Saturday, April 16, 2016

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 essay (not UI related): "What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments: 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. But for thorough research beyond February 29, 2016, I'm referring readers to the alternative of inserting 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: "What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 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:
"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"

# # #

What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter

"'It’s extremely disrespectful to be talking to a camera instead of human beings,' University of Iowa student Brad Pector said in his address to the regents."

-- Katelyn Weisbrod, "Concerns Voiced at Regents Public Hearing," The Daily Iowan (online), April 16, 2017
Central to a representative democracy is the existence and efficacy of the dialogue between citizens and their representatives. There are many ways and contexts in which this can be done.

At the moment we're in the middle of one of them -- the party primaries and caucuses preceding a presidential election, with their accompanying opportunity for at least some citizens (starting with virtually all Iowans) to confront and question candidates one-on-one.

But the goals and methods of public dialogue are equally applicable in less dramatic contexts -- like the Iowa Board of Regents.

On Friday [April 15] Iowa Board of Regents' President Bruce Rastetter, and his supporting fellow Board members, put on a public display of their version of public dialogue with the stakeholders in Iowa's state institutions of higher education. They mounted a video camera in Room 2520C of the University of Iowa's Capital Centre, unattended by any Regent, where any who cared to do so could speak to this cold and unresponsive object of modern technology.

As if that was not discouraging enough, every other possible thing was done to minimize even the video camera's use.
* There was minimal notification of this stakeholder opportunity.

* Indeed, anyone exercising the initiative to search for information on the Regents' Web page would have been misled. Even someone willing to make the effort, who knew how to find the Regents' Web page, and who knew that what they were looking for was misnamed "Regents Public Hearings Schedule," would have discovered from the home page-linked document that the latest "hearing" was held last February.

* Persistent hunting for a schedule including Friday's opportunity would have required much more initiative, far away from the home page. "Public Hearings Schedule" ("4:00 – 5:00 p.m. University of Iowa University Capitol Centre, Room 2520C").

* Of all the buildings President Rastetter could have chosen for their "hearing," the "University Capitol Centre" (without providing a street address) would be one of the least well known among out-of-towners, Iowa City residents, and even University old timers and new arrivals. Thus, for some who might want to attend this would at least require some additional modest research.

* Only a total of one hour of the video camera's time was made available to stakeholders, each of whom would be severely limited to a three-to-five-minute slice of the hour. "Board of Regents, State of Iowa, Notice of Public Hearings Schedule," February 11, 2016, p. 2 (the document linked from the Regents' home page that only references "hearings" in February).

* Even worse, the chosen day and hour were the worst possible from among the 40 working hours available that week: from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree Friday afternoon in April.

* But of course the greatest deterrent to participation was the futility of doing so. As The Gazette's Vanessa Miller has described these "hearings": "The hearings occur the week before the board meetings, last one hour, and are staffed by institutional transparency officers. No regents attend the hearings in person, and speakers must talk into a video camera. Their messages are recorded . . .. No one verifies board members watch the videos." Vanessa Miller, "Speakers at University of Iowa Hearing Criticize 'Troubling' Regent Communication Process; 'Step Up or, in Fact, Step Down,'" The Gazette (online), February 18, 2016, 7:36 p.m. And for more material regarding this procedure, Mr. Rastetter's support of it, and others' objections, see below "Additional Related News Stories."
Clearly, Mr. Rastetter needs some mentoring, or at least some exposure to alternative means of promoting the democratic dialogue between himself and those Iowans with a stake in the state's institutions of higher education -- namely, all Iowans.

Admittedly, it would be as shocking to his system as his running naked out of a Swedish sauna in winter and jumping into a snowdrift to expose him, so to speak, to the contrast between what he is doing and the methods used today by some of the world's greatest democracies -- like the British House of Commons Question Time, or President Obama's Web-based opportunity for constituents to put questions and demand answers. For Rastetter, this is going to require baby steps. "Question Time," Parliament, "How Parliament Works" ("Question Time is an opportunity for MPs and Members of the House of Lords to question government ministers about matters for which they are responsible. [It] takes place for an hour, Monday to Thursday, after preliminary proceedings and private business.") "We the People Petitions,"

Perhaps we should start with one of the world's largest communist countries -- Russia, headed by former KGB official Vladimir Putin. Once Rastetter has studied, practiced, and ultimately mastered Putin's approach to public dialogue, we could slowly introduce him to some of the more sophisticated techniques used in Western democracies.

Admittedly, there are some things that are a little problematical about President Putin. For example, "The White House said on Wednesday [April 13] that Russia had violated professional military norms over the Baltic Sea when one of its planes flew 'dangerously close' to an American ship [on April 11 and 12]. . .."Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Russian Plane Flew Close to U.S. Ship in Baltic Sea, White House Says," April 14, 2016, p. A8. (Photo credit: U.S. European Command; "An Su-24 Russian attack jet roars by the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.")

What could be worse than that, you ask? Putin has endorsed Donald Trump! "'He is a bright and talented person without any doubt,' Putin said, adding that Trump is 'an outstanding and talented personality.' . . . [T]he Russian leader called Trump 'the absolute leader of the presidential race,' according to the Russian TASS news agency. Later Thursday [Dec. 17, 2015], Trump returned the warm words." Jeremy Diamond and Greg Botelho, "Putin Praises 'Bright and Talented' Trump," CNN Politics (online), December 17, 2015, including video of President Putin's endorsement, and Donald Trump's positive comments about Putin.

