Gongol.com Archives: June 2018
June 1, 2018
The North Korea deal is an experiment in real time
Kori Schake: "[O]ur foreign policy successes have resulted not from outsized bets, but from cautiously capitalizing on opportunities [...] And that approach is antithetical to President Trump, especially since he doesn't appear to be winning."
Book review: "Suicide of the West" by Jonah Goldberg
We have the Enlightenment to thank for much (or even most) of what's good in our world today; Goldberg's book is a rousing reminder of that good
The great anti-tariff shirt is still for sale
What we really need is for Snoop Dogg to narrate this shirt. Seems to have worked for hockey, wildlife videos, and Martha Stewart.
The Trump Doctrine: No deal without a relationship
If everything comes down to a "relationship" between two leaders, there's never any room left for multilateral agreements. Fundamentally, multi-party agreements require submission to common rules, which is what makes them robust and effective. Rules work better than "relationships" for promoting a world order we desire. (And, it should be noted, the President is terrible at assessing who is a "friend" and who isn't. He is buttering up Kim Jong-Un while sticking a finger in Justin Trudeau's eye.)
Why does the President get to lie so much?
Tim Miller: "Trump has abused the media into grading him on the steepest of curves and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has proven time and again he deserves nothing but the most extreme scrutiny."
Loose lips sink economic ships
The President turned to Twitter to prematurely tease the release of economic data on unemployment figures. He was, of course, already in possession of the data, so he was treating it as a moment to promote himself -- but now he's created an expectation that when the figures are good, he'll say something about them. That's why this kind of data is treated with great secrecy. As economist Justin Wolfers asks, "Who wants to buy U.S. stocks, if you think there's a chance that you might be buying from someone who's selling based on Trump having said something to them on the phone last night?" Moreover, when the President is reckless with carefully-regulated information in public, it must be assumed (until evidence is delivered to the contrary) that he is even more reckless with it in private. The burden of proof is now squarely on the President and everyone in his orbit to prove that they are not engaging in self-enrichment by sharing privileged information -- or by attempting to manipulate financial markets to their own gain. There is no longer any room for the benefit of doubt.
Following one of the coldest Aprils, so the whiplash is palpable
Walking down the street with $100 bills hanging out of your pockets
The Department of Homeland Security has evidence of high-tech cellphone surveillance taking place around the White House. Not unrelated: The President still chooses not to follow adequate procedures to use a secure phone.
June 2, 2018
From a practical standpoint, this case is a great argument for the maximum diffusion of power via a federal system -- limiting the impact of officials who are corrupt or lacking in judgment. It also illustrates exactly why we should look first at governors (past and present) when searching for Presidential candidates. A governor's office is the next-best thing to an Oval Office simulator. It tests who shines or fails under scrutiny.
USGS: Please don't roast marshmallows over Hawaiian lava flows
One must hope Americans aren't really that dumb, but someone asked. Who among us hasn't stood over a lava flow, like a metaphorical Colossus bestride Madame Pele, demanding that the Goddess of Fire suit our mortal demands for a S'more?
Mitt Romney wrote in his wife for President in 2016
"I wrote in the name of a person who I admire deeply, who I think would be an excellent president"
MidAmerican Energy plans 100% renewable generation by 2020
The company will retain conventional generation capacity, but the company generates so much electricity from wind turbines that they'll be able to generate the equivalent of annual demand from renewable sources. Iowa: Where the corn, the tractors, and now the electricity, are all green.
Singapore Airlines launches world's longest flight in October
An Airbus A350-900 will go from Singapore to Newark, taking 19 hours to get there. Singapore, it should be noted, is a city-state of 5.5 million people, about half the geographic size of Polk County, Iowa, and with no special natural resources to its name. Point being: A free market under the rule of law can create quite a lot, even starting with very little.
June 11, 2018
A modest proposal: Every state names one of its own to be President, and we drawn the winner at random. New York serves a penalty suspension of four score and seven years for what it served up in 2016.
Chinese factory workers are drifting into the service sector
Oft-overlooked fact: Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and IT managers are all in the service sector. Whether a person's work produces a thing that fits in a box is a really arbitrary way to judge its value.
Are we victims of the G7? No way.
We're not the first generation to face economic challenges -- but we're among the first to have the choice to face them in cooperation with allies who share our values. That's a strategic advantage, not a weakness.
Insulting allies, sucking up to adversaries
Is this really why we pay taxes?
June 12, 2018
A paper was signed in Singapore -- but what?
Americans will, sooner or later, be privy to what was signed. But you can be sure the North Korean people will be fed a line of propaganda about "forcing the imperialists to acknowledge the indomitable might of the Juche Ideal" or somesuch. That's a win for Kim Jong Un -- at US expense.
Would you take a longer life (with high quality) if it required working longer?
