Gongol.com Archives: November 2016

Brian Gongol

November 2016
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November 9, 2016

The United States of America Donald Trump wins

Secretary Clinton has conceded defeat, exactly as the proper function of a free democracy requires. President Obama has promised a dignified transfer of power and best wishes for success. Criticisms that applied to him during the election remain valid as an officeholder, though they ought to be delivered with the dignity that befits the office.

The United States of America 1,557,152 Iowans voted in 2016

Iowa had 1,589,951 general-election voters in 2012, and 1,546,453 in 2008. The final number for 2016 will be somewhat higher after some remaining ballots are counted, but this is not an election with an abnormally high turnout.

News The Democratic Party's civil war begins

Both parties are in dire structural trouble. The Trump takeover of the Republican Party overshadowed the simultaneous near-dissolution of the Democratic Party. Now, their meltdown will overshadow the hollowing-out of the GOP. The parties are both in terrible shape.

News Strong words from Van Jones upon the election outcome


Business and Finance Hyundai up-brands its luxury car

Like Honda (which begat Acura), Toyota (which begat Lexus), and Nissan (which begat Infiniti), Hyundai has decided to create an upmarket brand under the "Genesis" flag. There may be a broader lesson to take away for marketing in general: Let your primary brand remain mass-market, and if you need to go up-market, spin up a new brand.

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November 10, 2016

News "No problem comes to the president unless it is fiendishly complicated"

The Economist weighs in on the election of Donald Trump with a sobering analysis. Virtually every word should be in boldface and underlined. This is no time for mistakes.

Threats and Hazards Does the incoming administration threaten national security?

The military seems to have bristled under micromanagement by the Obama administration, and while some think that a Trump administration will bring relief, that's not a hope supported by evidence. This is, after all, an incoming President who is known to micromanage his own businesses and who said -- without apparent irony -- that he knew more than the nation's defense leadership. But there's also a story buried in the details: If Trump truly intends to do an end-run around the "Washington establishment", then he's going to have grave difficulties finding people qualified to direct the processes of diplomacy, strategic planning, and military action. There are rules to all of this -- including things like obtaining security clearances. If the machinery of government isn't lubricated by capable actors, then we could in fact find ourselves in a vulnerable state.

News Milwaukee sheriff's idle threats against demonstrators should be scorned

The First Amendment is crystal-clear: Peaceable assembly is a right the government cannot dispute. Period. End of story. To tweet, "There is no legitimate reason to protest the will of the people" is to spit in the faces of the Founders. Peaceful protests -- even stupid ones -- are an absolute right.

Broadcasting The times call for more journalists like Scott Pelley

The CBS anchor is about as sober as they come. His words on the election are sensible. And he's both smart and tough on his interview subjects.

Computers and the Internet Don't fear workers overseas -- it's automation that takes a real toll on jobs

A local TV weather forecaster jokes that Facebook is "trying to do my job again" by automatically inserting a forecast into his news feed. But it's true: If the forecast is delivered automatically and updated instantly and integrated seamlessly into the rest of your stream of consciousness, then that undoubtedly diminishes the demand for a conventional local TV weather forecast. Maybe imperceptibly at first. Maybe unquantifiably for now. But over the long term, habits can change -- in big ways. Lots and lots of people are insufficiently aware of the impact that automation will have (or is having) on their industries. They'd better get wise.

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November 11, 2016

News A letter to America "from an old friend"

A longtime former ambassador to the United States from Singapore has exceptionally thoughtful words for Donald Trump, including: "You should avoid the trap of being held accountable for those remarks. You need not have a bad conscience about it because every US president before you did the same thing. You are just following a well-known US tradition." Decidedly worth reading for anyone who wants some perspective on what the United States should do with regard to Asia.

Threats and Hazards Should the people charged with executing the law be able to benefit themselves by it?

As the Presidential transition gets underway, it's time for everyone to move from generic campaign-style criticism into specific criticism of their opponents. And a very significant point on which criticism is justified is the apparent turnover of Donald Trump's business interests not to a blind trust, or even to an arm's-length management team, but to his own children. That puts him and his family in a very specific position of power to conduct extraordinary and abnormal abuses of political influence for personal monetary gain -- particularly as it becomes clear that those same offspring will be involved in Trump's governing style as well as his business interests. This is not normal, and it's not OK. It opens the door to abuses like the exact kind of "pay-to-play" corruption that Trump himself specifically accused Hillary Clinton of engaging in as Secretary of State while still maintaining familial contact with the Clinton Foundation.

