Gongol.com Archives: July 2018
July 1, 2018
The Supreme Court isn't the only guarantor of rights
If you don't trust most of the people most of the time with most of the things they do, you don't have a political problem -- you have a people problem.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wins Mexican presidential race
A leftist takes over south of the border
A lamentation for Google Reader
Gone five years and never suitably replaced, Google Reader was the catalyst that made RSS feeds work.
July 2, 2018
"National security" isn't a blank check to do stupid things
Tom Nichols: "This is not a serious appeal to national security, but an attempt to use a magical incantation to shut off debate and dissent."
"There is no failsafe...There is, in fact, only us."
The people who think there's nothing to lose by putting a wrecking ball to the world order, to the function of the Federal government, or to the classic notions of civility that make the country function? They are sorely misguided. As Eisenhower put it, "[W]e view our Nation's strength and security as a trust upon which rests the hope of free men everywhere."
Unless you type slower than 20 words per minute...
...there's really no excuse for non-standard abbreviations.
Protectionism, no matter what?
The Commerce Secretary says the President isn't going to alter course on his trade war against the world, no matter what the stock-market reaction. Putting aside for a moment that the stock market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the stock market, the real worry here is that, as the economic consequences of bad trade policies mount, the President will not only "not be deterred"...he'll double down. Because that's what he does when backed into a corner: He always doubles down. As even Canada retaliates against our nonsensical policies, one doesn't need to begrudge those who wanted to believe the President when he promised that trade wars would be easy to win. He's a masterful self-promoter, and people have been buying what he's been selling. But it's time to tell the emperor that he's naked: Trump's trade wars are stupid.
July 3, 2018
Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia really did try to influence the 2016 election
There's no (reasonably) denying Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. There's no (reasonably) denying they're trying the same in 2018. And 2020. And 2022. There's no (reasonably) denying that other states and non-state actors are trying, too.
Boring politics are good politics
The three key attributes of a good political leader: Curiosity, competence, and humility. (It's that third one that keeps things the right degree of boring.)
Syrian government wants 5.6 million refugees to come back
To go back would take an act of extraordinary faith in a government that hasn't earned it
Why are people torching their credibility?
Commentators like Brit Hume are seeking to argue that certain principled conservatives who stood against the election of Donald Trump are now "standing on a shrinking sliver of ground". After Charlottesville, family separations, and a nascent trade war with Canada...if you still think that people like Tim Miller are the problem, then you're the one missing the point.
A heart-wrenching attack in Idaho
A refugee child was killed at her own birthday party. As one resident put it, "I felt how defenseless those kids were, and how their parents felt they couldn't protect them in those moments."
China is trying to drive a wedge between the US and Europe
The Chinese government is making opportunistic use of President Trump's indefensible trade aggression to try to wedge the US away from historic allies in Europe. It's an opportunistic tactic in service of a very long-term strategy. As Dwight Eisenhower put it: "So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord."
Technology is only as good as the people using it
Nebraska State Patrol uses FLIR technology to find and rescue a man who got lost and disoriented in a corn field
Most photos of fireworks are overrated, but not this one
A spectacular shot of downtown Des Moines
July 4, 2018
America is neither doomed nor perfect
America is, and always has been, a work in progress. We have work to do today, and more to do tomorrow.
Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old on July 4, 1776
Wisdom doesn't always wait for age. Benjamin Franklin was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence, an act that truly put everything on the line for his country. Age is no excuse to stop being a patriotic servant of what is good and right.
China's debt-based diplomacy is no trivial matter
The country's "Belt and Road" initiative may be creating a lot of tangible infrastructure projects all over the world, but those projects aren't being done for charity, and they're not all necessary. China's bankrolling them in the expectation of making money off the construction work itself, as well as off the financing. And the government is so touchy about it that it has gotten aggressive with Australian journalists who asked questions about it.
Meet the people defending trade
It needs a robust defense in this era
Fastball's catchy song "The Way" is about a real-life tragedy
Which certainly tempers the story a bit
Not, as some on Twitter have mistyped, "Independance" Day. Though it might be fun to see whether anyone could do justice to the Declaration of Independence in the form of interpretive dance.
July 5, 2018
Are you a practicing American?
Being an American takes practice and belief. Some of us just happen to have been lucky enough to have been born here.