So how does this major communist country's leader, this Donald Trump enthusiast since last December, the fellow who was flying his attack jets at 500 mph near sea level and within feet of a U.S. Navy destroyer on Monday and Tuesday, how did he go about a dialogue with his people two days later?
President Vladimir V. Putin held his annual, live call-in show on Thursday [April 14] . . .. [T]he entire marathon [ran] three hours and 40 minutes, the 14th 'Direct Line' session . . .. Russians were clearly feeling vulnerable, as questions poured in about high prices, unpaid wages, rising utility bills, and the closing of schools and hospitals. In all, around three million questions were submitted by telephone and Internet . . .
Neil MacFarquhar, "Vladimir Putin’s Vulnerable Side Is at Fore in Call-In Show," New York Times, April 15, 2016, p. A6.

For more on this communist approach to public dialogue, including a video of the entire program (with an interpreter in English), see the Russian publication Sputnik News' report, "Topic: President Putin Holds Annual Q&A Session," April 14, 2016, 5:20 p.m.

I only watched the start of the program, but if the opening question was any indication it didn't sound like a softball question to me. Putin mentioned that a disproportionate number of the three million questions dealt with the deteriorating quality of the roads. Indeed, the first questioner presented video of traffic on the roads in her town, complained of the impact on vehicles of the abundance of potholes, as well as getting in some licks about the lack of sidewalks and bicycle paths.

As for Putin's responsiveness, Rastetter might want to note the Times report that, "Some problems seemed to be addressed quickly. After the first caller, from the city of Omsk, complained about the poor state of the roads there, the city posted on Twitter pictures of new asphalt being laid down before Mr. Putin was off the air."

While he's at it, there are a couple of other things, beyond public dialogue and prompt responsiveness, he might ask President Putin about.

One is the tuition-free university education nations including Russia provide their students, and how we might be able to join this expanding group of progressive nations. "Russia provides free education for all its citizens as guaranteed by their Constitution . . .." "Educational System in Russia," "Graduate Studies in Russia 2016, "State higher education institutions offer courses which are free of charge for Russian citizens . . .." "Tuition Fees," Education in Russia for Foreigners. Whatever Russia is doing, it seems to be producing results: "According to a 2012 OECD estimate, 53% of Russia's adults (25- to 64-year-olds) has attained a tertiary (college) education, giving Russia the highest attainment of college-level education in the world . . .. In January 2016 the US company Bloomberg rated Russia's higher education as the third best in the world . . .." "Education in Russia," Wikipedia.

The other is how Putin manages to have a firmer grasp of American politics than Rastetter -- who put his money (literally and figuratively) on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, while President Putin perceived Trump as the candidate more likely to emerge from the Republican contest. See, "UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015.

In summary, both President Putin and President Rastetter take questions from constituents. But there the similarity ends.

President Putin receives the questions, he and his staff seem to select representative questions reflecting the issues of greatest concern to Russians, and then Putin answers or otherwise at least acknowledges and responds to them. Iowans cannot know whether President Rastetter and other Board members even watch the videos of Iowans' questions; what Iowans can know is that they will not receive any acknowledgment their questions were even received, and they certainly won't be getting answers, responses, or opportunities for dialogue.

President Putin, at least on this occasion, devoted nearly four hours of his "Direct Line" program to this dialogue, during hours convenient for the greatest number of people, broadcast nationwide, during which he was an active participant. President Rastetter devotes one hour, during the day and time least likely to encourage participation, in which neither he nor any other Regent participates.

President Putin receives three million questions from 143 million people. A comparable goal for President Rastetter, based on the comparative population of Iowa, as he slowly evolves the Regents' procedure to the standards of communist countries, would be 60,000 inquiries from Iowans -- something like 10,000 times the current level of participation. Hopefully, of course, he will in time be able to far exceed these mere communist standards.

# # #

Additional Related News Stories

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Commentators Call for New Head Regent; Views Recorded at Public Hearing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 16, 2016, p. A3

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI to Break Record for Comments to Regents? Input at Last 2 Video Hearings Set New Records," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 14, 2016, p. A3

Vanessa Miller, "Regents President Rastetter Criticizes Behavior at University of Iowa Town Hall for Harreld; Rastetter Praises Harreld's Efforts," The Gazette, February 25, 2016, 5:00 p.m.

# # #

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People's Voice

Senate Ignoring the People's Voice

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 8, 2016, p. A5

Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, April 7, 2016, 2:15 p.m.
Des Moines Register Online, April 8, 2016, 8:58 a.m.
"Examining the 'People's Voice,'" The Gazette, April 10, 2016, p. A3
The Gazette (online), April 10, 2016, 11:00 a.m.
"The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People’s Voice," The Daily Iowan, April 15,2016, p. 4 (not yet available online, 160415; a shorter version, with full text available below)

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint...Judges of the supreme Court." [Art. 2, Sec. 2.]

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. [Photo of Judge Merrick Garland.]

Of course, any senator can vote “no” on Garland’s confirmation.

That’s not enough for today’s Republican Senate leadership. It totally rejects all portions of the confirmation process.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. Bork’s Senate hearing went badly. Nonetheless, his commitment to the Constitution caused him to insist on the full Senate’s confirmation debate and vote he knew he’d lose, saying “A crucial principle is at stake...the deliberative process.” [fn 1]

Given that the Republican Party professes as much allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution as of the Bible, their Senate leaders’ refusal to vote is difficult to square with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork. [fn 2]

What justification do they offer? Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says they want to "give the people a voice" in the selection of Supreme Court justices. [fn 3] Let’s examine this rationale.

