete, but claims of responsibility shouldn't be ignored

April 15, 2017

Threats and Hazards A valid concern about Asia

We have no confirmed ambassadors to Japan, South Korea, or China right now -- and those are important roles at a time when North Korea is setting up real trouble.

Business and Finance What bothers Americans about their taxes

It's not so much about paying too much (only 27% say it bothers them "a lot"), but whether they perceive that others are paying enough -- a Pew survey says 62% say it bothers them "a lot" that "some corporations don't pay their fair share", and 60% say the same about "some wealthy people". Worth noting: The households in the top 20% of the income bracket paid 69% of the income taxes in 2013. So, from a broad-brushstroke level, that looks pretty progressive.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

April 14, 2017

Threats and Hazards How North Korean trouble could bind China and the United States closer together

The US has an interest thanks to the presence of our allies South Korea and Japan -- and because of the threat that North Korea is developing weapons that could reach the United States, from Alaska down the Pacific Coast. China naturally doesn't want an unstable nuclear-armed dictatorship getting frantic on its eastern border. And thus, the two countries have a mutual interest in asserting the necessary dominance to end the trouble.

Threats and Hazards Russian psychological warfare continues

Analysts think the "#SyriaHoax" hashtag was a pure Russian fabrication. Let's also acknowledge that Russia tried to influence US elections back in the 1980s; it's not like these operations are anything truly new. On Russian cyber and psychological warfare against the US and trusted institutions, take note of this observation: "It has not plateaued. It is continuing to increase." Also important to remember (about Russia, Syria, North Korea, and so on): The regime isn't the people.

Science and Technology NASA says there are "ocean worlds" right inside the Solar System

There are others far away, too, but the idea that we might actually be in the same region as us is pretty intriguing. Saturn has a moon that looks especially intriguing.

News Tuition-free college in New York

Not unlimited, not unrestricted, but a rather significant free-tuition program

Computers and the Internet Apple gets permission to test self-driving car tech in California

They're modifying Lexus SUVs

News The first book you read...

The first book you read on a subject may be totally wrong. You won't know until you read several more.

News Minnesota econ professor busted for 13 years skipping taxes

Someone may soon get a workshop in the hard-time value of money

Threats and Hazards Remember, it's been three years since the Chibok girls were taken

Gut-wrenching for their families

Business and Finance Economic errors in the public mind

A generation of Americans now believes the risk-free rate is zero. Makes the math easier, but it lacks a certain historical validity.

News Art is in the constraints

When NYC killed its old setback regulations, skyscraper design took a giant aesthetic leap backwards.

April 13, 2017

News Prominent Democrats turn to public swearing

There are four problems with this: ■ If you're modifying your speech in an artificial way so that you "look" authentic, it's inauthentic (and people will see through it). ■ The smart way to demonstrate authenticity is by actually engaging with people -- look to Senators Cory Booker or Ben Sasse for online examples. ■ The Democratic Party should be trying to reach undecided voters and independents. Their base is sufficiently riled-up. The voters in the middle aren't looking for politicians to potty-mouth their way to success. ■ The DNC needs to work on its substance, not its style. The Democrats won the White House when the DLC pushed ideas to the forefront. The DLC was a direct reaction to the rise of identity-based politics in the party, and it promoted an agenda of ideas instead.

Computers and the Internet AI for your doodles

"AutoDraw" takes your lousy sketch and turns it into something more recognizable

Threats and Hazards "Watch out. There's something not right here."

The Guardian reports that British intelligence agencies reported on "contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents", according to a source.

Aviation News Airline passenger suffered concussion and two lost teeth in aggressive removal from flight

So says his lawyer, who also says he'll probably sue. Airlines ought to be smarter about offering people incentives to be bumped from flights. Passengers in middle seats, for instance, may need to be reminded that they have more to gain than others by taking a chance on a new flight.

News Conventional wisdom may be a bit wrong on low-value college degrees

There really aren't a lot of basket-weaving majors, to be fair.

Business and Finance Farm states should be deeply pro-trade states

A reminder we need while trade is getting bashed in the media

Business and Finance Planners are never as wise as they think

Take a messy, dynamic, hard-to-predict economy over a "planned" one any day.

Threats and Hazards Opportunism tends to fill a void faster than justice

Who's in control across Syria and Iraq

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

April 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia "spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community"

That's the interpretation of the National Security Council. Note the following: The price of oil is low (or, at least, it's well below the old bubble that subsidized oil-producing economies). The Russian population is stagnant or even shrinking. The Russian government depends a great deal on oil revenues to deliver goods and services -- for which demand would be expected to rise by a lot in a country with an aging population. And the cohort in power doesn't want to give up what they've taken. So it should come as no surprise that a form of asymmetric warfare -- the disinformation campaign -- will continue to be one of the go-to tools of that governing cohort, as long as disinformation continues to serve their interests. In China, a growing economy has served to suppress political dissent. Russia, which doesn't have a growing economy, may find its leaders turning more towards extraordinary tools to demonstrate (and maintain) power, in the absence of economic strength.

News NATO never was "obsolete"

The President takes credit for changing the focus of the organization, which in his own interpretation took an obsolete organization and rendered it no longer obsolete. That interpretation is silly. Still more, the damage that was done by campaigning on the organization's supposed lack of utility is already fixed in the public's perception -- that is to say, anyone who didn't have an opinion regarding NATO before, and who took the President's campaign statements at face value, is unlikely to change their minds today just because of a reversal in his own formal statement of policy. Institutional support doesn't bounce back so easily.

News Secretary of State visits Russian president in "surprise" meeting

And, in a gesture of disrespect to the press and the public, he ditched his press pool to do it

The United States of America Boston Globe gets one of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women"

However inarticulate Romney's statement may have been, his actions were commendable. As a country, let's not do that again -- if a good person with good intentions and strong qualifications again comes along and runs for President, can we please judge them on their merits rather than fixating on nonsense like the occasional clunky turn of phrase? America needs more politicians like Mitt Romney, not fewer.

The United States of America The Presidential elections of 2008, 2012, and 2016 in precinct-level detail

A really impressive display of research cartography

Follow briangongol on Twitter

April 11, 2017

News Lack of clarity on foreign policy

The United States is the sole superpower in world affairs. It's incumbent upon us to behave rationally, predictably, and transparently. When we don't, there's really not a lot of order left.

Weather and Disasters Necessary controlled burns in Kansas lead to thick smoke in Nebraska

There's no way around conducting the managed burns -- but they might want to coordinate better in the future

Computers and the Internet Microsoft pulls the plug on Vista

No more support

Threats and Hazards Secretary of State Tillerson questions why Americans should care about Ukraine

When is a threat to self-determination somewhere a threat to it everywhere?

News New York to offer (limited) free college tuition

Ultimately, an offer like this is a business decision on the part of the state

April 10, 2017

News Protests are breaking through in Venezuela

The government there has done a shocking amount to destroy both the economy and democracy

Business and Finance A time traveler from 1985 is in charge

If you really think Japan is still our biggest trade competitor, then you might just be stuck in the Reagan era

Aviation News Dragging an airline passenger off a flight? Not a wise decision.

United overbooked a flight and forced a passenger off after he'd already boarded. The reputational damage to the airline from the resulting videos could be substantial.

Iowa Accreditation committee wants University of Iowa to push its business school harder

That includes more emphasis on differentiating it from the other two business schools at the Regents universities

Humor and Good News Ford prepares a prototype crib

It mimics the sensory experience of taking a ride in the car, which for some infants is a cathartic experience

April 9, 2017

Aviation News 50 years ago today: The first Boeing 737 test flight

Likely one of the five most important passenger aircraft in commercial aviation history. It remains a workhorse -- the best-selling commercial airplane of all time -- and its capacity helped to define what routes would be economically viable and which wouldn't. If the 737 can't handle a route, it's probably destined to become a regional-jet route, with all of the consequences that entails.

Threats and Hazards Accounting for the costs of war

People often give credit to wartime production efforts for stimulating economies (like, say, that of the United States during WWII). But that accounting is utterly incomplete if we don't also subtract the costs -- like the destruction of more than a quarter of France's national wealth and half of its annual economic output during the same war. War should never be credited for economic stimulus if we don't equally consider its vast costs.

April 1, 2017

News Child-care workers in DC now need college degrees

That's per a mandate from the municipal government. Like many such regulations, it sounds noble on the surface -- like it will result in children getting better care. But it's important to see that this could equally be viewed as a barrier to entry that will keep competitors from entering the market to supply child care, and according to the Washington Post's story on the subject, the market is already extremely tight. Beware what's happening in the market for labor overall: When new barriers to entry are put up, they're rarely taken down. It's common (but foolish) practice to make it harder for people to compete on the merits of their work rather than on the licenses, degrees, and certifications they can earn -- because once people earn those things, they have an incentive to use them to keep other people out. ■ Beware a growing problem on the other end of the labor market -- where society long ago exchanged high living standards for the assurance that "professionals" would put their clients' interests ahead of their own. That is, after all, the central concept which defines professionalism: An adherence to a code of conduct that puts the client's interests first in exchange for a certain amount of financial security and social status. ■ Unfortunately, Americans have gotten sloppy with the word "professional" -- to the point where it carries no real meaning in ordinary use. People in all lines of work call themselves "professionals" as a means of claiming status without actually adhering to any ground rules or behavioral principles. ■ This cheapening of the word "professional" has, in turn, given cover to people who are employed in actual professions, but who put crass commercial interests of their own ahead of the clients' best interests. The doctor who "treated" Michael Jackson to death, the personal-injury and DUI lawyers with crass billboards and television ads, and the variety of health and wellness "practitioners" who endorse dubious (if not outright harmful) supplements and diet plans are no more "professionals" than any entry-level sales clerk at a sporting-goods store. (Don't even get started on the use of contradictions in terms like "sales professional".) ■ Some commercialism is probably inevitable as professional service providers (doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, architects, engineers, and others) merge operations with one another in order to administrative overhead costs. It's quite natural for some degree of consolidation to take place just through ordinary attrition and simple bookkeeping. But that consolidation can also be accelerated by the impact of government over-regulation: The greater the red tape, the more costly it becomes for a professional service provider to remain independent. More red tape should be expected to invariably lead to more consolidation. And thus we don't have solo practitioners making house calls -- we have doctors who work in groups that are attached to hospitals, which in turn have merged into large chains. The greater the rate of corporatization in a profession, the greater the pressure for other operators to start applying a more flexible yardstick to their own standards of professional behavior. The choices aren't always "consolidate, sell out, or die" -- but they can certainly start to look that way. ■ Can or should these trends be reversed? It's hard to say. They can certainly be accelerated by ham-fisted government intervention; the best way for the government to "do no harm" is to resist the urge to regulate everything under the sun. Professional organizations have a role to play as well, by self-policing their members and bringing the hammer down on those who make a mockery of their ethical codes. And consumers -- the clients of professional service providers -- have a duty to be informed and to insist on knowing when they're in a professional-client relationship and when it's "just business". There's nothing wrong with purely commercial transactions -- they happen all the time, and are the basis of most parts of the economy -- but if clients are letting down their guard because they expect professional treatment in a classical sense, and are getting unvarnished commercial treatment instead, then a clarification of roles is in order.

Business and Finance "American economic sclerosis"

The lure of government "protection" is strong, but in the long run it tends to cost a lot in visible and hidden tolls on an economy.

Humor and Good News Bryzzo Souvenirs is expanding

(Video) The Chicago Cubs are entitled to have a little extra fun this year. They earned it in 2016.

News Three people arrested for starting fire that caused I-85 to collapse in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says some of what burned was a pile of old HDPE (drainage pipe, perhaps?) that was being stored below the roadway and had been there for a decade. This would seem to point to a case of the broken-window effect: If you leave construction materials sitting outside for a decade, there's a good chance someone will get the impression that nobody's watching and nobody cares. And that's when bad things happen.

News Some Executive Branch financial disclosures are out

Two things to bear in mind: ■ Rule #1: It's not your assets that count, but your NET assets. Always subtract for debt. (The "sprawling real estate holdings" attributed to the Kushner family are a good case study in this: If you own a $250,000 house but you owe $225,000 on your mortgage, then you only really own $25,000 of house-related equity. Debt has a reasonable place in business -- especially real estate -- but it's not the same as owning something in cash equity. ■ Rule #2: When it comes to public officials, what you own is often much less important than who you owe.

Humor and Good News Why does this fortune cookie advocate insider trading?

"A confidential tip will clue you in to a great financial deal"?

News We need to talk about a few things, America

When an ordinary Walgreens in an affluent area has a shelf dedicated to paternity tests, breathalyzers, and at-home drug tests for cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and other drugs, then maybe those things are a bit too commonplace.

Threats and Hazards Russia turns to diplomatic nihilism

The Russian Embassy to the UK tweeted "Can a democracy be undermined from outside unless elite's resistance to change and broken social contract and trust have already done the job?" That is some sick nihilism.

News Real independence

Real independence requires study, self-discipline, and sacrifice for the future. It's true for individuals, for companies, and for countries. ■ Also: Part of maturity is in knowing that "trying to do what's right" is a process and "thinking I'm always right" is a character flaw.

News Painting the DC Metro stations

Once you start painting materials like concrete or brick, you have to keep going back for touch-up work. Bad idea.

Threats and Hazards Back to worrying about the EMP

Former CIA director James Woolsey suggests we're ignoring the EMP risk at our own peril

March 31, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He's already rich"

In an interview with The Atlantic, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is chair of the House Oversight Committee, dismissed a question about whether the President might seek to take advantage of his position for monetary gain. His response is wrong -- or, at best, supremely naive -- for at least four reasons. ■ First, it assumes that the President actually is rich. We don't know that. We still haven't seen any meaningful tax returns. We don't know what he owes, or to whom, nor have we seen anything that constitutes an independent accounting of his net worth. ■ Second, it assumes the President is not trying to get richer. We don't know that. The only evidence we have right now says that he never really divested, and his son confirmed just the other day that he's still giving his father reports on the family business. ■ Third, it assumes the President's greed is limited. We don't know that. In fact, he openly campaigned on the notion that his greed was a virtue, not a vice. ■ Fourth, and most importantly, it defaults to the idea that Congress shouldn't assume an adversarial role with the other two branches of government. That's a faulty conclusion. The three branches of government should be jealous of their own powers and eager to keep the others in check -- and that should be the case, even if all three branches were occupied unanimously by people who shared the same ideology. It's a matter of process, not outcomes, that there should always be tension among the branches of government as they struggle with one another to maintain an appropriate separation of powers. If "oversight" is the very name of your Congressional committee, then nobody should get the benefit of the doubt -- whether they're "rich" or not.