There's no telling what's in store, but odds are good that the year 2100 will be amazing. Do people hate work? Over-discount extra quality years of life? Not really care that much about living? Attitudes on this will have a big impact on important policies -- like how we fund retirement programs and health care.
Women discover -- at age 72 -- that they were switched at birth
One of their mothers is still alive
A missed opportunity, perhaps, to demonstrate the Coriolis effect
Don't accept USBs from strangers
USB giveaways at the summit: Mating American weakness for free stuff to a super-convenient vector for putting really bad things on computers.
June 13, 2018
When asked by the Voice of America what message he would send to the North Korean people, President Trump responded with praise for Kim Jong Un and a self-adoring diversion about what great chemistry he felt with the dictator. His answer is a disgrace. He should have heeded the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "We believe individual liberty, rooted in human dignity, is man's greatest treasure. We believe that men, given free expression of their will, prefer freedom and self-dependence to dictatorship and collectivism."
The Federal Reserve's crystal ball: The economy will cool down, but we're pretty hazy on when
Big picture: No one is really quite sure why the economy is in the condition it's in. That makes it pretty hard -- even for the Federal Reserve -- to say how long it'll stay that way, especially with big structural risks lying in the weeds. What happens if oil prices keep rising? What happens if we get into a circular firing squad of tariffs? What happens if POTUS hints at defaulting on Federal debt? What happens if China moves against Taiwan? And what happens if our titanic Federal debt (and underfunded obligations) isn't reined in?
A ballot proposal (called "CA-3") would divide California into three states. Until American politics cool off a bit, efforts like this should be treated as if they were foreign influence campaigns designed to stir up division and create strife...because there is a very real, non-zero chance that's what's going on. Anyone with a marginal familiarity with history ought to recognize the maxim "divide et impera" -- divide and rule.
A vignette about separating children from their parents
We face a public-policy choice right now about the treatment of foreign children. That bears serious scrutiny. We need to remember the regret we as a country should feel over our similar policy choices circa 1938. The violence in places like El Salvador may not be state-run, but it is on a huge scale, and the kids who flee from it are true refugees. They deserve humane treatment as such. During WWI, Herbert Hoover led a US program to deliver food aid to people in occupied Belgium so they could avoid a famine. We helped because it was the right thing to do, regardless of the legal circumstances surrounding the German occupation. Americans don't have to wait for perfect law and order before choosing to do what is right, just, and compassionate. If the extraordinarily daunting nature of the journey is not itself enough of a deterrent to keep people from trying, then what good comes of us applying cruelty on top of it? In a quest to be a "great" country, we shouldn't torch the values and practices that make us good.
This "enemy of the people" nonsense must stop
The President's antipathy towards the free press looks especially nefarious in contrast to his fawning over North Korea's dictator
June 15, 2018
"The Trump Doctrine is winning and the world is losing"
Stellar opinion writing by Kori Schake. The world order isn't an all-you-can-eat buffet where our allies stuff themselves and the US foots the bill. It's like a buying club where, by pooling our resources, we all ultimately pay less. A Costco for Peace, if you will.
During WWII, when the United States had less than half the population we do today, we managed to humanely accommodate 400,000 POWs from the Axis countries -- on American soil. With leadership and imagination, we can find humane ways to accommodate refugees today.
How much erosion from the latest rains?
It turns out, quite a bit. Soil, once lost, is really hard to replace. Really, really hard.
After the "MPR raccoon" story, an unfortunate counter: Police in Bismarck are investigating a report of a hamster being thrown from a building. It may sound trivial, but anyone who demonstrates unrepentant cruelty to animals might very well have the same depth of cruelty with other humans.
That's one place to put a lawn chair
The Platte River in Nebraska is so wide and shallow that people wander out to the middle of it and plant their chairs on sandbars
June 16, 2018
Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 16, 2018
Broadcasting live at 2:00 pm
Are we in a "prewar" moment, a "postwar" decline, or something else?
Nobody is offering a grand vision of aspiration at the national level. In its absence, we get petty animosity and small ideas amplified to 11. We can and should be better, but we need narratives selling why and how.
June 19, 2018
Who's the disingenuous party here?
China's ambassador to Australia accuses the Aussies of having a "cold war mentality". Nevermind that Australia has more than adequate reason for concern over Chinese influence campaigns (attempting to manipulate elections and even local-level governments) and abundant cause for concern over China's aggressive posture in the South China Sea. Look for this rhetorical tactic to show up again and again: A sort of geostrategic gaslighting.
Separating children from their parents at the border isn't an immigration policy -- it's an act of cruelty
What is being done in our name as a country merits protests to Congress. As John Stuart Mill wrote: "A civilization that can thus succumb to its vanquished enemy [barbarism] must first have become so degenerate, that neither its appointed priests and teachers, nor anybody else, has the capacity, or will take the trouble, to stand up for it."