News Start the impeachment countdown clock

An American University professor who has gained a reputation for making accurate contrarian political predictions has noted that he thinks a Trump Presidency could easily be dumped rather quickly by a Republican Congress that (easily) finds legitimate grounds for an impeachment, and then acts swiftly to replace Donald Trump with his Vice President. (Might not be all that controversial if he enrages his base by reversing course on key issues.) But others predicted it before the professor.

News How quickly can the Imperial Presidency be rolled back?

Don't assume powers when in office that you don't want your opponents to have when they win. That's advice we've ignored for a long, long, long time.

News Gov. Chris Christie out as Trump's transition chair

One might wonder how that change came about so quickly

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November 12, 2016

Business and Finance People are quitting their jobs, and it's a good thing

The number of people quitting their jobs is now at a ten-year high, and it's the biggest gap between layoffs (1.47 million in September) and quitting (3.07 million) that we've had in even longer than that. Voluntary quitting is a symptom that conditions are good for workers.

Computers and the Internet Russia is soon to ban LinkedIn for "privacy" issues

LinkedIn resisted storing data on computers inside Russia because they could easily be more susceptible to surveillance there rather than elsewhere. But that's not the kind of "privacy" that the Russian government appears to want to respect. Considering the pending move to fold LinkedIn into Microsoft, this is actually a really dumb move on the part of the Russian government. There will be business costs.

Iowa Spencer's one-time largest employer is closing

Terrible times for commodity agricultural production is crushing the market for heavy equipment, which is where the plant's products were used. Employees already knew that layoffs were likely, but the complete closure undoubtedly hurts.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - November 12, 2016

Live at 2:00 Central Time on Saturday afternoon

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November 16, 2016

Threats and Hazards The protective pool isn't an option

A President (or President-elect) who ditches the press protective pool assigned to follow him or her is an individual who underestimates the weight of the office. The President is a walking and talking, living and breathing military command center. The American people require uncontested third-party confirmation at all times where that command center is located and in what condition it is kept. Anything less introduces a level of uncertainty equivalent to threatening the safety of the Pentagon. There should be no doubt about this: On 9/11, the President of the United States was evacuated to an airborne command post -- and even with a small staff, room was made for members of the press to evacuate with him. That's how important third-party validation of the President's security is to the continuity of government. Donald Trump ditched his protective pool this week. He cannot do that again.

News Minnesota police officer charged with manslaughter over shooting of civilian

In the Philando Castile case, the county attorney says: "No reasonable officer who knew, saw and heard what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances." Remember, not only was an innocent man shot, there was a child in the back seat and an adult passenger in the front. The county attorney is showing courage by pursuing the case in this way -- but a Federal investigation ought to be conducted in every case involving a police-involved killing of a member of the public. Oversight regarding the use of deadly force should not be under-applied.

Threats and Hazards Wikileaks was used as a conscious tool of Russian influence

This is dirty politics at its most high-stakes

News "[A]dversarial journalism, not access journalism"

That is what will be required of the mass media in the Trump Administration. Don't show up to be friendly. Show up to hold power to account.

Agriculture Tough times to persist for Midwestern farmers

And that has a spillover impact on the rest of the regional economy

Recent radio podcasts

November 20, 2016

News Mitt Romney meets with Donald Trump

It would be very good for the country if Mitt Romney were to serve in a high office during a Trump administration. Romney is a bona fide skeptic of Trump, and he doesn't need the job. That gives him both the moral authority and the freedom to act according to his conscience.

The United States of America If the Democratic Party turns farther left because of 2016, they got it all wrong

The Democrats need to move toward the center, not the left. It does the country no good to have two wingnut political parties.

The United States of America One major thing that hasn't changed since the election

Per the Census Bureau: "Around the time the 2020 Census is conducted, more than half of the nation's children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. This proportion is expected to continue to grow so that by 2060, just 36 percent of all children (people under age 18) will be single-race non-Hispanic white, compared with 52 percent today." This fact, probably more than anything else, will help to secure civil rights in the future. Becoming a majority-minority country is a process that is very good for the well-being of America; despite some fits and starts coming from people who aren't comfortable with the changing face of the country, most of us see and live within diverse family and friendship groups. That's a pretty significant social safeguard.

