Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 29, 2017

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.

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

After President Trump abruptly announced his intention to kick transgendered people out of the military, Mark Cuban posed a question on Twitter:

In jest, I submit "Don't ask, don't tell". Because we don't want to know the answer to that question.

The fact is that by airing all of his grievances and dirty laundry in real time on the Internet without so much as a filter, he's putting us in danger.

I've long said that I think any President should spend a few minutes a day sharing his or her personal assessment of the day. In my mind, that means a quick hundred words or so -- just enough to engage the public with Presidential thinking.

What we've gotten instead is a never-ending stream of half-baked ideas and un-redeeming feuds.

We are lucky that these have (so far) been directed mostly inward. We will not be so lucky if the President starts flailing in the direction of another head of state with national honor to defend.

Policies are established by protocols for a reason. Major policies cannot be created or struck down in 140 characters.

And yet, the only true communications director in this particular White House is the one who can press the button to send a tweet. Anything issued officially by the communications office -- including a major statement on policy -- is as worthless as the paper upon which it is printed when the same policies can be announced, reversed, overturned, or reinterpreted at will by the President.

Are the President's tweets official statements of policy? Yes. Are they to be taken seriously? Yes. Do they have the force of law? Er -- probably not.

But the ambiguity itself is the rub: The fact that we do not know what constitutes an official statement and what does not fundamentally undermines any statement they choose to make. We are woefully close to the point at which nothing -- even a POTUS tweet -- can be taken seriously.

And that is why we don't want to ask if those statements are official policies. We don't want to ask, because we don't want them to tell.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Health care reform?

It sems quite likely that the Chief of Staff has been fired because the President's agenda isn't "getting done". Expect continued turmoil.

A three-branch system of government makes it hard to get things done. That's a feature, not a bug. Checks and balances are necessary.

Whether you like the structure of Congress or not, there's no doubt that by filtering ideas first past a population-based lower house, then past a geography-based upper house, ideas go through a tougher strainer than they would in a pure democracy.

The President shouldn't be the legislator-in-chief. But let's not pretend like the President did the slightest thing to lift a finger to achieve a policy goal. He wanted all of the credit with none of the heavy lifting.

The fundamental problem for some of us hasn't gone away: The individual marketplace is still a disaster. That's killer for farmers, self-employed people, and small businesses.

Without a resolution, you can expect a lid on economic growth. Without the right conditions, we can't expect small businesses to grow.

Segment 3: (14 min)

Musical chairs in the cabinet

With the Chief of Staff out, don't imagine that the musical chairs are over. The new communications director is already shaping up to be a complete incompetent, and the President is at open war with the Attorney General.

Threats and Hazards Political peril on the road ahead

The administration's erratic behavior means there may be no road ahead. Al Hunt suggests that "'s not crazy conjecture that a president who doesn't think the rules and laws apply to him would try to replace the attorney general with somebody not recused from the Russia probe."

A friend asked my best guess at the over/under for how long Jeff Sessions remains at the Justice Department. Honestly, I find the whole thing so tawdry -- and capricious! -- that it's hard to guess anything at this stage, and I don't know that I even want to be right about it.

Considering only the first four Cabinet posts in the order of succession:

  1. Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson is rumored to be considering a departure
  2. Secretary of the Treasury: Steve Mnuchin is getting teed up for failure with a half-baked plan for tax reform that will encounter blowback when it stumbles (almost inevitably)
  3. Secretary of Defense: James Mattis can't be happy that the transgender-ban tweet came out without his consultation and while he was on vacation
  4. Attorney General: Jeff Sessions was attacked by name in the President's tweetstorm on Wednesday

The recipe is in place for a serious crisis, especially when the unforeseen happens. Remember: By this point in the George W. Bush administration, 9/11 hadn't happened yet. What if a similar event happened today? The President is in conflict with at least three of his most important Cabinet officials. This isn't how management is done.

I realize that most people want to take the Ron Popeil method to government: Set it and forget it. But the high-magnitude worry we should all share right now is that it isn't "set" yet. Six months in, and it couldn't be much more apparent that the machinery of government under this administration lacks any sort of grease in the wheels.

And let us ponder a further risk: The kind of hectoring to which the Attorney General has been subjected has mostly been aimed at domestic targets, but what if he turns this kind of derision on a foreign head of state? What happens when someone else's national honor is on the line?