The torment caused by family separations
In the words of Stuart Stevens, "There's not a community in America that wouldn't move heaven and earth to help when an Amber Alert is announced. And yet we have a massive Amber Alert of missing children on the border and it's our government to blame."
Russian nerve agent poisons two more in UK
And those two people aren't thought to have been targeted -- they may just be collateral damage from the original attack
US resettles far fewer refugees in 2017 than in prior years
Having taken in three-quarters of the world's refugees since 1980, the US has closed its doors in a substantial way. That's to our detriment; refugees aren't freeloaders looking for a free lunch -- they're people trying to escape detrimental circumstances at home and make new lives for themselves in a safer place. If we aren't confident enough to be that safer place, then we need to take a long look in the mirror.
Tariffs and counter-tariffs are scheduled to become no longer threats but reality. And that's just stupid. The President is threatening to escalate from taxing $34 billion in imports to $500 billion. It's hard to stop the bleeding from a self-inflicted wound.
July 6, 2018
An aggregation of coverage from the June 30th flash floods
Rainfall totals of 9" in a short period of time, centered right on top of Iowa's biggest urban center
Budget deficits and billowing debt as intergenerational warfare
America's wildly imbalanced budget priorities will spend vastly more on entitlements for the old (and interest on the debt) than it ever will on programs that benefit children. In the words of Margaret Thatcher: "We have first to put our finances in order. We must live within our means. The Government must do so. And we must do so as a country."
July 7, 2018
Case study in a disaster-in-waiting that could be stopped right now
But will it? Or will the normalization of deviance win out?
Something about exuberant dancing Germans is hilarious
Good for a light laugh
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 7, 2018
Live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm Central
July 8, 2018
The President refuses to read the briefing book prepared for him, so "ahead of important meetings, aides have made something of a deal with the president: If we put it in a red folder, please read it." If a 2nd-year TSA screener or CIA field agent refused to read assigned briefing materials, he or she would deserve prompt termination.
Building "tiny homes" for Hawaii volcano evacuees
Good to see novel solutions being applied to important problems. Finding ways to house people displaced by natural disasters is a persistent problem.
July 9, 2018
Forget chasing Amazon's HQ2: Cities should focus on their startups
"[E]conomic big bangs can happen anywhere, not just on the coasts." An argument against trying to lure existing hot businesses from elsewhere and for investing in organic, endogenous growth.
Brexit brings about UK cabinet resignations
Interesting to think what would happen if the US had a similar system, whereby a Cabinet resignation could trigger the downfall of a government. A less far-out version of this would occur if we had a national Presidential recall mechanism, in the style of states like California or Wisconsin. (In fact, more than half of the states have some kind of recall.)
An exceptional tribute to the departed Governor Robert Ray. Doing the right thing -- like taking in refugees -- may or may not have political payoffs in the short run. But in the long term, character truly does count.
It's hard to describe the excitement of covering true breaking news. It's an intellectual challenge, a social activity, and an adrenaline rush all at once -- a pop quiz, a senior recital, and being down one run in the bottom of the 9th, all wrapped into one.
A nominee to the Supreme Court
On one hand, it is right to believe in the co-equality of the branches of government, so the SCOTUS pick ought to be a big deal. On the other hand, we place way too much emphasis on the chief executive and should rather see the Imperial Presidency dialed down than see the other two amplified. We should vigorously support a rebalancing of power among the three branches, in the spirit of Federalist Papers-era Madison. As Calvin Coolidge put it, "I would like it if the country could think as little as possible about the Government and give their time and attention more undividedly about the conduct of the private business of the country."
Tomorrow: 25 years since the Floods of 1993 hit Des Moines
An event of staggering proportions. We're a much more resilient community in many ways today, but we can't ever let down our guard. There's always more we can do to prepare.
July 10, 2018
Is Facebook trying to watch you in retail stores?
Seems like the kind of issue on which we ought to have a vigorous national debate.
Elon Musk delivers a prototype miniature submarine to Thailand
He can come across in all kinds of bad ways, but Musk has a bias towards action that really is an outlier worthy of some attention (and probably some study).
Striking oil workers in Norway could push prices higher
Low oil prices have been a de facto economic subsidy for so long, a whole lot of people have probably forgotten that things could be any other way.
