Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Futility of War


The Futility of War and the Path to Peace
Nicholas Johnson
Remarks on Armistice Day
November 11, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
Veterans for Peace, Chapter 161
Pentacrest
Iowa City, Iowa

It is a very special honor to be invited by you, Veterans for Peace, to speak at this commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. This is America’s day to recognize both those who have fought and died in our wars, and those who have fought to prevent future wars. [Photo credit: unknown; Wikimedia. "This photograph was taken in the forest of Compi├Ęgne after reaching an agreement for the armistice that ended World War I." November 11, 1918.]

You have told me to speak about war under the title “The Futility of War.” Fortunately, that title is consistent with my beliefs. Had you chosen, say, “The Case for Increasing Military Spending” this talk would have taken much longer to prepare.

You and I seem to agree – both about the value of peace, and why understanding the futility of war is the first step toward that peace.

In our brief time this morning I will suggest five reasons why.

First, Lessons From Viet Nam

Fifty-three years ago, President LyndonJohnson, who had appointed me Administrator of the Maritime Administration, or MARAD, asked that I look around Viet Nam and southeast Asia, and write an assessment of the war. Although based in Washington, MARAD kept a small staff in Saigon assisting with the agency’s responsibility for merchant shipping sealift.

The futility of that war was immediately obvious to me. As I concluded my report, “You can’t play basketball on a football field.” Not incidentally, that conclusion of mine for President Johnson led to a conclusion of his that I would make a terrific Federal Communications Commission commissioner.

Why no basketball?

It started with my arrival. Chatting with the officer driving me from the airfield into Saigon, I looked up and saw a banner over the street. “What does that say?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Do you have any officers who could read that?” I asked. “None who I know,” he said. [Photo Credit: Daniel Graham Clark; NJ delivering speech at Veterans for Peace gathering; first on Pentacrest and continuing inside Old Brick, Iowa City, November 11, 2018.]

My suspicion continued during a conversation with a Vietnamese gentleman. Our military was fighting a war of futility over a specific hill. I asked his advice. “Read some Vietnamese mythology,” he said. Befuddled, I asked him to explain. “If you Americans knew anything about us,” he began, “you would know that every Vietnamese schoolchild is told the story of the origins of our people: the union of a Chinese dragon and an elf.” “OK, so?” I asked. “The elf emerged from that hill,” he replied. “You will never take that hill. Move up the road two or three clicks and you’ll find the going much easier.”

Even if one wants to engage in war there is a futility of war in some places and times. It’s like trying to grow a garden on a concrete parking lot or play a trombone under water. Although, in my case, there’s a futility to my playing a trombone anywhere. The best and the brightest in our military know about the futility of war. Unfortunately, few of those who send them to war are as well educated.

The first example of the futility of war is when these eleven conditions are present:
• our troops are only the latest in a centuries-long string of invaders;
• in an ongoing civil war;
• we can’t read or speak the native language;
• know little of the people’s history, religion, culture, literature, or tribal relationships;
• our enemies don’t wear uniforms, while we, who are already easily identified, do wear uniforms (a British problem you’d think we’d recall from our own Revolutionary War);
• it is impossible to distinguish enemies from our local allies and employees;
• our troops’ choice is between killing innocent civilians, or being killed by those who look like innocent civilians;
• creating a conflict between “winning hearts and minds” and “burning down the village to save it;”
• the longer the fighting continues the more counterproductive it becomes;
• increasing rather than decreasing chaos and civil war;
• on a battlefield with no frontline, with territory repeatedly gained only to be lost again.
That’s what I meant by “you can’t play basketball on a football field.”

I provided the second President Bush similar advice in February 2003. The column was headlined, “Ten Questions for Bush Before War.”

Second, Due Dilligence

The second example of the futility of war involves due diligence – what I was urging Bush to do before sending troops to Iraq the next month. It’s not difficult. The process, the twelve questions, are analogous to those Iowa City business persons must answer for bank loan officers. Before war the questions are:
• What’s the problem, or challenge?
• How is our national interest involved?
• Is our goal precisely defined and widely understood?
• What are the metrics for measuring progress?
• Are there cheaper and more effective non-military alternatives?
• How will military force help, and how will it hinder, reaching our goal?
• What are the benefits and costs?
• What will it require in troops, materiel, lives, and treasure?
• Will the American people support it to conclusion?
• Will we be confronting Viet Nam-like impediments?
• What is our exit strategy?
• Once we leave will things be better, worse, or the same?
You may recognize my debt to Joint Chiefs Chair General Colin Powell for some of those questions. Or, as Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey put it most succinctly in 2013, “As we weigh our options, we should be able to conclude with some confidence that the use of force will move us toward the intended outcome.”

Our founders, fearful of unchecked presidential war powers, created what we today call “civilian control of the military.” But note that the analysis just laid out comes, not from civilians but from the military. That’s why I have only half-jokingly said, what we really need is military control of the civilians.

After the Twin Towers slaughter funded by Saudis and executed by Saudis, what was the civilians’ response? They let other Saudis in America immediately leave, skip the Congressional Declaration of War required by the Constitution, tell Americans to “go shopping,” and start fighting preemptive, perpetual wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, Constitutional Restraints

The futility of war is recognized in the Constitution.

The idea of a civilian, cabinet-level Secretary of Peace was first proposed in 1793 by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Many others have urged it since. The closest we have to a Department of Peace today is what was once called the Department of War, and now Department of Defense.

The irony comes, not alone from the Department’s name, but from conservatives’ approach to the Constitution, what they call a “textual” or “original intent” interpretation of its language. For the Constitution’s drafters made unambiguously clear their extreme opposition to a president having a king’s power to both declare and direct wars. As James Madison said, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty.” His concerns were shared by Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason and others.