(1) For starters, the Constitution’s drafters were more interested in muffling the people’s voice than in sharing the establishment’s power with “the people.”

(2) Ours was not to be a direct democracy with decisions made by national referenda. Elected representatives would make the decisions.

(3) There were severe restrictions on who could vote — initially only land-owning, white males over 21. African-Americans got the vote in 1870 (15th Amendment). Women in 1920 (Amend. 19), and 18-20-year-olds in 1971 (Amend. 26).

(4) The drafters restricted for whom citizens could vote. Still today, we won’t be voting for president next November. The Constitution says our president will be selected, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" appointed by each " such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” (Art. 2, Sec. 1.)

(5) Nor could “the people" even select U.S. senators. "The Senate...shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof." (Art. 1, Sec. 3; changed in 1913, Amend. 17.)

(6) Thus, respect for Justice Scalia’s search for “original meaning” should preclude Senators Mitch McConnell’s and Charles Grassley’s deference to a “people’s voice” in the judicial confirmation process. [Photo of Senator Charles Grassley.]

(7) Even if constitutionally relevant, which it’s not, that people’s voice was clearly heard with the election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012. And the Constitution offers no hint that a president's judicial appointment power is any less on the last day of their presidency than on the first.

(8) If the popular vote in presidential elections is “the people’s voice,” what is it saying? At best, a majority’s preference between two candidates.

(9) Although not constitutionally compelling, theoretically a presidential campaign could turn on one single, dominant issue. But that wasn’t true in 2008 or 2012. Clearly, neither of those elections raised, let alone resolved, the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to undertake confirmation proceedings.

(10) These points are equally applicable to Senator McConnell’s insistence that the 2014 election of Republican senators was a people’s voice for Senate refusal to hold judicial confirmation proceedings.

The Constitution’s drafters knew the court’s justices could only function as intended if the public believed they were independent and non-partisan, able, honest and just.

The Republican Senate leadership’s response to Judge Garland is wrong, both constitutionally and in their "people's voice" rationale. It also further erodes public confidence in our unique and precious judicial institutions.

Whether they are also wrong that their chosen path will best serve their political self-interest we will only know after the people's voice is unambiguously heard in next November’s Senate elections.
Former law professor Nicholas Johnson served as a law clerk at both the U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and maintains and Contact him at


Footnote 1. "There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions [regarding the probability of my Senate confirmation]. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. . . . For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored." ["Bork Gives Reasons for Continuing Fight," The New York Times/Associated Press, October 10, 1987.]

Footnote 2. In The Gazette's hard copy version of the column, this paragraph was edited to read: "Given that the Republican Party professes a literal reading of the Constitution, their Senate leaders’ refusal to vote is difficult to square with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork." The numbering is also removed from the numbered paragraphs.

Footnote 3. "'The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue. So let's give them a voice,' Mr. McConnell said in an animated speech on the Senate floor." Carl Hulse, "Supreme Court Showdown Could Shape Fall Elections," New York Times (online), March 17, 2016, p. A1; and, "'It's not about him because we're living by the principle "let the people have a voice,"' [Senator Chuck] Grassley said." "Grassley, Garland Reprise '90s Court Fight; The Two Are Set to Meet for a Private Breakfast Today," The Gazette, April 12, 2016, p. A1; The Gazette (online), April 12, 2016, 6:05 p.m.

# # #

The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People’s Voice
Nicholas Johnson
The Daily Iowan, April 15,2016, p. 4 (not yet available online, 160415)

The Constitution mandates the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court."

President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland on Feb. 13.

Of course, any senator can vote “no” on Garland’s confirmation.

That’s not enough for today’s Republican Senate leadership. They reject the entire confirmation process.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork went badly. But Bork insisted on full Senate debate and the losing vote because “A crucial [constitutional] principle is at stake . . . the deliberative process.”

Thus, the leadership’s refusal to vote conflicts with both their professed allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution and its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Grassley say they want to "give the people a voice" in the appointment of judges. Let’s examine their rationale.

(1) For starters, the Constitution’s drafters were more interested in muffling the people’s voice than in amplifying it. Major issues would be resolved by elected representatives, not national referenda.

(2) Restrictions limited direct elections. Our Constitution still says our president is selected, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" appointed by each "State . . . in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Nor could “the people" select U.S. senators. "The Senate . . . shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof" (changed in 1913).

(3) There were even further restrictions on who could vote — initially white, males, over 21, who owned land. African-Americans got the vote in 1870, women in 1920, and 18-20-year-olds in 1971.

(4) This history, plus the leadership’s respect for the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s search for the Constitution’s “original meaning,” should preclude any reference to a “people’s voice” in the confirmation process.

(5) What is “the people’s voice” saying in presidential elections? At best, a majority’s preference between two candidates. Even if constitutionally relevant, which it’s not, that people’s voice was clearly heard in President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 elections. And the Constitution offers no hint that a president's judicial appointment power is any less on the last day of their presidency than on the first.

(6) Theoretically a presidential campaign could turn on one single, dominant issue. Clearly, neither the 2008 nor 2012 election raised, let alone resolved, the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to undertake confirmation proceedings.

(7) These points are equally applicable to Senator McConnell’s insistence that the 2014 election of Republican senators was a “people’s voice” authorizing his abandoning the constitutionally mandated confirmation process.