Threats and Hazards Sen. Marco Rubio confirms that Russian hackers went after him

Back in the Presidential campaign, and, he says, just this week. It came out during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. Testimony from one analyst identified an amplification system for Russian propaganda promoting Donald Trump and attacking his opponents. This is well beyond mischief. It's psyops -- warfare against the mind, saving the hassle of firing a gun. And what do we have to show for it? While it can't be proven conclusively what happened in an alternate reality where none of this took place, it's clear that the man elected President is failing in dramatic fashion to set a course for his administration, get a legislative agenda underway, or establish his own credibility. The Washington Post notes that hundreds of high-level Executive Branch jobs aren't just unfilled -- they're without nominees. The Post's appointee tracking database is a true public service.

Computers and the Internet Twitter nixes the egg and raises the character ceiling

The default profile picture -- currently an egg -- is being jettisoned in favor of an icon that looks like a person. Twitter seems to have put a great deal of excess thought into this. Perhaps more interesting is that they're raising the ceiling on characters allowed in tweets, putting "@username" references and media links outside the 140-character limit count.

Business and Finance How talent is organized has a huge effect on a firm

If star employees are organized so that they can work together, they can get a whole lot more done than if they are spread out all over the company. The more a firm chooses to concentrate the efforts of its top employees on core missions of the company -- and the better it does at stripping out red tape so that people don't waste their time on unproductive activity -- the better the company can perform. At least, that's what consultant research says.

Business and Finance Caterpillar will shut down factory in Aurora, Illinois

And 800 jobs will depart with it. That's not a small number for a city like Aurora (population 200,000). The closure will take until the end of 2018 to complete. Municipal leaders: Put not your faith in any one company, and never count on manufacturing jobs to stay in one place -- even if there's a huge plant that cost lots of money to build.

March 30, 2017

News "It's just not going to be a 21st-Century Western country."

A dire way to forecast the future of the United States if we don't start acting seriously on our physical infrastructure (and it's a problem that goes way beyond just "roads and bridges").

Business and Finance A big bet on nuclear power goes very, very bad

Toshiba is losing billions of dollars because of trouble with its US nuclear-power unit, Westinghouse, which just declared bankruptcy.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela's supreme court undertakes a coup

They've assumed legislative powers under the claim that the legislature (run by the opposition, not the authoritarian socialists in charge of the executive branch) swore in members who weren't eligible.

Business and Finance Get ready for a loopy future in oil prices

Investment is moving heavily towards oil production that comes from sources that are quick to be tapped -- which could mean under-investment in sources that are more reliable. One of the little-told stories of the US economy today is how much we've been subsidized (implicitly) by cheap energy. It was a surprise -- a bonanza -- and you should never count on a bonanza to go on forever.

The United States of America Government should be a last resort for cushioning the economy

Not a first choice. Robert Samuelson's column probably gives too much credit to the White House for having a coherent vision of government, but he's definitely right when he says, "There's a bipartisan unwillingness to answer this question: What is government for?" -- and even more so when he notes, "We need limited government not in the sense of smaller government [...] but in the sense of government that is focused and reflects agreed-upon boundaries."

March 29, 2017

Threats and Hazards Americans "are being asked to choose between two unpalatable versions of events"

A BBC analyst observes that either there was epic misbehavior on the part of the Obama administration in applying surveillance against Donald Trump and his allies, or there were Americans who collaborated with and enabled a dirty influence campaign by a foreign government with the objective of getting Trump elected.

News The UK files for divorce

It's going to take a while, but they're officially leaving the European Union. It's really happening.

The United States of America "Russia is not unaware of our own distrust of each other...[or] our own increasing self-doubt"

US Senator Ben Sasse's comments on how an adversarial government in Russia is exploiting the soft underbelly of American political life.

Health If we want new antibiotics, we need to grow new bacteria

And it turns out that only a very small range of bacteria like to live in a conventional lab environment. So developments in the last few years that have enhanced the ability of scientists to cultivate bacteria in an organized way outside regular Petri dishes could be one of the best things to happen to medicine in the era of growing antibiotic resistance.

Humor and Good News "My fully optimized life allows me ample time to optimize yours"

A really funny swing at the people who make a pop-psychology fortune selling their purported insights into living perfected lives

March 28, 2017

News "Indyref2": Scotland goes for a divorce, again

"Indyref2" seems like a pretty casual way to describe splitting the United Kingdom, but what's interesting is that the mother country really doesn't want to let the fight happen until after "Brexit" is over and the UK is out of the EU. So: Scotland's leaders have voted for a new independence referendum in 2018 or 2019, and the ministers in London say not until 2020 at the earliest, by which point the European Union divorce ought to be complete -- which would obviously complicate matters for an independent Scotland seeking to get back in.

Broadcasting On Scott Pelley's style of news delivery

He's calling things as they are during the CBS Evening News, and his forthright approach is what we've long needed in broadcasting. It's not editorializing -- but it's not gentle, either.

Threats and Hazards "[H]e's gone off on a lark [...] an Inspector Clouseau investigation"

Senator Lindsey Graham, in his inimitable style, on the things the House Intelligence Committee chair claims to know but won't tell anybody -- including the members of his own committee

Business and Finance Which countries do the most research and development?

Relative to the size of their economies overall, only a few countries in the OECD spend more than the United States -- notably, three of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden), two of our close East Asian allies (Japan and South Korea), and Israel. Switzerland and Austria beat us, too.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather season has arrived

A look at the climatology of past severe weather isn't a perfect guide to any individual year, but it's a very good place to start

Business and Finance Supply and demand: The tiny-apartments edition

A British developer wants to build really tiny apartments in the London region

March 27, 2017

Threats and Hazards "The protection of America lies in the Baltic states"

The Lithuanian president makes a case for US self-interest in acting to defend her country

Threats and Hazards UK investigators think the recent London attacker acted alone

It's reassuring to hear there's no great conspiracy, but it's an unpleasant reminder that even individuals can do great harm

News Double-stacked freight trains started in the 1980s

They're still not found everywhere in the US, but they have a pretty dramatic impact on transportation efficiency. Good thing so much has been invested in the infrastructure modifications that made them possible.

Computers and the Internet Treasury Secretary is wildly naive about the rise of artificial intelligence

In an interview, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the impact of artificial intelligence on the labor market is "not even on our radar screen" -- not even on a scale of decades. He's wrong. And being wrong about something like that makes it very difficult to make informed policy decisions and recommendations. Artificial intelligence is having an impact on the labor market already. It'll destroy some jobs, create others, and enhance still more.

News That's a lot of golf

The President has spent a lot of time on golf courses since his election, which wouldn't necessarily be notable if it weren't for the fact that he made such a big deal out of his predecessor's doing the same -- and that so many appointments have yet to be made. Also, it's costing the Secret Service a small fortune in golf-cart rentals.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

March 24, 2017

News It's called "rent-seeking", and it's not good for consumers

In seeking to prevent "transportation network companies" (Uber and Lyft, mainly) from competing with conventional taxi services, a union leader in Nevada wants state legislators to try imposing restrictions -- like requiring a 10-minute delay between ride request and pickup and placing a ban on surge pricing. It's completely understandable if taxi drivers feel threatened by competition. It's also perfectly reasonable to consider mild regulations in the direct and immediate interest of public health and safety. But artificial restraints on competition like service delays and price ceilings are pure rent-seeking behavior -- that is, the use of political influence to seek income ("rents") that wouldn't be provided in a competitive market.

Humor and Good News Theo Epstein declines Fortune acknowledgement as "world's greatest leader"

It's probably a bit much to name a baseball guy as the world's greatest leader -- but there's no question that management books ought to be written about Epstein and his approach. There's simply no way that his successes at the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were simply freak events. And it's Fortune's assertion that Epstein has applied lessons about personal character that he learned (from their absence) in Boston to building a World Series championship team in Chicago.

News AP decides "they" is sometimes OK as a singular pronoun

If the subject isn't interested in being identified as "he" or "she", the AP says it's OK to go with "they"

News Putin's vulnerability hinges on the price of oil

Per a column from the Atlantic Council: "This sector provides 52 percent of Russia's federal budget and 70 percent of its exports. These prices make or break Russia..."

News Honors bestowed on British politician who tried to save stabbed police officer

There's goodness, after all, inside most people -- including politicians

Broadcasting Radio Australia powers down its shortwave service

The long, slow decline of shortwave radio is a sad thing. Yes, Internet streams sound better. But shortwave has universal reach, and the Internet doesn't. Radio remains eminently portable in a way that data streams are not, and that's never been more significant than at a time when authoritarian governments have the power to blockade Internet access for the people living under their oppression. Those people deserve the freedom of thought that shortwave radio has historically excelled at providing.

Threats and Hazards A small example of the cruel oppression characteristic of ISIS/ISIL

In the Cold War, we opposed Soviet imperialism because it violated the right to self-determination. When ISIS/ISIL enters a place and lays down oppressive rule, then it similarly violates the right to self-determination.

March 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards "I'm a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right."

The President rejects study and knowledge because he wants to go with his gut. The problem is this: People who really care about their jobs develop intuition through practice, reflection, study, and self-criticism. Intuition is a different thing from instinct. Animals have instincts. Intuition is the culmination of habit, study, experience, and reflection. The person who relies on instinct alone -- instead of deliberately cultivating intuition -- puts everyone else around him/her in danger. Never trust the instincts of someone who doesn't study new information or reflect on when those instincts went wrong.

News Sen. John McCain says we need a special committee to investigate

Speaking of the investigation into a relationship between the Trump campaign and an adversarial foreign government (Russia's): "[N]o longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone". That is a non-trivial assertion from a person with the kind of moral authority as the Senator from Arizona. And, given the apologies and backtracking underway as the House Intelligence Committee chair acknowledges that he had his priorities completely wrong, Senator McCain is probably objectively correct.

Threats and Hazards CNN says FBI is reviewing evidence of a Trump campaign tie-up with the Russian government

Were they coordinating the release of material that reflected badly on Hillary Clinton? That seems to be the crux of the matter.

Business and Finance A flat statewide minimum wage makes sense

But so does raising the wage marginally, or at least pacing it to inflation. Ultimately, we need to take steps -- either as states or as a nation -- to do a better job of developing people's skills and human capital so that the minimum wage is irrelevant. That is to say, we're much better off as a society if we're churning out people who are worth much more than the minimum wage in the marketplace, so that the minimum wage becomes a non-binding price floor. But until we reach that point, there's not particularly much to lose by pacing the minimum wage along with the rate of inflation, and it's a signal that we are at least conscious of the impact that inflation has on people all across the income spectrum. From a purely political perspective, it's hard to see the harm in a modest increase in the statewide minimum wage to go along with HF 295, which passed the Iowa House and is presently before the Iowa Senate. Even a trivial-looking increase would at least have the benefit of signaling concern for those who earn the minimum wage (which hasn't risen in the state for almost a decade). The local increases in Johnson, Polk, Linn, and other counties are symptom enough of public pressure for some kind of increase.

The United States of America If you have to start life poor...

...then you'd better hope you're born in the Upper Midwest. An economic study points to the region as unusually good at launching poor kids into higher income brackets later in life.

Iowa A report from the "Midwest foreign correspondent"

(Video) A funny sketch on how the Heartland is perceived by others

News Go home, architecture. You're drunk.

Architecture studio proposes a U-shaped building in New York City

March 22, 2017

Business and Finance Sears notes major uncertainty about future in financial reports

The company isn't quite so sure it'll even be around for much longer. What's really interesting about the Sears saga is that the company came into its own as a major disruptor in its own right. Sears wasn't the first to offer the delivery of direct-to-home merchandise via catalog sales, but it was the first to really escalate it to an art form. (Montgomery Ward predated Sears, and it's been gone since 2000.) It's curious to see the modern incarnation of Sears put under such (potentially deadly) pressure as a retailer today by what are effectively the same forces that launched it in the first place: Direct-to-home sales by nimbler merchants. Ultimately, it's hard to overcome perceptions of a death spiral once that becomes the dominant narrative about a consumer business.

Threats and Hazards Apparent terrorist attack on London

The subject targeted the Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament

News The flaw in restrictive immigration policies

The Daily Iowan (the student newspaper at the University of Iowa) interviewed Representative Steve King about immigration after his recent odious statements on Twitter. Rep. King's vision of immigration in this interview leans heavily on blocking immigrants if they can't show economic merit. It's vital to bear in mind the fact that first-generation immigrants to the United States have often been very low on the economic ladder -- think, for instance, of poor Irish farmers escaping the potato famine. When a nation welcomes low-socioeconomic-status immigrants, what it's really doing is priming the economy for progress a generation down the road. It's the children of immigrants who are often the real driving force for growth. They're close enough to their parents' experience to have an appreciation for what the country offers them, and they have the motivation to prove themselves in a big way. High-status immigrants will always be sought and welcomed by countries that aren't completely stupid about their borders -- after all, what country wouldn't want to be a premier destination for rocket scientists and brain surgeons? It's the country that sees the value of the second generation -- even the children of unskilled laborers -- that really benefits in the long run.

Broadcasting Netflix to replace star ratings with thumbs-up/thumbs-down

Netflix seems to think the change will help offset the "grade inflation" that applies to programming like documentaries, which people tend to rate more aspirationally than reflectively. But what about those users who are disciplined about their ratings and want to be clear that while some programs are fine, others are wonderful -- and still others, quite terrible? More valuable than going to a binary system (which supposedly makes people more likely to leave ratings) would be a system that permits people to rate television programs by season or episode. Some start strong and then end with a whimper (The West Wing). Others stumble out of the gate but find a real voice later on (Parks and Recreation). Some granularity in ratings might be a good thing.

Threats and Hazards House Intelligence Committee chair goes to the press and the White House with allegations

A troubling demonstration of fealty to the Executive Branch

March 21, 2017

Threats and Hazards A North Korean missile test goes wrong

We shouldn't be enthused about missile tests, period. But we really ought to worry about tests in which things don't go as planned -- or perhaps more specifically, those that don't go where planned. On a related note, we should also pay attention to the fact that Sweden is back to practicing defense drills that it hasn't used in two decades. An unstable world without the assurances of the liberal postwar order is a much more dangerous one, and those dangers are expensive.

Threats and Hazards Iowa must do better by our kids

The inhumane conditions documented in a police report tell of adult behavior towards children -- including one who died -- that cannot be explained by anyone with a normal sense of decency. Whatever we're doing wrong as a state that kept the children from being able to escape such wretched treatment must be fixed. Urgently.

Business and Finance The twelve ways a company can innovate

Firms can get ahead by more than just making flashy new products. Sometimes, big advantages come about because they simply find new ways to do old things or better ways to source their raw materials.

Business and Finance Soon to come: Companies will have to admit to a lot more debt

Accounting rules coming into force in 2019 will make companies report their operating leases as part of their balance sheets. That's going to reveal that a lot of companies have debt (in the form of those leases) that they haven't admitted to before. It's likely to have at least some impact on the "asset-light" business model. Bloomberg data suggests it's going to have a $3 trillion impact on accounting reports.