The presidents and members of Congress who came along later followed those men’s advice. For 156 years, through World War II, armed forces were increased for a war, following a Congressional Declaration of War, and then quickly demobilized once war ended.

Fourth, the futility of perpetual war and how it happened

How did we evolve from a country without standing armies, that demilitarized after every war, with a Congress that restrained executive war powers? How did we get a go-along Congress that supports the executive’s standing armies, never demilitarizes, engages in multiple perpetual wars of choice, maintains military presence in 150 countries, at an unaudited total cost over one trillion dollars a year, put on our grandchildren’s credit card?

Then, Americans fought in World War I for about 18 months. We wrapped up a multi-front global World War II in four years. Now we display the futility of war by continuing to struggle in Afghanistan for 17 years.

There’s more to this story than we have time to discuss.

Partly what happened is the same marriage of profits and politics that dictates other aspects of our lives and economy. Roughly half our fighting forces are employees of for-profit contractors. Privatize prisons and prison owners lobby for longer prison terms. Privatize the military and private contractors lobby for longer wars. Provide large enough campaign contributions for members of Congress and those who profit from war will reap the rewards of a military budget larger than those of the next five or ten nations combined. Some of this money will be spent on multi-million-dollar fighter planes and multi-billion-dollar aircraft carriers – neither of which provided much protection from pressure cooker bombs for the 23,000 runners at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

The other half of the political equation is the virtual elimination of citizen sacrifice. (1) Those subject to the draft, and their parents, were a powerful force opposing the Viet Nam war. Without a draft we might still be fighting in Viet Nam, as we are in Afghanistan. Now only four-tenths of one percent fight our wars. (2) After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor everyone sacrificed. There was rationing. We did without. After the Twin Towers attack we were told to “go shopping.” (3) World War II was a largely pay-as-you-go war. No longer. Wars are free. We just borrow money from China, and add trillions to the national debt.

Fifth, the futility of wars when we doing nothing; and `what we can do.

What can we do to eliminate the futility of today’s wars? Essentially six things that are the exact opposite of what we’re now doing:
• Reestablish the impediments to war our founders intended.
• Reinstate the draft, for children of the rich as well as the poor.
• Demand every member of the House and Senate cast a recorded vote on Declarations of War.
• Enact a supplemental war tax and pay-as-you-go wars.
• Require all citizens to bear some sacrifice, as in World War II.
• Contribute our own voices to a public debate on the questions I’ve suggested must be answered before going to war.
In that effort, your voices are the most persuasive. When it comes to peace, Americans are more likely to listen to those who have known war than to those who have only preached for peace.

It really is up to us. You and me.

As Edward R. Murrow closed his documentary about the consequences of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on Americans, “We cannot escape responsibility for the result. … Cassius was right. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

# # #

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa, a collection of well over 1,000 blog posts and pages on a wide variety of topics, created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson since 2006.

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essays: "Who Let the Dogs Out," August 26, 2018 [embedded: "Tell Me: Who Let the Dogs of War Out?" The Gazette, August 26, 2018, p. D3]

"Love," August 10, 2018

"Impeachment Petition," August 4, 2018

"Media Under Siege," July 8, 2018 [embedded: "The Media Under Siege," The Gazette, July 8, 2018, p. D3]

"Doing the Wrong Thing Better," June 30, 2018 [embedded: "Doing the Wrong Thing Better," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 30, 2018, p. A6]

"Democrats Should Choose Norris," May 24, 2018 [embedded: "Democrats Should Choose Norris," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 23, 2018, p. A7]

"Sinclair TV Defies Originalism," April 14, 2018 [embedded: "Sinclair TV Defies Originalism," The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6]

"Making Sense of Trump's Syria Attack," April 14, 2018

"'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough," February 28, 2018 [embedded: "'Never Happen Again' Is Not Enough," The Gazette, February 28, 2018, p. A6; "Why 'Never Again' Is Not Enough," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 7, 2018, p. A7; and "Why 'Never Again' is Never Enough," The Daily Iowan, March 19, 2018, p. 4]

"UI Funding Worse Than Thought," February 16, 2018

"School Shootings: What You Can Do," February 15, 2018

"Religious Rights and Civil Wrongs on Campus," January 20, 2018

"Taxes Are Last Step Not First," December 24, 2017 [embedded: "Decisions Must Come Before Taxes," The Gazette, January 3, 2018, p. A5; and "Taxes Are Last Step, Not the First, to Making U.S. Great," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2018, p. A6]

"Defending Democracy," December 3, 2017 [embedded: "Defending Democracy," The Gazette, December 3, 2017, p. C4]

"Lipstick on TIFs," December 2, 2017 [embedded: "City is Putting Lipstick on TIFs," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 2017, p. A6]

"Media's Role and Future," November 18, 2017

"Free Speech Rights: Trump vs. NFL," September 26, 2017

"Afghanistan: Our Unwinnable War to Nowhere," August 29, 2017

Business Leaders: Make Legislators Fund Educated Workforce," August 13, 2017 [embedded: "Can Biz Leaders Save Education?" The Gazette, Insight, August 22, 2017, p. A6]

"Unlearning Hatred," August 15, 2017

"Thoughts on Eating Living Things," August 13, 2017

"Does Trump Really Want a Chief of Staff?" August 3, 2017

"Should You Buy an Electric Car?" July 30, 2017

"GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied,'" July 28, 2017

"Acceptable, Available, Affordable Housing," July 22, 2017 [embedded: "Health Care, Housing Rights?" The Gazette, Insight, August 1, 2017, p. A5]

"Unfit To Be The Ruler," July 4, 2017

"Not All Criticism is Defamation," July 4, 2017 [embedded: "Is Superintendent Criticism 'Defamation'?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2017, p. 7A]

