Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio

Brian Gongol

Podcast: Updated weekly in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Subscribe on Stitcher, Spreaker, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or iHeartRadio

Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.

Programming notes

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

There's been a tremendous amount of argument this week over something that I would never have expected to be a controversial question when I ended my show last Saturday: What, exactly, is "the West"?

The question was raised because the President made comments alluding to defending "the West" during a speech in Poland on his way to the G20 summit. In particular, he said:

...the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.

We used to say that "a great deal of ink has been spilled" over a matter like this, but in the 21st Century, it's really just a matter of pixels. So we'll say that an inordinate number of pixels have been devoted to the debate about whether there was a hidden message in the President's comments -- one that was meant to be a wink and a nod to white supremacists.

I hope not, but I also don't know who wrote the speech. And there are elements within the White House that haven't done enough to renounce their ties, real or perceived, to that movement.

Part of the problem in interpreting the President's comments is that we really don't have a consensus on what "the West" really is. It's shorthand for something -- but what?

If we're only talking about countries with certain religions or ethnic groups, then that definition probably isn't broad enough. They may be "Eastern" in most every geographical, ethnic, or religious way, but Japan and South Korea are part of what most people would define as the Western world. They're liberal democracies with market economies and the rule of law, they participate in constructive international efforts like peacekeeping and trade agreements, and they generally contribute in a very positive way towards upholding the kind of world order which we value so much.

Noah Smith, a writer who has previously made time to join us as a guest on this show, comments that "the West" could pretty easily be defined by which countries meet the standard of being "free", according to observers like Freedom House.

I would submit a slightly different definition: The real definition ought to align mainly with openness versus closedness, where "open" applies to new ideas, technologies, and trading partners. That is to say, I think "the West" is a rough shorthand way to describe countries where openness prevails as often as possible.

And that brings us around to the question of the hour: Are we really doing our part to be an indispensable part of "the West" right now? How open are we, really? A lot of the fights we're duking out in the public arena are about closing ourselves off -- from immigrants, or from trade, or from international cooperation.

That seems like a really ill-advised path to tread down. Conflict between ideas and products and companies and workers and religious ideas, by and large, don't leave us weaker -- instead, they leave us stronger.

I'm not a weaker Catholic because I have friends who are Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and athiest; I think I'm better off for having open and frank interactions with them. It doesn't undermine my attachment to my church to realize that there are other practices out there.

I'm not a weaker Irish or German American because my friends (or their parents) are Japanese and Mexican and Malaysian and Korean and Ghanian and Indian and Filipino; I think I have a better appreciation for my own ethnicity and for the nature of my country because I share it with people who can help remind me that we have many great things that we too often take for granted.

And I'm not a weaker sales engineer because I work with products that are made here or made overseas or made 50/50 here and there, nor because I have competitors here; I think marketplace competition pushes me to do a better job, to innovate, and to learn more -- even if it would seem easier to have a monopoly on everything I do.

The point is: Give me openness. It's never going to be limitless -- open borders, unrestricted free trade, perfect competition. But to the greatest extent practicable, give me "open" instead of "closed". It may be more rough-and-tumble, but the results are usually stronger -- and well worth defending.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Ben Sasse speech yesterday in Nevada

Segment 3: (14 min)

Make money

I was in an airport recently when I overheard someone talking about her career choices. She must have been in her early 20s, just starting out, and she was describing her career path as "safe and always needed".

I'm certainly not the only person who knows people who have chosen career paths because they appeared safe -- not necessarily because they were the best fit for the individual, but because the individual thought the career itself would be protected from disruption.

But it's a misleading approach.

People who assume their career tracks are "safe" may be underestimating how much that feature tends to attract investment -- always be on the lookout for technological disruption.

Just wait until professionals face major tech competition: AI displacing lawyers, robots displacing surgeons. Our economy face major changes ahead. Not just little ones, but big ones. Industries and professions that have always appeared "safe" may not be for much longer.

We're running out of time for the necessary national conversation about how we accommodate an economy featuring much more rapid change (more rapid, and with more of it). People aren't sticking around long enough to get gold watches at their employers anymore. They're barely staying around long enough to get a permanent nameplate on the door. And that affects how we approach all kinds of policies: Taxes, health insurance, retirement savings, education, and all kinds of others. People who make their living doing gigs and contract work aren't going to be well-suited by policies that assume a 40-year career path with a defined-benefit pension at the end.

The changes that are already rolling in our direction are going to incentivize bad behaviors by people of whom we have high expectations. Think of the doctor who over-medicated Michael Jackson or the accountants who turned a blind eye to the malfeasance at Enron or the lawyers who truly are the ambulance-chasers. They're not the only ones...they may just be in the vanguard.

Make money - part 2

Business and Finance Why do American companies make aluminum in Iceland?

Per the New York Times: "Electricity in Iceland costs about 30 percent less than what Alcoa might pay in the United States." Iceland got into the smelting business because it needed to find something to replace fisheries. That's the effect of specialization in action.

Clean up after yourself

News 8th straight year of population decline in Japan

And most of the nation's prefectures are also shrinking. The population is, on net, both shrinking and gravitating to Tokyo.