The Constitution’s drafters knew the court’s justices could only function as intended if the public believed they were independent and non-partisan, able, honest and just.

The Republican Senate leadership’s response to Judge Garland is wrong, both constitutionally and in their "people's voice" rationale. It also further erodes public confidence in our unique and precious judicial institutions.

Whether they are wrong that their chosen path will best serve their political self-interest we will only know after the people's voice is unambiguously heard in next November’s Senate elections.

# # #

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?

First read these quotes from this morning's media coverage of last evening's Democratic primary and caucuses (emphases supplied; footnotes [in brackets] go to sources' links at bottom of this page).

Second, look at the facts -- the actual percentages of the votes received, and delegates allocated.

Third, tell me if you think the media's language honestly squares with professional, independent journalism, based on those facts.

Quotes from Media's March 23 Reports of March 22 Primary and Caucuses
Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump overwhelmed their rivals in the Arizona primaries on Tuesday, a show of might from two presidential front-runners . . .. Mrs. Clinton’s commanding victory in Arizona, where 75 Democratic delegates were at stake, gave her the night’s biggest prize, and her margin there was substantial enough that Mr. Sanders was unlikely to emerge with significantly more delegates, . . .. [1; (New York Times)]

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton scored easy victories Tuesday in Arizona, the largest and most-watched of the day’s three electoral contests. . . . The large margin is a blow to her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had staked a comeback on Arizona. [2; (Washington Post)]

Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz both campaigned hard in Arizona, hoping to score upsets over their party’s front-runner in the most populous of the three states that voted Tuesday. They got crushed. [3; (Washington Post)]

Clinton's win in Arizona prevented the Vermont senator from cutting deeply into her delegate lead by night's end. [4; (Associated Press)]
Actual Percentages of Votes Received and Delegates Allocated
Utah Caucus

Sanders: 79.7% of participants; 24 delegates
Clinton: 19.8% of participants; 5 delegates [5]

Idaho Caucus

Sanders: 78.0% of participants; 17 delegates
Clinton: 21.2% of participants; 5 delegates [6]

Arizona Primary

Sanders: 39.9% of the votes; 26 delegates
Clinton: 57.6% of the votes; 41 delegates [7]

Total Delegates Allocated

Sanders: 67
Clinton: 51 [5, 6, 7]

Professional, Independent Journalism?"

So, what do you think?

Do you think Sanders was "overwhelmed" by Clinton's "commanding victory" and "show of might"? Would you say, in this context, that Sanders' 67 delegates are not "significantly more" than Clinton's 51? Would you say that Sanders "got crushed," or suffered a "blow" from her "large margin" of voters and delegates in Arizona?

The real story of this Democratic primary is not that Clinton has more delegates than Sanders. The man-bites-dog story of this primary is that Sanders has won any delegates. It's the political equivalent of a junior high basketball team somehow sneaking into the NCAA's March Madness, and making it to the final four.
Clinton has been national figure for decades, the presumed ultimate nominee, and started with a substantial army of friends and supporters throughout the country. Sanders had little to no history with the American people outside of Vermont, name recognition in the low single digits and little to no national media exposure.

Clinton has had the support of the Democratic National Committee, most elected Democratic officials, is married to a two-term popular former president, was appointed to the top cabinet post by another two-term popular president, and had the prior experience of running for the presidential nomination in 2008. Sanders was not even a Democrat -- or a member of any other political party. He's a 74-year-old (she's 68) Jew from Brooklyn, living in Vermont, serving in the Senate as an "Independent," who says he's a "Democratic Socialist." He started with support from few if any Party officials, and had never run for office outside of his tiny home state of Vermont.

Clinton (and her husband) started with substantial personal wealth, the support of multi-million-dollar PACs, Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers, billionaires and other wealthy persons, access to the nation's most experienced campaign managers, advisers, and former staff of their own, and long time contacts throughout the media. Sanders started with virtually no money at all, and has stubbornly insisted on funding his campaign with small contributions from the American people while refusing to take money from PACs and billionaires.
I could go on with these contrasts, but you get the idea.

The point is, given these contrasts, I think the media ought to give their audience, and Bernie, a break. They should acknowledge what an extraordinary accomplishment he represents -- the enormous crowds he attracts, the first time participants he's brought into the Democratic Party, his ability to keep up with, or exceed, Clinton's fund-raising ability, and yes, the number of delegates he has won competing against the Clinton powerhouse. That's the story of this primary season -- and of last night's results, not that Clinton got more voters than he did from Arizona. Given the difference in their inherent political strength, and the Clintons' contacts throughout the sate, it would have been remarkable enough if he had received 20% of the votes in Arizona -- the percentage that she got in Utah and Idaho. That he won as much as 40% is overwhelming. That he actually came out of the evening with more total delegates than she had is unbelievable!

Finally, a word about a word: "won." It's bad enough that the media turns politics into a horse race rather than a national dialogue about issues and public policy. But applying the word "won" to a primary or caucus in which there is a proportional allocation of delegates based on numbers of votes, or persons, is downright misleading -- whether done intentionally or out of ignorance. It would be especially hilarious if not so serious, when the "winner" is only separated from the "loser" by fractions of one percent. Trump "won" Arizona -- if one insists on using the word -- because, for the Republicans it was a "winner takes all" state. Clinton did not "win" Arizona in that sense -- because for the Democrats the delegates were assigned proportionately, based on percentage of the vote each received.

