Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 26, 2019

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.

Breaking news to watch

Segment 1: (11 min)

BUT FIRST: The opening essay

When I train people on how to use a new piece of equipment, I usually tell them that regular maintenance is the key to understanding how the equipment really works. The more that they work with the equipment, the more likely it is that they will understand the inner workings, which makes them better at troubleshooting and dealing with problems down the road. Put another way, the condition of their equipment is usually the inverse of the condition of their O&M manuals; a manual that's been bookmarked, highlighted, beaten up, and annotated is probably one that's being used, while a pristine set of manuals usually indicates a disaster in the field.

The same thing can be said of how we approach the Constitution. The more we wrangle with the text of the Constitution, the better off the condition of the system of government established by it.

Right at the moment, we're having just such a debate -- over whether the president has a right to speak to the assembled Congress. The answer is plainly "no". The president is required to report to Congress "from time to time" with "Information of the State of the Union", but that report isn't required to be delivered in person. The spirit of the requirement suggests it could be delivered in writing, in person, or via recorded message (though it probably cannot be adequately delivered through interpretive dance).

More importantly, the report on the State of the Union (whatever form it takes) is required because the President has a duty to report to Congress. It is strictly intended as a measure of accountability of the executive branch to the legislative branch, not as a mission statement for the executive branch to order the legislative branch which way to go. The Constitution says the President shall "recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient". But a recommendation is a far cry from a mandate.

The President doesn't have the authority to order Congress to so much as turn up the thermostat, much less to force them to follow or enact an agenda. The fact that anyone would think otherwise exposes one of the great failings we've had with our Constitutional order for a good long time.

The problem isn't just the State of the Union, though the excessive ritual built up around it is a real symptom. The problem, rather, is the whole notion that a President should be elected on the basis of an agenda.

There's a fairly good chance that if you ask the average American which branch of government comes first in the Constitution, many -- probably a majority -- will assume that it is the executive. That, of course, isn't true; Article I establishes the legislative branch because it is the fountain of all political legitimacy. Without the legislative branch, we don't have the consent of the people to be governed.

There is a reason why Congress can fire the President through the impeachment process, but the President can't dissolve Congress. If you're in a relationship with someone who can fire you and to whom you are required to give an annual report, but whom you cannot fire nor demand a report of your own, then they're the boss and you're not -- even if you hold checks and balances against one another.

And, whether you like Speaker Nancy Pelosi or not, this is exactly why it is entirely within the purview of the Speaker of the House to refuse the President an audience in the halls of Congress.

Americans are probably more or less familiar with the idea that the President must in fact be invited into the chambers of Congress in order to give his address, but that isn't merely some archaic expression of good manners. It's an expression of primacy and of a power structure that means something to this day.

We've neglected this relationship for all together too long, and that is the fault of the Imperial Presidency.

But the Imperial Presidency isn't just a nefarious way to approach a legislative agenda. It's really undermined our whole view of how government is supposed to work. By making every Presidential contest into a battle of competing legislative agendas, we've begun to convince ourselves that the Presidency is where American ideas are supposed to originate.

It is far more important for the executive branch to stop bad ideas from moving forward (via the veto) than it is for the President or his subordinates to generate new ideas for our consideration. It wasn't right when President Obama threatened to circumvent Congress because "I've got a pen and I've got a phone". And it isn't right now, when President Trump insists that he must get funding for his pet project in order to end the shutdown of the Federal government.

As it was put in Federalist Paper No. 73: "The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones." The whole notion of giving the executive branch a check on the power of legislation is rooted in the idea that the President's primary role is to stop bad ideas from becoming law.

More than anything else, we as the American people hire a President in order to respond to the unknowns of life. That is where every President has either succeeded or failed, really: Not in their legislative agendas, but in the surprise turns of events that occur that they never could have known about prior to their entering office.

Jimmy Carter was undone by the Iran hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan was immortalized by the success of his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. George W. Bush, of course, had 9/11. It's the unknowns and, more specifically (with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld), the "unknown unknowns" for which we hire a national chief executive.

