Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 24, 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

"Recession" is just an anagram for "Oi, screens!", which seems highly appropriate for a President who listens to Fox & Friends more than the Fed chair.

All too often, people say "This time, things will be different", but they're usually doing that with a bias toward optimism. Consider the pessimistic case about the next recession, which could happen at any time.

The relationship between spurs to investment and widespread economic recovery breaks down when the only investments that are incentivized are in capital of the plant-and-equipment variety. We have already moved into a world where things like software are no longer sold as products but as services, and with the integration of global supply chains, there is far less incentive than in the past to perpetually invest in more and more physical capacity unless necessary. Witness Uber and Lyft, which don't own the majority of the cars driven in their names. Or services like DoorDash, which doesn't own any kitchens.

The problem is that if you exhaust the choices for investment in things like plant and equiopment, then the other choice is to invest in improving the quality of your workforce. But there is a widespread and commonly-accepted notion that today's workforce is far less loyal than any comparable workforce in the past. Some of this may be an earned reputation; surely, the gig economy and certain preferences for acting as a contractor rather than as an employee give rise to the observed behaviors that create the impression.

But if neither of the conventional routes to investment (physical capital and human capital) are attractive, then what good does the conventional approach to stirring economic growth (via low interest rates) actually do?

We may need to rethink the way that human-capital development is done. With 70% of GDP being created by private-sector service providers, upskilling may be the surest route to growth we can find. But if employers no longer have the same incentives to develop long-term employees (whether out of real fear of losing those employees or unfair perceptions that they will be disloyal), then it may be far more of a community-level problem than ever before.

Big, community-level problems of big skills gaps have happened before. The rise of the land-grant college system and university extension outreach both point to efforts once made on the national scale to try to upskill local populations in an effort to spur growth. By necessity, these programs were done on the community level when there weren't really any major employers worthy of the name. We may in some ways be coming full-circle, as truly large institutional employers have highly refined models of talent development and everyone else is left in a gap between individuals (who may invest in themselves, but will do so only out of purely selfish motivations) and those large employers (with whom small- and mid-sized employers cannot compete for internal resource development). And we may be especially trapped by the growing perception that conventional educational pathways are not as economically viable or net positive as they may have been in the past. If every high-cost degree were matched with a high-income job, then student loan forgiveness wouldn't be a needle-moving promise in national political debates.

The moral of the story: Don't be surprised if the old tools of economic recovery don't work like they used to. In order for history to repeat itself, or even to rhyme, then you have to be sure that the fundamentals of the situation haven't changed. And I'm not sure that's a safe assumption.

Segment 2: (8 min)

Totally Unnecessary Debate of the Day

The moral of the story:

Segment 3: (14 min)

Technology Three | The week in technology

Wired | Slashdot | CNet | ZD | Engad | Digg | TechRepublic | ArsTech | Tw/sci list | Tw/designandtech list

Computers and the Internet What female coders must endure

There's really no inherent reason for coding to be a male-dominated occupation. Reasons why a gender imbalance might persist nonetheless include terrible conditions right from the start -- at the interview stage for interns.

Iowa Multi-hour DSL crash keeps Iowans off Internet

A cut to a fiber-optic cable knocked out Internet access for lots of people for three or four hours

Computers and the Internet YouTube claims it will put tigher controls on "family" videos

If it looks like it's supposed to be family-friendly, Google says, "We're removing misleading family content, including videos that target younger minors and families, that contain sexual themes, violence, obscene, or other mature themes not suitable for young audiences." Meanwhile, Disney is slapping its name on a giant multimedia project to include "Disney Plus", an intended competitor to Hulu and Netflix.

The moral of the story:


Segment 4: (5 min)

Website reminder My new favorite Fair ride

Have fun

I have a new favorite ride at the Iowa State Fair, and it wasn't found in the Thrill Zone. In fact, it wasn't even on the fairgrounds.

And, to be fair, it wasn't completely new, either: It's the extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from SE 15th Street out to SE 30th.

