Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 2, 2018

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

The Federal government, in our name, is imposing new import taxes -- tariffs -- on steel and aluminum, not just from China, but from the EU, Canada, and Mexico.

Let's ask: What do you really want, America?

1. You want infrastructure? Then don't make building that infrastructure more expensive to do. Tariffs do that. Whether you force everyone to "Buy American" by law or just raise the price of foreign imports to achieve some of the same effect, tariffs make costs go up. It's madness to increase the cost of the raw goods needed to put pipes in the ground, replace old bridges, and rebuild locks and dams -- especially at a time when there is widespread acknowledgment of the need to improve our infrastructure, from sea to shining sea.

2. You want more manufacturing jobs? Then fight against tariffs. Tariffs on raw and intermediate goods (like steel and aluminum) make them arbitrarily more expensive for advanced manufacturers. The manufactured goods with the highest profit margins are mostly at the high end of the sophistication scale. The more complex the product, the higher the ultimate value -- but also the larger the roster of component parts that go into building it. The world's supply chains are complex and involve a lot of flows across borders. That's a good thing -- especially if it means everyone specializes in the things they do best. American manufacturing, among other things, specializes in building complex things like airplanes and tractors, often for export.

3. You want to deploy the military all over the world less often? Then fight against tariffs and other efforts to cut up the world's trading system.Trade is the ultimate Great Wall against war: Countries with trading relationships rarely go to war.

4. You want to cut taxes? Then don't impose new ones! Tariffs are import taxes, plain and simple. And remember that cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price: The real price of a tax is always shared between the buyer and the seller, in proportion to how much they want the exchange to take place or how free they are to walk away (in econo-speak, their "elasticity"). One party may "cut the check" to the government to pay the tax, but the cost is implicitly split between the two.

5. You want to honor our veterans? Then stand for the hard-won system of rules and agreements that have formed the post-war world order. Mechanisms like the World Trade Organization aren't perfect (they're made up of people, after all), but they have done more to preserve American leadership over a largely stable and peaceful world since WWII than almost anything else. Rebuilding Germany and Japan after WWII -- and then trading with them -- was a brilliant strategy for ensuring the post-war peace.

Tariffs are generally a bad idea, and these are particularly bad ones. They're aggressive against our allies, invite retaliation, and diminish the world order that previous generations of Americans worked hard to build.

Tin Foil Hat Award

Threats and Hazards There's nothing sane about steel and aluminum tariffs against our allies

To wreck the trade system like this is reckless, self-defeating, and not at all consistent with the supposed national-security purposes of the tariffs

News Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is very, very displeased

He promises immediate and equivalent retaliation against President Trump's arbitrary tariffs. Sticking it to our allies is a stupid and short-sighted policy. As Senator Ben Sasse has noted, "Blanket protectionism is a big part of why we had a Great Depression." If you don't want to understand the problem with tariffs from an economic standpoint, then try at least to understand it from a historical one. Or even look at it from the perspective of the US aluminum industry, which itself opposes the tariffs.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced, "Canada will impose tariffs against imports of steel, aluminum, and other products from the US – we are imposing dollar for dollar tariffs for every dollar levied against Canadians by the US."

I want to make a joke about the exchange rate from "dole-urz" to "dah-lers", but my heart isn't in it.

Imposing stupid tariffs on friendly countries is among the stupidest things President Trump could possibly do. It's reprehensible.

This trade war nonsense would be diabolical if I didn't suspect it's the result of plain economic illiteracy and half-witted "leadership". Few things are as obvious from a basic understanding of history and econ as the stupidity of these steel and aluminum tariffs.

Humor and Good News The great anti-tariff shirt is still for sale

What we really need is for Snoop Dogg to narrate this shirt. Seems to have worked for hockey, wildlife videos, and Martha Stewart.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Live read: iHeartRadio Wango Tango

This year we're taking 102.7 KIIS FM's legendary Wango Tango to a national audience! Hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the "2018 iHeartRadio Wango Tango by AT&T" will kick off the summer tonight at 9:00 with performances by Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, Meghan Trainor, Backstreet Boys, 5 Seconds of Summer, and others.

