Gongol.com Archives: January 2021

Brian Gongol


January 2021
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January 3, 2021

Threats and Hazards President calls Georgia state officials to berate them for saying he lost the election

An abuse of the office such as this ought to be universally decried. The states are not to be bullied by a greedy, selfish, and manipulative executive in the Oval Office. As it was put in Federalist 46: "[T]he existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of." President Trump's behavior is utterly outrageous.

The United States of America The military has to cooperate with the political transition

All 10 of the living former Secretaries of Defense co-signed an opinion piece in the Washington Post saying not only that the military needs to stay right out of any disputes over the Presidential election, but also that "Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates [...] are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly." The letter was Dick Cheney's idea. And, in a sense, it seems karmically appropriate that Donald Rumsfeld, author of countless "snowflakes", has signed on to a letter sure to trigger Trumpian snowflakes.

Humor and Good News Science in service to humanity

Maura Quint: "Have we checked all food to see if exploding them makes them into something better or did we just stop with corn?"


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January 4, 2021

Business and Finance Do we have too many doctorate degrees?

There is some merit to Noah Smith's take on this matter (that America produces more Ph.D. degrees in some fields than would be optimal for society), but we also need to consider a perspective shift: Instead of front-loading education and creating 30-year-old Ph.D.s, we should try more "education smoothing". As people grow in practical and even commercial experience, there should be affordable and accessible pathways for them to continue formally learning without leaving the areas where they are productively employed. A person with 20 years of focused experience on the job probably knows more about where applied research would pay off than someone in the nonstop BS-to-PhD pipeline. That we don't have many obvious pathways for this (besides executive MBAs and EdD programs for school administrators) is a failure to match smart educational investment to economic development. We should be more strategic than we are.

Health Perverse incentives hurt people

New York is going to fine hospitals that don't use up their allotted Covid-19 vaccine doses -- and then will cut off the supply. We want doses administered promptly and without waste. But government has to be conscious of the dangers of perverse incentives. This approach seems almost perfectly calibrated to ensure that hospitals will order fewer doses than optimal and/or engage in misreporting. Order many, then get them delivered as soon as possible. And if there's overage, give a shot to the pizza delivery driver. Just get the vaccine into circulation in massive numbers without delay! That's the only way to make herd immunity work for us.

Health 4 million Americans have received first doses of Covid-19 vaccines

The next few weeks are going to be interesting for news reporters to cover, since many journalists quite likely have higher-than-average exposure to health-care workers among their social circles. That's going to make it look to the people who report the news as if more people have been vaccinated than is representative of the population overall.

Business and Finance Good intentions have to be enacted through good policies

Fascinating economic research says that the children who lived in large public-housing projects did much better when those projects were demolished: "Public housing projects, particularly large projects, often provide housing to large numbers of people in geographically concen­trated areas. This results in many job-seekers competing for nearby work." Few areas of study are going to have more to do with the health and prosperity of our future (as the United States, and as the world) than the subject of urban economics -- particularly as it deals with universal needs, like housing.

Threats and Hazards If only George Will were wrong about this, but alas...he isn't

As the President plays up a completely false and paranoid narrative of electoral dishonesty, "Hawley and Cruz, both of whom clerked for chief justices of the Supreme Court, hope to be wafted into the White House by gusts of such paranoia." Regrettably, objectively book-smart people like Sen. Cruz and Sen. Hawley are making repugnant choices out of fear. And it's spread to others, like Rep. Elise Stefanik -- a smart and once-promising member of Congress who says she's going to engage in the nonsense, too. Rep. Stefanik would be doing her duty to the Constitution if, as she said, there were "serious questions" about electoral integrity. The problem is that the "questions" are profoundly unserious, and she's smart enough to know better. It's worse than being a simple dupe.


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January 19, 2021

News Day One priorities for the Biden Administration

A whole lot of executive orders are anticipated. Regardless of the merits of any of the particular orders, there ought to be broad consensus that Congress ought to be deciding many of the issues that get punted to the Executive Branch today. We shouldn't be so used to making major shifts based on the vicissitudes of executive orders. It's an unstable way to conduct government, and it really doesn't live up to the purpose of having three branches of government.


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January 20, 2021

The United States of America President Biden sworn in

In the words of Calvin Coolidge, "The chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the Presidential office after a moderate length of time." From a historical standpoint, we have a unique situation: A Catholic trifecta at the head of the Federal government, with the President, Speaker of the House, and Chief Justice all members of the Roman Catholic church. The President's Catholicism is a theme it would be hard to miss: He began his Inauguration Day with Mass celebrated by a Jesuit, and the service included "On Eagle's Wings" -- the one you have to hire a cantor to perform at funerals because nobody who knows the deceased can ever get through it without choking up. ■ As Sen. Mitt Romney said, "Despite the differences Americans may have on matters of policy, we share the common goal of ensuring that America continues to be a beacon of hope and freedom for all." It's the right sentiment at all times, but especially so after the last four years. The country -- and the world -- have been drained by the stresses of our last half-decade. ■ One could hardly have known in April of 2016 that not only would President Trump commit offenses worthy of impeachment soon in his term, but that he'd go on to be impeached twice. It was easier to forecast that his Presidency would proceed from early chaos into rank incompetence, then into retribution and score-settling, before ending with looting and exile. ■ America is overdue to be reminded that Presidents don't have to be the end-all, be-all of leadership. Nor should we turn to them as national father figures. To quote again from Coolidge: "It is a great advantage to a President & a major source of safety to the country for him to know that he is not a great man. When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions." Indeed, it would be nice if we could generally turn to our Presidents with a benign indifference.


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January 21, 2021

Health Chinese government pushes anti-vaccination conspiracy theories

Why would they try to undermine trust in the safety of American-made vaccines? The big picture isn't hard to figure out: President Xi and his cabal appear committed to a dependency posture with the world. The grand scheme is to turn many other countries into client states that depend upon a mighty and industrialized China for economic, military, and even scientific needs. ■ The Belt and Road Initiative is one manifestation of this posture: China is trying to solve some of its own domestic problems by building infrastructure abroad -- but the Chinese government also isn't trying to help build endogenous capacity in the countries where the Belt-and-Road projects are being built. They're strictly looking to build what suits their perceived Chinese self-interests. If it were about actually helping, then the phrase "debt trap" wouldn't come into the picture. But the phrase does come into the picture, because the initiative is, ultimately, about creating dependency (not capacity) between the client states and China. ■ The same logic is at play with making it appear that China has the only reliable Covid-19 vaccine supply. If China's leadership were being responsible -- or even just far-sighted -- they would look to the big scale and see that the world needs an unprecedented supply of effective vaccines, and any rivalry between vaccine-makers pales in comparison with the net good to be done by eradicating the pandemic swiftly and definitively. That's a thing that can only be accomplished by an all-hands-on-deck approach. Spreading misinformation about "rival" vaccines is a strategy that is bound to backfire, and at great cost. It says something grave about the short-sightedness of China's leadership that they would choose such a low-payoff, short-term strategy rather than participating in a global eradication effort as responsible partners. ■ That's a warning sign we shouldn't ignore: The person who's drowning may panic and flail enough to drown their own rescuer and thus scuttle their own hopes of survival. If China's leadership is panicking and flailing this much, perhaps they think there is a domestic threat to their own survival lurking much closer in the water than outsiders realize.


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