The road -- also known as the Southeast Connector, opened in 2016. And I've even driven it before. But I've never taken it before as a route to the fair, and it really saved my bacon this year.

As you may be aware, there are railroad tracks that cut off a bunch of the main arteries headed into the fairgrounds from the west. That includes Grand, Hubbell, and Dean. And boy, oh boy, did I ever get stuck on the road this year. Both Saturdays, in fact: Once on my way out of the fair (when I had a deadline to get home), and once on my way in (when it was my turn to make the needles move from the Crystal Studios).

Fortunately, I remembered that the new-ish ML King (it opened in 2016, but the pavement still looks like new) goes over the railroad out between Kemin Industries and Titan Tire. So as I started to sweat bullets about making it to the studio in time for my show with time to spare for some pre-broadcasting lemonade, I figured out that I could backtrack and connect with the Southeast Connector and venture into the fairgrounds area from the south.

At the risk of giving away a secret and creating a self-defeating traffic jam next year: It was marvelous. The City of Des Moines deserves credit for putting a high-quality express route into place. It's a great way to get around those trains that stop and block the conventional arteries to the Fair, and it provides a great alternative to adding more traffic to University Avenue during peak hours. And the real benefit, of course, is that the existing road and its planned (but yet-to-be-funded) extensions ought to do a great job of boosting the connection between the southeast parts of the city to the rest of the metro.

The Sky Glider may have a better view, but for now, the extended MLK is my new favorite ride around the Fair.

The moral of the story:

Segment 5: (11 min)

Hot (social) topics

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The moral of the story:

Segment 6: (8 min)

The moral of the story:

Segment 7: (14 min)

Stop the deliberate ignorance

When a half-baked idea makes its way into prime time, it instigates the usual roster of opinion-makers to line up according to preconceived notions about the idea being floated, and then to quickly dig in along battle lines the minute one of their usual opponents floats a different opinion. The latest half-baked idea? Buying Greenland.

If the President were to wake up tomorrow and declare his intention to colonize the Moon with trained sea lions, you can rest assured that by the afternoon, there would be some sort of partisan bickering among the usual suspects -- not about whether space exploration deserves more funding or whether we needed a viable multi-generational strategy for colonizing the rest of the Solar System. No, the arguments would somehow find a way for the talking heads of the world to line up according to pro-sea-lion and anti-sea-lion camps.

And for 48 hours, we would hear and read intense debate about the subject, after which nobody would talk about space again for another 52 weeks. The scorched earth left behind from the sea lion affair would make any other question even remotely similar to it too toxic to even ponder.

The President's half-baked idea to "buy Greenland" is a perfect example of this pathology. It's like a glitter bomb has been thrown in everyone's face -- raucous argument has sucked all the oxygen out of the room, culminating in the President's announced cancellation of his upcoming trip to Denmark over his disappointment that the Danish prime minister won't entertain the idea of a real-estate deal.

None of this gives proper attention to questions that really do matter. Questions like:

Is there some reason we would think the 57,000 people of Greenland would want to become Americans? And does anything about them make them different from the thousands of people who voluntarily seek to immigrate to the United States -- rather than having their citizenship "bought"?

Perhaps the most important question of all that is being totally steamrolled by this half-baked Greenland buyout idea is this: Would America welcome the voluntary accession of a new state? If a country like Estonia, a modern city-state like Singapore, an autonomous region like Greenland, or even a prosperous municipality like Seoul or Monrovia expressed an interest in joining the United States, would we say "yes"? And if so, under what conditions?

This is a real, valuable, and important set of questions. But what hope is there that we'll actually have the debate, now that the President has stormed off and framed the matter as an irreconcilable difference between himself and a "nasty" (his word) Danish politician?

None. There is no hope. And that's the real crime of this whole incident.

The United States should have a policy that welcomes voluntary accession. We should offer our willing embrace of new territory, especially in a world where adversaries are either taking ground by force (like Russia in Crimea) or staking artificial claims in the seas (like China in the South China Sea).