Business and Finance Paul Krugman versus the facts

He wants government to stimulate the economy again. The evidence shows that it doesn't work like he says it does.

The United States of America How to influence Congress

Hint: Clicking on a Facebook meme isn't the way

@briangongolbot on Twitter

November 21, 2016

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL destroys historical artifacts in its wake

Terrible, but still not as terrible as what they and Syria's Assad regime are doing to living people

Threats and Hazards The President's business should be conducted at more than arm's length from his public role

Specific criticism: The President-elect needs to decide now which individuals are responsible for his business interests, and which are responsible for helping him in government. The time for intermingling of the two has passed. The public is paying for an executive branch run with a full-time commitment, and one that is clear of conflicts of interest. If everyone in the private sector is subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, then President-elect Trump must similarly be beyond even the hint of engaging in behavior that might appear to involve conflicts of interest between his public duties and his private money-making.

Computers and the Internet McDonald's will add self-service kiosks in all outlets

The cost of technology is falling fast, and the cost of labor could easily rise dramatically (due to movements like the one for a $15 minimum wage). And customers both spend more and show greater satisfaction with self-service. So anyone who is surprised by this development simply hasn't thought enough about the situation.

Business and Finance Small business formation is at a very low rate

America has historically been a very active generator of new businesses...and if the rate of new-firm formation is down by a lot, that's a symptom of trouble that we need to understand better. Are regulations deterring entrepreneurship? Have we somehow run out of new ideas? Are markets saturated? Is capital too hard to obtain? Are investors too risk-averse?

News Why hotels almost never have "Vacancy" signs anymore

Plenty of obvious reasons, of course -- but also the not-so-obvious, like innkeepers' interests in discouraging bad clientele

@briangongolbot on Twitter

November 22, 2016

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL is using chemical weapons

Energy spent making up reasons to keep refugees out of the West really ought to be redirected into figuring out what the rest of the world can do to help save the innocent from the monsters

News President-elect promises to back out of TPP

That's bad for America's standing in the world, and it will be bad for our economy

News Leaders make time to read

Words from a potential contender for Defense Secretary

Business and Finance Don't bet the farm on an economic boom

JP Morgan reviews the possibilities and doesn't come up with evidence for a boom

Business and Finance Chinese carmakers are learning the value of brand differentiation

If they want to get the higher end of the market, they'll need different brands than they use at the entry-level

@briangongolbot on Twitter

November 28, 2016

Threats and Hazards Aleppo is just days from mass starvation

A massive disaster for our fellow human beings

Threats and Hazards Conflict of interest

The business of the nation must be the President's sole priority. It is a serious problem that the President-elect refuses to acknowledge the severity of his conflicts of interest or to make even the slightest hint of addressing them in a formal way.

Health Researchers find hundreds of new viruses

Viruses aren't just a problem for humans. Looking outside our own attackers, a scientific team found almost 1500 we hadn't known about.

News Associated Press says "alt-right" isn't enough

Without context, the phrase only serves to mask the reality -- and it's the job of journalism to remove that mask

News Russian president uses geography bee to crack imperialism jokes

Putin says Russia doesn't have borders. Then says it was just a joke. But is it?

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November 29, 2016

Threats and Hazards Only a dunce would disregard the value of the White House press corps

The last eight years have been hard on the White House press corps, whether it's been adequately acknowledged or not, because the Obama Administration has been eager to bypass the media "gatekeepers" by using the Internet to promote its own agenda. This has been mildly propagandistic behavior, and it probably deserved more criticism than it got. There was some pushback in 2013 about the White House's habit of staging photographs and leaving credentialed photographers behind, and there have been several instances when the White House Correspondents' Association has protested strongly against unreasonable obstacles to coverage that have arisen during the Obama administration, including exclusion from official events and high expense charges for travel with the President. In a sense, the frustrating behavior of 44 has laid a foundation for potentially awful behavior by 45. As a candidate, Donald Trump routinely stirred up mob-like antipathy for the press, and as President-elect, he has gone so far as to ditch the protective pool. That's not acceptable -- no matter what your political allegiances, the President is a living military command center. It is imperative that his or her condition be independently verifiable by credentialed journalists at any hour of the day or night, and the same goes for the President-elect. As a country, we have made a big mistake in letting President Obama off the hook and not insisting on greater transparency with the independent press corps. Under no circumstances should further ground be permitted to erode as Donald Trump assumes the office -- and if bombasts like Sean Hannity want to stake their ground on absurdity (Hannity: "Why does Donald Trump need a White House press office? He doesn't."), then they are, in fact, enemies of freedom and of representative government.