A wonderful tribute to Gov. Robert Ray
A great story, told well, about refugees as a success story in Iowa -- thanks to his leadership as governor
Futurist Ian Pearson wants to do some things you probably haven't thought about yet
US government misses deadline to reunite children separated from their families
To what degree the family-separation madness is the result of incompetence and to what degree malice, it's becoming hard to give anyone administratively involved the benefit of doubt.
July 11, 2018
Why did the Thai boys in a cave get so much attention?
Especially when there are so many other problems in the world -- including other children in grave distress? People seem to be more interested when a problem seems well-defined than when it is abstract -- or so large that it becomes abstract in our minds. Not every problem lends itself to that kind of granularity, but even when we're talking about big, abstract problems, we may need to think of ways to make the steps in the process seem more concrete (if we want public support, that is).
Your opponents aren't going away
And they're probably not evil, either. As Margaret Thatcher put it: "I think some of the bitterness of political strife is reduced when we remind ourselves that many of the people who share our deepest convictions about life are on the other side in political controversy." When prominent voices say that "Even CONSIDERING this [Supreme Court] nomination will cement the first American dictatorship", it's a colossal problem: Vladimir Putin and bad actors like him want the maximum division among Americans against one another. The more people conflate "things I don't like" with "things that are undemocratic", the harder it's going to be to resist the actual threats to democratic processes. And those are real.
Could someone please explain what happened from the mid-20th Century onward that made people board up windows everywhere in otherwise perfectly functional buildings? What did people find so objectionable about natural light? There's certainly a profound counterexample in certain modernist buildings with walls of glass, but there's a reason people find houses and buildings like that to be truly stunning.
The world is better with friends
Let us toast to our friends: May they be strong and plentiful
July 12, 2018
"Americans and their Congress still believe in the transatlantic alliance"
Necessary words from Sen. John McCain, as the President engages in a pattern of behavior that (at best) confuses and frustrates our NATO allies. If this profoundly transactionalist behavior confuses you, that's good: It's bizarre to think relationships are like an Etch-A-Sketch that gets erased every day. As Sam Zell has said, "You succeed or you fail based on who your partners are." That's advice applicable not only in real estate, where Zell made his fortune, but in the world at large.
A 5-month-old baby was left buried face-down in the Montana woods for nine hours until he was rescued by a search team. He survived and has been released from the hospital. If there is but one thing civilization should stand for, it should be that innocent children ought never to be subjected to malicious cruelty or endangerment.
Is a corporate recession just around the corner?
The more fiddling around with accounting statements, the more people should worry that something is rotten in Denmark.
Interest payments on the Federal debt: 1.6% of GDP today -- 7% later
2030 used to seem like a long time away. But if you have a kid born this year, he or she will barely be in middle school by that time. That isn't the long term...it's now the medium-to-short run.
Replacing plastic bags with banana-based packaging
A fantastic example why the old moniker of "developing" countries is really misleading. The global middle class is growing fast -- and innovating -- and that's a very good development. More people capable of living lives with a little bit of room for comfort means not only a direct improvement to the human condition (which we should cheer!), but also spillover effects for the rest of the world. The United States was massively innovative at a time when it was still in many ways a "developing" country. Innovations have a way of finding their way to the rest of the world speedily, so the more people who have the capacity to experiment and try out new ideas, the better for everyone.
The move towards LED streetlights (as opposed to yellow sodium lights) is a welcome upgrade
Corporatism is just another form of socialism
Don't fall for any of the ugly cousins in this family
Move to Australia, then move out of it
A new story about the "micronation" boom in Australia teases the claims some people make to having their own states-within-a-state. It's silly, and it's definitely not the wave of the future -- but we should take seriously the more realistic prospects for city-states to re-emerge in the 21st Century.
We welcome our robot (mower) overlords
But what if the first people to get them are also the ones who had the best suburban diagonals? We'll miss it when it's gone.
July 13, 2018
"We've said all along we know Russia meddled in our elections"
The Speaker of the House acknowledges the gravity of the indictments issued against 12 members of the Russian military intelligence service thanks to the Special Counsel's investigation. It's a very serious set of counts, and there are probably more to come. People are understandably anxious for the full truth to come out. The indictments have been hailed as "a powerful show of strength by federal law enforcement".
Markets in everything, including naps
Mattress company Casper is offering a "napping store" in Lower Manhattan, where 45-minute nap sessions come with a bed and a pair of pajamas. Open most days from 11am to 8pm. Of course, a proper nap lasts 12 minutes and no longer, so the 45-minute session is probably too long.