Links to Sources

[1] Jonathan Martin, "Clinton and Trump Win Arizona; Cruz Picks Up Utah; Sanders Takes 2, New York Times (online), March 23, 2016

[2] Anne Gearan and Jenna Johnson, "Clinton, Trump Win Delegate-Rich Arizona, but Falter in Utah and Idaho," Washington Post (online), March 22, 2016

[3] James Hohmann, "Arizona, Utah Results Give Stop Trump Movement Reasons to Both Hope and Dispair," Washington Post, March 23, 2016

[4] Calvin Woodward, "Arizona Goes For Trump, Clinton," Associated Press, March 23, 2016

[5] "Utah Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[6] "Idaho Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[7] "Arizona Primary; Democratic," March 23, 2016

# # #

Monday, March 21, 2016

The People's Voice, Constitution, and Supreme Court

"Our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy."

-- Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, U.S. Senate [Jennifer Steinhaueer, "Mitch McConnell Speaks Out on Garland," New York Times (online), March 16, 2016, 12:21 PM ET]

The Republican Senate leadership, in the person of Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell, greeted Senator Barack Obama's 2008 election as President of the United States with the candid declaration that its purpose, its focus going forward would be to make Obama's a failed, one-term presidency.

This month that goal has played out in the context of a Supreme Court appointment. Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, on March 16 President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Justice Scalia's replacement.

This followed the Constitutional provision that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court . . .." [Article 2, Section 2.]

Following their make-Obama-fail game plan, the Republican leadership's response has taken the form of not just failing to confirm the President's nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland -- following one-on-one meetings, committee hearings and floor debate -- but a refusal to even undertake any of those traditional preliminaries to confirmation. [Photo of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit; credit: CNN]

No public official or journalist has suggested that the Senate is required to confirm President Obama's nominee. Each Republican (and Democratic) senator has the constitutional right and opportunity to vote "No" on the confirmation of Judge Garland -- just as they did when they voted down President Ronald Reagan's 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court (by a vote of 42-58 on October 23).

The issue is, rather, whether they have the right to refuse to undertake any and all elements of the process the Constitution requires of them.

It is noteworthy, with regard to this year's Supreme Court nominee, what Judge Bork said following the Senate committee's rejection of his nomination:
There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions [regarding the probability of my Senate confirmation]. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. . . . For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored.
["Bork Gives Reasons for Continuing Fight," The New York Times/Associated Press, October 10, 1987.]

For a political party whose leaders professes as much allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution as of the Bible, it is a little difficult to square their rejection of the confirmation process with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster Judge, Robert Bork.

All they have been able to come up with is a profession of a desire to "give the people a voice" in the selection of Supreme Court justices (quoted at the top of this blog essay). What they seem to mean by "voice" is postponing the Senate's responsibility until after the next presidential election -- in part, some contend, in a self-serving effort to convince their base how important it is to retain Republican control of the Senate by reelecting the Republicans already there.

Whatever their motives may be, rational support for this "people's voice" assertion is somewhere between difficult and impossible to find.

(1) For starters, those who drafted the Constitution went out of their way to insure that the people's voice would be muffled by what we today refer to as "the establishment."

(2) No one was thinking of a direct democracy, like a New England town meeting. They designed a representative democracy, in which elected officials would make all the decisions.

(3) And there were significant restrictions on who could even vote -- a privilege first limited to land-owning, white, males over 21 years of age. African-Americans, who weren't even counted for more than 60% of their number (Article I, Section 2), weren't granted a right to vote until 1870 (Amendment XV). Women had to wait until 1920 (Amendment XIX), and 18-20-year-olds until 1971 (Amendment XXVI).

(4) Even the few who did get to vote weren't trusted with the power to elect, or not, those running for office. To this day, even those who do get to vote don't get to vote for their president. The drafters saw to that. Article II provides that the actual selection of the president will be made, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" (appointed by each "state . . . in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct . . .").

(5) And, senators take note, nor did the drafters envision that the vote or voice of "the people" would be doing the selection of senators, either. Article I, Section 3 ("The Senate . . . shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof . . .." This was left unchanged until 1913, with the passage of Amendment XVII.)

(6) In short, the drafters of the Constitution did not envision a role for a "people's voice" in the sense that Senator McConnell is using the words (the results of a presidential election).

(7) Even if the "voice of the people" was constitutionally relevant in that context, that voice was heard in both 2008 and 2012 -- President Obama not only having been elected, but then re-elected. And there is, of course, no constitutional time limit on the president's judicial appointment power -- he or she has as much of that power on the last day of their presidency as they had on the first day.

(8) Moreover, to the extent the popular vote in a presidential election can be said to be an expression of the people's voice, that voice does not clearly say anything beyond their choice between the two major parties' nominees for the office. And even that message is not all that clear. Many eligible American voters don't bother to vote. Others hold their nose when they do, picking "the lesser of the two evils."

(9) Although it still wouldn't be constitutionally compelling, it would be theoretically possible that a presidential election would be fought out between two candidates taking opposite positions on one single, dominant issue -- perhaps like the Lincoln-Douglas debates regarding slavery. But that was not the case in either 2008 or 2012 -- those elections did not even raise (to the best of my present memory) an issue regarding the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to consider a president's judicial nomination, let alone turn on such an issue.

