Gongol.com Archives: 2018 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


July 27, 2018

News Rent controls plus subsidies equals disaster

Bad policymaking isn't excused by good intentions

News Lots of kids remain separated from their parents by US policy

Hundreds were left behind as their parents were deported

News "Fear, by itself, does not exonerate the defendant"

A compelling case for prosecuting the careless use of force -- in uniform or out of it

Threats and Hazards 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"

Threats and Hazards 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.



July 26, 2018

The United States of America Advice and consent

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.

The United States of America 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.

Threats and Hazards "Enterprises to subvert it..."

Federalist 59 has some words applicable to America today

Humor and Good News 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.

Business and Finance Facebook's $120 billion bad day

Imagine vaporizing the market valuation of about half the farmland in Iowa

Threats and Hazards 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.

News "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.

Business and Finance Necco shuts down

The candy-heart and candy-wafer company had been troubled for a while, but it sounds like the shutdown was a sudden shock

Weather and Disasters Terrible wildfires in Greece

They've caused dozens of casualties

Agriculture 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 25, 2018

Threats and Hazards 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.

The United States of America More true Federalism, please!

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.

Socialism Doesn't Work 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.

Agriculture 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.

Broadcasting 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.

News 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.

Humor and Good News 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.

Computers and the Internet Google Street View prowls Des Moines

Time to mow the lawn and wash the car

News Complexity among 1.3 billion people

Why it's not such a good idea to pigeonhole "China" into a caricature of itself

Socialism Doesn't Work "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.

Broadcasting Mid-week catch-up

Individual segments and the whole episode from the July 21st episode of the "Brian Gongol Show"

Humor and Good News Cop taunts tortoise on tape

A light-hearted laugh at the expense of wildlife

Health 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.

News 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 24, 2018

Threats and Hazards "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.

Threats and Hazards The enemy within (the grid)

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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Health 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.

News Devotion to principles, not a person

There's nothing conservative about a cult of personality

Business and Finance We're risking stagflation

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.

Socialism Doesn't Work No eating in the workplace?

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 23, 2018

Threats and Hazards 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".

News 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).

News "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.

News 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.


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