AT&T will livestream the mega-concert exclusively for fans nationwide on and Twitter at 9 p.m. CT. In addition, you can listen live on our broadcast radio stations and on the iHeartRadio app.

Freeform will also broadcast a 90-minute television special on Sunday, June 3 at 7 p.m. CT.

Have fun

Humor and Good News Woman runs half-marathon in a suit

To win a Guinness world record. So now it's yoga pants at the store and suits on the track.


Weather and Disasters USGS: Please don't roast marshmallows over Hawaiian lava flows

One must hope Americans aren't really that dumb, but someone asked. Who among us hasn't stood over a lava flow, like a metaphorical Colossus bestride Madame Pele, demanding that the Goddess of Fire suit our mortal demands for a S'more?

Segment 3: (14 min)

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 1)

Smart speakers

Quote of the Week

"It is not enough to say that private enterprise gives a better material life, true though that usually is. We should look more to ideas and realise that people respond to them often more than they respond to appeals to their material interests." - Margaret Thatcher

News Ideas matter, as much as ever

Imagine a 20th Century minus the two world wars. You can't, really, unless you can also imagine a 20th Century without the ideologies that triggered those wars. That is your simple proof that ideas matter. Fight the bad ideas with good ones, before it comes to arms.

Threats and Hazards Surveillance by China's domestic police is much worse than you think

A nation can get rich, but material wealth isn't worth much if it impoverishes the soul. The Communists there might be running a great power, but it isn't a good one.

Iowa news

Iowa Mercy plans a mental-health hospital in Clive

A community shouldn't be caught short-handed when it comes to dealing with traumas affecting the brain any more than it should be under-prepared for illnesses affecting other organs of the body. An expanded supply of patient beds (100 for inpatient care) would be a great development for the metro area.

Clean up after yourself

New data says more than 4,600 people probably died because of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico -- either directly or due to the aftermath.

I, for one, would be willing to pay a measurable amount to ensure that an *accountable* Federal emergency-response agency could be established to fill in the gaps when natural disasters overwhelm the capacities of local governments -- as clearly happened in Puerto Rico.

Some people are quick to write off Puerto Ricans. That's a mistake: They're already Americans, and we ought to show a common national resolve to help them when overwhelmed.

Also: Writing off this incident as a one-off due to some particulars of Puerto Rico's circumstances (high government debt, low GDP per capita, a tropical location) would be a mistake. That doesn't fix the problem of the next overwhelming disaster, whether it's a Category 5 hitting Miami, or The Big One leveling Los Angeles, or another catastrophe on the New Madrid Fault.

Something is going to happen again, and it's short-sighted of us to have a neutered FEMA and to rely so heavily on the military to do a non-combat job, just because the military is pretty effective as an institution.

Immediate help is often needed (and requires expertise to deploy), and long-term reconstruction also requires advice and support. This should be one of the few cases where we can take seriously a promise that "We're from the Federal government, and we're here to help". Extraordinary disasters require extraordinary skillsets and tools to respond.

Segment 4: (5 min)

By the numbers

Aviation News Singapore Airlines launches world's longest flight in October

An Airbus A350-900 will go from Singapore to Newark, taking 19 hours to get there. Singapore, it should be noted, is a city-state of 5.5 million people, about half the geographic size of Polk County, Iowa, and with no special natural resources to its name. Point being: A free market under the rule of law can create quite a lot, even starting with very little.

Segment 5: (11 min)


Contrary to popular opinion

News Missouri's governor resigns

From a practical standpoint, this case is a great argument for the maximum diffusion of power via a federal system -- limiting the impact of officials who are corrupt or lacking in judgment. It also illustrates exactly why we should look first at governors (past and present) when searching for Presidential candidates. A governor's office is the next-best thing to an Oval Office simulator. It tests who shines or fails under scrutiny.