"Kushner's Back-Channel Multiple Tragedies," May 29, 2017

"Trump's 'Just Politics' Defense," May 28, 2017

"How to Start a Governorship," May 25, 2017

"Why Ned Neutrality is Your Friend," May 22, 2017 [embedded: "Why Net Neutrality is Our Friend," "Insight," The Gazette, June 2, 2017, p. A6]

"Mediacom's 1000% Interest Late Payment Fee," May 9, 2017

"What Trump Needs to Know About Libel," May 1, 2017

"A Millionaire by Age 30? Here's How," April 26, 2017

"Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech," April 18, 2017

"Of Missiles and Teachers," April 7, 2017 [embedded: "Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5]

"Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin," April 5, 2017

"How to Save Highter Ed," March 19, 2017 [embedded: "Saving Higher Ed; Step1: Listen to What Iowans Want," Nicholas Johnson, "Insight & Books," The Gazette, March 19, 2017, p. D1, and "Solutions for Iowa Higher Ed's Woes," Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2017, p. A7] ]

"Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017

"Who Are We?" January 31, 2017 (a response to President Trump's ill-considered travel ban)

"No Elephants in the Room," January 15, 2017 (NFL football)

"Educating In and For a Digital Age; The Vast Waistline & Other Challenges to Education as We Knew It," January 14, 2017 [text of remarks delivered at 4CAST - Campus Academic Strategies and Technology Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, January 12, 2017]

"Eastern Iowa's Declaration of Human Rights," January 5, 2017 (contains "Focus on Our Common Values," The Gazette, January 1, 2017, p. D2)

"Tracking Trump," November 15, 2016 (More like a Web site with links to associated pages than like an individual blog essay, this is both a daily report and a repository of news and opinion regarding President-Elect Donald J. Trump from the day after the election (i.e., November 9) through the day of his inauguration as president on January 20, 2017.)

"Democratic Party's Past -- and Future," November 9, 2016

"Hillary's New Emails: A Solution for FBI Director Comey," October 31, 2016

"An Outrageous Merger," October 29, 2016

"Republicans Need to Get Their Party Back From Trump," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 20, 2016, p. A7

"Iowa's Top Republicans' Major Mistake," October 13, 2016

"Law, Social Norms and Trump," October 2, 2016

"Donald Trump's Barrel of Squirrels," September 25, 2016

"First Thoughts on 911 -- 15 Years Later," September 11, 2016

"At Last, the Agnostic, Insomniac, Dyslexic Answer," September 10, 2016

"Trump Might Not Be Blundering in Race," September 9, 2016

"Labor Day for All 2016," September 4, 2016

"Our Revolution: Yes; But First Some Questions," August 31, 2016

"The Doping Dilemma," August 17, 2016

"Maybe This Explains Trump," August 15, 2016

When Words Can Kill," August 10, 2016

"The DNC Still Just Doesn't Get It," July 29, 2016

"Why Trump May Win; Discouraged By The Democratic Party's Self-Inflicted Wounds," July 25, 2016

"Include People in Process," The Gazette, July 24, 2016, p. D3 [embedded in "Doing It Ourselves," July 24, 2016]

"An Answer to Athletes' Doping?" July 23, 2016

"Cancer: 'Of Course; But Maybe,'" July 13, 2016

"Clinton-Lynch Tarmac Talk; 'What Were They Thinking?'" July 4, 2016

"Focus on Muslims Misplaced After Shooting," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 17, 2016, p. A5

"Keeping Up With ISIS; There Is Another Explanation for Orlando," June 14, 2016

"On Being, Doing and 'Compromise;' What's Next for Senator Sanders' Revolution? Here's My Suggestion," June 9, 2016

"When 'The Morning After' Looks Even Worse," June 8, 2016

"Searching for the Media's Soul," June 7, 2016

"My Take on Supervisor Race," June 4, 2016

"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments:

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016 (an expanded version of The Daily Iowan's excerpt, above)

UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

Cessation of Ongoing Harreld Repository [Feb. 29]. For the past six months, since the Iowa Board of Regents' selection of Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, September 1, 2015, this blog has endeavored to compile a relatively complete repository of links to, and comments about, the news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the Board of Regents, President Harreld, and related items of relevance to higher education in general and the University of Iowa in particular. They are contained in the blogs for September-October, November, December, 2015, and January and February, 2016 (all linked from this page). I thought it would be a useful resource for those looking for a single source to follow the saga, as well as for those in future years wishing to do serious research, or merely inform themselves, about this important slice of UI's history. Response from readers indicates it has at least provided the former function. Now as they say, "as a concession to the shortness of life," and a desire to get back to other writing, I am going to reclaim those daily hours of research for other tasks. As major UI stories worthy of individual blog essays come along they will, of course be blogged about from time to time.

For research beyond February 29, 2016, you might start with this list (any omissions were inadvertent; email me suggestions for more):

University of Iowa AAUP, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . and well-crafted search terms in Google. -- N.J., February 29, 2016
_______________

More Detailed Contents, Links & Guide

The most recent blog essay (as distinguished from the entries listing UI-related material) is:"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

See more, below.

University of Iowa, most recent: The most recent month's collection in the ongoing repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters is: UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

University of Iowa, earlier: Earlier collections of, and individual blog essays about, the repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters are:
UI President Harreld - Jan. 2016," January 1, 2016

"UI President Harreld - Dec. 2015," December 1, 2015

"UI President Harreld - Nov. 2015," November 1, 2015

"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2-October 31, 2015

Recent terrorism-related blog essays

Recent TIF-related blog essays

Recent other than (1) University of Iowa, (2) terrorism, or (3) TIF-related topics:
"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice: Senate Ignoring the People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities," March 11, 2016
"Water," February 29, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Our Communities' Second Priority," February 7, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Reasons for Hope in 2016," December 25, 2015
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
General instructions on searching by heading, date, or topic

(1) If you've come to FromDC2Iowa and landed on this page, rather than what you are looking for, it is because this is the default page, the opening page, for this blog.