The whole idea is that we hire someone with virtues like judgment, wisdom, curiosity, and humility. Someone who will address those unprecedented, unpredictable, sometimes immeasurable surprises with a sense of calm and wisdom.

And so, if it takes the President being barred (almost certainly just temporarily) from addressing a joint assembly of Congress in order to deliver the 2019 State of the Union Address to shake us from this unwitting slumber and make us dust the cobwebs off of our Constitutional understanding then, perhaps, so be it. It's time to for each of us to go back and scratch some notes on our copies of the national rulebook.

We need to be reminded once in a while that one branch is answerable to another -- they are co-equal and checks and balances are woven among all three. But some branches are more equal than others, and the legislative branch is the most equal of all.

The moral of the story: Don't assume powers when you're in charge that you don't want to hand over to your opponents when they're in charge

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

What winter clothing is going to get you through the coming week?

The moral of the story:

Segment 3: (14 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 4: (5 min)

Clean up after yourself

The United States of America Should the draft be modernized? Can it be?

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service has released an interim report saying that they're examining a giant menu of options -- which could include requiring women to sign up for Selective Service, imposing a one-year public-service requirement on all Americans, and/or having government agencies share information with one another about prospects for "service opportunities". Even for an interim report, it seems exceptionally broad and vague.

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Mind your business

News Newseum sells its iconic building

The Newseum -- one of the best museum institutions in museum-saturated Washington, DC -- is selling its building on Pennsylvania Avenue to Johns Hopkins University and will move out at the end of 2019. They say they're going to look for "a new home in the Washington, DC area", but it's hard not to be concerned that any new location will diminish the status of the institution. Right now, a visitor to DC can't miss it.

Make money

Science and Technology Automation isn't going away

And it's likely to have a bigger effect on certain geographic areas and demographic groups than on others. A new Brookings study says Midwestern states, rural communities, young people, and Hispanic and black workers all may experience disproportionate displacement. We shouldn't try to run away from technological change; after all, the automobile put a lot of stablehands and blacksmiths out of business. But it's wise to pay attention to the effects of change and to disaggregate data where it may tell the story behind the story.

News How about a little demand shock to education?

A potentially unpopular but highly necessary idea, in an age of accelerating economic churn: Make continuing education compulsory for adults. Require everyone to complete three credit hours per year from an accredited source. No restrictions on the delivery method or the subject. If you want to study household electricity, great. Medieval religious texts, fine. Monetarist economic theory, fantastic. As a consequence of imposing a big demand-side shock, you'd quite likely see big innovations in educational delivery, as well as a stimulus to career teaching jobs.

The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Tin Foil Hat Award

Health $8,000 transfusions of "young blood"

Being offered in Omaha and a few select other locations now. For the same efficacy, at the right time of night, you can find a guy in a trenchcoat hanging around the Leahy Mall who will spit into your eye for five bucks. Your results may vary.

News The oldest Millennials could actually be having grandchildren now

What's the best definition for separating a Millennial from a Gen-Xer? Perhaps the easiest cultural milepost on this is whether your age cohort had Facebook accounts during college. (It emerged in colleges in 2004 and 2005, before opening to the greater public in 2006. If yes, then Millennial. If no, then Gen X. And if you got it partway through, then choose your own adventure. Pew says they're defining "Millennial" as those born between 1981 and 1996 -- which means "Generation Z" is now entering the workforce in earnest.

The moral of the story: Yes, groups of people often have things in common. But it's dangerous to treat everyone *as* the group they're in.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Contrary to popular opinion

News Is "authenticity" the real matter for politicians?

