Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 7, 2018
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.
Breaking news items
- Storms in the Atlantic - Tropical Storm Beryl weakening
- Dan Ryan shutdown
- North Korea talks a disaster
Segment 1: (11 min)
Marc Goldwein, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Segment 2: (8 min)
Marc Goldwein, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
Segment 3: (14 min)
Listener feedback and calls
Segment 4: (5 min)
Mind your business
America is neither doomed nor perfect
America is, and always has been, a work in progress. We have work to do today, and more to do tomorrow.
Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old on July 4, 1776
Wisdom doesn't always wait for age. Benjamin Franklin was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence, an act that truly put everything on the line for his country. Age is no excuse to stop being a patriotic servant of what is good and right.
The passing of Larry Cotlar
If you'd told me at the conclusion of this show last week that my former colleague Larry Cotlar would be gone by the following morning, killed in a flash flood, I would never have believed you.
Larry and I only worked tangentially together.
Yet he was unfailingly upbeat and friendly. Always a pleasure to be around.
Always an optimist, always a booster.
But never one to look down on others.
[Iowa Cubs reminscence]
Buy his book
Buy a ticket and go to the Barnstormers game tonight -- $5 of each ticket sale will go to his family
Sat, July 7, 2018 at 7:00 PM -- Iowa Barnstormers vs. Sioux Falls Storm
Segment 5: (11 min)
BUT FIRST: The opening essay
While I'm a little late to the party (they've already aired the series finale"The Americans". It's an impressive period piece deliberately peppered with reminders of just how awful the Soviet Union was -- and how it was truly the Evil Empire that united what we knew then as the "free world" against it.
It was easy to oppose Communism when it was part of a concrete, monolithic thing like the USSR. But it's a curiosity of human life that we're often much slower to get worked up about abstract problems than the concrete ones -- even if the abstract ones pose a big threat.
Consider the (at least) three paths to socialism:
- Communism classic: The model once embraced by the USSR, and still practiced to some extent in Cuba, and much more so in North Korea
- Soft socialism: The Nordic model with which we are most familiar, where government spending represents about half of the economy
- Corporatism: The sneakiest model of all
Communism classic? It's obviously a failure. If it were anything worth salvaging, people wouldn't perpetually seek to escape it. Over and over, it has been a demonstrable catastrophe -- the famines alone prove it.
Soft socialism is a more interesting case, because it's often presented to us as a model of success. And it's true that the Nordic model has been very successful at producing very high standards of living -- but that doesn't necessarily make it one worth emulating. That's because the Nordic model of socialism requires a very specific set of conditions in order to work. Their model requires:
- A small, culturally homogenous society (equality poster child Sweden, for instance, is a country of just 10 million people, of whom 63% are Lutheran). Introducing "outsiders" into a system that promises ample benefits only turns the people against one another and invites anti-immigrant sentiment.
- Some sort of government-owned or heavily-taxed resource that is both sustainable and highly valuable on the world market (oil in Norway, for instance).
- Reliably far-sighted politicians who can channel investment over the long term into building sustainable sources of growth to replace the resource when it eventually runs out (resisting constant pressure to spend more now in return for political favor now)
- Domestic entrepreneurs and innovators who are willing to jump over high hurdles to create new economic opportunities for their countrymen, despite the obstacles
- Some sort of guaranteed employment program that keeps the country from accumulating lots of unemployed and under-employed young men (who, regrettably, are almost always the cause of terrible violence when left with nothing to do but stew in their own anger)
- But also some way of ensuring that something productive actually comes out of the guaranteed employment program (the Works Progress Administration produced some material results for a short term, but there was no way it could have been sustained for decades; America, in a sense, got lucky that World War II put lots of young men to work doing other things, trained them in skills they could use upon their return to the civilian workforce, and sent many of them to school with a real sense of purpose after the war)
That first requirement is a ticklish one, because nobody likes to touch on such a thorny issue, nor to face the fact that irrational biases and even racism can factor into what should be economic decisions. But the problem is on display in Sweden right now, where nationalist politicians are arguing that immigrants have overburdened the welfare state. When an "other" is available to be blamed for the shortcomings and problems of a system, one can be sure that the "other" will get the blame -- whether or not it's fair or true. Politics and economics are invariably intertwined, particularly when people become dissatisfied with the distribution of economic goods -- especially if they think the distribution unfairly favors an "other".
Corporatism isn't new, but it's undergone a particularly visible revival as China has adopted it as a more productive alternative to classic Communism. The label itself can be misleading -- it's not government by corporations, but rather an enthusiastically interventionist political and economic system that uses centralized power and interest-group pandering to set policies and preferences.
To put it bluntly: Corporatism is what happens when government picks the economic winners and losers -- instead of setting, enforcing, and trusting an order based upon rules. And it's not only a form of socialism, it's exactly the form of socialism we are seeing on the rise in America today:
If our government is picking particular industries for protection (like steel and aluminum producers, for example), that's a step towards corporatism.