(2) Many visitors are looking for recent blog posts. At the bottom of this page you will find suggestions. At this time they include: (1) material related to the Iowa Board of Regents process for selecting President Bruce Harreld, and his ongoing performance in office, (2) terrorism, ISIS and Syrian refugees, and (3) TIFs, and other transfers of taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

(3) It is also possible to go directly to specific blog posts within this blog. Here's how:

First, go to the top of this page where you will see the headline, "Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide" and click on it there (not as reproduced in this sentence). That will clean this page by removing blog posts from earlier this month.

In that right hand column you will find two ways of accessing individual blog posts:
(1) Blog Archive. The first is under the bold heading "Blog Archive.". You will see the years from 2006 to the present. Click on a year, and the months of that year will appear. Click on a month and the individual headlines for the blog posts during that month appear. Click on a headline and you will be transferred to that blog post. (Once there, you will see the unique URL address for that blog post that you can use in the future, or share with a friend, as a way to reach it directly.)

(2) Google Search Nick's Blog or Website. Immediately beneath the Blog Archive is the bold heading "Google Search Nick's Blog or Website," followed by an empty box, and the instructions, "Insert terms above; then click here." (Although it offers the option to search the "Nicholas Johnson Web Site" as well, it is set to the default: "FromDC2Iowa Blog.") Use whatever search terms you think most appropriate, such as "University of Iowa," "terrorism," "TIFs," or "Harreld." Your click will open up a Google search Web page listing the relevant blog posts (if any) with the links you can click on to see them.

University of Iowa's new President Bruce Harreld.
Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces (updated daily) from September 2 through October 31, 2015, regarding the Iowa Board of Regents' process, and early selection of UI President-elect Bruce Harreld? -->Click here<--

For November 2015 coverage -- with documents, news stories, and opinion pieces -- from his first day on the job, November 2, through November 30, 2015 -->Click here<--

For the December 2015 coverage -->Click Here<--

For the January 2016 coverage -->Click Here<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of documents, news articles and opinion pieces -- along with some relatively brief commentary about some of the items -- there are also the following more traditional blog essays and newspaper columns by Nicholas Johnson on these subjects:

"Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents," August 29, 2015

"Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?" embedded in "Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015

"Better Ways to Pick a New UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, embedded in "Seven Steps for Transitioning Universities," September 27, 2015

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

"Parallels Between School Systems Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, embedded in "UI and Higher Education in Context," November 9, 2015

"Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep," December 13, 2015

"Quick Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015

Terrorism, ISIS, Syrian Refugees.
Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two," The Gazette, November 1, 2015

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS?" September 19, 2014

For additional speech texts, columns and blog posts on these subjects, see "Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War"

TIFs and Other Crony Capitalism Schemes For links to 44 blog essays on these topics since 2006 see, "TIFS: Links to Blog Essays"

# # #

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Tell Me: Who Let the Dogs of War Out?

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, August 26, 2018, p. D3

Most Americans and their elected representatives take “ain’t going to study war no more” to heart. They’re neither studying nor upset by war.

Put aside the inability to rationalize continuous wars of choice, personnel in 150 countries, the human slaughter and misery, devastated cities, death and lifelong injury to our troops. Just “follow the money.” When military-related costs exceed a trillion dollars a year, and are put on our grandchildren’s credit card, maybe it’s time to get back to studying war. [Photo credit: By DVIDSHUB - Operation Unified Response - CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22430525]

Conservatives care about constitutional “original intent.” Liberals care about sacrificed infrastructure, education, healthcare and other needs. Both should care why the founders gave Congress power “to declare war.”

The founders knew burdens of wars fall heaviest upon the people, those who fight and pay for wars. They explicitly rejected giving a president the unchecked power to start wars claimed by kings. They wanted the branch most responsive to the people to declare war. [Photo credit: Foreign Policy, WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images]

As the Constitutional Convention Record reports, “Mr. [George] Mason … was for clogging rather than facilitating war.” James Madison later contributed, “No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Pay-as-you-go war meant increased taxes. World War II rationing meant little or no gas and tires for cars or bubblegum for kids. The draft impacted even small towns during the Viet Nam war. Without the draft we might still be there. [Photo credit: Ames Historical Society]

Not only was there no rationing during post-9/11 wars, our president told us to “go shopping.” No burden of increased war taxes. No young marching protesters, fearful of being drafted. Sacrifice fell only upon those 0.4 percent of Americans fighting the wars.

After 9/11, given the lack of public protest the founders forecast, Congress became more complacent and compliant about executive encroachment on Congress’ war powers.

(1) In 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Its grip only tightened as legislators became ever more entangled with their districts’ military bases and generous weapons manufacturers.

(2) For-profit private prisons create political support for longer sentences. Similarly, political support for longer wars results when for-profit contractors’ battlefield employees outnumber the military.

(3) The old Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have competitors. The CIA, once an intelligence agency, now has its own military arm. Both CIA and Special Operations, like Delta Force or SEAL Team 6, are outside the conventional chain of command and thorough congressional oversight.

These factors contribute to President Donald Trump’s signing a $717 billion Defense Department authorization bill. Like the banks’ insistence they are “too big to fail,” the DOD is “too big to audit.” Trillions can’t be traced. Add $200 billion for Department of Veterans Affairs, war’s share of $300 billion yearly interest on the national debt, billions for Department of Energy’s nukes, other military-related expenses and the total’s well over a trillion dollars.

Whose fault is this?