Trump-Putin summit to be held at Finnish presidential palace
How many Americans know that Finland only won its independence from Russia a hair over 100 years ago, in December 1917?
The states under attack in this trade war
Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "The bulk of punitive tariffs from around the globe falls heavily on Farm Belt and Rust Belt states", and that's no exaggeration. And for the Farm Belt, it happens at a time when total net farm income is at a 12-year low. It's a self-inflicted wound at a time of serious chronic pain.
July 14, 2018
"[T]he hunt needs to continue, because the witches are very real."
This analysis from David French is lucid, alarming, and important. It takes less time to read than a commercial break on television. It is worth your time.
Some busybodies want a government-run alternative to Google
There's no end to the dumb ideas people are willing to try when they think they can have someone else subsidize their failures.
What could have thwarted the Russian spearphishing attacks
Two-factor authentication: Live it, love it, don't ever forget it. (It's the least you can do for your own security.)
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 14, 2018
Should you be mad about the crimes depicted in the indictments issued by Robert Mueller's team yesterday? Not just mad: You should be outraged.
July 15, 2018
Senator Ben Sasse's message for the President to deliver to Vladimir Putin. There's no point to being the world's superpower if we're not prepared to stand up for ourselves. Either we defend ourselves (and a just world order) against criminal malice, or we should prepare for chaos and darkness to fill the void. And we need to be aware that the problem is continuing and probably expanding: Whatever we've seen out of our adversaries thus far is likely just the beginning. This isn't ambiguous: Per the indictments issued on Friday, Russian military intelligence targeted US civilians, organizations, and state governments. This isn't over.
President Trump names EU as a "foe"
The European Union isn't our foe, and it is self-evidently stupid to say so.
China wants to censor the trade war
The South China Morning Post reports: "Four separate sources working for Chinese media, who were briefed on these internal instructions, told the South China Morning Post that they were told not to 'over-report' the trade war with US".
French company wants to build trains with wings
Airplanes that could detach their passenger compartments for quick ground transportation on rails. A bit far-out, but maybe it makes sense in the highly population-dense European market.
Domestic terrorist thwarted by alert witnesses and attentive police
A person planning to blow up a building because he wanted to make a point about the people inside is, by definition, a terrorist
July 16, 2018
Stand for something, lest you fall for anything
The President, insistent on his own instincts, chooses the denials of Vladimir Putin over the evidence (and the advice of everyone who matters) that Russia actively attacked American electoral processes. His press conference beside Putin was profoundly embarrassing: An apology tour, a plea of submission, and a declaration of surrender all rolled into one 60-second clip. It is almost certainly the most cowardly declaration ever issued by someone who has taken the Constitutional oath of office. Today illustrates why we need to work -- fast -- to develop the kind of vocabulary and mental framework for understanding cyberwar that we already have for kinetic war. We have been attacked and remain under attack, and that's not a "both sides are to blame" thing. If the President can't or won't grapple with the complexity and gravity of cyberattack, he should make way for someone who will.
The United States doesn't need to question the Russians who, as a state activity, conducted a cyber-campaign against the United States in 2016. The indictments make it quite clear that we have them on the evidence. And to imagine that there is some kind of parity with those who have challenged Putin's autocratic ways and sought refuge here is to be as gullible as a child. When the President whines about the state of US-Russia relations, it's an abomination. If he were merely ignorant of history, that would be shameful. But he chooses to be ignorant of the present, which is inexcusable.
Cutting down an evergreen tree
It can give a person Cub Scout flashbacks
July 17, 2018
It was insulting when Bill Clinton tried to split hairs over the definition of the word "is". It is insulting now that Donald Trump thinks he can revise history to change "would" to "wouldn't". The President was humiliated in front of a global audience, particularly by his public dismissal of US intelligence services and the US Department of Justice in favor of his naive embrace of the empty words of a known adversary. That is behavior beneath contempt.
Russian state malfeasance undermines the future of a normal Russia-US relationship
Russia's tactical success at assaulting US elections may end up as a strategic catastrophe -- because what near-term future President has any incentive to treat the Russian government with goodwill?
Tariff madness is already backfiring
The persistent costs of tariff madness are going to hang around a whole lot longer than the sugar-rush stimulus of the tax cut.
July 18, 2018
EU official announces non-trivial penalty against Google
It's an antitrust-type action. But will it actually achieve the intended effects?
