The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio
Brian Gongol

The top crime-news story during our 8:00 newscast tonight was about an ISU student caught stealing textbooks at the university library. It's really nice to live in a reasonably large metro area (we have half a million in metro Des Moines, you know) where that's the biggest crime hassle on a given night.

Inflation hawk and fiscal conservative Paul Volcker -- the man who brought the inflation of the 1970s under control while serving as chair of the Federal Reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan -- has endorsed Barack Obama for President. That's an interesting move -- Obama is anything but a fiscal conservative. But maybe this is a "Nixon goes to China" scenario -- perhaps Volcker is betting that only a Democrat can take the actions necessary to control entitlement spending and keep the nation from becoming permanently crippled by debt.

On a related note, now that John Edwards is out of the race and Mike Huckabee looks unlikely to take home the GOP nomination, the next President will not have a Southern accent. McCain, Romney, Clinton, and Obama are all from northern or western states. If nothing else, that ought to change how some people around the world perceive us.

Brian Dean's excited to have a new car that gets about twice the gas mileage of his old SUV. Having just seen "Who Killed the Electric Car?", that struck a chord with me. It really seems unfortunate that we get excited over 30 miles per gallon, when we could easily be getting 50 mpg or better out of cars that don't require expensive changes over the ones we already drive. We've already talked (on the WHO Radio Wise Guys) about the high-efficiency diesel cars being built. It would be nice to see more of those options -- small steps towards better efficiency, perhaps, but steps nonetheless -- but yet no one's really talking about high-efficiency cars, except when they're trying to sell hybrids. Seems like a missed opportunity.

On the subject of gasoline, despite record-high oil prices, now might not be such a good time to be running an oil company. Shell, one of the world's largest oil companies, is running into huge problems with production, terrorism, and taxes -- enough so that their production in 2007 was 6% below 2006 levels. Maybe it's that sort of change that will force the oil companies to evolve into true energy companies, essentially agnostic about whether that energy comes from oil, solar power, hydrogen, or any other source.

Russia's not going to allow very many observers to watch its upcoming presidential elections, which isn't a good sign. Their history of free elections is less than 20 years old, and no one can really be confident that Vladimir Putin and his allies won't try to mess with the honesty and integrity of this next election. They're in power, so they have the capacity to do it.

That's what's nice about the federal system here in the US. Each state (and, in a way, each county) gets to choose exactly how it conducts its vote -- touch-screen ballots, paper ballots, voting machines, whatever. And that makes it hard to cheat the system in a big way. Sure, it makes it quite likely that there will be irregularities and cheating in some places (Chicago in the late '60s comes to mind), but since the voting infrastructure of this country is completely decentralized, we don't have to worry about national-scale fraud. We might have Super Tuesday on the mind.

On a related note, even though it's easy to get annoyed by the high intensity of the Presidential campaign, we probably are better off with this sort of pattern than our fellow democracies around the world, many of which live with perpetual campaigns because they have parliamentary systems. When that's the case, as it is in Canada or Britain, for instance, you always have the prime minister and at least one person who's actively campaigning to become the prime minister. Sometimes more than one. When that's the case, it's impossible to get away from the chance that a campaign (a snap election) could happen at any time. So even if it's hard for us to deal with campaigns as often as we do already, just remember: It could be much worse. In those other countries, you not only have the politicians in charge, you also get the politicians who specifically wish they were in charge.

How about that rime we got today? Freezing fog is so very strange.

58% of the public thinks trade is bad for us. That's awful news: Trade leads to efficiency, and efficiency leads to better standards of living. There's no doubt that some of the changes caused by trade (like job losses) can be painful. But just like many people who made horse buggies and whips had to change their line of work when automobiles came along, we have to be ready to ask some people to make some changes today when it would be more efficient to have other people in other places do certain kinds of work.

But here's the good news: If you're looking to make some extra money, you can use the Internet to do it, even if you don't want to spend money on the kinds of programs people try to sell you via late-night infomercials. Everyone knows you can sell virtually anything you want on eBay, but you can also make money publishing your books (or magazines or comic books) on Lulu. Or you can sell your paintings and photos on DeviantArt. Or you can sell your knitting or crochet work on Etsy.

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