Those who wrote the Constitution assumed “we the people” – not the president, Congress, or judges – would tightly leash and not let slip the dogs of war. In response to the people’s sacrifice, their paying the human and financial costs of war, they would speak up, protest, organize and otherwise clog the path to war.

War hawks and weapons makers understand they must eliminate war’s impact on we the people if they are to continue their profits from perpetual war.

However, they have not eliminated our founders’ hope, nor our responsibility to honor their hope that we will fulfill our responsibility to resist.

As Edward R. Murrow closed his documentary about Senator Joseph McCarthy, “We cannot escape responsibility for the result. … Cassius was right. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”
_______________
Nicholas Johnson, as U.S. Maritime Administrator, was involved with military sealift to Vietnam. www.nicholasjohnson.org Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Columns of Democracy (2018)

For those interested in more on this topic and others, Nicholas Johnson's latest book, Columns of Democracy (2018), is now available from Amazon, https://tinyurl.com/yama2h3b (scroll to "Books by Nicholas Johnson," click on "Paperback," for "Sort by" select "Publication Date"), Barnes & Noble, https://tinyurl.com/ybjwxuuh (scroll down), Lulu Press, https://tinyurl.com/yd8g47de, and all Iowa City bookstores requesting copies from the author, mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Love

For a respite from the politics and policy conflicts, the shouting and the shooting, the hostility and hate speech, I thought a word about love might be welcome.

I was inspired to write this blog post by a recent podcast from my favorite electronic stand-in minister, Krista Tippitt ("Speaking of Faith," "On Being"). Her government and media experience, writing, broadcasting and education (including a Masters in Divinity from Yale) has led to many prestigious awards.

The subject of her August 2 program/podcast was, "The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships." [Photo credit: David C. Wong/Flickr.]

Her guest was Alain de Botton, the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love. (Given his lifetime professional focus on love, he could have appropriately used the title of James Gould Cozzens' book, By Love Possessed.) But most relevant for his conversation with Ms. Tippitt is his article, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," New York Times, May 28, 2016.

When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote "Hello Young Lovers" that they began the song with a reference to the troubles that may accompany love -- a kind of "good luck with that, kids" -- suggests they knew of what they wrote:
Hello young lovers whoever you are
I hope your troubles are few
All my good wishes go with you tonight
I've been in love like you
Unfamiliar? Like to hear it? Frank Sinatra will sing it for you HERE

Here are the lyrics for another song associated with Sinatra called "Love and Marriage" ("Love and marriage/Go together like a horse and carriage").

What Alain de Botton wishes to remind us is that love is not the only thing that goes with marriage, and that young lovers' troubles can easily mount up well beyond "a few." In his article, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," New York Times, May 28, 2016, he writes:
We marry the wrong person ... because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working .... The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. ... One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware. ... We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.
So expressed, it is an analysis consistent with that of Wendell Johnson in the first chapter of his general semantics book, People in Quandaries: "Verbal Cocoons." He describes what he calls "the IFD disease." Our "ideals" (the "I") are unrealistically high. They can be high because (1) they are mathematically exceedingly unlikely to be attained (e.g., the junior high basketball player who aspires to play for an NBA team), (2) they are so highly valued (e.g., a young woman whose all-important single goal is to be chosen homecoming queen), or (3) goals can also be unrealistic if they are so totally devoid of a metric that it will always be impossible to know whether or not they've ever been attained (e.g., the young college student whose goal is to be "wealthy," "successful," or "popular"). When these goals aren't attained "frustration" (the "F") sets in. And repeated frustration can ultimately produce "demoralization" (the "D").

As Alain de Botton put it to Krista Tippitt, "Every 'fall into love' involves the triumph of hope over knowledge. ... Love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each others' needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is."

In other words, "falling in love," and "being in love" during the first weeks or months of a romance, days when that is the major focus of one's thoughts and emotions, is the easy part. The challenge comes when we need to know ourselves, and others, well enough to acknowledge that "nobody's perfect," that to be human is to have flaws (even and especially our own). There is no flawless, ideal-in-every-way partner out there. The vaccine for avoiding the IFD disease, and for "staying in love," is to live with that reality.

Many to most middle aged folks either figure this out for themselves or simply live with the frustration. But if you happen to be one of those "young lovers," or wish to be, and have read this far, I don't just "hope your troubles are few." What I hope as you think about what you've read (plus maybe some of the links), and apply it in your own way, that you will become as capable of "staying in love" as "falling in love."
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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Impeachment Petition

Note: Accidentally came upon this document today. While still a federal official I presented this Petition to members of the U.S. House of Representatives in October 1973 urging the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. I just barely remember doing it. It seemed worth republishing in this way. One can read it looking for the similarities with what could be the content of a similar document regarding President Donald Trump. Moreover, it's timely: August 9th we commemorate the 44th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. -- N.J., August 4, 2018.

A Petition to the House of Representatives Regarding the Impeachment of
President Richard M. Nixon
From
Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson
[1]


October 29, 1973

In the course of history of men and nations there are times when citizens must take a stand.

The tumultuous, exciting experiment called the United States of America has brought a number of decision points to its citizens. The Declaration of Independence of our colonies from England was one of the first and hardest choices we had to make as a people. Each war—the Revolution, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Southeast Asian War—has called for a personal commitment of support, or opposition, from each citizen. And so today, as we ponder the initiation of impeachment proceedings against our President, must each American man, woman—and, yes, even child—ponder the facts and issues as he or she is best able, and come to some judgment.

It is crucial to our decision that we understand what we are, and what we are not, called upon to judge at this time. A conviction following the impeachment of the President—that is, his removal from office, or not, based upon findings by the United States Senate as to his guilt or innocence of charges—is not the issue at this time. Presidents are no more beneath the protections of the law than they are above its prohibitions; President Nixon is entitled to the same presumption of "innocent-until-proven-guilty" as any other citizen.