Computers and the Internet An argument for a national cyberwarfare academy

The case for a national cybersecurity academy, much like the military service academies, to develop people who can defend the nation in the cyber arena but with a grounding in the kinds of principles and broad knowledge they'll need in order to do the job ethically.

The United States of America What the judiciary is all about

Senator Ben Sasse: "We want the rule of law -- not of judges' passions, not of judges' policy preferences [...] When a Supreme Court justice puts on his or her black robe, we don't want them confusing their job for those of the other branches. We want them policing the structure of our government to make sure each branch does its job, and only its job."

March 20, 2017

Business and Finance Manufacturing output is high -- it's manufacturing employment that's declined

If you don't get the diagnosis right, you risk issuing a deadly prescription. The problem isn't us getting screwed at the trade-negotiation table. It's that technology (mostly) and trade (to a lesser extent) render lots of jobs obsolete or redundant. We can lie to ourselves and pretend like we can stop the shift by barricading ourselves off against trade, but that's just dumb policy that assumes the wrong diagnosis and guarantees the application of really awful prescriptions that will make the situation worse. Ham-handed trade policies that focus on "protecting" primary industries (that is, ones that are very close to the step when raw materials are turned into something basic) can punish American companies that have moved up the value chain. Trade principle #1: If you want to protect anything, focus on intellectual property. Punish theft of trademarks, patents, and trade dress. Trade principle #2: Follow quality-based purchasing guidelines. Americans build great products - use rules-based standards for quality. Trade principle #3: Help workers displaced by trade and/or technology to move up the value chain with flexible, adaptive training programs.

Business and Finance The skyscraper curse

At the time when a Korean conglomerate is opening its 123-story Lotte World Tower, the company is finding itself in the midst of troubles of geopolitical economy and domestic law enforcement. The Korean economic miracle is a fascinating subject for study, but it's hard to shake the notion that the country is paying today for some of the economic vulnerabilities it accepted as part of the structure of its semi-managed economy. The government's strong hand in seeking to guide development (through favoritism and certain protectionist policies) created a class of businesses that are unusually susceptible to trouble when exposed to the wrong uncertainties.

Business and Finance Don't look for manufacturing jobs to "come back"

The jobs that have disappeared from the US market aren't likely to "come back" for any reason, especially not since many of them have departed not due to trade but to increased productivity (especially thanks to automation). What we should be seeking to do is create new jobs that are enhanced by automation and trade -- in other words, to adopt an expansive vision of the economy and employment, rather than an isolationist one.

News "Our mandate is clear, it is to get on with it"

UK will start the formal process of leaving the EU on March 29th. The full divorce is expected to take two years.

News Co-locating libraries with public housing

Chicago is going to build three such facilities. It's a novel idea, and we should hope that the execution lives up to the lofty ambition. An idea like this seems so good and logical that one could be forgiven for looking for the "catch".

Computers and the Internet Solid-state drive so fast it can be storage or RAM

To anyone who grew up with floppy disks (or even cassette drives), this kind of progress is remarkable

March 17, 2017

Humor and Good News Seven rules for St. Patrick's Day

It's quite possibly the best holiday of the year

March 15, 2017

News A bilingual Mexican school system in 20 years

It's an ambitious goal, to be sure. And there will undoubtedly be institutional resistance. But Singapore found a way to become an English-fluent country, so it's not without precedent. And over the long term, it's hard to imagine a lot of investments that would have a higher social return than getting Mexico deeply integrated with the English-speaking world. Good luck to the policy-makers.

News Another independence vote for Scotland?

If the UK is going to leave the EU, then Scotland may have a new excuse to leave the UK. And could you blame them for wanting better access to the bigger market rather than the smaller one? The remaining UK would have every incentive to treat Scotland well and seek favorable terms for trade and other policies if Scotland gained independence but joined the rest of Europe. Not too difficult to game out how this would play if all of the parties involved pursued their own self-interest.

Computers and the Internet US Department of Justice charges Russian FSB officers with hacking Yahoo

There's no getting around the message here: "The FSB officer defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the U.S. and elsewhere."

Computers and the Internet Marissa Mayer will likely get millions of dollars for leaving Yahoo

A golden parachute indeed

News Our actions reflect our priorities

(Video - in Spanish) Amnesty International says the United States is keeping young children in ICE detention centers for stretches exceeding a year. We really have to ask ourselves: Does that sound like it reflects American values and virtues?

Business and Finance Low interest rates are no longer an extraordinary condition

Per the remarks of Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen: "The longer-run neutral level of the federal funds rate is still likely to remain below levels that prevailed in previous decades." That's a huge statement that probably goes over the heads of most casual observers. But the thought that the "ordinary" level of interest rates that prevailed for the last half-century or so could be gone -- well, that's quite the change of mindset.

News On peaceful coexistence

Dwight Eisenhower said, "No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations." It's interesting to examine principles expressed during the Cold War to see whether they hold up today. This one does. If we want a peaceful existence, then we need a peaceful co-existence. It's perfectly fine for us to be different nations from one another, but we need to be cooperatively different.

Broadcasting On the hazards of cable news programming

Watching cable news no more turns you into an engaged citizen then watching ESPN turns you into an Olympic athlete. Exposure to content isn't the same as practice. Good civics requires effort.

The United States of America Everyone wants limited government when the other side is in power

A keen observation from Senator Ben Sasse: "Community is about persuaded values. Politics is about compulsory values."

March 14, 2017

Threats and Hazards If the US takes a swipe at the UN, what happens next?

If the United States withdraws dramatically from a world leadership role, we shouldn't expect peace and order to fill the void. Brutal cuts to our participation in (and funding for) international organizations seem shortsighted.

Threats and Hazards Influence-peddling through the back door?

If Chinese companies (which may or may not be acting at the behest of the state) are offering to take part in sweetheart deals with family members of powerful White House officials (like the President's son-in-law and key advisor), then by whom and how is that to be policed?

Business and Finance Businesses will be key guardians of tolerant social norms in the years ahead

Even if the temper of government sways in illiberal directions, the influence of the private sector should serve as an important guardian of tolerance. A good example: The investment-management company BlackRock is going to pressure investees to take action on issues like boardroom diversity. They have the votes, so they'll have the influence.

Threats and Hazards Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence

If the President truly has reason to believe that he was wiretapped, he has to supply some sort of evidence. Otherwise, baseless accusations undermine the basic assumptions of truthfulness required to make an advanced society function.

News Decorating, dictator-style

How come people with authoritarian instincts seem to share really bad taste in decorating?

Iowa Gates on the Interstate

A common scene in the rural Midwest: Permanent gates that swing closed to block entrance ramps to the Interstate highways. Because nothing short of a locked, permanent gate will stop some Midwesterners from proving what (over-)confident winter drivers they are.

March 9, 2017

The United States of America A reality check

Thanks to a growing population and the normal distribution of intelligence, America has more geniuses today than we did in the Manhattan Project. While genius alone doesn't solve our problems, we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that modern problems are beyond our ability to create solutions. We should ask ourselves what modifications to public policy could attract the contributions of people who aren't engaged now. We also ought to examine what should be done about the state of our civic life to draw out the same kinds of people.

Science and Technology Storing solar energy

Tesla is storing solar energy captured in Hawaii and storing it to sell overnight at cheaper rates than conventional electrical generation can provide.

News The bounds of executive orders

The current President isn't the first to use them with abandon. He will still face constraints, as rightly he should. While they have a place in our form of government, it should be as a late or last resort -- not a first course of action.

Threats and Hazards Federal investigators are looking at Wikileaks

As they should

Computers and the Internet 10 things people have made with the Raspberry Pi

When a computer costs $35, it should come as no surprise that people use it for experimentation with great enthusiasm. A great example of the fact we simply cannot predict the outcomes when new technologies are introduced, especially at low prices.

News Gee, why would Sweden have reintroduced mandatory conscription?

An important leading indicator of where things are headed in the geopolitical sphere is (and will continue to be) the behavior of the Baltic and Nordic countries. And when it's clear that Sweden isn't confident in peace and security ahead, that ought to capture the attention of those who prefer a stable and peaceful world order. If they're nervous, the rest of us should be as well.

News On the goodness of sunset provisions

Laws should be made to expire like bad produce

March 8, 2017

News China is displeased with US anti-missile defense systems going into South Korea

Time for some high-level game theory. What discourages stupid behavior by North Korea without upsetting the stability of a region that contains an ambitious regional power?

The United States of America 400,000 POWs

A word to those who are gripped by fear over the prospect of immigrants and refugees entering the country from troubled places: The United States kept more than 400,000 Axis POWs on American soil during WWII. 400,000 -- including legitimate, true-believer Nazis. This was during a time of war, and we're talking about enemy combatants -- not refugees from the fighting. If we were capable of maintaining the peace and security of the country with 400,000 enemy combatants on our soil at a time when nobody conceived of even the possibility of tools like biometric screening, then perhaps we should assume that we might today have the capacity to open our nation's doors more generously to those who are authentic victims of war, violence, and oppression. Fear of what might happen to us should be tempered by the knowledge that we've handled far greater risks with far lesser resources in the past.

News We don't need to be cruel to obtain security

(Video -- in Spanish) Try to imagine what fortitude it takes for a mother to bring her children from Guatemala or El Salvador all the way to the US border. Then try to imagine what kind of a gut-wrenching decision they must face when told either to separate from their children (and trust, somehow, that the system will take care of them) or to return to their homelands. America, we've got to be better than this.

Business and Finance Tracking investments of time with the scrutiny of investments of cash

(Audio) A really interesting interview with Michael Mankins, a management consultant who argues that firms squander mountains of employee time with a recklessness that they would never waste cash -- even though employee time is easily quantified in dollars and cents. Very interesting.

Business and Finance Hard times for retailers

Rumor has it that Gordmans is on the brink of bankruptcy. American Apparel and Sports Authority have already gone down that road. It's just tough to be in a retail environment when you're competing with online alternatives that can beat your prices, offer wider variety, and spread out their inventory risk over the entire country.

March 7, 2017

Business and Finance $150 million in new plant spending

Honda is spending about $50 million in Ohio and $100 million in Georgia on new equipment and assembly lines, so the company can produce next-generation transmissions for cars. But take note that with all of this spending, they aren't talking about hiring new workers. That's the crux of the story for American manufacturing today: Making more, better, and higher-value stuff than ever before, but doing it without adding new workers. On balance, that's a net gain to society -- but it doesn't satisfy people with a fetish for classic "smokestack" factory jobs. Advanced manufacturing is all about sophistication, training, and quality -- not lapsing into a 1950s-era caricature of an assembly line.

News Is China planning to start military patrols of the Atlantic?

It's probably too much for the country to spend right now for too little obvious return on investment. But don't bet against an Atlantic strategy for China in the long run -- especially if they have reason to believe that their shipping lanes might be challenged.

Business and Finance Don't mis-count GDP

The current obsession with reducing imports -- especially in pursuit of raising the country's GDP -- is a path down the wrong track. Imports are subtracted from GDP, yes, but only after being counted under consumption. So their net impact on the country's accounts is zero. And if we start clobbering imports for their own sake rather than realizing that they fit within a bigger economic picture, then we're going to get ourselves in trouble.

Broadcasting When cable news drives the day's agenda at the White House

Literally. The President spent hours tweeting about (and with/at) "Fox and Friends".

Weather and Disasters A summary of the March 6th tornadoes in Central Iowa

Very unusual to have damaging tornadoes this early in the year. Tornado warnings usually don't arrive in force until April.

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

March 6, 2017

Business and Finance Automation may very well be coming sooner than you think

There is great incentive for firms to put automation to work whenever it becomes economically feasible, and a world of low interest rates, tight competition, and low returns on other investments -- coupled with the very fast pace of technological development that should by now be obvious to anyone with a pulse and an Internet connection -- make it all the more likely that automation will displace more workers at a faster rate in the years ahead than what we've already experienced. That creates a pressing need for thoughtful public policies to accommodate the substantial social costs that will likely be incurred as an inevitable byproduct of the pursuit of private gain. ■ There's no way to tell employers they should keep people on the payroll if they'll lose money (or even get pushed out of business) if they don't automate. But it would be willfully negligent for us to imagine that there is no meaningful social consequence to the mass displacement of workers in an economy far more complex than the ones in which prior mass displacements occurred. ■ The displacements are inevitable -- and they could come in big numbers very soon. (They might not, but we shouldn't design our public policies around rosy, over-optimistic scenarios.) So whether we need to start thinking seriously about substantial career-retraining programs for displaced workers, or implementing extraordinary accommodations like the universal basic income, or even going so far as to impose compulsory continuing education on all adults, there is no time to waste in treating the possibilities with the seriousness they deserve.

Weather and Disasters A remarkable severe weather complex

750 miles of continuous severe thunderstorm warnings. Double-digit tornado warnings in Iowa, approaching annual totals for some recent years. And it's all happening at the beginning of March, which is much too early by normal standards. It did smell like tornadoes at lunchtime.

The United States of America If the President really thinks he was wiretapped...

Senator Ben Sasse says it well: If the President is going to make giant accusations, then it's incumbent upon the rest of us to insist on a full and fair investigation. We can't afford to let the public trust be indefinitely and indiscriminately undermined: Public trust is like a savings account, where deposits can only be made slowly and in small amounts. The withdrawals tend to be big and fast.

News When even $1 million hardly cracks the problem

The Chicago Public Schools are in need of $215 million to balance a budget that is in dire distress due in part to a colossal problem with underfunded pensions. With recording artist Chance the Rapper delivering a $1 million ceremonial check to the school system, people might obviously and naturally applaud the gesture. But when a number as big as $1 million doesn't even cover a single percentage point of the problem, then there's a serious problem afoot. ■ CPS isn't the first public-sector institution to run into a catastrophic pension problem -- but it's part of the vanguard. There are lots and lots of other government and public-sector agencies that are, altogether, trillions of dollars in the red. This isn't the kind of problem that can be wished away -- in many cases, taxpayers are on the hook without any regard to the condition of the economy or their government budgets for other things.

Threats and Hazards "[B]ecoming detached from religious and civic institutions"

People's propensity to want to turn to politics and "burn it down" (in the style of wrecking-ball candidate and President Donald Trump) looks like it has a close relationship to the disengagement those people have from the conventional organizing institutions of public life. People need to see that problems can be solved, differences overcome, and measurable progress achieved -- but also that it involves sacrifice, trade-offs, and commitment. That starts with engagement at the local level. People who pull away from that kind of engagement don't get the kind of psychological reinforcement they need in order to see that we are in control of our own destiny.

Iowa How a slow ag economy drags on everything else

That's how it is in the Upper Midwest, where there's no getting around the fact that farm incomes have a huge effect on the remainder of each state. The current pain in the ag economy is (and will continue to) ripple through to other sectors.

Business and Finance The world's middle class is growing quickly

Brookings says 3.2 billion people are "middle class" in the world today, and there will be a billion more in that category in just five years. A world with a vast middle class is more complicated than the one many of us were taught about. But it's a very good complication. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."