(10) All of these responses are equally applicable to Senator McConnell's suggestion that the "people's voice" in 2014, re-electing a Republican majority to the U.S. Senate, supports the Republican leadership's current intransigence. (a) Each of those individual senators' elections had multiple variables affecting the outcome. And (b) even if a case could be made that a single dominant issue in all of those campaigns (won by Republicans) was a desire that their senator vote "no" on the confirmation of potential justices perceived as "liberal," that would only support the theory of a "people's voice" for "no" votes on some nominees, not support for the leadership's refusal to engage in the confirmation process at all.

Therefore, it seems to me, the Republican Senate leadership is wrong in the position it has staked out with regard to President Obama's nomination of Judge Garland -- both as a matter of constitutional interpretation, and in terms of their "people's voice" talking point argument. Whether they are also wrong as a matter of their own political best interests we will only know after we hear the people's voice next November.


I'd like to add a personal note regarding the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court. From an early age I've been aware of the Supreme Court and its justices. I majored in political science in college, and was blessed with a remarkable constitutional law professor in law school who strengthened those early interests. This was followed with clerkships -- first with a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, and then a justice of the Supreme Court. I've subsequently taught con law, as we call it, on occasion. So my support of the institution of the Supreme Court is emotional as well as intellectual.

This may reveal a measure of naivete if not outright ignorance, but I can honestly say that I do not recall during my year at the Court (the 1959-60 Term) conversations with, or writings of, justices, law clerks, or other Court employees even revealing partisan (i.e., political party) preferences, and certainly not overt advocacy. The focus was on the facts and the law as revealed in the briefs, oral arguments, our own research, and ultimately our justices' printed opinions.

I've always thought that orientation was a part of the genius of the idea of a non-political, independent, institution made up of nine individuals with lifetime appointments, not subservient to either the Executive or Legislative branches of our federal government. It made possible the resolution of conflicts between the other branches (and also the states) that might otherwise have thrown our nation in chaos.

Its power, such as it was, came not from armies, multi-billion-dollar appropriations, or the delivery of votes. It came from a largely unarticulated agreement among Americans regarding their preference for this non-violent means of dispute resolution, and the ethics (rather than campaign contributions) that drove its decisions.

Theater was used to re-enforce this ideal. Justices wore black robes. They entered the Court from behind a curtain, through which they returned to their chambers after the oral arguments. They sat at a bench raised above the level of those in attendance. In my day the podium for a lawyer arguing before the Court came complete with what were, literally, quill pens. High metal gates closed the hallways leading to their chambers. During my year they very rarely, if ever, appeared in public, or sat for print or television interviews. Their social life was restricted. And in their professional life they had no constituents as such, and were rarely if ever visited by lobbyists, or lawyers with cases pending before the Court. No one but the justices was permitted to be present during their secret deliberations regarding Court opinions. When an opinion was final, they would come out from behind the curtain once again, take their nine assigned seats in the Court, and read the opinions to those in attendance.

The trust that gives the Court the power we need for it to have is a fragile thing. It is easily destroyed by public anticipation of predictable 5-4 votes, and journalists' talk of "liberal" and "conservative" justices whose votes can be easily guessed if one knows the political party to which they, and the president who nominated them, belonged.

Those who wrote our Constitution did not conceive of the Supreme Court as yet a third political branch of government. They knew it could only play the role for which they fashioned it if the public believed it was special, trustworthy, independent, honest and just -- and if the public was correct in so believing.

What today's Republican Senate leadership is doing with regard to President Obama and his nomination of Judge Garland is not only a violation of the Constitution's provisions regarding such nominations, it is also further contributing to the erosion of the public's perception of this unique and precious American institution.

# # #

Friday, March 11, 2016

Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities

Links to Contents' Sub-Headings
Political Viability
Economic Analysis
Precedent and Incrementalism
Non-Monetary Benefits
I've been thinking about tuition-free Iowa universities. There are no conclusions, or proposals, at this point; just random thoughts.

Political Viability

A tuition-free college education is obviously not a politically viable idea in Iowa at this time. The state's ideologically-driven Republican governor and House of Representatives are focused on cutting taxes while providing financial incentives for business, and privatizing historic governmental functions. The Board of Regents has selected a president for the University of Iowa with a business background whom they hope can "run the University more like a business" while cutting its share of state funding even further.

But that doesn't mean there's no point in thinking about the idea, or that it would have no political support.

For starters, we're talking about Iowa's 15 community colleges as well as its three Regents' universities. Indeed, a stronger case can be made for the former than the latter. It costs less to add two years to our K-12 system than to add four. And the benefits might even be greater. As former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner wrote in his little book, Excellence (1961), “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Surely families that would like to send their children to college, but cannot afford the tuition, would support such a program -- especially if the child in question would become the first in the family to do so. Iowa's rural communities would have access to more and better trained trades people, entrepreneurs, members of Richard Florida's "creative class," and others necessary to the communities' sustainable growth and quality of life. (See, e.g., James Fallows, "How America is Putting Itself Back Together," The Atlantic, March 2016.)

Tuition-free college and community college would benefit all Iowans, not just some college bound wealthy elite.

Economic Analysis

Admittedly, many of the reasons to provide tuition-free college involve values other than economic -- of which more later. But what arguments might be fashioned to appeal to those who, as the saying has it, "know the price of everything and the value of nothing"?