No, the only question that is now before the American people—and it is they who are the ultimate actors in this drama—is whether the House of Representatives should send to the Senate for trial the allegations against the President regarding the constitutional grounds for impeachment: "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” To borrow an analogy from our more conventional court proceedings, we are not sitting as a jury deciding guilt or innocence; we are merely sitting as a grand jury, deciding whether or not to indict and bring to trial. [President Richard Nixon departing White House August 9, 1974, following resignation; photo credit: U.S. Government; public domain.]

Prejudgments of guilt or innocence should no more frighten us into motionless inaction than should outrage propel us to judgment.

If ever there was a time to put aside partisan considerations, this is such a time. And I believe that, to the extent partisanship has been evident on these issues, it may have been evidenced in the reluctance of Congressional Democrats as much as Republicans. it is charged that some Democrats may have hesitated to act because the polls did not yet indicate majority support for a conviction of impeachment, that others may be fearful they will be charged with precipitate and partisan action, and that all are mindful of the political disadvantages of running a Democratic nominee against an incumbent Republican President in 1976.

I must admit that I am not free of fault on this score. Richard Nixon's political career has been a part of my consciousness for 25 years. During the course of his Presidency, I have detailed some of the offenses that we must now consider in evaluating the propriety of House hearings—his manipulation of the media, the role of big money, and the war in Camobdla. [2] The evidence regarding the conduct of President Nixon's 1972 Presidential campaign has been available to all of us for over a year. The uproar following the resignations and firings in the Department of Justice the weekend of October 20, 1973 was the moment of decisions for millions of Americans. Through all these events I have remained silent.

I can no longer.

As a Presidential appointee [3] and currently active federal official, I recognize the seriousness of this action. But I also recognize the seriousness of continued silence, that “not to decide is to decide.”

Accordingly, I am today sending a copy of this statement to members of the House of Representatives, urging them to support the prompt initiation of House proceedings regarding the allegations of impeachable conduct by President Richard M. Nixon. I am simultaneously urging those of my fellow citizens who share my views to write their Representatives.

It seems both appropriate and necessary that the reasons for my action be set forth.

It is with deliberation that this decision, and statement, have been delayed until the “resolution" of the tapes issue; because, in my view, the allegations compelling House action on Presidential impeachment are unaffected by the events and issues surrounding the tapes. And it has been my desire to present the case without the diversionary complications of that issue.

In the flashing headlines surrounding burglaries, buggings, bribery, and break-ins, the most serious allegations have often been shadowed or ignored. it seems to me useful to review them here.

War. President Nixon ordered a land invasion of the sovereign state of Cambodia by American troops in May 1970 without the Constitutionally-required approval of Congress, and in violation of Cambodia's neutrality, as recognized by principles of international law and the United Nations which the United States is pledged to support. Even prior to that time, he authorized a secret bombing war against Cambodia which was undisclosed and overtly misrepresented to the American people, the press, members of the Senate and House, and even the civilian officials of the Department of Defense.

Free Press. President Nixon has waged a systematic campaign against the news media, including, but not limited to, the subpoenaing of newsmen's notes and films, wiretapping of Washington correspondents, the unprecedented effort to enforce "prior restraint" of publication (the Pentagon Papers), the jailing of newsmen, fraudulent FBI investigations of newsmen (the Daniel Schorr case), frightening non-complaint networks and stations with ominous recriminations (while promising economic protectionism for good behavior), attempting to control the lyrics of popular songs, and trying to influence the funding, programming, personnel, and administration of the Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Impoundment. The degree to which President Nixon has used the impoundment process to defy the authority of Congress to fund legislative programs is unprecedented—over 640 billion for health care, housing for the needy, assistance for children of working mothers, and the handicapped.

Electoral interference. During President Nixon's 1972 campaign there were violations of federal law in the collection and illegal use of campaign funds; a list of “enemies” was compiled for purposes of harassment by the Internal Revenue Services; fraud, espionage, libel, burglary, wiretapping, extortion, false reporting, bribery, and perjury were designed to—and very probably did—have an Impact (whether or not decisive) upon the outcome of that election.

Use of Government Property. Unanswered questions remain regarding the use of government funds to improve private homes in California and Florida—as well as the private financial and tax transactions involving the acquisition of those properties.

Invasion of Privacy. Widespread use of wiretapping (including the wiretapping of his own employees), the secret taping of his own conversations with others, the investigations and spying on private citizens, the maintenance of dossiers on civilians by the military, all indicate a less than full commitment to the letter and spirit of the privacy guarantees of the Fourth Amendment. The President's July 23, 1970 approval of the interdepartmental intelligence project (subsequently abandoned at FBI Director Hoover’s insistence) and the 1971 creation of a special investigative unit (“the plumbers”), indicates an affirmative intention to violate such rights.

Legal Procedures. While Daniel Ellsberg was on trial, White House aides burglarized his psychiatrist’s office for possible evidence, and discussed with the Judge presiding over that trial his possible Directorship of the FBI. In May 1971 over 13,000 people were arrested in a Washington dragnet, on direct orders of the White House, and in a manner subsequently found by the courts to have been unconstitutional. Having agreed to abide by a court ruling regarding his tapes, the President subsequently refused to either appeal from, or comply with, a lawful order of the Court of Appeals—a position from which he subsequently retreated. Grand juries have been urged to return politically motivated indictments.

Intelligence Independence. There is evidence that the President and his aides sought to subvert the independence of the FBI and CIA, using those agencies to serve their own illegal, personal, and political ends.

Bribery. The evidence is not yet fully complied regarding the relationship between the $60 million that was collected for the President's 1972 campaign and every governmental decision that may have been influenced thereby. Sufficient facts have already come to light, however, to suggest that there were at least some instances in which “bribery" may have taken place for which the American people are now paying the high price of a government-ordered “inflation” of "regulated” prices.