When pop-culture icons of the past redeem themselves with sly critiques of the present. What the President tried to erase by claiming he meant to say "wouldn't" instead of "would" is not undone by the record of what else he said.
Vladimir Putin wants to "interview" a former US ambassador to Russia, and the White House hasn't unequivocally said "no"
This ought to represent an inviolable red line to anyone in Congress. Or the Cabinet. There is no acceptable answer to this request -- which also included Putin critic Bill Browder -- other than "absolutely not" (unless one chooses a more colorful and forceful way to say it).
Court tosses California trifurcation vote from the November ballot
Good -- this is not the time for arbitrary and highly divisive internal questions. Whatever the merits of smaller administrative units may or may not be, this is not the time nor the civic environment to argue them.
A pledge against building killer AI is only noble on the surface
Strategic theorist Kori Schake asks, "[I]s anybody exploring the asymmetric vulnerabilities this will create if our adversaries don't likewise constrain themselves?" Nobody wants to build killer robots...but if you have an adversary who might, then you probably shouldn't take all your options off the table. At the very least, we need to actively grapple with the technology, the rules, and the ethics.
How can the President misunderstand so much about NATO?
In suggesting that Montenegro is composed of "very aggressive people" who might trigger "World War III", he lays plain that he doesn't get the point of a common security commitment. In the Civil War era, people formed Union Leagues to promote the cause -- is it time for us to start organizing local NATO Leagues?
Getting a little close to severe weather
Very strong thunderstorms -- including a large rotating band in contact with the ground -- up close and personal, around Kearney, Nebraska.
Looking forward to the day when Twitter has an advanced search that permits a search for "rabbi with a Confucian streak and a sarcastic sense of humor". (In part because that day ought to come after they've found a way to nuke the trolls and mal-bots.)
The only true chemtrails are the ones that come out of a crop duster
And, boy, are those crop dusters a lot of fun to watch
July 19, 2018
Video shows large tornado going right through center of Marshalltown, Iowa
The local newspaper uses "devastated" to describe conditions in Marshalltown after the tornado. For it to have damaged downtown, the hospital, and the JBS plant means it must have been reasonably wide: perhaps 1/2 mile in diameter. And that looks about the size in the video taken from near the Hy-Vee, looking at the courthouse. Tornadoes also hit Bondurant and Pella. Pella's local newspaper indicates that the Vermeer plant was hit hard but that employees had taken shelter -- which was good, because cars were tossed around the parking lot.
Marshalltown newspaper decamps to nearby town to get the paper out
The news editor is from Marshalltown and just started the job ten days ago. Local news is indispensable to a community, and an event like the tornado in Marshalltown is why.
What the new satellites saw of the day's storms
New satellite capabilities might end up being very useful in augmenting severe weather forecasting and detection.
"The press needs to be anti-partisan"
A perspective from Mike Masnick, editor of TechDirt. An interesting perspective, but it probably doesn't need to be quite so complicated. Good news reporting always comes back to good questions. So if news reporting is unsatisfactory, then the first place to look is the questions: Are good ones being asked? "News" is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo. Everything else is either "events" or "information". While there are plenty of events to document and informational items to share, those aren't really news. When news (properly defined) is being reported, it ought to illuminate something important that somehow changes whatever was "known" before. It's hard to do that if one starts with a conclusion or a mission in mind. Questions like "Don't you think..." or "Wouldn't you say..." aren't authentic news questions. Nor are questions that rely upon restating someone's untruths or disinformation. Nor are questions that permit the subject to spread a falsehood unchallenged. When the status quo includes disinformation, lies, or falsehoods, then we don't need reporters on a mission to be "anti-partisan", per se -- but we need them to ask questions that change what we know about that status quo.
The President was told about Russian attacks on the election process in January 2017
Would his responses -- which have been a cavalcade of denials and deflections -- be different if the person issuing the orders had been Xi Jinping? Or Hassan Rouhani?
A strong case for re-funding the Office of Technology Assessment. Oftentimes the best money government can spend is on appropriate oversight and qualified professional advice. We also need more elected officials who themselves come from technical backgrounds -- engineers, programmers, scientists, and so on.
Maybe it's out of necessity (hard surfaces, power outlets, and available water), but it still seems wrong for hotels to place coffee makers inside their toilet rooms.