It's pretty easy to talk about "authenticity" as though it's the hot new thing, but in reality, it's been an issue for a century. Take, for instance, what Calvin Coolidge wrote: "In public life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial." With a roster of what feels like thousands now running for President, there will be a lot of effort put into "appearing really natural". But there are going to be a whole lot of ways for people to get tripped up on the way to doing that, and the embarrassments will hurt more than the efforts at authenticity may help. It's really hard to fake a tweet in one's own voice -- when Senator Ben Sasse tweets about things that really animate him, like America's relationship with the world or Nebraska college athletics, you know it's him being himself. And the same goes for when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses a phrase like "all your base". Like them or not, agree with them or not, they both use first-person language in a way that can't be faked.

Yahoo News says that Sen. Bernie Sanders is going to announce another run for the Democratic nomination for President.

The big story

News Roger Stone becomes sixth associate of Trump campaign to be indicted

Stone has a long history of association with the now-President.

The moral of the story:

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

News Federal shutdown ends (temporarily) after 35 days

The longest shutdown in history really just means that a bunch of Federal workers are going to be paid (late) for not working for a month. There are better ways to resolve political disagreements. The President continues to try to lay the groundwork to call a border wall a "national emergency", and that's not a healthy direction for things to go, either.

News Sen. Joni Ernst's personal story goes quite public

News related to her divorce filings put her into the spotlight as a victim of sexual assault. In an interview with Bloomberg News, she repeated a common refrain: "The problem is now I've been outed when I was not ready to talk about it. But now maybe it forces me to talk about it."

Health Can we stop antibiotic resistance?

The UK's National Health Service is going to try a model to pay drug manufacturers for the value of their medications to the system, rather than the quantity produced and sold. (Tn economic terms, that's an effort to bring the price in line with the true social utility.) They're also going to try to reduce the use of the drugs overall.

News Roger Stone arrested on criminal charges

His purported "style" column is about to take a highly monochromatic turn. The charges: lying, obstruction, and witness tampering. The special counsel's office isn't messing around.

News Was the Coast Guard commandant right to criticize the government shutdown?

This raises important questions. The public -- through Congress, especially -- needs feedback on how decisions, policies, and funding affect the mission. We don't want undue military influence on politics, but we also can't afford military policy without honest feedback.

Business and Finance When companies commute to their talent

Pella Corp. is opening an office in Des Moines to make it easier to recruit and retain workers who would rather live in the metro than in the company's namesake town.

Science and Technology Text-to-911 continues to expand

Now it's available in Lincoln, Nebraska, as well as many of the nearby counties. A great option for people who need emergency help, but who can't use the normal 911 service -- if, for instance, they're hiding from an intruder or a domestic abuser.

Computers and the Internet How really to use Twitter

One's Twitter experience can easily turn into a dumpster fire if one only ever reads the main feed. But if you curate a few lists and put some thought into deliberately plumbing the thoughts on those lists, it can be a marvelous resource. Deliberate, intentional media consumption is a skill worth cultivating.

Broadcasting The newsroom

For one day only, reports one Mark DiStefano, Sky News will put more than 30 cameras in its newsroom and stream the whole behind-the-scenes thing live. Without a 7-second delay, this could be the most NSFW program on television.

The United States of America Should the State of the Union speech be cancelled...forever?

A reasonable case for doing away with the annual spectacle altogether. Even better, perhaps we ought to really buttress the spirit of democracy and make the President face questions like the British do to their Prime Minister. Make Article II (literally) answer to Article I.

Computers and the Internet Better tweeting

Twitter ought to have two buttons to retweet: "Retweet with endorsement" and "Retweet because it's interesting".

News A thought-provoking interview on contemporary anti-semitism

Very well worthwhile listening, particularly because Anne McElvoy of The Economist is an extraordinary interviewer

Weather and Disasters Survey says...

An entirely unscientific poll finds that people would rather pay a little more in local taxes and not have to shovel snow instead of saving the tax money and shoveling for themselves.

News Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on education

He spoke often on the value of education. We usually don't talk about it explicitly (like we do about the freedoms of religion and speech), but it's hard to think of anyone who has ever been truly free without the freedom to obtain an education.

By the numbers

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