Many of these items are, at this point, only allegations that may be proven to be false. They are, however, illustrative of the "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" referred to in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution as grounds for Impeachment.

it is precisely because of—and not in spite of—my patriotism that I believe these charges cannot be Ignored. My childhood was not so different from that of Richard Nixon. I, too, made an early commitment to public life, to study and participate in government, politics, law and law enforcement. I, too, was active in student government from the time of my grade school years. I, too, have participated in party politics throughout my adult life (though in much lesser roles than he). I, too, keep a flag in my office, and can sing the national anthem with the best of them. I, too, have studied the lives of our great American leaders, and have had the privilege of feeling the personal influence and inspiration of some of them—in my case, men like Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black and President Lyndon B. Johnson. I too, have served the federal government during the past decade.

And so I can say that it is precisely because I do love America, because I have a commitment to the genius of its Idea that is sentimental as well as intellectual, personal as well as professional, pragmatic as well as Idealistic, that I cannot sit by silently and watch its decline and fall.

Without a commitment to our Constitution, without a defense of our dream, without the inspiration of our Ideals, America is nothing but another authoritarian industrialized state with rapacious rich and ravaged poor, freeways and factories, and neon signs amongst the natural beauty.

We cannot say “politics has been ever thus.” That is simply not true. The Presidents of my lifetime—Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson—may not have been paragons of virtue in every aspect of their lives. But I take pride in the fact that the cumulative allegations against all of them combined do not equal in seriousness the significance of any one of the nine categories of charges I have itemized regarding President Nixon.

We owe it to those who look to us for leadership to assert unequivocally that the past few years have not been "business as usual” in the land of Jefferson and Lincoln, that the lamp of liberty still burns bright from the Statue of Liberty to the eternal flame in Arlington Cemetery. We owe it to the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free” who look to us from across the seas, we owe it to our children—before the sparkle of youthful hope and Idealism turns forever to the hard, cold stare of cynical despair. And, not least of all, we owe it to ourselves— those of us in “the establishment,” the opinion leaders, the captains of industry, the educators, the ministers, the officials—who, If we are to lead, must feel of ourselves that we are fit to lead.

For America never promised the world it would be perfect. We are a bustling, brawling, boisterous people. We have a history of more materialism than is good for us, and more wars than have been good for anybody. All we have ever guaranteed is that "all men are created equal” and that no one would be bored. And, with occasional backsliding, we’ve struggled to make good on those promises.

We never said our Presidents, judges, and legislators would be free of fault. indeed, the genius of our system of government is that it quite candidly creates checks and balances to deal with fault. Our leaders are not figures descended from royalty, gods or angels who “can do no wrong.” They are quite human, "of, by and for the people,” with all the strengths and weaknesses of the other mortals they serve and represent.

Thus, the great shame of the actions leading to the charges against President Nixon has not yet come. That the charges have surfaced, that the press has reported them, that the Senate and courts have investigated them, should be a matter of greatest national pride. No, the great shame will come to our nation If, and only If, knowing the charges, the House of Representatives refuses to act.

And so I conclude as I began. It is not my judgment that the President should be convicted after a trial. Under our Constitution, it is the United States Senate that will hear that case and consider the question. And just as all American citizens now sit as an advisory panel to the House, so will we then all sit as judges with the Senate. The only issue before us now is whether the facts, charges, and allegations I have summarily outlined here are sufficient cause for the House to send the matter to the Senate. That they require such action seems to me clear beyond doubt—although I expressly reserve judgment on whether the President should be removed from office following his Senate trial.

It is encouraging and commendable that the House judiciary Committee has begun hearings. I urge every Member to support the efforts of that Committee and to expedite the transmission of this case to the Senate, where it belongs.

FOOTNOTES


1. The text of this petition was taken from Congressional Record, October 31, 1973
[https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-CRECB-1973.../GPO-CRECB-1973-pt27-8-2.pdf]. The heading was:
PETITION TO HOUSE
HON. ROBERT F. DRINAN
OF MASSACHUSETTS
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Wednesday, October 31, 1973
Mr. DRINAN. Mr. Speaker, all of us are aware of the achievements of Nicholas Johnson, a distinguished Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. Mr. Johnson has taken the very bold and brave step of speaking out before the House of Representatives on the subject of an impeachment inquiry of the President of the United States. I am hopeful that my colleagues will read carefully Commissioner Johnson's petition to the House of Representatives regarding the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon. The petition follows:
2. For example, "Government by Television: A Case Study, Perspectives and Proposals," Earth (March 1971), pp. 50-69, 92-93; "Subpoenas, Outtakes and Freedom of the Press: An Appeal to Media Management," reprinted as "Stations Are Standing By While News is Threatened,” Television/Radio Age (April 6. 1970), pp. 69. 114, 116, 118, 120, 124, 126. 128. 132; “Dear Vice President Agnew," The New York Times, Oct. 11, 1970, p. D-17; “The Power of the People and the Obligation to Dissent,” Los Angeles Free Press (May 29, 1970). p. 15; "Evil Times and Great Wealth,” speech delivered at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, Oct. 15, 1973.

3. July 1, 1966, by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, not President Richard Nixon.

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Sunday, July 08, 2018

Media Under Siege

The Media, Under Siege

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, July 8, 2018, p. D3

“Watch out for the mayor. He has a gun and he’s telling everyone he’s going to shoot you. Watch your back,” warned the caller.

My friend, then a small-town Iowa newspaper reporter, thanked the anonymous source, told his editor, and was assigned a different beat.

The mayor died many years ago. My friend still is reporting.