But we shouldn't look to grow because we covet something another place might have (like rare minerals or oil wealth). We should be open to growing when it would welcome people who already embrace the American idea into a fabric that would make the American idea stronger. We should be open to welcoming new Americans not because of what they have but because of what they believe.

Our job is to say that the door is open and the welcome mat is out; let others knock on that door and ask to come in. Our willingness to embrace new entrants would have to come with conditions -- at a minimum, peace, a commitment to American law, and a stable economy.

But as long as a voluntary accession plan represents the will of the people of some new place (and not just the whims of a local autocrat), then it would be completely consistent with the American idea to welcome new territories. And we should have a clear policy debate over what conditions should apply.

But we aren't shaping up to have that debate. No, instead we're stuck inside some kind of psychedelic hamster wheel, where the lights are too bright and no real progress is ever made. "Buying" Greenland was too dimwitted an idea to even set loose. The crime, though, is that the debate fixated on this moment is going to cripple any serious conversation for a long time to come about what we should have been ready to say if the people of Greenland had approached us first with a request to become a new state.

Borders and boundaries change much more often than we give them credit for doing. Sometimes they change for convenience, sometimes they change due to war, and sometimes they change as powers re-align or as people assert long-neglected diplomatic respect. But it's also a wildly outdated notion to think of large geopolitical regions as places to be conquered or bought and sold.

The moral of the story:

We should be true to the American idea, once expressed by Dwight Eisenhower, that "Any nation's right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable." That is the essence of self-determination, and surely it belongs to the people of Greenland as much as to any other people. But we should also know under what circumstances we would be willing to open the door if the people of any place came calling.

Segment 8: (5 min)

Make money

Socialism Doesn't Work The President, the Stalinist

The President tweeted "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China". The President has no such authority. His is the language of Stalinists. ■ A President who even thinks he has the power to order around private businesses like that -- in a time of peace, no less -- is guilty in his heart and his words of a disloyalty to the Oath of Office. And if he takes action on his words, then he is guilty of much worse. ■ As James Madison wrote in Federalist 48, "It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." ■ There are those who would contrast the President favorably with some of his Democratic rivals. And, to be sure, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "Accountable Capitalism Act" contained terrible proposals. Yet that doesn't change the fact that the President is completely out of his lane and doing real damage right now. ■ Announcing $30 billion in taxes is no small measure, and if Congress doesn't reassert its Article I powers post-haste, the consequences for the Constitutional order will be grave indeed. And that's a far worse thing than the economic damage that will ensue, as well.

21st Century conservatism

It's not picking on the President to point out where he's going wrong.

I recently got a message from a listener who wanted to know why I always seemed to have at least one complaint about the President every week. You might say I've been restraining myself just to keep it to one.

I ask myself every week, "Why is there always something?" And if you're not asking yourself if this is time to maybe step off the Trump Train and just sit for a while on the platform, then you really should.

I regret most that some people think I'm picking on him for sport. What they truly don't see is that I'd much rather not have to think about the President much at all. I don't think it's good for America to be so wrapped up in one person.

And yet, how can we avoid the topic? The S&P 500 Index fell by 2.6% on Friday, and there's no way to ascribe it to anything but the President's reckless outburst on Twitter. He attacked the chair of the Federal Reserve, announced a giant import-tax increase, and conjured his inner Stalin.

He's not in a studio-lit boardroom anymore, getting favorable editing in post-production. Every minute of his day is prime time, and every day, he has the choice to make things better, to make things worse, or to just shut up. But he cannot or will not do the latter, so what we get is a never-ending stream of words and (sometimes) actions, all of which matter because he is the President.

The moral of the story: If he would stop doing outrageous things, it would be a lot easier to stop commenting on the outrages.

Unsorted and leftovers:

This week

The United States of America Why did Pete Buttigieg finish so far ahead in the corn poll?