We don't have a lot of options in case the economy turns south
The demand for happy talk is endless, but economics requires grappling with cold, hard reality. We not only have a shortage of tools for stimulating an economy gone bad, we also have politicians bent on doing things that will actively make the economy worse. And with politicians engaging in a "lurch toward protectionism", the anxiety created by today's dumb behavior in a fair economy will linger even after we muster the will to turn back away from protectionism and re-embrace free trade. Much of the damage is done just by the threat. In the words of Milton and Rose Friedman, "Competition in masochism and sadism is hardly a prescription for sensible international economic policy!" Tit-for-tat tariffs are madness.
Walgreen's replaces General Electric on the DJIA
Really taking the "industrial" out of the "Dow Jones Industrial Average", aren't we? Creative destruction is a cruel thing.
June 20, 2018
Handing over the keys to the GOP
Absent a change like fusion voting or ranked-preference ballots, a two-party system is basically inevitable under America's first-past-the-post electoral system. So while it may be a respectable choice for people to resign from their parties in protest, whoever remains tends to get control of the infrastructure that's generally necessary to win elections. It's time for people who have historically been aligned with the Republican Party to think hard (and speak up) about what the party should stand for. The utter vacuity of the man in the Oval Office and the shapelessness of whatever Trumpism is conspire to make it insufficient to be just "Never Trump" or "Anti-Trump". Necessary, maybe. But insufficient. He is a void, so what follows must not also be a void.
Atul Gawande picked to head up Berkshire Hathaway/Amazon/JP Morgan health company
His book "The Checklist Manifesto" is one of the best books on cognition. He's tackling a giant project here, but possesses a well-qualified mindset for the job.
Being serious about immigration doesn't require being cruel or indifferent
A lucid, temperate, and humane opinion on immigration from Jonah Goldberg that ought to occupy the mainstream of public opinion: "[S]o long as there are very poor countries, very poor people will understandably want to move here."
An 8-month-old baby taken from his parents
An utterly breathtaking account of what kind of stress the family-separation approach places on children. An 8-month-old infant is utterly helpless -- and anyone who would bend over backwards to defend a bad policy instead of defending the child is a scoundrel. As the Bloomberg editorial board opined, "The cause of better policy, and the reputation of the United States, aren't served by willful cruelty directed at innocent children. This deplorable strategy should end immediately. Trump started it, and Trump can stop it."
Business can be a guardian of a free and open society
United Airlines says it won't fly separated children for the government
Worthy causes on this day: Catholic Relief Services and the UN High Commission for Refugees
"We're Generation X, and we've had it up to here with your attitude."
Emmanuel Macron castigates a punk kid who got a little too familiar
June 21, 2018
The shame of a family-separation policy lingers well after its suspension
The Economist: "The history of America's moral corrections suggests that what they lack in spontaneity they make up for with momentum."
SCOTUS opens door for states to collect Internet sales taxes
Scientists at UCSD are making Neanderthal mini-brains (organiods) out of stem cells and recovered Neanderthal DNA. The list of questions it raises is long. The research is aimed at studying the features of our brains that make us social animals, but these are proto-brains, after all. It's argued that the organoid brains can't think and have no sensory inputs, but studies (including some driven by biotechnologies like CRISPR) are pushing on the boundaries of what needs strict ethical scrutiny.
"Two of the top three export destinations for U.S. pork have added a tariff in retaliation of United States tariffs"
Trade warring is very real
"He resumed the plough with industry"
Having won the war with violence, the newly independent Americans secured the peace with their productivity
June 22, 2018
Train derailment in northwest Iowa spills crude oil into flooded river
EU imposes counter-tariffs on American goods
Steel, clothing, makeup, bourbon, and more. What genius put it in the President's head that import taxes are a good idea at just the moment when the Baby Boomers (the largest generation) are moving en masse into their fixed-income retirement years? The President wants to slap 20% tariffs on European cars now, apparently ignorant of the fact that BMW and Mercedes build cars in the United States.
George Will memorializes Charles Krauthammer
Colorized photo of a young Auschwitz prisoner
Stripping these photos of their colorlessness takes away the psychological distance that can allow us to let down our guard against present-day evil. Colorizing history isn't always a good idea, but sometimes it has merit.
Brett Favre wants no more youth tackle football
Huge ranges in college attainment levels just miles apart
Iowa has some counties where about 60% of adults have at least an associate's degree. Not far away -- and sometimes immediately adjacent -- are counties where the rates are in the 20% range. The gap is most substantial for the most rural counties, and that could make it hard to hit a statewide goal of getting 70% of adults through some kind of post-secondary training or education by 2025. A four-year degree isn't for everyone, but the vast majority of people will need some kind of post-secondary education if they want a reasonable level of material economic comfort.
Charles Krauthammer passes away
He wasn't always right (who is?), but when he was right, he was quite usually spot-on.
June 23, 2018
Radio show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 23, 2018
Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 to 4:00 Central