It's not like this is a wild and crazy radical idea that has never been tried. We provided tuition-free college for returning veterans of World War II as part of the GI Bill. In Michael Moore's film, "Where to Invade Next," he shows a list of some 21 countries that are, today, offering tuition-free or incredibly cheap college (some restricted to their own citizens, but others offering the deal to all students, including Americans). [Photo of Freie Universitat of Berlin]

Presumably those countries have some data indicating an economic justification for these arrangements. The economic impact of New York's CUNY and SUNY institutions, and California's 1960-1975 "Master Plan for Higher Education" would also be worth exploring. ("The two governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.")

"Tuition-free" is not "free." Academically qualified high school graduates who cannot afford the costs of board and room, books, and the loss of what would otherwise have been earned over four years, will still be denied higher education. But those who can and do pursue more education will be able to generate more income for their employers, and themselves. Not only will they boost Iowa's economy by spending more as consumers, they will also be contributing the purchasing immediately made possible by the absence of years of paying off student loans' principal and interest.

What if the data does show that the return on this investment of public funds, in the form of jobs and profits, turns out to be many multiples of its cost? Would there be a point at which even the tax-cutting naysayers might see a proposal for tuition-free college in the way they now view the creation and maintenance of the interstate highway system?

Precedent and Incrementalism

It's important to note the distinction between (a) funding a entirely new program, and (b) an incremental increase in funding a preexisting program. To provide tuition-free college and community college education for Iowans would not be the first time public money would be used to educate the state's people. Iowa had its first one-room school in 1830, and by 1910 was one of the first states to have a statewide system of high schools.

There is not unanimous support for public education; some parents prefer private schools, or home schooling. But for some 250 years in the United States (and in other countries as well) there has been near-unanimous recognition of (a) the citizen's right to education, and (b) the desirability of, indeed society's need for, an educated citizenry. Soon the requirement was not only for citizens' access to free public education, but for their compulsory education. The 1966 "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" expressed the right this way: "Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. . .." Article 13 (2)(c).

This presidential election year has brought tuition-free higher education into the national discussion of public policy, such as it is. It's one of Senator Bernie Sanders' main talking points. Secretary Hillary Clinton, by contrast, advocates a more needs-based system. So far as I am aware, there has seldom if ever been an argument that free primary and secondary education should be limited to families in financial need, with all other parents paying full cost. If a distinction is to be made for higher education a persuasive rationale for doing so should be provided. (The one exception involves, not tuition, but the fee for a student's lunch. Those able to do so pay the cost of the meal; students of lesser means receive lunch for free, or at reduced cost -- a program subsidized by federal taxpayers.)

While there is squabbling over precise amounts, there is a clear majority that generally accepts that the societal benefits of free K-12 education exceed its cost to taxpayers. Counting Iowa's primary and secondary schools sources of federal, state, and local revenue, Iowa's approximately 350 school districts receive a total of about $6 billion a year of taxpayers' money. (Extrapolating to America's 50 million school age children, the national commitment would be on the order of $500 billion, or one-half trillion dollars a year).

To these numbers we would need to add what the three Regents' universities are already receiving: federal, state and local financial support in the billions (federal research projects and Pell grants; state appropriations; and local counties' inability to collect property taxes from the universities' tax-exempt property).

The point? While the cost of providing Iowans a tuition-free college education is not insignificant, the largest financial commitment to public education already exists. Tuition-free college merely adds two or four years to the 13 years of education we're already funding for K-12.

Non-Monetary Benefits

Economists called upon to do benefit-cost analyses of, say, public parks, may calculate the economic "benefits" by totaling what users are willing to spend in the per-mile costs of driving to and from the park. Most of us (including some of those economists) would argue that such calculations are almost worthless. What is the "value" to a family of a day at the beach, public library, or touring some of the Smithsonian's buildings in Washington? What mother, father, or child would measure the value of a day's conversations while fishing -- with or without a catch -- by the cost of the fishing tackle and bait?

So it is with education. It has economic value, for the society and the individual, as discussed above. But it has so much more. The before and after impact it can have on every moment of one's life is like the difference between watching a TV soap opera on an old small screen black-and-white TV, and being able to understand and enjoy a classic drama, or symphony orchestra (or NFL game) on a high definition, color, big wall screen. Intuitively (and with some supporting data) proportionately more of those with more education are likely to be healthier, happier, wiser investors, more effective parents, and otherwise get more out of day-to-day living than those with less.

From the beginning of America's public education, one of the perceived needs and driving purposes has been to prepare students for participation -- with information, intelligence, civility, morality, and a sense of responsibility -- as citizens in a self-governing democracy. That need is, if anything, even greater today than 250 years ago.

These non-monetary values are reflected in the United Nation's 1948 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Article 26. Like the "International Covenant," above, it declares that "(1) Everyone has the right to education. . . . [H]igher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." But it goes on to explain that, "(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Many would find these non-monetary benefits of tuition-free education as persuasive a reason for funding higher education as for primary and secondary education -- and certainly so when added to the economic benefits.


So, is there a conclusion after all? Not yet. However, it is my opinion that the case can be made that adding two to four years of additional education to our publicly-funded K-12 system -- updating it, as it were, from the high school requirements of an agricultural and industrial age over 100 years ago -- is well worth our exploring further.

As has been said, "When the people will lead, their leaders will follow." Regardless of the ideological orientation of Iowa's elected officials, the first step will have to be something on the order of Bernie Sanders' "political revolution." The people of Iowa will need to care, to study these issues, make higher education a priority, organize, demonstrate, and demand the benefits that tuition-free higher education has to offer for all Iowans.