When things are so bad that Senators from the President's own party are giving speeches on the floor of the Senate to warn him to back off his own Attorney General, it's gotten bad:

James Madison wrote in Federalist 51: "[E]ssential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own." It's a very, very good thing that the other branches of government are alert to the situation of the moment. Standing up -- even out of jealousy for power -- is a vital check and balance. One of the tools of genius in the Constitution is that the self-interest of the members of the different branches is used to keep the others in line. It's not out of goodwill that they check each other; it's because they have selfish reasons not to want to be bossed around.

Segment 4: (5 min)

Make money

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Yellen: "Congress should be taking into account" the impact of debt

Higher interest rates are likely if not inevitable, and with productivity growing only very slowly, there's a serious collision course ahead between Federal borrowing and private-sector growth

Segment 5: (11 min)

Calendar events to highlight

August 4-5: State sales tax holiday

Iowa State Fair starts August 10th

Stop the deliberate ignorance

The President stepped over a line yesterday:

In remarks made in New York, he said:

And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon -- you just see them thrown in, rough -- I said, please don’t be too nice. (Laughter.) Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they've just killed somebody -- don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay? (Laughter and applause.)

Recall that the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights all *specifically* address excesses on police-type powers.

Police brutality shouldn't be a cheap applause line.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police responded in a similar way:

Managing use of force is one of the most difficult challenges faced by law enforcement agencies. The ability of law enforcement officers to enforce the law, protect the public, and guard their own safety, the safety of innocent bystanders, and even those suspected or apprehended for criminal activity is very challenging. For these reasons, law enforcement agencies develop policies and procedures, as well as conduct extensive training, to ensure that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers. Law enforcement officers are trained to treat all individuals, whether they are a complainant, suspect, or defendant, with dignity and respect. This is the bedrock principle behind the concepts of procedural justice and police legitimacy.

"Tough guy" behavior appeals to people who have watched too many crime shows. "Legitimacy" speaks to a vastly more important matter, but it's sophisticated. It's not an applause line, but it definitely is central to effective police/community relations.

The President's shameful cheapening of important civic institutions just this week -- from these police officers to the military to even the Boy Scouts -- is harmful to our way of life. There's nothing "great" about any of it.

"The orderly and just conduct of human affairs depends on strong institutions." - Margaret Thatcher

Civil institutions (like police) derive their legitimacy from popular consent and the rule of law. The President's comments undermined both.

Clean up after yourself

"You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Legislators need expert, unbiased advice.

Cleaning up after Iowa

Deathly boring, but of massive long-run consequence: The problem of underfunded defined-benefit public-sector pension programs.

Segment 6: (8 min)

By the numbers

It seems we have enough *real* adversaries on the outside that we don't need to invent fake ones -- especially not on the inside.

Segment 7: (14 min)

21st Century conservatism

An economic agenda that headlines "high cable bills" as a priority lacks a certain...gravitas?...that should come from a national party.

The gap between those "available good jobs" and the number of people who might want them is evidence we need to break the mindset that a 4-year residential experience is the only way to get a degree.

We need more life-cycle education -- opportunities, access, affordability all matter.

Your role in cyberwar - part 1

"Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions..." - JS Mill

Your role in cyberwar - part 2

Threats and Hazards "Now that the west is conscious, again, of Russian active measures, where else could Russia use its cyber capabilities, and to what end?"

We've already seen what the agents of cyberwarfare can do to a political system. What about their impact on economic ones?

Mind your business

Business and Finance OECD looks at state-owned enterprises and foreign investment

Key: "As bearers of state as well as commercial interests, SOEs may place their emphasis on strategic acquisitions, such as advanced technologies for example, on non-market terms." This means state-owned enterprises looking to invest in other countries might behave in ways that would wildly distort market outcomes. Suppose, for instance, that it's considered in the national interest to gain some form of security or military technology by any means necessary; in that case, a supplier company (like Lockheed Martin or Northrup Grumman, in theory -- or even Microsoft or Kaspersky) might find itself the subject of a takeover attempt that may not reflect market realities. This distortion may be one of the strongest cases for domestic political intervention in the case of foreign asset purchases.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Iowa news - part 1

Iowa Iowa State Patrol to go undercover to enforce laws against texting-while-driving

Discouraging the practice of distracted driving is a fine idea in theory -- but it's also worth asking just how comfortable we are with sting-type operations that are specifically intended to surprise ordinary people with police enforcement

Iowa news - part 2

Unsorted and leftovers:

Have fun

Quote of the Week

The week in technology

Contrary to popular opinion

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Have a little empathy

Inbox zero

Tin Foil Hat Award

Yay Capitalism Prize

Capitalist solution of the week




Yet another example of Germany's exceptionally productive export market.



Programming notes

Live reads

iHeartRadio app

Listen on-demand