If our government is favoring or disfavoring particular businesses (like Carrier or Harley-Davidson, for example), that's a step towards corporatism.
If our government is arbitrary and unpredictable about enforcing laws and regulations (like it has been with the Disney/Fox vs. Comcast/Fox merger and the AT&T/Time Warner merger), that's a step towards corporatism.
If the economic landscape is made so complicated by government policy that only the big can really survive (because they're the ones that can afford big legal departments and Congressional lobbyists), that's a step towards corporatism.
The individual initiative of lots and lots of people is what makes the difference between a successful economy and a failed one. We're not a successful country because of mass collective effort under centralized guidance -- we're successful because, in the aggregate, individuals will do more to better themselves and their families than they will if their work is commanded from above. But that means we have to resist each of the socialist temptations: And while it's easy to reject classic Communism and while it should be easy to see that a Nordic soft-socialist model is destined to fail in a huge and pluralistic society, it's not so easy for everyone to see that corporatism is destined for failure, too.
Corporatism is a command structure -- a way of structuring power -- and it depends upon the complicity of those who think they'll gain more than they will lose by turning over their choices to centralized planning and decision-making. But it is a form of socialism, and it invariably steals from the individual and the family, chokes out initiative, and stifles the kind of innovation (along with creative destruction) that rewards those who are willing to create economic progress.
Corporatism is socialism, too.
Segment 6: (8 min)
Clean up after yourself
Tariffs and counter-tariffs are scheduled to become no longer threats but reality. And that's just stupid. The President is threatening to escalate from taxing $34 billion in imports to $500 billion. It's hard to stop the bleeding from a self-inflicted wound.
Segment 7: (14 min)
Tin Foil Hat Award
China's debt-based diplomacy is no trivial matter
The country's "Belt and Road" initiative may be creating a lot of tangible infrastructure projects all over the world, but those projects aren't being done for charity, and they're not all necessary. China's bankrolling them in the expectation of making money off the construction work itself, as well as off the financing. And the government is so touchy about it that it has gotten aggressive with Australian journalists who asked questions about it.
Clean up after yourself
China is trying to drive a wedge between the US and Europe
The Chinese government is making opportunistic use of President Trump's indefensible trade aggression to try to wedge the US away from historic allies in Europe. It's an opportunistic tactic in service of a very long-term strategy. As Dwight Eisenhower put it: "So we are persuaded by necessity and by belief that the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord."
The week in technology
Technology is only as good as the people using it
Nebraska State Patrol uses FLIR technology to find and rescue a man who got lost and disoriented in a corn field
Your role in cyberwar
Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that Russia really did try to influence the 2016 election
There's no (reasonably) denying Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. There's no (reasonably) denying they're trying the same in 2018. And 2020. And 2022. There's no (reasonably) denying that other states and non-state actors are trying, too.
Segment 8: (5 min)
By the numbers
US resettles far fewer refugees in 2017 than in prior years
Having taken in three-quarters of the world's refugees since 1980, the US has closed its doors in a substantial way. That's to our detriment; refugees aren't freeloaders looking for a free lunch -- they're people trying to escape detrimental circumstances at home and make new lives for themselves in a safer place. If we aren't confident enough to be that safer place, then we need to take a long look in the mirror.
Syrian government wants 5.6 million refugees to come back
To go back would take an act of extraordinary faith in a government that hasn't earned it
Unsorted and leftovers:
Russian nerve agent poisons two more in UK
And those two people aren't thought to have been targeted -- they may just be collateral damage from the original attack
Contrary to popular opinion
Why are people torching their credibility?
Commentators like Brit Hume are seeking to argue that certain principled conservatives who stood against the election of Donald Trump are now "standing on a shrinking sliver of ground". After Charlottesville, family separations, and a nascent trade war with Canada...if you still think that people like Tim Miller are the problem, then you're the one missing the point.
21st Century conservatism
Are you a practicing American?
Being an American takes practice and belief. Some of us just happen to have been lucky enough to have been born here.
Curiosity, competence, and humility
Boring politics are good politics
The three key attributes of a good political leader: Curiosity, competence, and humility. (It's that third one that keeps things the right degree of boring.)
Have a little empathy
The torment caused by family separations
In the words of Stuart Stevens, "There's not a community in America that wouldn't move heaven and earth to help when an Amber Alert is announced. And yet we have a massive Amber Alert of missing children on the border and it's our government to blame."
A heart-wrenching attack in Idaho
A refugee child was killed at her own birthday party. As one resident put it, "I felt how defenseless those kids were, and how their parents felt they couldn't protect them in those moments."
Not, as some on Twitter have mistyped, "Independance" Day. Though it might be fun to see whether anyone could do justice to the Declaration of Independence in the form of interpretive dance.
Fastball's catchy song "The Way" is about a real-life tragedy
Which certainly tempers the story a bit
- Podcast of this episode (forthcoming)
- Official station page for this episode (forthcoming)