21st Century conservatism

News Book review: "Suicide of the West" by Jonah Goldberg

We have the Enlightenment to thank for much (or even most) of what's good in our world today; Goldberg's book is a rousing reminder of that good

Curiosity, competence, and humility

Pew has produced a research paper showing just how uneven our representation in Congress has become, thanks to a massive increase in population (with no growth in the size of the House) for decades.

It's not just an aberration for the United States, it also puts us well out of proportion to what they do in other advanced democracies.

It's my unpopular opinion that we should enlarge the House, substantially. Doing so would:

  1. Reduce the cost of House campaigns
  2. Decrease the power of incumbency
  3. Bring Congressmembers closer to the people
  4. Give us a fresh start to counter gerrymandering, where it is taking place

I don't mind (as some do) that members of Congress spend much of their time in DC -- they are our delegates, after all, and that's where the work is. But I think it would be a more effectively representative Congress if House districts were closer to the size originally designated in the Constitution.

Hyperbole is going to kill us all

Threats and Hazards The North Korea deal is an experiment in real time

Kori Schake: "[O]ur foreign policy successes have resulted not from outsized bets, but from cautiously capitalizing on opportunities [...] And that approach is antithetical to President Trump, especially since he doesn't appear to be winning."

Threats and Hazards The Trump Doctrine: No deal without a relationship

If everything comes down to a "relationship" between two leaders, there's never any room left for multilateral agreements. Fundamentally, multi-party agreements require submission to common rules, which is what makes them robust and effective. Rules work better than "relationships" for promoting a world order we desire. (And, it should be noted, the President is terrible at assessing who is a "friend" and who isn't. He is buttering up Kim Jong-Un while sticking a finger in Justin Trudeau's eye.)

Segment 6: (8 min)

Live read: iHeartRadio app

iHeartRadio app

Iowa news

Weather and Disasters May was Iowa's hottest ever

Following one of the coldest Aprils, so the whiplash is palpable

Yay Capitalism Prize

Always stop at lemonade stands (if you can). You don't have to drink the lemonade, but you should try to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in little people.

Iowa news

Iowa MidAmerican Energy plans 100% renewable generation by 2020

The company will retain conventional generation capacity, but the company generates so much electricity from wind turbines that they'll be able to generate the equivalent of annual demand from renewable sources. Iowa: Where the corn, the tractors, and now the electricity, are all green.

Make money

Business and Finance "This short-term 'economic sugar high' cannot continue indefinitely"

That the US economy is performing well according to the current metrics is a fine thing that makes people feel good. But the growth rate has some artificial boosters behind it, and the fundamentals (which include a speedily deteriorating Federal budget picture and a lot of political risk) don't inspire confidence for the current rates to continue for long. And when that rate slips toward the historical/fundamental norms (or even turns south and dips into recession), the insulin crash following the sugar high is going to hurt.

Segment 7: (14 min)

Live read: Smart speakers (hour 2)

Smart speakers

The week in technology

Computers and the Internet Alexa is listening

An editor at MIT Technology Review takes the unusual (but entirely valid) step of listening back to what Alexa has recorded in her house. And it's a lot, including plenty of things she didn't command it to do.

Computers and the Internet Today's tech giants aren't forever

At least not if they face level playing fields of competition. But the story could turn out differently if companies like Google and Facebook are able to manipulate the rules in such a way that they become, either explicitly or implicitly, like public utilities.

Aviation News Smartphone-driven miniature missiles

Lockheed Martin is developing a miniature missile, "roughly the size of a collapsed umbrella", intended to intercept drones and other small devices capable of putting a kinetic payload in the sky below the threshold of normal radar detection

News EU considers banning single-use plastics

Plastic straws could be gone, and plastic bottles close behind them

Your role in cyberwar

Computers and the Internet FBI asks if you'd kindly reboot your routers

Their request: "Foreign cyber actors have compromised hundreds of thousands of home and office routers and other networked devices worldwide. The actors used VPNFilter malware to target small office and home office routers."