Science and Technology Five Nebraska counties now have 911 service for text messages

Imagine the benefits to an individual in the back seat of a car being driven by a drunk -- or a person being abused by a domestic partner. Technology is only as good as the people using it, but this is a very good way to use technology to help people.

March 5, 2017

News Sound, sober analysis of the unsupported accusations of bad wiretapping

The Economist is a voice of reason, as usual

News "There's a lack of management, and a lack of strategy."

Still in the chaos phase at the White House, it would appear

Threats and Hazards Even to shrink the Federal government, you must staff the Federal government

Reports the editorial board of the New York Times: "President Trump has appointed fewer than three dozen of the top 1,000 officials he needs to run the federal government." That's a serious problem. Even if it is accepted as an end goal to reduce the size and scope of government, it is malpractice to leave vast numbers of positions unfilled. Any orderly winding-down of government activity would still require that skilled hands be at the controls so that essential functions could be cherry-picked from among the non-essential, and to ensure that responsibilities be handed off where appropriate. Even the Civil Aeronautics Board (one of the few Federal agencies ever to be abolished) had to be wound down statutorily, not just left unstaffed.

Business and Finance Reasons to expect more rate hikes rather than fewer in 2017

The Federal Reserve could be more aggressive than previously expected. One reason that nobody seems to admit out loud (even if it's clearly on everyone's minds): The impact of what could be inflationary (and yet economically contractionary) fiscal policies initiated by the White House.

News Maps that offer unconventional perspectives

How we represent our world in pictures does have an effect on how we perceive it

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "The Samsung Way"

A necessary profile of a company that has evolved dramatically in modern times

March 4, 2017

Business and Finance How quickly will the economy grow?

The 4% figure hailed by the White House is utterly desirable -- but almost certainly unachievable. A plan to get 4% real GDP growth requires more than "And then I click my heels three times..."

Threats and Hazards Someone call an adult

(Video) Former Senator Alan Simpson is angry with the way American voters and elected officials are avoiding the mounting fiscal crisis. People like fiscal discipline and free trade in much the same way they like vegetables: They're often less fun than the alternatives, but without them, we could die.

Iowa Every program has a constituency

A subcommittee of the Iowa House recommended approval of a plan that would repeal the state's 5-cent deposit on can and bottle return. Eliminating the return, though, could disrupt community events and programs that count on people donating their cans and bottles. Once a government program develops a constituency, it almost never goes away -- no matter how benign or mundane the program. The people who depend on the program have very strong incentives to keep it around, while everybody else has only weak incentives to eliminate it.

News Sweden revives the draft

Russian aggression against Ukraine and its drills in the Baltic region have the Swedes understandably nervous. The implicit costs of mandatory conscription are huge and should not be overlooked: A less-secure, less-stable world is not cost-free when compared to the incumbent liberal Western order. And with America unnervingly likely to pull back from soft power, it's time to pay attention.

The United States of America A moment of decency and sincerity

(Video) Senator Lindsey Graham has real words of honor for Senator John McCain

News From the Microsoft Library

A place like the White House boiler room or the broom closet at the Vatican: You ought to assume it exists, but why would you ever think about it?

Business and Finance Beware the hot stock market

"American pension funds are optimistic. Businesses are cautious. Shares are trading on very high valuations." It's that last part that gives extra reason for heartburn. High valuations propped up by lousy alternatives (who wants a fixed-income instrument right now?) and real apprehension about inflation are not good things.

Threats and Hazards Famine in South Sudan

It's vital to understand that most famine in the world today is man-made. That fact also means that we can fix it, but have to muster the will to do so. The situation in South Sudan is one shocking example: 100,000 people are already victims, and 5.5 million people are at risk. It's all due to violent conflict.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 4, 2017

On bacon and cybersecurity, among other topics

Follow briangongol on Twitter

March 3, 2017

Socialism Doesn't Work Mark your food waste

That's the message the church is trying to promote in Venezuela -- so that people who throw out food scraps can indicate where that food waste can be found by those who are scavenging for something to eat. There is no acceptable reason why a country like Venezuela should have starvation happening today -- but authoritarian government and economic isolationism have come together there in such a way that even in the midst of vast potential oil wealth, the population is going hungry. Politicians can't make an economy grow -- but they clearly have the power to destroy its potential.

Computers and the Internet NBC dumps half a billion dollars into Snapchat

The triumph of hope over sound reasoning. Snapchat's parent company came out with an IPO that priced the company at $35 billion. The business lost half a billion dollars last year and almost $400 million the year before. There's no sound way to place a value on a company like that. In fact, under most circumstances, a company losing that much money that fast wouldn't even really be regarded as a going concern. So for people to believe that it is worth $35 billion -- and for NBC to take out a half-billion-dollar share of that -- requires an active and willing suspension of disbelief in basic accounting.

News Who are we trying to be?

The Department of Homeland Security, says Reuters, is considering a new policy whereby children caught crossing the US border illegally could be separated from their mothers and detained under "protective custody" of the government. With policies like this, who are we trying to be as a country?

News "Republicans once emphasized the limits of government's power to solve problems"

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman knows that the President's address to Congress wasn't Republican in nature

Science and Technology "Mass timber" construction comes to the United States

Processed wood considered as high-strength building material for tall towers

March 2, 2017

News We must get the Russia probe right

The Attorney General has recused himself from "any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States". It's a necessary step -- the perceived misconduct is severe, and Jeff Sessions seems to be too close to the matter to be able to give it fair and impartial oversight.

Threats and Hazards No, parents don't have unlimited rights over their children

The appalling, utterly inhumane abuse of a Chicago 8-year-old -- at the hands of her father and grandmother -- is all the proof society should require to know that parents do not have absolute authority over their children. At some point, the state is obligated to step in to protect the welfare of the defenseless. And if we as voters, citizens, and taxpayers fail to adequately fund -- and demand accountability from -- the systems required to protect those kids, then we become unwitting accomplices in their harm.

Computers and the Internet Emma Watson won't take selfies with fans -- for geolocation reasons

The actress actually has a sensible policy for her personal security. She'll talk with fans, but won't take pictures with them, knowing that some will share those pictures immediately with geolocation tagging -- giving away her location. It's actually just an extension of the kind of behavior we all should practice -- wait until you're home to post pictures of yourself when you're out. Don't give away your locations, travel patterns, or routines if you don't have to.

News "[G]irls in their natural state -- strong and confident"

It's taken too long, but the more we recognize culturally that females shouldn't be bounded by oppressive taboos any more than should males, the better off we'll be. As Warren Buffett has said, "Look what's happened since 1776, most of the time, using half our talent." There's no reason to hold back anyone's full potential.

News One-paragraph book review: "Novice to Expert"

A disappointing attempt at a book-length treatment of material that would have been entirely serviceable as a short article or workbook

March 1, 2017

Threats and Hazards Ideology is on life support

Columnist "Lexington" in The Economist points to the lack of substance in the President's address to Congress: "Republican members of Congress are also realising that identity beats conservative principles in this new politics of the right." This is all a terrible reflection of the last decade or so: President Obama undermined the Democratic Party by trying to be a superstar floating above it all. President Trump undermines the Republican Party by existing in a space of empty populism outside the range of commitment to principle. ■ Ideology gets a bad reputation, but there's a difference between blind partisanship and committed ideological consistency. Blind partisanship has very little social payoff; if it's "my party, right or wrong", then nothing good will come of it. But the person who can extract conclusions from a defined system of beliefs that draw from an informed understanding of history and philosophy is a person who can behave with some predictability and who can fall back on the strength of convictions even when challenged by new and novel opposition. ■ Grounding oneself in a principled ideological framework doesn't mean one has to be rigid or act with blinders on. It's less about acting like an unmovable brick wall, and more like behaving like a moored buoy -- free to move with the currents of news and events just like the waves of the ocean, but tethered to a fixed location.

Computers and the Internet Wendy's stores will get self-service ordering kiosks

A thousand stores will get the kiosks -- because customers like them and they pay for themselves in two years. Those who want to fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage should take note. Time and energy would be better spent campaigning on behalf of systems for better job training and human-capital development than fighting for regulations that will only hasten the arrival of the technology that will displace lesser-skilled workers.

News Murder in Olathe

A man is charged with murder in what looks like a clear-cut case of race hatred. A much better man -- one who tried to intervene in defense of the two Indian men who were killed -- is in the hospital with injuries.

Computers and the Internet Twitter takes steps to respond to problems of abuse

Accounts that look abusive will be isolated via artificial intelligence. Individuals can mute tweets that include words they don't want to see. Account types can be filtered out as well. The changes should be helpful in general, but the bad behavior on the platform is so widespread it may be hard to shut it down entirely.

Business and Finance GE boss thinks the US may be drawing back from the world

Jeff Immelt, in his letter to shareholders, calls it "an era when trust in big institutions is so low that the most valued 'strategy' is simply change in any form."

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 28, 2017

News Dramatic cuts to soft power will undercut the country

(Video) Senator Lindsey Graham rebukes the President's proposal to slash funding for the State Department. Security today is the result of long, patient investment in trust-based relationships, not cavalier transactional deal-making. Things like diplomacy (including public diplomacy, like investments in international broadcasting) don't pay off overnight. That makes them susceptible to short-sighted cuts, unless thoughtful leaders like Senator Graham prevail.

Business and Finance Be realistic about economic-growth projections

It is a hallucination to believe that 4% real GDP growth can be achieved without long-term, sustainable, and patient investment in our physical and human capital. We need to invest in our physical infrastructure -- but not with short-term stimulus programs that just dump some asphalt on existing roadways. We need to invest in our human capital, too -- but not by artificially inflating (and then crashing) a dubious universe of for-profit schools. The United States could probably sustain 4% growth rates in the long term, but that would require increasing our productivity by much more than 4% (unless we somehow expect a dramatic boom in workforce participation). Plans to get to 4% growth absolutely must include plans to raise productivity.

Health The new bird flu

A strain that hasn't gotten a lot of attention before (H7N9) appears to be resurgent in Asia

News Are Republicans short on wonks?

Has a long period in the opposition hollowed-out the ranks of people who can make real proposals happen? It's an interesting question. And it's especially important when it's clear there isn't a lot of policy leadership emanating from the Executive Branch.

Business and Finance Target considers a more downmarket approach

Retailing is such a fickle business

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 27, 2017

Iowa Should colleges strive for ideological balance?

A state senator in Iowa proposes Senate File 288: To "require partisan balance of the faculty employed at each fo the institutions of higher learning governed by the board." It is a fine concept for universities to promote exposure to a wide range of perspectives -- that's the point of obtaining a "liberal" education (where "liberal" means "open", not left-wing). But as Margaret Thatcher said, "One of the problems, I think, of modern politics, and modern journalists, is that people are always polarizing questions. You know, saying either/or. And in fact life isn't lived in either/or terms, but mostly somewhere in between." Legislating partisanship not only misses the possibility that "balance" may not reflect even the community standards of the state (which, at any given time, might be more of one party than another), but it also misses the exceptionally important notion that "balance" isn't binary -- Iowa, just for instance, has 715,000 independent voters and 12,000 third-party voters, compared with 627,000 Democrats and 665,000 Republicans. Thus, authentic "balance" should require more independents than either of the major parties. Moreover, any consideration of "balance" ought to reflect the multipolar nature of politics -- there are all flavors of Democrats and all flavors of Republicans, and all flavors of "other" as well. What of the person who agrees with 55% of a party platform? Does he or she count as a real partisan? The proposal for party balance at the state universities is silly and should be dismissed out-of-hand as ridiculous, unenforceable, and unproductive.

Business and Finance The deeper meaning of the Billy bookcase

What you can pick up about economics and consumer surplus from looking at a piece of IKEA furniture

News A Frank Lloyd Wright home on sale for $1.4 million

It's surprising that even with the enduring appeal of Wright's Prairie Style that there aren't more homes being designed and built today in the same fashion. Aren't there architects and builders today who want to make a similar name for themselves? Many people obviously don't mind spending obscene amounts of money on hideous McMansions, so why not spend the money instead on something that will still look good 50 years from now?

Aviation News SpaceX to fly two space tourists around the moon in 2018

They say the best way to spend your money is on experiences, not stuff. One could imagine that people with a lot of money might very rationally want to blow through their wealth on experiences like this.

Threats and Hazards No, you don't have to show your papers

Over-zealous hunting by government agents for immigration-rule violators leads to perfectly legal American citizens being asked to "show papers". It may sound like a trivial encroachment, but it ought to be resisted -- freedom of movement is a fundamental American right, and the pursuit of lawbreakers is no excuse for trampling on the rights of the law-abiding.

News White House staff subjected to phone checks

Politics aside, has anyone ever done their best in any workplace where paranoia, anger, and distrust prevail?

Threats and Hazards Disgraceful: Bomb threats against Jewish community centers

Threats like this have no place in civilization

Iowa Iowa county looks at repairing 123-year-old stone bridge

It could be argued that the bridge was built too well in the first place -- anyone who paid for its construction is long dead, and it most likely could be replaced by something using better materials and methods (that's the nature of technology, of course). It could also be argued that we are really too accustomed to coasting on the investments our predecessors made in building an adequate system of public works for us to enjoy today, and have done far too little to invest in their ongoing maintenance and upkeep. And there's a third argument to be made: That some old structures are worth keeping around because of their historical merit.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 26, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World"

A valuable third-party perspective on the pivotal geopolitical relationship between China and the United States

February 25, 2017

Threats and Hazards Terrorism by Americans is still terrorism

A terrorist attack by a white man in Kansas against two Indian men is as deplorable as any other terrorist attack, and it should be denounced with the same kind of volume as any other.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 24, 2017

Business and Finance What do we want? Sustained 3% annual real GDP growth!

When do we want it? As soon as we get the productivity growth rates that would consistently make that kind of increase in real output possible! (It's not very catchy, but it's true.)

The United States of America The left discovers Federalism

Better late than never

Business and Finance The Smoot-Hawley tariffs didn't cause the Great Depression...

...but they did make it a whole lot worse. We should never retreat into mindless protectionism again.

News How generals are defending civilian government

With career military men in charge of the Defense Department, Homeland Security, and (naturally) the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we would normally be in a condition that ought to give people alarm: Civilian control of the government and oversight of the military ought to be a priority. But with a wildly inexperienced White House in charge, the sober words of experience and temperance are coming from the men who have spent a lifetime sworn to defend the Constitution. The President seems sufficiently impressed by their credentials to offer them deference he doesn't seem to show anyone else.

News American conference attendees duped into waving Russian flags

If you're sufficiently enthusiastic about politics that you'll show up at a "Conservative Political Action Conference", it ought to be pretty embarrassing that you could be taken by a practical joke that involved you waving a Russian flag. Basic familiarity with the symbols of one of our most important geopolitical adversaries ought to be required of anyone willing to so vigorously espouse a political opinion.