Threats and Hazards This is no time to roll over and go silent

That the Russian government has clearly acted to try to manipulate our domestic elections should be cause for widespread alarm -- and Republicans who believe in a strong national defense should be among the loudest with the outcry

News Don't get nostalgic for the wrong things

Old photos of the Victorian era may contain some aesthetic beauty, but don't forget how awful life was in the past compared with today

Computers and the Internet After losing a whole lot of data, college tells people not to back up their own data

They lost a mountain of data at King's College London when a backup system flopped at the wrong moment. Now they're saying they don't want to risk people screwing up their new system by making independent backups of their data. That's lunacy.

Weather and Disasters A late-November tornado outbreak in Iowa

Four weak tornadoes after Thanksgiving? It's extremely odd.


November 30, 2016

Business and Finance Don't count on 4% economic growth

The incoming Trump Administration is exercising the same kind of belief in economic magic that too long possessed the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration long bet on 4% GDP growth as a way to fix the Federal budget. It was absurd of them to bet on that assumption; it wasn't going to happen, and any projections based on such a fanciful figure were bound to be wrong. Now, the presumptive Trump Administration Treasury Secretary is making the exact same fantastical promises. This is sheer madness. Utter and complete madness. Would we all like to see sustained 4% real GDP growth? Absolutely -- it would permit the economy to double in size every two decades or so. That would be (literally) awesome. But it isn't going to happen. The United States last had sustained 4% growth rates in the 1960s. Rates were in the low 3% range through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And since then, they've been in the 2% range. Anyone promising 4% annual GDP growth is a huckster, a fraud, and a snake-oil salesman -- unless they can explain precisely what mechanisms they intend to put in place that will cause the economy to suddenly adopt a growth rate twice as fast as anything we've seen since before the Nixon era. Perhaps worst of all is that these people are promising to make the growth rate escalate in part by shutting down trade and getting the government more heavily involved in picking winners and losers. Make no mistake about it: If the only reason a manufacturer like Carrier chooses to build products in the United States is because they're getting sweetheart deals in the form of tax breaks and state-funded incentives, then the economy should be expected to grow at a slower rate than it presently does -- not faster. (And, by the way, if economic barriers are put up that implicitly punish Mexico, then expect the pressure on the border to get worse, not better.) The only way to sustainably raise economic growth rates (without some dramatic event like a war) is to improve the output of the workforce, which is entirely based upon the number of workers and the productivity we get from each one. The number of workers has been shrinking (in relative terms) since the turn of the century, so anyone who pretends to have an answer about economic growth that doesn't center on dramatically raising productivity is a person who is lying to you or is too stupid to be entrusted with any meaningful power. And that's awful, because a lot of people have gotten their hopes up...really, really high.

Threats and Hazards Anderson Cooper has a good question

The CNN anchor wants to know why the President-elect is watching CNN instead of reading briefing materials? People are starting to get careless with phrases like "post-literacy" (which is being used by some to describe Trump) -- and that's reckless. There is no such thing as "post-literacy". There is literacy...and there is illiteracy. If someone is not literate, that makes them illiterate. Don't muck up the language with a new phrase just because it seems catchy. And note, too, that there are several forms of literacy -- all of which it is wise for any functional adult to possess, but most especially a President of the United States. These include, but are not limited to: literacy in its most common sense; numeracy; technological literacy; economic literacy; and scientific literacy. An adult failing to possess (or at least attempting to acquire) functional literacy in all of those areas should be allowed nowhere near the levers of power if the voters have their own best interests in mind.

The United States of America The First Amendment comes first for a reason

Always: Our true allegiance and loyalty should be pledged to the Constitution above all.

Business and Finance Some recommended introductory reading in economics

A few books for the beginner

Threats and Hazards A woman who abandons a two-year-old child isn't a "mom"

Nor is she a "mother". At best, she is a womb-landlord.

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