July 20, 2018
The President has learned nothing about economics
He tweets: "[Monetary] Tightening now hurts all that we have done. The U.S. should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates - Really?" His policies (like intervening in specific industries and with specific companies, pulling out of multilateral trade agreements, and imposing import taxes) are not working as imagined because they are bad policies, but instead of acknowledging that they are bad, he's doubling down and demanding more. And the further steps he might take -- like trying to pressure the Federal Reserve using the power of his office, or threatening to default on the Federal debt -- are things that would be unimaginable under any sensible President with a basic grasp of economics. But those basic assumptions are completely in error with President Trump. And he is at a most basic level incapable of admitting error, so he'll likely make many more bad decisions before he is through. He is obsessed with bilateral agreements and thinks that we somehow need to be in trade balance (or surplus) with each individual country around the world. That's nonsense, and his refusal to learn is an ongoing threat to the economy. In Federalist 53, they anticipated the damage that could be done by government powers that didn't understand what they tried to control: "How can foreign trade be properly regulated by uniform laws, without some acquaintance with the commerce, the ports, the usages, and the regulations of the different States?"
Unpredictability, inconsistency, and reckless communication have conspired to potentially create a worst-case scenario of perverse incentives: Trade war leading to a kinetic arms race. Chinese leaders are wondering if the President would take them more seriously on trade issues if they had an arsenal of weapons more like the one possessed by Russia.
Cars are not safe places in a tornado
Photographic evidence, should anyone have needed it
Dwight Eisenhower: "The doctrine of opportunism, so often applicable in tactics, is a dangerous one to pursue in strategy." In other words: Take advantage of every lucky break you get, but never count on getting them.
Staff gets Marshalltown newspaper published even after a tornado
Three cheers for dedicated local journalists, documenting the damage and the cleanup even when their own resources are depleted
July 21, 2018
The obvious choices: Lincoln and Washington. Other very good names: Eisenhower, Coolidge, and T Roosevelt. Those who should be lauded for the totality of their contribution to the public good (even if they weren't necessarily great Presidents): Hoover, Grant, Madison, Jefferson, and J Adams. All compare favorably with the one who merely thinks he's the "favorite President".
Garbage in, (inexplicable quasi-religious) garbage out
If you put a bunch of nonsense into Google Translate, it might just spit out something that looks like it came from the Book of Revelation
The first test-tube baby is 40
How's that for a cultural touchstone?
Antibiotic resistance is growing and research is in the decline
If antibiotics have moved into "public goods" territory, we might have to start subsidizing them in the public interest.
A warning to motorists in Iowa for the next week
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 21, 2018
Broadcast and streaming live from 2pm to 4pm Central
July 22, 2018
Diplomacy shouldn't be conducted via late-night angry tweet
What's going on doesn't make sense
July 23, 2018
Buckle up; it's going to be a bumpy ride
Strategist Molly McKew warns: "Putin's appetite for risk is greater than our own, and his mindset antithetical. He will find a way to show that [NATO] Article 5 is hollow by attacking the seams and the gray areas". We urgently need a whole new language to discuss what's happening right in front of us. Lacking a mainstream lexicon to discuss cyberwarfare, proxy wars, and influence campaigns, people get a false sense of confidence: "We're not shooting, so we're not engaged in confrontation".
A superficial approach to savings with a colossal embedded flaw
In what is surely a naked attempt at clickbait, a columnist has argued that public libraries should be done away with and that Amazon should somehow "take their place". Certain investments are not strictly economic. Some are important to promoting a civic republic. And that's where libertarianism must take a back seat to classical liberalism: There are some circumstances under which the individual's demand to be left alone (and be free from paying for certain public goods) must yield to the need to make some community choices (and investments) so that we can live together in some sort of productive peace. Are public libraries strictly necessary? Not in the sense that a military might be. But ever since Benjamin Franklin made the emphatic case for public lending libraries as an indispensable tool of self-improvement, the American idea of a public library has been founded on assumptions that it is a broad net positive for communities to offer free resources for individuals who are willing to seek out intellectual self-improvement. Escaping a dead-end path shouldn't be excruciating. There is a great deal of social cost to despair, and reasonable investments in preventing people from succumbing to that despair should not be dismissed just because they are imperfect (or incompletely libertarian).
"Strong leader" as an abomination
Resolved: The phrase "strong leader" should be purged from American politics, starting with opinion polls. "Strong" is an invitation to empty peacockery. What we need is curiosity, foresight, and level-headedness. Curiosity, competence, and humility are far more valuable than over-confidence and shallow displays of dominance.