February 23, 2017

News China will stop buying North Korea's coal

An effort to pressure the country into submission over nuclear weapons. May it work, for the good of us all.

Business and Finance A well-reported story on Warren Buffett's acquisition strategy

Rare is the financial reporter who actually understands the Buffett process. It's worth reading.

Iowa Truck platoons could hit Highway 20 in Iowa this year

Cooperative cruise control (involving trucks communicating with one another) could be a reality in Iowa by the end of the year

Business and Finance Hyped-up immigration crackdowns could hurt the US housing market

It's not just a matter of whether law enforcement only actually prosecutes people here without proper documentation -- if they create a sufficient amount of insecurity and uncertainty among people who immigrated here legally that they are starved of the confidence they need to make long-term decisions (like buying homes), then the waves of homeowners looking to exit the market (like, say, Baby Boomers hoping to down-size) may find themselves losing a very ready set of buyers. At the margins (where prices are decided), immigrants have a huge impact on the housing market.

News France's runoff system for electing a president shows how the system determines the outcomes

America's first-past-the-post system works rather differently, with dramatically different outcomes

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 21, 2017

The United States of America Senator John McCain stands up for NATO

At the Munich Security Conference: "Our predecessors did not believe in the end of history -- or that it bends, inevitably, toward justice. That is up to us. That requires our persistent, painstaking effort. [...] [W]e stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair...and that even though we will inevitably take losses and suffer setbacks, through it all, so long as people of goodwill and courage refuse to lose faith in the West, it will endure." ■ The line of argument advanced by the President, which suggests that the United States has been ripped off by ne'er-do-well allies, is self-defeating. The point of a security alliance isn't to fight over who pays what share of the bills, but rather to ensure that no individual country is forced to fight its battles alone. The United States most likely plays a role in NATO that is disproportionate to its population; we probably pay more, and we probably do more of the heavy lifting. So what? If the ultimate objective is a secure world in which our interests are protected, then we would be exerting money and effort to advance our security interests globally, with or without allies. The outcome we want is not dependent upon the number of other participants. ■ So, if a peaceful world is going to be subject to the free-rider problem no matter what (and it is -- it's not as though our concept of security is defined by NATO borders), then anything that gets other parties to substantially participate in that common security arrangement is better than no such participation at all.

Threats and Hazards "Putin and his thugs are fundamentally at odds with America's interests"

Midwestern US Senators show broad agreement: No matter your political stripes, the notion of a foreign government interfering with our free and fair elections is noxious. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse concludes (correctly): "This should not be viewed through partisan labels. Congress should investigate Russia's influence campaign in the US."

Broadcasting 75 years of the Voice of America

One of the most sensible and cost-efficient means of conducting public diplomacy has been the operation of an international broadcasting service. (The BBC, to many people around the world, IS Britain.) The United States's effort in this area, the VOA, has been subject to far more than its deserving share of cuts in the last decade or two, and it's high time we recognize just how valuable it is.

The United States of America The self-funded candidate

Which is more peculiar: The candidate for office who has to spend considerable time and effort trying to raise funds, or the candidate who is wealthy enough to self-fund a major campaign (as one of the Pritzker clan intends to do if he runs for Illinois governor)? We should ask ourselves whether there is anything about the structure of our electoral system that makes these outcomes more likely than they ought to be.

News Looking for a lively Lincoln library

Nebraska's capital city is looking for ideas to build a new central library -- and it's a worthwhile question. Ideally, as a society, we would place such a high cultural value on learning (and not just classroom learning for those in the conventional school ages, but well beyond) that libraries would naturally be seen as the most viable and logical centers of most communities. That often isn't the case -- perhaps it's only true in the most extraordinary of situations. But taking serious steps to make the public library a real center of the community -- not just the building and where it's located, but the institution and what it does to the local civic fabric -- is a pivotal step for municipal leaders to take.

February 20, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "The Death of Expertise"

A well-delivered call for all of us to do some urgent introspection

News Who's the real failure here?

(Video) CBS News anchor Scott Pelley offers a concise summary of the President's problems: "The media didn't block his travel ban, didn't fire the national security advisor, didn't cause the labor secretary nominee to withdraw, didn't attack the judiciary. It seems like the common denominator of Mr. Trump's woes is the Constitution." His comments (on the February 17th edition of the program, at about the 10:00 mark) manage to make a very strong point simply by illustrating the facts. Opponents of the President ought to take note: His missteps can be refuted through a plain recitation of the facts. No embellishment is necessary; in fact, the less the facts are hyped, the better.

Threats and Hazards FBI has three investigations underway of election interference by Russia

Brazen attempts to skew the outcome of an election by targeted attacks on computer systems and other illegal means of underhanded behavior should be repelled when possible and prosecuted when not. The American public, meanwhile, ought to think hard about becoming more resistant to manipulation -- since there's no reason to believe that Russia will back down from doing the same things again, nor any reason to believe that others will refrain from trying the same thing. Once a vulnerability has been exploited, one should expect continued attacks until it is patched.

News Even unified party government doesn't work very fast

Republicans control both houses of Congress, and a nominal Republican is in the White House. And yet, not much is getting done. That's a good thing -- government should be deliberate, not so nimble that big things can turn on a dime.

News What happened in Sweden last night

The President of the United States inserted comments into a speech making reference to things happening in Sweden. He suggested that they were awful, terrible events. Swedish media conclusively report no such things taking place.

Business and Finance Kraft Heinz decides no further pursuit of Unilever takeover

It would have been a gigantic merger -- estimated at more than $140 billion

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 18, 2017

News Know your moral bearings

If your only standard for behavior is "The worst thing my opponent got away with", then you don't really have a functioning moral compass. Regrettably, a whole lot of people are trying to adjust to the 2017 political reality by using this line of excuse. It's repugnant and it's tiresome.

Humor and Good News Art is in the constraints

Building a cake with inedible fondant is like making a gingerbread house from cardboard.

Socialism Doesn't Work Three weekends in a row at his private resort

If Americans were bothered by President Obama's trips to Hawaii or his time spent campaigning for Hillary Clinton, then the same people should show concern over the fact the President of the United States has now spent three weekends in a row burning taxpayer dollars to shuttle him back and forth to Florida. That's not to mention the fact that we're now a month into the new administration and still short of massive numbers of key appointees. If it was wasteful spending under Obama, it's still wasteful spending under Trump.

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia uses disinformation campaign to undermine German soldiers

The German soldiers are in the Baltic states as part of their NATO defense commitment. The disinformation campaign is a clever (though sinister) way for Russia to undermine the defense of those small countries by driving a wedge between the NATO alliance and the locals. Again, Russia is turning to asymmetric techniques of conflict -- they've gotten very good at it.

Business and Finance A great reminder for most investors

Take interest in your own investments, or take out index funds. (But take interest -- it's much better. Learning how capitalism works from the inside is simply a cost of living in an advanced market economy like ours -- just like we all have to learn a few things about computers and modern medicine, too.)

Computers and the Internet Facebook is trying to be too many things at once

Mission creep is probably inevitable for an outfit like Facebook, but it always seems to end in failure

Threats and Hazards 75% of high-level Defense Department appointed positions are still empty

The President needs to spend less time tweeting hate mail, gallavanting off to Florida, and planning campaign rallies -- and more time finding qualified people to run the Executive Branch. What he's doing isn't in the job description, and what he isn't doing...is. He's had a month in office, and that followed more than two months of transition.

Threats and Hazards Norwegians increasingly fear Russia

As they reasonably might. There's some evidence Swedes and Finns may be growing more nervous, too.

February 16, 2017

News "Today we learned the length of the president's fuse: 28 days"

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley captures the essence of the President's press conference today with erudition and economy of words

Threats and Hazards What causes conflict?

Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, "Almost all armed conflict in the history of the world came about because opposing sides believed different things to be true." While the conditions he describes may be true, the difference in the way people see things isn't really the underlying cause of most conflict. Instead, we should always be alert to the circumstances where armed conflict can be seen as a more efficient way of capturing resources than honest alternatives like trade or development. Genghis Khan didn't grow a colossal empire on belief, he built it to take resources from others. The Mongol Empire is just one among many examples. The predictive power that comes from understanding armed conflict as a means of capturing resources is that we can start to assemble an understanding of the world that promotes trade and human development and the dignity and rights of the individual. Very little in the world could be more dangerous than a poor country with giant ambitions and low regard (among the ruling class) for the value of common people's lives.

Business and Finance The chaebol under new pressure

From a 2001 paper: "While South Koreans are probably better off than they would have been without the chaebol system, they were living atop an economic fault line that was destined to shift. South Korea should provide yet another warning sign to those who fail to believe that managed economies are bound to experience failure."

Computers and the Internet Problems with White House information security go right to the top

Is the President really still using an unsecured Android phone? A device that hasn't been properly secured could easily be hijacked and turned into a bug by skilled adversaries, among many other bad things that could happen.

News Would getting rid of singlets make wrestling more attractive to prospective athletes?

Maybe compression shorts and separate shirts will make the sport more appealing

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 15, 2017

Business and Finance Why aren't there more good popularizers for economics?

What's with the shortage of public intellectuals, anyway? The shortage of good "explainers" on behalf of economics is a real loss to society. So much about conflict (of all types) traces back to resources and their creation, destruction, and distribution -- and that's economics. One causal factor, perhaps, is that the answers to economic questions tend toward ambiguities, gray areas, and conditionals. That makes it very hard for anyone credible to gain traction in the public eye.

Business and Finance Beware the perils of "factory fetishism"

Romanticizing a particular sector of the economy without thinking through the consequences of development is a path to waste, inefficiency, and trouble.

Threats and Hazards A Russian spy ship is hanging out just off the coast of Connecticut

30 miles out from a submarine base

News Singapore marks 75 years since the Japanese occupation

The story of Singapore is a complicated one, to be sure, but it is a definitive case study in the power of market economics, trade, and endogenous initiative ("bootstrapping", in a sense) to take a place with no substantial advantage in natural resource wealth and convert it into a tremendously wealthy place.

Humor and Good News A feel-good adoption story

What can and should happen when a person's birth family isn't ready or willing to give a child the care each one deserves.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 14, 2017

The United States of America We need a "CONstitutional CONdition" index, similar to DEFCON

For bad behavior, ranging from bush-league to truly unconstitutional

Humor and Good News Why do coffee-flavored jelly beans exist?

Whoever invented the coffee-flavored jelly bean was a world-class sociopath.

February 13, 2017

The United States of America On welcoming refugees

It takes a dim view of human nature to ignore the fact that most people try to be good, regardless of birthplace.

February 10, 2017

Business and Finance We always expect the nerds to save us

We have to give them the opportunity to do so. The job may be tougher than ever under the current administration: President Trump has decided that the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (whomever that will be; the role hasn't been appointed yet) will not serve in his Cabinet. It's likely because he can't find an economist willing to play yes-man to his economic savagery. Have no doubt: Someone will need to be called in to clean up the economic mess created by this President (should he get any meaningful amount of the economic policy he campaigned upon). The only ones capable of fixing it will be the "nerd" class of sober, pragmatic, level-headed economists. We're in trouble if they're being shown the door already.

News Canadian town (across the border from Minnesota) experiences an influx of refugees

They're crossing from the United States, presumably because they are fearful of what a feckless US government policy on undocumented immigrants will do to them.

Iowa New president at the University of Northern Iowa

Iowa's comprehensive public university needs respect and a high profile

News "Progressive" Democrats want to shove out the centrists

The idea that centrists are rivals to be shunned from the Democratic Party (rather than coalition partners to be embraced) represents the triumph of ideological puritanism over math. The Democrats need a broader tent, not a more leftist one.

The United States of America Americans should resist the consolidation of power

(Video) US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is a thoughtful voice on Constitutional separation of power, transcendent of politics. He is a generationally significant voice for the Article I branch of government.

Business and Finance Sunk costs: An economic concept that's good for your mental health

Whatever has been done...is over. Don't make decisions based on the rear-view mirror.

Threats and Hazards The national debt is no less a crisis than it was 12 months ago

At just a hair below $20 trillion, the debt comes out to $61,282 in real, incurred money owed per person for every one of us in the United States. And that doesn't count the massive future liabilities imposed by expenses like our entitlement programs -- which will cost even more.

The United States of America Decency transcends politics

American decency isn't about the boxes we check on Election Day, but about the things we do in ordinary civic life. So when you think of what makes America "great", think about the plow drivers who clear the way for a heart-transplant patient to make it to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm, or of the foster father who takes in terminally-ill children so they can feel familial love in their short time on Earth.

Business and Finance Don't misunderstand tariffs

If the government were to put a 20% tax on restaurant bills, consumers would eat out less, restauranteurs would find their revenues decreased, and everybody would be worse off. There is no reason to think that a 20% tariff would work in any other way. Remember: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs aren't a tax on "other people" or "other countries". A portion of their incidence falls on the consumer -- and quite often, a very large portion indeed. (And don't forget: The Midwest depends on trade.)

News Read "It Can't Happen Here"

A book that ought to be taught in schools, right alongside "1984" and "Brave New World". Written by Sinclair Lewis, it is both a powerful narrative and a novel full of gems, like "...a country that tolerates evil means -- eil manners, standards of ethics -- for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end."

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 9, 2017

News SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch "demoralized" by President's attacks on the judiciary

Before we have left and right, we have three branches of government -- each of which should jealously guard its own role in checking the other two. It's troubling to have a Supreme Court nominee already have to face heat because of ridiculous and troubling things the President has said.

News China appears to be executing diplomacy better than the new US administration

It is perfectly fine for us to find ourselves in a world where the United States and China aren't enemies or rivals or opponents, but instead find ourselves "cooperatively different" (to coin a phrase). But even if that is to be our future, then the United States will need to be playing its diplomatic "A" game so as to ensure we cooperate on the right things in the right ways and avoid unnecessary escalation of conflict in others. No sensible person should expect China to adopt a liberal-Western system of government anytime soon (or perhaps for decades or even centuries to come), but we're all stuck on the same planet together. Negotiations over our differences, though, should be conducted at a level far better than what we've executed thus far.

Computers and the Internet Iowa Senate bill would make texting while driving a primary offense

The problem with a bill like this is that texting itself isn't unique in its capacity to create distraction. There are people who are equally distracted by eating a sandwich, arguing with children in the back seat, or checking out their appearance in the mirror. Why should texting be singled-out when the danger it creates isn't unique?

Computers and the Internet No more telecommuting at IBM marketing

The company is eliminating the telecommute and putting all of its marketing staff in six offices

The United States of America Former Senator Alan Simpson finds himself displaced

He used to hold the record for tallest member of the United States Senate. The new Senator from Alabama, Luther Strange, has knocked him from the top spot.

February 8, 2017

Computers and the Internet Don't wake up angry

A message to the President: Waking up and blasting off an angry tweet every morning is a bad way to set the agenda

Threats and Hazards A government going off the rails

"[President Trump's] attempts to run a renegade White House are not working out well". Does he have the opportunity to do better? Of course. Does he have the wherewithal? That's the big question, and it's hard to see any signs the answer will be "yes".