Segment 4: (5 min)

By the numbers

Threats and Hazards Mind the gap

We can manage a gap of one or maybe two percentage points between government revenues and government spending (as a share of GDP) -- if the economy grows faster than the gap. But not what's on tap: 23.6% in spending and 18.4% in revenues (ten years from now). Deficits aren't free.

Contrary to popular opinion

Have a little empathy

Segment 5: (11 min)

Your role in cyberwar - part 1

Talked about this in conversation yesterday:

Fact: Many people will not believe this news story, but will choose to believe some of the fake videos that the story predicts.

Your role in cyberwar - part 2

Threats and Hazards Two Presidents, zero credible strategy for cybersecurity

Both Presidents Obama and Trump deserve blame for failing to take seriously the threat of cyberwarfare (in all its forms, from attempts to steal voter lists to efforts to interfere with voting machines to influence campaigns and microtargeting). It's a high-leverage problem: Bad actors can get their hands on powerful cyberweapons with little investment and can do asymmetrical damage.

Your role in cyberwar - part 3

Threats and Hazards Russia's government is overcompensating for a bad economy

To understand why the Putin regime would want to meddle with foreign elections, look at the state of the Russian economy. A bad economy raises the proportional returns to investment on creating chaos elsewhere. People perceive relative status -- so efforts to make everywhere else look "just as bad" may be a more effective strategy than fixing what's falling short domestically.

Segment 6: (8 min)

The week in technology - part 1

What's the opportunity cost of spending almost three hours a day playing video games? Are they displacing other leisure hours or productive hours?

The week in technology - part 2

Computers and the Internet Why is rural broadband access a fight?

Many serious policy issues are treated inconsistently because we haven't decided whether Internet access has the status of a public utility.

Segment 7: (14 min)

Mind your business - part 1

News "Russia's stealth public relations war"

Public diplomacy works wonders when done effectively, and Russia's government has clearly been aggressive about using it

Broadcasting Russian propaganda broadcasts arrive on the DC radio dial

Public diplomacy has never been more important than it is right now. Facebook acknowledged in April that it was used as a tool of disinformation by foreign actors (read: Russia) to influence the US elections.

Mind your business - part 2

Ivanka Trump sat in for her father at the G-20

Segment 8: (5 min)

21st Century conservatism

News "Rebuilding" the Democratic Party with Obama's help?

As put by one commenter: "Iceberg plays behind-the-scenes role in rebuilding Titanic". President Obama's campaign for the White House largely sought to transcend the Democratic Party -- and while in office, the President didn't merge his campaign with the party of which he was the titular head (he kept "OFA" running as a parallel operation to the DNC), nor did he appear to do things to groom a farm team of Democratic party leadership (most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two Obama Cabinet officials, no doubt due in part to Obama's penchant for micromanagement). In other words, much of the damage was done by the individual now being asked to help do the rebuilding.

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

Threats and Hazards "101 people shot between late Friday afternoon and early Wednesday" in Chicago

Victims aged from 13 to 60

Aviation News Airbus claims 140 airplanes sold to China

That's a massive order

News Freight trains are growing longer

Good news for shippers, but not so great for ambulance drivers

Threats and Hazards Cholera outbreak in Yemen affects a population the size of the City of Des Moines

Cholera spreads where there is no clean water, and the war in Yemen is enough to disrupt what access many once had

News Illinois flirts with junk-bond status

The state almost certainly needs to raise taxes, but who wants the blame for doing that?

News Why a statesman's words matter

Laura Rosenberger: "Deterrence is based on credibility and capability. And credibility requires clear signaling of intentions."

News What does it mean to say that "all roads lead to Rome"?

In much of Europe, it's literally true

Threats and Hazards CNN says Russia has 150 spies in the United States

That's a significant non-zero number, and certainly doesn't count the number working on things like "signals intelligence" back home

News "[T]he White House hasn't submitted nominations"

Of 564 high-level appointive positions being tracked by the Washington Post, 68% have no nominee. That's after 168 days in office.

Have fun

Quote of the Week #1

"Hurling insults ... is the final resort of the man who has already lost the argument" - Margaret Thatcher

Quote of the Week #2

"Weakness and divisions at home would invite dangers from abroad" - The Federalist Papers

Iowa news

Iowa West Des Moines moves south of Highway 5 in 2018

In support of the Microsoft data center being built near the Maffitt Reservoir, the city is going to extend Veterans Parkway and build a bridge over I-35 -- serving traffic by 2018

Health Iowa City/Cedar Rapids hospitals agree: Fireworks injured a lot more Iowans this year

Lifting the ban on the sale of fireworks may have seemed like striking a blow for freedom, but dozens of people were injured in the process

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Tin Foil Hat Award

Threats and Hazards North Korea launches an ICBM

Or at least that's what the evidence suggests. And an ICBM in the hands of an unaccountable, irrational authoritarian government is a gigantic problem.

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week


The question I didn't ask @BenSasse during his Q&A tonight: What grievance from the Declaration resonates most with you today? #civicsnerds

Observation: Grilled asparagus is the vegetable equivalent of curly fries.

Humor and Good News A police chase -- of a suspect on a tractor

These things do occasionally happen in the Midwest

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