The world is getting measurably better
But that doesn't force public opinion to recognize the improvement. Historical illiteracy and innumeracy are in a two-way contest to destroy everything good and right in the world. Technological illiteracy and fundamental economic ignorance are not far behind.
July 24, 2018
"What the Kremlin wants is chaos"
Adversaries using tools like social media can be expected to deploy their malfeasance wherever they think it will have the most leverage. That may be on behalf of candidates and causes from the left, or from the right. A reasonable center continues to exist in America. Don't let the agents of chaos and the hyperpartisan freaks convince you otherwise.
The Department of Homeland Security apparently believes that Russian hackers managed to infiltrate "air-gapped" computer networks to gain access to computer networks belonging to US electrical utilities.
No, tariffs are not "the greatest"
The President's grotesque misunderstanding of economics is astonishing. In a single tweet, he manages to misinterpret trade flows, misrepresent negotiating strategy, and miss the point entirely of what takes place when money is exchanged for goods and services. It's hard to be that wrong about that many things and still manage to stay under Twitter's character limit.
The mental spirit to beating cancer
Chicago Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, a survivor of cancer, has it 100% right -- and his advice should be read not only by anyone who has ever battled cancer, but also by anyone who knows anyone who has. (That means you.) It is both physiological and psychological, and a person needs a support system to make it through.
Devotion to principles, not a person
There's nothing conservative about a cult of personality
Things that keep one up at night: "The exit strategy from stagflation is an uncertain one unless one reverses the original triggers for its occurrence, in this case removes the new tariffs." The self-inflicted wounds have got to stop.
San Francisco politicians want to ban new workplace cafeterias so that "People will have to go out and each lunch with the rest of us". Seems like a rather dumb priority to think worthy of legislation.
July 25, 2018
When the military is such a good hammer, too many things look like nails
The quality of today's professional military makes it an attractive target not only for use in places where it may not be appropriate, but also as a political cudgel to use where there should be a healthy gap between politics and arms. It's a very serious problem if people come to think of the military as the only part of government that produces honest, competent leaders. The public needs to see prominent examples of capable service everywhere from the State Department to state forestry departments. There are troublesome incentive structures at work, including a very unhealthy fetishization of military hardware and even style. Moreover, there is a political hazard at work, undermining the non-military work of government: The hard left never acknowledges that some government programs are administered better than others, and the hard right never admits that some government programs actually work. Absolutism chokes accountability.
Contrary to the claims of those on the left who want to see every issue nationalized (and their counterparts on some parts of the right), some of us are advocates for more true Federalism -- placing decisions as close as possible to the people affected by them, with the maximum allowable room for local/regional customization possible without infringing on the personal liberties of individuals. This is especially valid thinking, considering that most states today are at or near the same population as the entire USA in 1790 (4 million). Not everything needs to be a national issue, and in many cases, many things ought not to be. Time, effort, and psychological commitment expended in pursuit of national agendas (that don't need to be national) sap the country of the motivation and accountability to grapple with the big issues that truly do require Washington's attention. Thus we find ourselves polarized by stupid things and ignoring important ones -- like having a true cybersecurity policy or putting appropriate resources into trade and technology adjustment assistance where entire regions are struggling economically. Local conditions vary widely: The current average sale price for residential real estate in San Francisco is $1,057 per square foot , which is more than the $989 monthly rent on a decent 950-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom, apartment in suburban Des Moines. That's not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course, but when buying 12 square feet in one place would rent an entire apartment for a year in another place, maybe the same policies need not apply uniformly everywhere. It might be bad for cable TV punditry, but it would be very healthy for the country if we advanced a model that insisted on maximal localism (and accountability), reserving the Federal for truly national needs and for those instances where personal liberties were under threat from negligent, malicious, or hostile state and local governments.
Venezuela will knock five digits off its currency next month
1,000,000% annual inflation makes it pretty hard for numerals to keep up. It's an entirely man-made disaster, and it's the result of a stupid, thoughtless revolution whose failure was easy to see coming. It was obvious in 2013 that a command economy was a stupid choice. It was obviously a bad move in 2007, when Hugo Chavez was whipping up a siege mentality to consolidate power. And it was obvious in 2005, when it was clear the United States was already making a mistake by ignoring Latin America (and its rising socialist troubles). That's the thing about man-made disasters: They are a choice. And they require choices to escape.