Computers and the Internet Restaurant owner escapes jail time for tweeting pictures of a sting operation

An Omaha restauranteur shared photos of minors who tried to buy alcohol at his establishment as part of a sting operation. A jury decided that didn't constitute obstruction of justice.

News A Kennedy runs for governor -- of Illinois

Yes, one of those Kennedys: Chris, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and one of the (seemingly few) family members who hasn't ever run for office. He's in part been responsible for managing the extended family's gigantic fortune.

Humor and Good News "Secret Service Adds Emotional Protection Division"

Barbed satire from The Onion

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards We are better than this. Let's act like it.

Max Boot, a conservative, criticizing the Republican Party: "By not doing more to distance itself from this morally obtuse president, the Republican Party is becoming, de facto, the party of moral relativism."

Weather and Disasters 3-day weather forecasts in 2017 are as good as 1-day forecasts in the 1980s

Improved granularity of forecasting is making things much more accurate.

Threats and Hazards Russia is literally trying to freeze out Ukraine

Without energy for heat, people literally suffer in the cold. It's not warfare, but it's the asymmetric application of pressure.

Broadcasting In selling CBS Radio, the parent also sells the heritage call letters

Even though CBS Radio stations won't have anything to do with CBS anymore, the KCBS and WCBS call letters will go with the sale, at least for 20 years. How the heritage networks have treated their radio assets is really extraordinary: NBC Radio was killed off, then brought back from the dead. ABC Radio was owned by Cumulus for several years until the deal folded in 2014, and then it was brought back from the dead at the start of 2015 not in its classic format but predominantly as a promotional arm of the parent. It's all quite odd.

The United States of America Watch the flows of immigration over the years

Watch where the people come from over the years

February 6, 2017

Business and Finance Want to become richer? Add more value.

That's the lesson from Germany's economy: Train workers, focus on areas of comparative advantage, and engage more with the world market (not less). This is emphatically not the course being charted by the Trump administration -- but it would be the right one to follow.

News The missing-syllabus problem

Author Tom Nichols: "Most people do not have the skills or background to know if what they're reading is any good." This could be called the "missing-syllabus" problem: While the Internet (especially) causes us to think we have the world's information at our fingertips, it doesn't come with a syllabus. Without knowing where to start or how to truly teach ourselves, it's quite easy for us to think we're auto-didacts when we're really just filling our brains with intellectual hash. It's an especially complex problem in the Teach-Yourself Economy, since more people need to learn more than they used to, and our formal educational and training systems are slow to adapt to the demand.

Business and Finance A visual guide to the largest employers by state

Walmart, universities, health systems, and the Federal government. That's about it. Enlightening.

News How long should injured pro athletes be eligible for workers' comp?

A fight comes to life in Illinois

Threats and Hazards "The President has no constitutional authority over border control"

Even enthusiasts for expansive executive powers are starting to regret putting too much power in the hands of the Article II branch of government

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

February 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards The President's instability creates real political risk to the economy

Says columnist Matt Levine: "Everything Trump literally said is coming literally true; everything the serious people heard remains an unserious hope. Businesses may eventually get the tax and regulatory reform they wanted, but it's not a priority."

Business and Finance Coming to the defense of the free market

Charles Koch plans to spend a lot of money defending the free market against Trumpism.

Iowa University of Iowa has lost money for two consecutive years on athletics

Athletic programs are a fine adjunct to the college experience, but they are neither essential nor guaranteed to be profitable. Schools should be prudent about them: They're fine to have, but they should never drive the agenda of the university or become centers of consolidated power -- nor should they be above careful scrutiny.

Threats and Hazards The President still doesn't have a blind trust

In fact, he's still the sole beneficiary of the trust set up for his assets. And there's nothing blind about them. We should have higher standards for him, and for his successors -- and it may be time to codify those standards, rather than relying upon convention.

News Ambitious immigrants bring fresh blood to a culture and an economy

Think of it like a compressed spring: If you've been held back by circumstances in the past, and then by good fortune find yourself freed from those oppressive circumstances, it's not hard to imagine wanting to strive just a little more than those who never felt those constraints in the first place.

February 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards Unintended consequences of "America first"

Other countries, if unable to count on America's support, are going to put themselves first

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

February 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Norwegian authorities are most worried about Russia

The nation's top police officer says: "Russian intelligence services are targeting Norwegian individuals." It's unsettling when put in parallel with "Occupied", the phenomenal television drama about a soft Russian invasion of Norway.

Threats and Hazards Executive unilateralism could shut down tourism

Badly-written, hastily-drafted executive orders end up having unintended consequences.

Science and Technology Real progress compounds dramatically over time

You wouldn't believe how cheap light is today compared to when your ancestors walked the earth. Everything that durably improves the quality of life over time comes back to productivity -- we humans learning how to produce more with less waste.

News Calm down, America

Tom Nichols: "Unmodulated shock and outrage, however, not only burn precious credibility among the president's opponents, but eventually will exhaust the public and increase the already staggering amount of cynicism paralyzing our national political life."

News There's no such thing as a Presidential advisor in 2017

"For most of Trump's career he has only trusted a small group of longtime loyalists at the Trump Organization, and even then he has often tightened the circle further to family members." It's important to get the right perspective on things: The President isn't a skilled manager; he's a self-promoter. And it goes further: Where a lot of people see authoritarian instincts, others see deep-seated insecurities and thin knowledge. They may share some superficial symptoms in common, but it's hard to respond correctly without getting the diagnosis right. On a related note, it's a good thing we have Senator John McCain, who is a key player in the Republican resistance.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

February 2, 2017

The United States of America Burping would be safe under Associate Justice Gorsuch

The Supreme Court nominee dissented in a case where he thought a school police officer went too far in busting a kid who burped to disrupt class. But here's the key takeaway: "...for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people's representatives. Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels." Yes.

Business and Finance If people don't see their living standards rising...

...then they'll usually look for someone to be worse-off than themselves. And when that fails, we get an election like 2016.

Iowa Free rides home over Super Bowl weekend

Budweiser and AAA will cover the cost of a tow and transportation home for people in Iowa through Monday morning. An interesting way to combat drunk driving over Super Bowl weekend.

News UK parliament approves authority for Prime Minister to negotiate Brexit

The European Union as a political entity has a whole lot of problems -- but this feels like a bad time for such an important participant to get headed urgently towards the exit

News The Dissent Channel

Not a TV network; it's the way diplomats send urgent messages back up the chain of command within the US foreign service to warn that they think a policy is off-track. Probably a model that private businesses should adopt, too.

February 1, 2017

Business and Finance Firm creation is at a long-time low

If new firms aren't being created, power is likely being concentrated in the old ones

News Everything you need to know about Donald Trump you get from his extemporaneous speaking

His Black History Month comments are a perfect example of his incapacity to consider anything abstract

Computers and the Internet New FCC boss wants to address the "digital divide"

It's a big deal -- being without reliable high-speed Internet access is in many ways like being without access to paved highways

Health How "Count the Kicks" came into being

And how it caught on

The United States of America A look into the soul of today's diplomacy

Some thoughtful reflection on the situation at the State Department

Follow briangongol on Twitter

January 31, 2017

Business and Finance Warning: The President wants an inflationary currency

President Trump to the press corps today: "Other countries take advantage of us with their money and their money supply and devaluation. Our country has been run so badly, we know nothing about devaluation." This ought to put anyone who believes in a growing real economy and a sound dollar on full alert. The President doesn't set the money supply -- but he does nominate the Chair of the Federal Reserve, and although Janet Yellen has a term on the Board of Governors that lasts through 2024, her current term as Fed Chair expires in 2018. There are plenty of institutional safeguards in place to protect the Fed from political pressure, but there's also a lot of damage a President can do via appointments, from the bully pulpit, and via regulatory and tax tools. The mere fact that a sitting President of the United States would bark openly about "devaluation" of a currency as if it's a tool that we have under-utilized is a dangerous thing. Fiat currency depends upon the faith of the people who use it. The bigger problem may be that President Trump doesn't understand the actual state of the economy, and he's aggressively promoting the use of tools that are inappropriate to its current condition.

News There is only one Syrian orphan living with a US family

It's good and bad news: The good part is that observers seem to think the children who get separated from their families in the troubles plaguing Syria are able to be reunited quickly with extended family as necessary. But the bad news, more glaringly, is that there are lots of entire families who still need help -- and who won't get it from the United States, if the Trump Administration has its way.

Broadcasting One terrific television ad

(Video) Danish television system produces a 3-minute video that probably speaks more to the value of common humanity than we readily acknowledge

News Boy Scouts of America opens door to transgender Scouts

The BSA is a fine institution with a great deal of good it can do for young people. Getting rid of arbitrary obstacles to participation is a laudable step for the organization to take.

Business and Finance Someone just bought 19% of a Russian oil company

But who?

January 30, 2017

Business and Finance Why you should worry about inflation

When former Fed chair Ben Bernanke writes that, "to increase output without unduly increasing inflation the focus should be on improving productivity and aggregate supply", he's saying something totally different from what's coming out of the White House. In fact, it's almost 180 degrees the opposite. So if you don't expect them to satisfy the second part of the statement (focusing on productivity), then you'd better prepare for an inflationary situation.

Threats and Hazards Astute analysis of the new order of the world

A sobering thought: "Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him."

The United States of America Anyone who tells you the parties are OK is ignoring the data

The Republican and Democratic parties are separately, and together, in basically their worst condition ever. More Millennials and Gen Xers identify as independents than as either Republicans or Democrats. Our one-person, one-vote/first-past-the-post voting system makes a two-party duopoly basically inevitable, but the current arrangement isn't stable.

News On the sad, sad extinction of the Blue Dog

Democrats with conservative fiscal views and moderate social ones are a rare breed now -- when they're needed more than ever

Broadcasting An all-women's spin on "Ocean's Eleven" is coming

Anything with Sandra Bullock and Mindy Kaling has to be worth the price of a ticket

January 29, 2017

The United States of America A first-person refugee story

What it's like to come to the United States because you're unsafe in the land of your birth. We should be proud to be a refuge to the world's oppressed. That's the behavior of humane, civilized people.

News Compounding unpopularity

Gallup says that 50% of the country already disapproves of Donald Trump as President. He started at an even split (or a remarkably low net approval of zero), and is now almost incomprehensibly far behind his predecessors of recent memory. He is starting with the same approval rate as Richard Nixon in May 1973 -- which, for historical reference, was the the opening of the televised Senate Watergate hearings. Imagine.

News A long, long reading list on public infrastructure

It's not just about "roads and bridges". Infrastructure is much broader than that, and it's not a single thing at which we should blindly throw a lot of money and expect great returns.

Iowa Trends in Des Moines-area home values

Prices in some neighborhoods are declining -- and they're already the lower-valued neighborhoods. That keeps residents from building equity to get into higher-value neighborhoods, if they want. It should be considered a serious local socioeconomic problem, and one that local leaders have an interest in examining thoughtfully. Are there public goods that can be used to make those neighborhoods more valuable?

News France bans unlimited free refills of pop

Yeah, yeah: It's in the name of public health. But it still sounds a little nanny-state-ish.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

January 28, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "Good Profit", by Charles Koch

A bit dry, but definitely worthwhile reading for the conscientious student of business management

January 27, 2017

The United States of America If the left wing cultivates its own "Herbal Tea Party", they need to hold back

The Economist carries a column with a strong insight about the need for opponents of the Trump Administration to make sure that they don't attack the voters themselves who put him in office. There's going to be a lot of need for reconciliation and unusual alliances in the time to come. There are already a lot of strong voices on the center-right who are as opposed to the direction and misbehavior of this administration as anyone on the left -- because offenses against truth and basic civility have no party. But it does nothing good to scold people who are late converts.

Business and Finance The future of unionized manufacturing jobs isn't rosy

Manufacturing productivity is rising. Non-union manufacturing employment is steady. But unionized manufacturing jobs are on a downward trajectory that hasn't reversed course in more than a generation. It's not because of labor laws. Meanwhile, the President can convene all the "manufacturing jobs councils" he wants, but if government policy is to be used to favor one kind of employment over others, that will require sound reasoning and justification. The bar should be set extremely high for favoritism to be justified.

Computers and the Internet "Fake news" could be a whole lot worse by the next Presidential election cycle

Technology already exists that permits real-time manipulation of audio and video. Technology itself is neutral; whether it is used for good or bad purposes is in the hands of the users. But this technology could easily be used for a great deal of evil. Audiences shouldn't fall for it.

Health Get trained in CPR

A bystander at a gym saved the life of a man in cardiac arrest when the staff fell short. Everyone should get trained in CPR because none of us knows in advance how well we'll respond in an emergency. Some people freeze; that's inescapable. So the more people who are trained, the better the chances of survival for anyone who falls in need.

Aviation News One-paragraph book review: "The Wright Brothers"

A vibrant portrait of one of the great technological successes that is far more engrossing in detail than in its usual abbreviated portrayal in the history books.

The United States of America Don't deify the Founding Fathers

David McCullough in 2001: "If they were marble gods, what they did wouldn't be so admirable. The more we see the founders as humans the more we can understand them."

Follow briangongol on Twitter

January 26, 2017

News Mexican president cancels planned US visit

This is not the way to start relations between two countries sharing a large border, many common interests, and a great deal of economic interconnectivity. The United States has a giant vested interest in a politically stable, economically prosperous Mexico -- even if the President of the United States is willfully blind to that fact.

The United States of America Sen. Lindsey Graham is a hero

He's taking on the worst behavior of the Trump Administration in a clever and public way, and that's a good thing. The Trumpian notion of imposing high tariffs on imported goods is ridiculous and punitive -- not a smart way to fund anything (including a wall on the border with Mexico). Tariffs are funny things -- they look like a way to target "foreigners", but the fact is that their incidence depends on the relative slopes of the supply and demand curves. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs offer concentrated benefits to the workers they "protect", with costs shared among all consumers. That kind of recipe is really good for turning badly-formed political wants into reality.

News To understand Russia's behavior, look at the price of oil

The Russian government depends heavily upon income from the oil business. With that income in retreat, it should come as no surprise that the government there is looking to asymmetric power plays (like trying to interfere with Western elections) and headline-grabbing displays of power. Economic strength speaks for itself; weakness begets the kind of behavior we see in wounded animals.

Business and Finance Uber for advertising

Marketing company sets up deal to put temporary advertising wraps on personal vehicles. Why not? Commercialism is the American way.