WHO-TV's "Cast Your Kernel" poll at the Iowa State Fair isn't scientific, but it does have some capacity to tell a story. And one story it told is that the mayor of South Bend got a lot more votes than would be proportional to his standing in current polls. His deportment is a major positive feature of his campaign: Smart but not aloof, young but not insecure. He probably pulled in a lot of kernels cast by crossover Republicans.

News The problem with making the economy central to politics

The President is reported to see conspiracies behind some of the warning signs for the economy right now. ■ This really is the central problem with politicians looking to economic success as the solitary yardstick by which they are measured: Business cycles are real, and if the only thing you're trying to sell is GDP growth, then you're prone to doing harmful things. ■ The problems with politicians who obsess over economic measures are of (at least) two classes. The first is short-termism. The "quick fix" to many macroeconomic problems usually comes with a big hangover. The right answers usually require patience. ■ The second class of problems is even more dangerous: If you think the ends justify the means, then at what would you stop in a desperate effort to squeeze another percentage point out of GDP? ■ A strong economy is a very helpful way to secure the "blessings of liberty". It is absolutely not a substitute for those blessings. Margaret Thatcher put it very well: "Representative political institutions cannot alone guarantee our liberties. It is economic liberty that nourishes the enterprise of those whose hard work and imagination ultimately determine the conditions in which we live." ■ A strong economy helps enable a lot of other good things inside a healthy society. And, properly seen, the economic liberty of individuals can be a powerful tool for helping people to recognize their other inherent human liberties. ■ If realize that I own the fruits of my own labors, then I have an incentive and a framework to realize that I own my thoughts as well. And my words. And ultimately, my consent to be governed. Economic liberalization can whet the appetite for political liberalization. ■ But a maniacal obsession with something like GDP growth is no substitute for values like individual dignity, the guarantee of minority rights, and the restraint of powerful interests by the rule of law. And, especially as unrest in pursuit of liberty makes the situation in Hong Kong unstable for China's authoritarian government, the United States must remain steady. The people of Hong Kong had better not be asked to sacrifice their freedom in exchange for us getting a "better" trade deal with China. ■ Surely the Founders would look at the United States today and marvel at our economic success. But they were also the ones who wrote that "[P]ower is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it." A politician who thinks the state of the economy is the only measure of political success is likely to do great damage to the long-term health of the economy -- and even greater damage to the civic health of the polis, the people.

The United States of America Restraint is the better part of governance

Federalist Paper No. 73, by Alexander Hamilton: "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 United States of America Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg escapes the worst of cancer

Treatment for a "tumor on her pancreas" is reported by the Supreme Court to have gone well. Cancer is an enemy we can unequivocally revile together. Don't hate people; hate cancer.

Aviation News Skywriting over Des Moines

Unusual, but a fun break from the ordinary -- in marketing support of the Central Iowa Airshow at the Ankeny Regional Airport

Threats and Hazards US Army recruiting commander disturbingly re-appropriates Auschwitz slogan

The rise of Google Knowledge has too many people thinking they know things well enough to use them, when in fact they've only acquired enough to regurgitate. And that's hazardous.

Humor and Good News Unintended consequences of precision farming

Eastern Iowa farmer uses computer plotting to plant corn hybrids such that subtle differences in the colors of the tassels and leaves spelled out a marriage proposal.

News On late converts to reform in the GOP

The only message that matters right now is the one shared as a welcome in some churches: "Whoever you are, and wherever you come from, we're glad you're here."

News The commonness of self-sacrifice

It happens often enough that someone dies (or comes close to it) while trying to save another that it establishes the confidence to say that most people are basically good and that a great many of us would risk our own welfare to preserve that of another, especially if it's a child:

News 1.7 million people rally for freedom in Hong Kong

With a giant display of peaceable assembly, Hong Kongers practice what America's Bill of Rights preaches

The United States of America There's nothing wrong with acknowledging America's imperfections

But upon acknowledgment, it should also be said, "And striving to fix those imperfections is the most American thing we can do."

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