Without water, Iraq's breadbasket is collapsing
Nature is to blame, but so are terrible human causes. The world needs surplus food production because problems like droughts happen. And if there's going to be surplus food production, there needs to be trade -- so markets can specialize and farmers can turn a profit. From a systemic perspective, trade wars can cause hunger.
Should you swear at your Roomba?
If you're a broadcaster, yes. The last broadcaster who didn't know how to wilt the flowers and peel the paint off the walls with a solid blue streak was Fred Rogers.
Omaha man uses pipe bomb to extract vengeance on tree
It dripped sap onto his car. He's 50 years old. His 74-year-old dad is trying to kick him out of the house.
Bathroom hand dryers are the worst
Sure, they save paper. But they're utterly useless if you need to blow your nose, open a door without touching a filthy handle, or clean up a toddler's mess. Other than that, they're just great.
Google Street View prowls Des Moines
Time to mow the lawn and wash the car
Complexity among 1.3 billion people
Why it's not such a good idea to pigeonhole "China" into a caricature of itself
"It will be a useful lesson for all of us, but not a pleasant one."
Columnist Steve Chapman savages the utter stupidity of the Trump trade war. Trade-war behavior and protectionism rackets are just another form of corporatist socialism. There are so many bad executive-branch policies in place -- abandoned multilateral trade agreements, fake "national security" tariffs, and bilateral friction -- that one ought to look forward to the day when people remember which branch of government occupies the Capitol building, and when the occupants thereof rein in the branch that is making a mess of things by overextending its reach.
Individual segments and the whole episode from the July 21st episode of the "Brian Gongol Show"
A light-hearted laugh at the expense of wildlife
Being ready, willing, and able
An Iowan with the right training tried to save lives in the disaster at the Lake of the Ozarks. All the good intentions in the world don't amount to much if you don't have the skills necessary to do something to help.
CNN gets tapes from Trump-Cohen meetings
What kind of bizarre relationship did the lawyer and his client have that recordings would have seemed necessary? Sounds toxic.
July 26, 2018
Members of the Senate see fit to reassert their authority over bad diplomatic behavior by the President, with Senators McCain, Kaine, Gardner, and Reed joining in a bipartisan bill to "explicitly prohibit the President of the United States from withdrawing from NATO without Senate approval". Article II, Section 2 is unambiguous ("by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur"), but even that clarity may deserve a backstop in these peculiar times.
Mapping the vote: Intriguing but usually misleading
We really should get used to using cartograms (specifically with hex tiles) when depicting anything that has to do with population or voting. If people can understand subway maps, they can understand cartographic depictions of population, too.
"Enterprises to subvert it..."
Federalist 59 has some words applicable to America today
In the airport, always go for the pretzel
It is metaphysically impossible to screw up a pretzel order, and that means the dunce in front of you, no matter how stupid, will still be out of your way in no more than 90 seconds.
Facebook's $120 billion bad day
Imagine vaporizing the market valuation of about half the farmland in Iowa
The Attorney General should be ashamed
The nation's chief law-enforcement officer shouldn't be taking part in "Lock her up" chants. It's not just untoward, it's perverse.
"Booing the press in general is an unhealthy trend"
Sen. Ben Sasse with a worthy endorsement of the VFW's statement disclaiming the boos directed at the press when the President made ill use of an opportunity to address the organization's national convention. It is a cowardly act to direct mob anger at the press.
The candy-heart and candy-wafer company had been troubled for a while, but it sounds like the shutdown was a sudden shock
They've caused dozens of casualties
Was there anything really new in the US-EU trade agreement?
It may not really have been worth a hill of beans, to shamelessly abuse a pun.
July 27, 2018
Rent controls plus subsidies equals disaster
Bad policymaking isn't excused by good intentions
Lots of kids remain separated from their parents by US policy
Hundreds were left behind as their parents were deported
"Fear, by itself, does not exonerate the defendant"
A compelling case for prosecuting the careless use of force -- in uniform or out of it
Silicon Valley as a "den of spies"
"[F]oreign spies have been showing up uninvited to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a very long time"
The case for a national "political warfare" center
Some things aren't quite war...but they aren't exactly diplomacy, either. That they lack a clear conventional definition shouldn't be the reason they fall through the cracks.