Business and Finance Cash flows in China tilt the world's property markets

As the Chinese government has sought to keep its subjects from taking their money overseas, it's going to starve some of the world's hot property markets of interested buyers (and their money)

January 25, 2017

Business and Finance Dropping out of the TPP only shrinks the stature of the United States

Big multilateral trade deals are never perfect, but they're generally preferable. Think of the United States as a giant trading bloc among 50 independent countries: We have just one trade agreement that serves us all, rather than the 1,225 bilateral agreements that would be required if each state went its own way with each of the other 49 states. Remember: One person's "tariff" is another person's use of import taxation to force the entire public to play favorites and subsidize a small share of the population.

News A wall, no matter how concrete, is nothing more than an empty symbol

Can physical barriers obstruct the passage of people and goods? Obviously, yes. But anywhere you look in the world, where there are two neighboring countries with different standards of living, there is always and everywhere pressure on that border by migrants seeking a better life. Indonesians die trying to get into Malaysia. The border between Belarus and Poland is stretched thin. And, yes, many Latin Americans try to enter the United States in search of work. Putting up walls isn't a durable answer. The real systemic solutions come from enhancing the economies of the poorer countries in these relationships, and from normalizing relationships so that migration issues can be handled in a sober way. An expensive, 2,000-mile long wall between the United States and Mexico has all the characteristics of a gigantic boondoggle that will waste taxpayer resources and disappoint its proponents.

Threats and Hazards What evidence of massive fraud at the polls does the President possess?

None has been revealed. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence -- but they do not require extraordinary refutation. If someone claims that the sky has turned teal with purple polka dots, the burden of proof is not on the rest of us to prove that it has not. Unfortunately, there have always been people who are submissive to the claims of those in positions of authority, no matter what the evidence. That is why the President's claims should be clearly denounced as deviant.

Iowa Separation of powers: It matters, no matter the party

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa tweets a series of messages to the President, advising that he intends to stand his ground regarding expectations of transparency and reporting as the Senate reviews nominees to serve in the new administration. Grassley has credibility as an advocate for good-government transparency, so this message ought to stick.

Broadcasting A modest proposal for television news

If the President or the press secretary is demonstrably lying or propagating false information, just switch the feed to black and white instead of color. This is a massively image-sensitive administration; diminishing that image when it is being tarnished by lies is a signal that would serve the public.

January 24, 2017

The United States of America A world order must be led by somebody

If the world retreats from what we know as the "liberal order" (not left-wing, but liberty-driven), then something else will come next. Vacating the liberal order would only clear the way for lesser substitutes to emerge: If you clear a field and let nature take its course, weeds will take over, not roses. If the US quits the trade and defense deals that define the world order today, don't expect roses to take our place.

Threats and Hazards 50 states, 50 election systems -- zero cause for undermining democracy

Statement from the National Association of Secretaries of State: "We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the Administration's concerns." The President ought to be ashamed of himself for making unsubstantiated allegations in an effort to undermine faith in the electoral process. He is behaving like a deviant. It is disgraceful.

The United States of America Nikki Haley confirmed as UN ambassador

She departs service as governor of South Carolina, and she enters a role once held by George H. W. Bush. Haley started as a fiery outsider but has shown herself to be a sober leader in office; if she executes this office well, it may augur well for higher ambitions in her future.

Threats and Hazards Chicago has major troubles. Big government isn't the solution.

The President's vague and unsubstantiated threat to "send in the Feds" is no solution. He absolutely must not try to declare martial law, nor should he flood the city with agents of the FBI or ATF. Chicago doesn't have a problem of toughness; its problems are much more systematic than that.

Humor and Good News For those times when you're escorting a really classy load

Not every pilot car is a Cadillac

January 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards America in retreat

The new President is ordering a withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It wasn't perfect, but our departure is a sign of a nation that thinks itself small. Big, decent trade agreements make the world safer and more prosperous.

Threats and Hazards An excellent analysis of the world right now

Anne Applebaum: "European security may now depend on Germany, France, Britain and one or two others, and it's better to start planning now for the possibility of European-only cyber-defense, counter-terrorism, and conventional defense too."

Computers and the Internet Facebook quizzes aren't innocent fun

Marketers are building detailed psychographic profiles of us all

Broadcasting Why are American TV programs set in such drab workplaces?

Sample a few television programs from places like Britain or Australia, and it's hard not to notice that their workplace-themed shows are often set in places with lots and lots of windows. Not so for many American programs. What's the reason for that?

News It's amazing the discount rate some people apply to the future value of their own reputations

In a time when practically everything is recordable and storable online, it's not advisable to make up excuses to defend the indefensible

January 22, 2017

News Germany's welcome of refugees may pay off substantially in the long run

Long-term, Germany is heading towards a worker shortage. Its humanitarian project to welcome refugees (many of them young) could end up paying off quite handsomely. A chance to do well by doing good, as some like to say.

Business and Finance "Working-class colleges"

Upward-mobility machines they can certainly be, even if they don't come with illustrious pedigrees

Aviation News Stumbles in the race to blanket the world with Internet-delivery drones

Turns out they don't always fly as well as hoped

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

January 10, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "Giants of Enterprise" by Richard Tedlow

The conclusion is supported well and the stories are worth reading, but it would have been better as seven short books in a series rather than one exhausting tome.

News One-paragraph book review: "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley

Strongly recommended reading for anyone who appreciates a historical context for foreign policy-making today.

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

January 6, 2017

Business and Finance Of course people on food stamps should be able to order groceries online

If government can cut down on the high cost of being poor, it's making good use of taxpayer money. Proper custodianship should be applauded.

News "Show us what you have"

Vice President Joe Biden on the PEOTUS and his fight with the intelligence agencies: "Grow up Donald, grow up, time to be an adult"

Threats and Hazards Technology's massive impact on the labor market could lead to the rise of a real Luddite

And that ought to be cause for serious concern. It's been bad enough to see the political backlash against the straw-man of foreign trade and immigrant workers. What happens when people turn their hostility against technology at large?

Business and Finance Sears sells the Craftsman brand to Stanley Black & Decker

Reasonable people might begin to wonder whether the "lifetime" warranty that went with the tools will remain in force

Health New rules! Now small children are supposed to eat peanut butter.

National Institutes of Health decides that the evidence favors exposure to peanuts early in order to resist allergies: "Clinical trial results reported in February 2015 showed that regular peanut consumption begun in infancy and continued until 5 years of age led to an 81 percent reduction in development of peanut allergy in infants deemed at high risk"

January 5, 2017

Business and Finance Assume the worst about Trump's business-related tweets

When he attacks companies like Toyota, it should be assumed that he is short-selling for himself or otherwise tipping off members of his inner circle to do so. Absent legitimate, authentic, and verifiable declarations of his finances or the adoption of a bona fide blind trust, it must be assumed that he is abusing his position. This is not a partisan issue: It is a matter of good government.

Computers and the Internet Medium struggles to find its sweet spot

Writes the CEO: "[I]t's clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn't serve people." And in the process of seeking a publishing model that will profit, the company is laying off dozens of staff members.

Business and Finance Meredith and Time talk merger

Strength in numbers for publishers?

News Romanizing Korean names

"Lee" isn't exactly the surname most Americans think it is

News A proxy fight for control of the Ohio Republican Party

One into which it would seem very odd indeed for the President-elect to be taking an active role. But that's what he's doing.

January 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards Markets are under-pricing the political risks to the economy ahead

So concludes Larry Summers, and he's quite likely right. The magnitude of political risk to the world economy today is extraordinary. The costs of a correction will be large and painful.

Business and Finance Many high-growth jobs are in occupations dominated by women

Which means that men who are looking for new jobs may need to re-think their attachment to sterotypes about what "women's" jobs are

Threats and Hazards Indonesia withdraws from military cooperation with Australia

The suspension of cooperation can't be taken as a good sign. Indonesia is the world's 4th-largest country (by population), and Australia is the essential anchor for the protection of values in its corner of the Pacific Rim. If the two countries aren't on the same page, it's a bad turn of events.

News Thoughtful column on the subtle sexism of expecting women to smile

Really, nobody goes around telling men how much prettier they would be if only they smiled

Business and Finance Today's asset-light business world means "your" building can go bankrupt without you

OfficeMax used to have a headquarters in suburban Chicago. After merging with Office Depot, OfficeMax no longer needed a headquarters of its own. Now, the building itself is likely to go into default. The choice many (if not most) businesses have made to reduce their direct ownership of real estate leads to some weird circumstances -- like the (former) Sears Tower no longer containing any Sears offices, and "OfficeMax headquarters" going bankrupt after OfficeMax ceased to exist as its own company.

January 3, 2017

Business and Finance Political risk to the economy is at a high point not seen in a very long time

The President-elect is taking glee in bullying individual companies to suit his own agenda. That is one of the most corrupt forms of crony capitalism -- which is the kind of thing that the truly free market abhors. When companies like Ford then turn to giving credit to the bully-in-chief for their decisions, their flattery is a weak capitulation to the kind of environment that will eventually be their downfall. Good financial advisors tell their clients not to make decisions based on the tax consequences; decisions should be made on the basis of the soundness of the investment itself. It is cowardly and sniveling for a business leader to suck up to a politician in the hope of getting favorable treatment (in taxes or otherwise).

The United States of America "I want my party back"

Writer Patrick Tomlinson: "Instead of fighting for conservative solutions to our shared problems, I find myself arguing with 'conservatives' who, despite all the objective, verifiable evidence, can't even admit that our shared problems even exist in the first place."

Business and Finance Dignity over dependence

The Acumen model for putting donations to work in developing economies is a great one -- based on the idea that markets work, even in poor places. They just sometimes require patient investment.

Threats and Hazards A quick reminder of the trouble Russia has lately wrought

So let's not feign horror at the idea of imposing consequences. Should we seek friendly relations? Always. But friendship requires a foundation of fair play -- that is literally a concept we should learn in children's books.

News "The line between political righteousness and party self-righteousness is wavy and easy to cross"

America deserves good political parties involved in sensible contests of ideas with one another -- not self-righteous, inward-looking machines

January 2, 2017

Business and Finance Finland is testing a universal basic income

The UBI is worthy of examination -- it possesses novelties that appeal to both the left and the right, which makes it sound a lot like apocryphal $20 bill on the street -- bypassed by the rational economist who assumes that if it were real, someone else would have taken it already.

News It's time for big ideas

This is the wrong time for classical liberals (not leftists) to back down. Now is the time to step up.

Threats and Hazards Does populism have a chilling effect on Congress?

Now is not the time for the Legislative Branch to shrink.

News America needs lots of infrastructure investment, but...

Not if it's intended as a labor stimulus (the unemployment rate is already low). Not if it's just the visible stuff like highways and bridges (to the detriment of lots of critical work that is rarely visible to the public and doesn't make for good press coverage). Not if it's pure deficit spending (the Federal debt is already grotesque in size). Not if it's just for playing pork-barrel political games (the needs are independent of political connectedness).

Threats and Hazards President-elect again ditches his protective press pool

The location of the President and his/her well-being at all times is a matter of national security. The same substantially goes for the President-elect. Ditching the press pool isn't an option for anyone who intends to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.

January 1, 2017

Threats and Hazards Kremlin spokesperson underhandedly threatens the Baltic states

One of the most troublesome possible flashpoints to watch today

Science and Technology Technology lightens the load of rote work in hospitals

The less time that is spent by skilled people on low-skill work, the better off we all are. Skilled people should do skilled work.

News "[T]wo impromptu, largely fact-free press conferences"

In the brilliant words of a writer for Vanity Fair, the President-elect "offered up a series of misleading, disjointed responses, during which he falsely claimed to have created thousands of new jobs, dismissed alleged Russian interference in the presidential election, whitewashed his sprawling financial conflicts of interest, and offered up word salad in a rambling defense of Israel"

Broadcasting Now it's Hearst in a fight with DirecTV

The carriage disputes between local broadcast stations and the satellite and cable systems are a very strange vestige of the early days of cable television. And now? Now customers just find themselves annoyed by the anachronisms.

Humor and Good News Elegant flags of the Japanese prefectures

Compare these magnificent designs with the cluttered and amateurish flags used by so many American states and municipalities

December 31, 2016

News "[T]hat's not something that you would see on the nightly news"

In a valedictory interview with his old advisor, David Axelrod, President Obama misses an important point. If he doesn't think his administration got the credit it deserved for its work, then perhaps he should cast more blame on the way that same administration treated the news media. There was a lot of avoidance and a lot of outright hostility that not only kept their intended message from getting out (such as it may or may not have been), but also that set the stage for an incoming administration to declare something close to open warfare against the First Amendment.

News What Democrats need to learn from Montana

Both major parties are in distressing condition. The path ahead for the Democrats, at least, needs to be less fixation on identity politics and more attention to economic solutions and pragmatism

Threats and Hazards Serious political risk is coming to the American economy

A poorly-titled Bloomberg story on the coming administration gives a misleading impression: It's not a "business-friendly" environment if the incoming President has already shown a proclivity to manipulate and interfere with the private sector to suit his political motivations.

News Big labor is headed in the wrong direction

Labor unions that approach the increasing complexity of the economy with a heels-dug-in approach are going to do their members more harm than good. Adaptation and growth need to come.

News The Nordic countries are working on a common brand

They're going to need to bind themselves together more than in the past, and a little bit of branding is a good step.

December 30, 2016

Threats and Hazards Examine your conscience

We can't say we haven't been told about some of the most awful violations of human rights taking place around the world. Aleppo is a devastating example, but far from the only one. So why are we submitting to paralysis?

News Violence, like a lot of human behaviors, has characteristics of contagion

The distressing gun violence in Chicago may have some very predictable epidemiological characteristics. That may help give policy makers important things to consider and act upon. The worrying part is that we already know about things that appear to work...but they keep finding themselves cut out of budgets.

News Too many people are reading just the headlines

But be careful of blaming the journalists named in the bylines -- headlines are often supplied by webmasters and editors. The point, however, is true: Bad headline-writing is hazardous to our understanding of the world.

Health Soldiers may be consuming too many energy drinks

Situational needs plus high availability may leave a few too many troops consuming high volumes of drinks like Red Bull -- to a degree that could be hazardous to their health

Humor and Good News Great reviews of bad restaurants

Because "De gustibus non est disputandum", but there's a lot of humor to be had in writing about it

December 29, 2016

Threats and Hazards The US has no aircraft carrier in the Middle East right now

And may not for two months to come. Seems an inopportune time for that. And, perhaps, symbolic at a time when Russia is pulling the power move by taking credit for brokering a peace agreement in Syria.

Business and Finance Skilled-labor shortages are creating real economic problems

Businesses are falling behind on maintenance because they can't get enough workers to do it. And that's not just financially risky -- it could be physically hazardous to workers.

News The art is gone from naval architecture

If the new MSC Seaside is any indication, the cruise ships of tomorrow will look more like cargo freighters than the graceful SS Normandie...which might make sense, since the MSC cruise line originated as a cargo line. For those who actually want to be treated like cargo, there's already a cruise experience for that.