Threats and Hazards Walking down the street with $100 bills hanging out of your pockets

The Department of Homeland Security has evidence of high-tech cellphone surveillance taking place around the White House. Not unrelated: The President still chooses not to follow adequate procedures to use a secure phone.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Mind your business

Business and Finance Former JC Penney CEO thinks 75% of shopping malls are doomed

He thinks the ones that will survive are the ones with Apple stores and Tesla branches

Business and Finance Loose lips sink economic ships

The President turned to Twitter to prematurely tease the release of economic data on unemployment figures. He was, of course, already in possession of the data, so he was treating it as a moment to promote himself -- but now he's created an expectation that when the figures are good, he'll say something about them. That's why this kind of data is treated with great secrecy. As economist Justin Wolfers asks, "Who wants to buy U.S. stocks, if you think there's a chance that you might be buying from someone who's selling based on Trump having said something to them on the phone last night?" Moreover, when the President is reckless with carefully-regulated information in public, it must be assumed (until evidence is delivered to the contrary) that he is even more reckless with it in private. The burden of proof is now squarely on the President and everyone in his orbit to prove that they are not engaging in self-enrichment by sharing privileged information -- or by attempting to manipulate financial markets to their own gain. There is no longer any room for the benefit of doubt.

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

News New York Times shows sensible restraint

"[W]e intentionally didn't name any of the perpetrators" of school shootings. Good for them. It's clearly a problem with socially contagious effects, and doing anything to grant notoriety to the perpetrators contributes, even if unintentionally, to the problem.

Iowa news

Agriculture A 440-year-old white oak

Felled by a storm, the tree's cross section is going on display at the Wallace State Office Building

Have a little empathy

News "[N]o one really keeps track of the children placed in custody"

America is simultaneously doing two things that need urgent review and attention from officials with a moral compass: First, in the words of a writer at the Niskanen Center, "What changed was the enactment of the 'zero tolerance' policy that requires all parents who cross illegally be put in criminal proceedings, rather than the more expedient civil removal proceedings [...] even if they claim legal asylum." Second, we're seeing a failure in the quality and oversight of the system that is supposed to take responsibility for the welfare of the immigrant children who are in the government's care. Surely we can do better than this on both fronts.

Inbox zero

Stop the deliberate ignorance

Capitalist solution of the week

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

Turning out the light on "Roseanne"

Five quick takes on the cancellation of "Roseanne":

1. Spare a thought for the crew members of the show and the other behind-the-scenes staff who are suffering because of Roseanne Barr's behavior. Yes, most of the cast members will probably be just fine and will find other gigs -- but there are lots of people whose names we never know who depend on a show's success, and to them, a show cancellation can be a lot like a factory closing.

2. Good for ABC for taking swift and decisive action, but shame on them for putting her on a pedestal in the first place. The tweets that got Roseanne fired are hardly out of character -- she's been reckless and thoughtless on Twitter (and in real life) for a long time, including well before her show's revival. (Remember her shameful rendition of the National Anthem? That was 28 years ago!)

3. If we're lucky, this moment will serve to put other marquee artists on notice that their behavior matters, on and off the set. We've been talking recently about the "genius bias" that has granted a sort of cover for bad behavior by "genius" performers because we're so eager to get whatever it is that they create. That genius bias needs to crumble: Artists of all types (and genders) need to know that they owe it to others to be decent people, no matter how much we applaud their performances.

4. Twitter sure offers a strange and unexpected window into the minds of a lot of prominent people. When used well, social media tools can help spread good ideas and open doors of access to people who might have felt unreachable before. But sometimes we find that transparency merely exposes crackpottery where before we never would have seen it.

5. It would be nice if someone would create a show that depicted America's working class with some much-deserved dignity. Shows like "Roseanne" and "Two Broke Girls" seem to depend upon their characters wearing crassness and hostility like porcupine quills as a defense against the world. Yet the real working class in America is full of people who keep their yards tidy, who go to PTA and Cub Scout meetings, and who go camping and attend church on weekends. Maybe it's hard to tell that story -- but someone should try.

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