Other reporters are not so lucky. Reporters Without Borders reports the number deliberately killed for their journalism content (as distinguished from their location, such as a battlefield) totaled 1035 during the past 15 years. (Last year there also were 326 journalists detained, and 54 held hostage.)

On June 28 the U.S. added five to that number after an armed and angry reader in Annapolis, Md., entered the Capital Gazette newsroom, shotgun blazing.

President Donald Trump did nothing for five days, though he’d ordered flags to fly half-mast following other shootings the day they occurred. He affirmatively rejected an appeal by the Annapolis mayor that he do so – until backlash required Trump to relent.

President Thomas Jefferson famously said, “...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Newspapers are one of few industries singled out for constitutional protection (“Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press”). [San Francisco Chronicle newsroom; columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross; 1990s. Photo credit: Nancy Wong. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.]

Pew reports many Americans would consider a substitute for democracy, such as government by strongman or military. But most would not. A democracy’s existence requires many institutions – independent judiciary, ease of voting, free public education and libraries. But central is a free, independent, and respected mass media. Assassinating reporters is one form of attack. Disparaging reporters and their “failing” papers as “unpatriotic” purveyors of “fake news” and “enemies of the people” is another. Both can diminish then destroy a democracy.

The newspaper industry nationally is operating with about half the subscribers and advertising revenue it once had. There are still multiple sources of global and national news. My iPhone has apps for a couple dozen.

But local news is another story. None of those hundreds of quality papers carry news of Cedar Rapids and the Corridor. It’s said, “all politics is local.” So is democracy.

The Gazette has dozens of features, sections, platforms, events, even magazines and books. But it’s the Gazette’s news and opinion about local politics, agencies of government, nonprofits and businesses, public policy issues, local challenges, opportunities and accomplishments that make our local democracy possible. There is no alternative source for all it provides. No way to have a democracy without it.

Happily, for reporters working in the U.S. assassinations are rare. Sadly, attacks on the media are not.

For those Americans fighting against forces destroying our democracy here’s a variant of President John F. Kennedy’s advice: “Ask not what your newspaper can do for you – ask what you can do for your newspaper.” You know what to do.
_______________
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner and media law professor, maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org and FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Doing the Wrong Thing Better

Doing the Wrong Thing Better

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 30, 2018, p. 6

Many Americans are appalled by their government’s separating children from parents at our southern border, before even identifying those legally seeking asylum. Inadequate or nonexistent records of children’s names and location preclude future reunions.

Pediatricians and child psychologists say the trauma can create a lifetime of physical, emotional, and mental wounds. Iowa law forbids anyone to “confine an animal” causing “unjustified pain, distress, or suffering.” Why shouldn’t our species’ children get this protection? [Photo credit: Arizona Jewish Post.]

Religious leaders note the separations are immoral, and conflict with religions’ teachings. Lawyers argue violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our constitution and laws.

Even if the Trump administration finds this unpersuasive there are alternative approaches. Board governance guru John Carver disparages many board reforms as “just doing the wrong thing better.” A persistent Trump could at least do the wrong thing better. [Photo credit: Narya W. Marcille, CC BY 3.0 US.]

During a recent brief hospital visit a nurse attached a wristband with my name and birthdate.

My cat, Natalie, wears a collar with her name and my phone number.

Scientists can provide individual identification for every living thing from monarch butterflies to African elephants.

Nazis kept meticulous records of names of Jewish arrivals at Auschwitz.

Trump’s lack of record keeping when separating children from parents, reflecting his unique blend of malevolence with incompetence, can’t even meet the Nazi standard. He’s seemingly incapable of doing the wrong thing better.

— Nick Johnson, Iowa City

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Friday, June 01, 2018

Too Good To Be True? Time Will Tell on Tuition Plan

Our View, Editorial
Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 14, 2015

A program that would allow any American to attend two years of community college for free? It sounds too good to be true.

President Barack Obama on Friday announced just such a proposal.

“Community college should be free for those willing to work for it because, in America, a quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few,” Obama said Friday.

Here’s how it would work:

•The federal government would cover 75 percent of tuition costs while participating states would pay the rest.

•Students would have to take classes at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and make progress toward a degree.

•Colleges would have to offer academic programs that fully transfer to four-year schools or job training programs with high graduation rates that lead to degrees and certificates sought by employers.

•States would have to maintain existing education investments and work to reduce the need for remedial classes and repeated courses.

As always, the devil’s in the details — in this case the financial details — and that’s where the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” might come into play.

Of course this proposal isn’t “free.” The White House estimates that it would cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years and save students an average $3,800 in tuition per year.

The White House says details on how the president proposes to pay for the plan will be unveiled next month.

Without knowing all the details, we can spot a few pros and cons to this plan.

Pro: This program could help Iowa and the U.S. compete with a 21st century workforce. An analysis last year by Iowa Workforce Development shows a large gap in the number of middle-skill jobs — positions that require more than a high school degree but less than a four-year bachelor’s degree — and the number of workers qualified to fill those jobs. While middle-skill jobs make up 56 percent of jobs in the state, only 33 percent of Iowa workers possess the necessary skills.

Con: The program could divert students and scholarship money away from our four-year schools. The requirement that states maintain their effort for other sectors of higher education might induce some states to not participate.

Pro: This program could help not just low-income students, but middle class students who might not qualify for the Pell Grant but can’t quite afford to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket each year for tuition and other expenses.

Con: Taxpayers would be paying even for those who could pay for themselves. The money might be better spent on those who face the highest barriers, such as by increasing the the number of Pell Grants or changing the standard formula to make them available to more students.

Everyone deserves access to post-high school education and investing in it is a smart, long-term strategy to help improve Americans’ lives and our economy.

Whether this is the particular investment we want to make is yet to be seen. But we’re happy the conversation has begun and hope the proposal gets a fair hearing.

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