Business and Finance Toshiba in serious financial distress

One normally wouldn't expect the kind of trouble being seen now from a company with as broad a reach as Toshiba already possesses

News Celebrities may pass away, but we shouldn't be content with an "only hope"

If we can find the motivation to express grief about a celebrity death on Facebook, then we should compel ourselves to do something good in the real world we inhabit. Permanently archived.

December 28, 2016

News Buckle up: Petty disputes are about to become the norm in Washington

The incoming President turned to Twitter in the morning to complain about "roadblocks" erected by the sitting President. Later in the day, when asked, he blew off the issue as nothing at all. Not a lot of people go through life with a strictly momentary, transactional approach to their encounters with others -- it's extremely strange, since most of us expect to deal with the same people tomorrow whom we encountered today. But the incoming President has been programmed to behave as though there are no consequences beyond what's on the table in the moment. For a primer on this, read "The Liar's Ball", which tells the story of a single Manhattan office building and how it's changed hands (including in and out of Donald Trump's). His world is not the same as that of people who live in communities or who have durable relationships. In his world, your rival this morning may be your partner by lunch and your counterparty by dinnertime. You can love, hate, curse, and do business with the same person from day to day, and it doesn't have lingering consequences.

Computers and the Internet Russia will be punished, says Obama administration

CNN cites an unnamed official who thinks the government failed to exercise the necessary imagination to see what Russia sought to gain by cyberwarfare. A repugnant election later, and that failure of imagination seems pretty distressing.

Threats and Hazards Twin Cities police officer threatens to "put two in the back of your head"

Trust between the community and the police is built up over time -- and it can be damaged by those who assume too aggressive a posture. In the long run, this kind of behavior quite likely puts other peace officers at unnecessary risk.

Broadcasting Central Iowa is somehow the world hotspot for "The Big Bang Theory"

The New York Times illustrates the popularity of 50 television programs as heatmaps across the country. Really intriguing stuff.

News Not everyone needs a McMansion, but this is ridiculous

Nebraska family wants to stick four kids, two parents, and a dog into "tiny houses". That can't be good for the mental health of the kids.

December 27, 2016

Computers and the Internet The next President will likely keep using Twitter in office

If it were being done for transparency, or to reveal his thinking, it might be a good thing. But he's demonstrated a breathtaking lack of depth with his activity on Twitter up until now. Why would that change? In an ideal world, the President of the United States would spend five minutes a day composing and sharing his or her thoughts with the world. That's a far different thing from tweeting in anger in the middle of the night. Clear thinking and clear writing go hand-in-hand.

The United States of America Persuasion still matters

Lots of people are taking to social media to decry "anti-intellectualism" as the cause of dysfunction in politics and society. It's not enough. It's safe and self-gratifying to decry anti-intellectualism. But in a democracy, you still have to persuade the "anti-intellectuals".

News China's first carrier enters the South China Sea

The future of power in the Pacific Rim is a lot less monolithic than the past. China's first carrier will almost certainly have a pile of troubles. Its fifth will have fewer.

Iowa Do what you can, with what you have, where you are

A former law-enforcement officer, seeing what happened to the children of people who committed crimes, decided with his wife to start adopting kids

Computers and the Internet If Verizon drops out, Yahoo "has no Plan B"

News of past security breaches may be making Verizon skittish about an acquisition, and that could be a catastrophe for the old Internet giant

December 26, 2016

Business and Finance "Tariffs and quotas seldom save jobs for long"

The arguments for liberalized trade are always under assault from "common sense" that is wildly misinformed

Threats and Hazards What's making Finland nervous

Finland doesn't have a lot of generations of history of independence from Russia. Demonstrations of strength in the Baltics give the Finns thoroughly understandable anxiety.

News The trouble with the Obama Administration's anti-press chill

Frosty relations under Obama have set the stage for even worse behavior by his successor. That's bad for the country.

The United States of America Vice President Biden gets it

The future for the Democratic Party isn't to be found in doubling down on what makes the party "different" so much as in acting on needs that seem to be going unanswered. That's a very small-"d" democratic idea, indeed.

News The Sears Tower in 150 years

Yes, it's called the Willis Tower now. But that name has never stuck in the public imagination anyway. It's a really good question: What happens to our modern skyscrapers a century or two from now?

Follow briangongol on Twitter

December 19, 2016

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "Bloomberg by Bloomberg"

Two decades after publication, still a highly recommended autobiography of a legitimate modern-day success story.

Follow briangongol on Twitter

December 17, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 17, 2016

Including advice on what to do to try to stay safe online, even if Yahoo has a billion accounts hacked.

December 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet President Obama says Russia will be punished

For using cyberwarfare against the United States to influence the 2016 election, that is

Business and Finance Uber driver takes a passenger from Omaha to Denver

Driver: "I didn't have anything better to do". And that, you see, is what gives a low-friction economy the potential for both great opportunity and serious destabilization. If people are willing to transform their leisure time from "nothing better to do" into productive work, then lots of great things can be done. But if people are willing to do things as extraordinary as driving 1,100 miles in a day on little more than a lark, then anyone who depends upon the kind of work being displaced by "nothing better to do" could find themselves in a downward economic spiral in a hurry. Embrace the good that comes with these changes, but social stability will require figuring out ways to mitigate the harm done to those who lose out.

Computers and the Internet Why did it take Yahoo years to admit to a gigantic security breach?

Possibly because they weren't even the ones to have discovered the attack

News Over-extended metaphor or omen?

Is a disappointing hotel in DC a sign of what the next Presidential administration will do to the country?

Computers and the Internet When you refute an argument that nobody is making

Writer Dan Brooks says to call it "egg-manning", after the classic "straw man" fallacy -- but applied to the era of the Twitter egg

December 9, 2016

News Justice Department rolls back Presidential emergency powers

Took you long enough: The standard in place had been around since 1982 and granted probably too much authority to the President to do things without the supervision and check of Congress.

News When is "Buy American" bad for American workers?

A plan to require "American Iron and Steel" in the construction of water infrastructure projects has been derailed from a Federal spending bill, and though it may seem paradoxical, that's probably a good thing for American workers. AIS requirements have actually imposed an unnecessary, complex, and expensive burden on a good number of American manufacturing companies that have made perfectly rational decisions to use supply chains that stop outside the United States sometimes. A lot of manufacturing happens up the manufacturing chain -- at high-value assembly of complex products. Artificially fumbling around with the inputs that these companies are required to use actually makes it harder for them to operate effectively and competitively -- especially if it means they have to set up multiple production configurations so they can meet domestic regulations with one process, and find ways to make other products at more competitive prices for export. Far too often, regulations like AIS end up doing more net harm than good.

News Wait; there was almost another government shutdown?

Once again, it would seem, the Federal government will be funded by swinging a few months at a time. But a fight over benefits for coal miners almost took us into a shutdown until a very, very last-minute vote bought some time. This is no way for a great country to act; nor is it any way for a country with a $19.87 trillion Federal debt to behave. Divided evenly among 325 million Americans, that's more than $61,000 in Federal debt per person. It's madness to run up that kind of debt without at least getting some long-term benefit from it. But that's not what we're doing -- our deficit spending is just the equivalent of running up a credit-card bill to pay ordinary household expenses. This reckless behavior will bring about consequences someday. Bad ones.

Computers and the Internet Samsung is going to brick all of the Galaxy Note 7 units out in the wild

Starting in a few days, they're going to send an update that will kill the ability of those phones to take a battery charge. Hard to think of a more dramatic move to force people to surrender their exploding devices.

Iowa Midwestern brain drain, measured

For every thousand people (over age 25) living here, about six degree-holders left between 2011 and 2015. That's bad, and it's not just an Iowa problem: Illinois and Nebraska were even worse-off, and every other bordering state (Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and South Dakota) was also in the red. College degrees aren't the end-all, be-all of a society or an economy, but when you see the same negative thing happening across a broad contiguous area, you can't just turn your back on the phenomenon.

December 8, 2016

Aviation News John Glenn's final voyage

The astronaut pioneer has slipped the surly bonds of Earth

News Thoughts on the hazards of groupthink

Futurist Ian Pearson has an uncommon ability to see things coming in advance. Heed what he tells you: We're all going to need to make friends across party lines and expose ourselves to ideas that might make us uncomfortable...if we are to survive.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft Windows 10 will work on new mobile-device chips

The Qualcomm Snapdragon chips will be able to run the same Windows platform that finds its way into big devices like laptops. This won't necessarily turn the Windows Phone into a blockbuster, but it might make things easier for products in a "connected" home to work in tandem.

The United States of America Political borders are one thing

But a data-based analysis of commuting patterns makes it clear which parts of the country are tied to others, and how. If nothing else, the maps illustrating these connections should give policymakers some reasons to pick up the phone or drop an email by way of someone in a related area whom they may not have considered a counterpart before.

Iowa UNI picks its 11th president

Mark Nook takes over on February 1st

December 7, 2016

News Chinese state media take potshots at Trump

His diplomatic naivete and his bluster are going to combine to make bad things happen. He will be played -- with ease -- by rival powers with strategic foresight and patience. It will be very bad for America.

Threats and Hazards Parent of a Sandy Hook victim gets death threats because of fake news

The proliferation of stupid, fraudulent, and utterly wrong material on the Internet has caused some non-discerning audience members to lose their minds. One might think that it's time to add "media literacy" to the school curriculum, but the fact is that there are lots and lots of adults who lack the capability to discern between true and false, and there's no hope of putting them into a classrom now. Contributing to the problem is that stripping down content to suit mobile devices takes away a lot of the cues that might tell the reader whether a site is substantive or not.

News Should we have infrastructure investment programs?

Yes, if for the sake of the infrastructure itself. No, if it's a make-work ploy. So sayeth the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago -- and he's right. The former, if done right, establishes the foundation for important economic activity and growth elsewhere in the economy. The latter, especially at a time of basically full employment, only serves to inflate costs.

Computers and the Internet Google Earth now has a time-lapse view

The evolution of the Des Moines metro area over the last 30 years is evident to long-time locals. Also, for whatever amount the area has grown, "urban sprawl" here is hardly a meaningful concern.

Threats and Hazards Nude selfies as loan collateral in China

In the absence of a properly functioning market for legitimate moneylending, the crooks have moved in

December 6, 2016

Threats and Hazards We are supposed to be better than this

(Video) It's very, very hard to face the reality that half a million children are starving to death in Yemen right now. HALF A MILLION. But that is the reality, and the civilized world needs to face it.

Threats and Hazards UN asks for $22 billion

The organization says 93 million people are directly in harm's way due to violence, displacement, and natural disasters worldwide. 93 million people is a population larger than Germany, and would rank in the top 20 countries by population worldwide.

News Make time to listen to Maggie Haberman's take on the President-elect

The New York Times reporter explains more of the "must-know" in an hour than any amount of social media has covered. The first 25 minutes or so of her interview with Glenn Thrush spend a little too much time on inside baseball, so for the listener truly in a hurry, skip forward to the 25-minute mark for the real meat and potatoes.

The United States of America Don't read too much into this "post-ideology" thing

Donald Trump isn't the first vapid populist to hit the electoral scene -- not in the world, nor in America. He won't be the last, either. But ideas matter. As Margaret Thatcher's ally Keith Joseph once said, "We must fight the battle of ideas in every school, university, publication, committee, TV studio even if we have to struggle for our toe-hold there; we have the truth, if we fail to make it shine clear, we shall be to blame no less than the exploiters, the casuists, the commercialisers." In the short run, it's possible to win an election on empty promises. In the long run, something has to fill the void after those empty promises collapse under their own weight. People need answers, they need leadership, and they need something affirmative to believe in. It's up to sensible people on both the right and the left to define some sound intellectual foundations for what comes next.

News America's isn't the only election that counts this year

Ghana is going through a rough economic patch, which is challenging to sound government no matter where you are

Recent history...

November 28 to December 4, 2016
November 21 to November 27, 2016
November 14 to November 20, 2016
November 7 to November 13, 2016
October 31 to November 6, 2016
October 24 to October 30, 2016
October 17 to October 23, 2016
October 10 to October 16, 2016
October 3 to October 9, 2016
September 26 to October 2, 2016
September 19 to September 25, 2016
September 12 to September 18, 2016
September 5 to September 11, 2016
August 29 to September 4, 2016
August 22 to August 28, 2016
August 15 to August 21, 2016
August 8 to August 14, 2016
August 1 to August 7, 2016
July 25 to July 31, 2016
July 18 to July 24, 2016
July 11 to July 17, 2016
July 4 to July 10, 2016
June 27 to July 3, 2016
June 20 to June 26, 2016
June 13 to June 19, 2016
June 6 to June 12, 2016
May 30 to June 5, 2016
May 23 to May 29, 2016
May 16 to May 22, 2016
May 9 to May 15, 2016
May 2 to May 8, 2016
April 25 to May 1, 2016
April 18 to April 24, 2016
April 11 to April 17, 2016
April 4 to April 10, 2016
March 28 to April 3, 2016
March 21 to March 27, 2016
March 14 to March 20, 2016
March 7 to March 13, 2016
February 29 to March 6, 2016
February 22 to February 28, 2016
February 15 to February 21, 2016
February 8 to February 14, 2016
February 1 to February 7, 2016
January 25 to January 31, 2016
January 18 to January 24, 2016
January 11 to January 17, 2016
January 4 to January 10, 2016
January 1 to January 3, 2016
December 28 to December 31, 2015
December 21 to December 27, 2015
December 14 to December 20, 2015
December 7 to December 13, 2015
November 30 to December 6, 2015
November 23 to November 29, 2015
November 16 to November 22, 2015
November 9 to November 15, 2015
November 2 to November 8, 2015
October 26 to November 1, 2015
October 19 to October 25, 2015
October 12 to October 18, 2015
October 5 to October 11, 2015
September 27 to October 4, 2015
September 21 to September 27, 2015
September 14 to September 20, 2015
September 7 to September 13, 2015
August 31 to September 6, 2015
August 24 to August 30, 2015
August 17 to August 23, 2015
August 10 to August 16, 2015
August 3 to August 9, 2015
July 27 to August 2, 2015
July 20 to July 26, 2015
July 13 to July 19, 2015
July 6 to July 12, 2015
June 29 to July 5, 2015
June 22 to June 28, 2015
June 15 to June 21, 2015
June 8 to June 14, 2015
June 1 to June 7, 2015
May 25 to May 31, 2015
May 18 to May 24, 2015
May 11 to May 17, 2015
May 4 to May 10, 2015
April 27 to May 3, 2015
April 20 to April 26, 2015
April 13 to April 19, 2015
April 6 to April 12, 2015
March 30 to April 5, 2015

First quarter 2015

Fourth quarter 2014
Third quarter 2014
Second quarter 2014
First quarter 2014

Fourth quarter 2013
Third quarter 2013
Second quarter 2013
First quarter 2013

Fourth quarter 2012
Third quarter 2012
Second quarter 2012
First quarter 2012


Archives (2001 to present)

Comments or questions? Contact Brian Gongol