# # #

Monday, February 29, 2016


The Gazette's 2016 "editorial focus" is on "Building Blocks: Working Together to Make Our Communities Great Places to Live." With the current legislative focus on water quality, this week's Writers Circle columns deal with "How Do We Save Our Water?" My first contribution to the 2016 focus was "Design Communities to Support Communication, Interaction and Learning," February 7, 2016. This is my second. -- N.J., Feb. 29, 2016

Some Basic Facts About Water

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, February 29, 2016, p. A6

First, some basic facts.

Life began in water; human life still does. Our bodies are a mix of star stuff and water -– in the same proportions as Earth’s surface. We need replenishment of two to three quarts daily.

But 80% of our society’s consumption is used in agriculture (one gallon for each almond). More goes to industry, like fracking.

We each use about 100 gallons daily. For all Iowans that’s 110 billion gallons annually.

Residents of Flint are right to worry about lead. Thousands of other cities ought to -- 40% of reporting states have more lead poisoning than Flint. And the 15 parts per billion standard’s not science based. It’s chosen as a standard 90% of cities can pass.

But wait; it’s worse. I used to hike where pure water came from springs and ran in streams. Those sources reach us today containing 100 potentially toxic substances that have not been researched, tested, or regulated. Even if they were, one-third of Americans’ water sources aren’t covered by clean water laws.

Rain brings air pollutants, runoff brings fertilizer, industrial waste may be dumped, and nitrate removal treatments can leave toxic nitrosamines. More dangerous elements (like Flint’s lead) can come from aging water mains, or pipes from the mains to, and inside, the home.

One of the greatest single “medical” advances for 2.5 billion of the world’s people? Not a new AIDS or malaria drug. It would be pure drinking water and sanitary facilities for the two million who die every year without them.

There are other ways water can sicken or kill you. Worldwide, an estimated 372,000 people annually die from drowning –- the third leading cause of unintentional injury death.

Ocean levels are rising at increasing rates, as warmer water expands and glaciers melt. If all land ice melted, oceans would rise 197 feet. That’s not happening. But a possible 20-foot rise by 2100 would necessitate relocating a billion people.

And all that’s the good news. Most serious? The coming severe water shortages and inevitable water wars.

Kind of puts our Iowa legislative proposals into perspective, doesn’t it?

My proposals?

1. Prepare to spend $1 trillion on the infrastructure our grandparents built and we, preferring tax cuts, have allowed to rot.

2. Fund the scientific and medical research necessary to understand the human impact of all the substances in water, and then set standards.

3. Give Americans free access to test data about what comes out of their own faucets (not just what comes out of their cities’ treatment plants).

4. Finally, elect public officials who care more about our health than their donors’ wealth.
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, writes about public policy in and maintains Contact:


Note: The Gazette has instituted a new procedure for op ed columns, requiring that submitted work be accompanied with sources. This not only provides yet another level of editorial scrutiny regarding the veracity of facts and assertions, but also makes it easier for the occasional reader engaged in topic research to follow up on portions of a column that may be of further interest.

To serve either purpose it’s necessary to provide not only citations and links complete enough to lead to a source, but sufficient accompanying text to indicate what it was about that source that is thought to support the fact or assertion. Sometimes that can be a single phrase or sentence, such as, in the second one below, "About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered . . .." Other times, when a simplistic assertion in a 436-word op ed column (as this one is) while reasonable, has not been fully explained in the column, a lengthier excerpt is required. An example would be the third source listed below (the supporting sources for the percentage of one’s weight represented by water).

The sources are listed in the same order as the text which they support.

– N.J.

"'The cosmos is also within us, we're made of star stuff,' was the famous knowledge bomb that Sagan dropped in his original award-winning TV series "Cosmos" . . .."
Eric Mack, "'We Are Made of Star Stuff': A Quick Lesson on How; Carl Sagan Famously Said That the Death of Ancient Stars Helped to Create Us. Huh? Here's a Quick Primer on What he Meant," CNET, November 3, 2014,

"About 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered . . .."
U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, The USGS Water Science School, "How Much Water is There On, In, and Above the Earth?"

"Water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%. Each day humans must consume a certain amount of water to survive. Of course, this varies according to age and gender, and also by where someone lives.

Generally, an adult male needs about 3 liters per day while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters per day. Some of this water is gotten in food. . . .

According to Dr. Jeffrey Utz, Neuroscience, pediatrics, Allegheny University, different people have different percentages of their bodies made up of water. Babies have the most, being born at about 78%. By one year of age, that amount drops to about 65%. In adult men, about 60% of their bodies are water. However, fat tissue does not have as much water as lean tissue. In adult women, fat makes up more of the body than men, so they have about 55% of their bodies made of water."
U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, The USGS Water Science School, The Water in You,"

"So how much fluid does the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate need? The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day."
Mayo Clinic Staff, "Healthy Lifestyle; Nutrition and Healthy Eating; Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?" Mayo Clinic,

"Agriculture is a major user of ground and surface water in the United States, accounting for approximately 80 percent of the Nation's consumptive water use (see definitions) and over 90 percent in many Western States."
United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, "Irrigation & Water Use; Overview; Background,"

"One almond 1.1 gallons of water. . . . Jay Lund, a water expert at the University of California-Davis, says that water problems mean that agriculture may soon play a less important role in California's economy, as the business of growing food moves to the South and the Midwest, where water is less expensive."
Alex Park and Julia Lurie, "It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?! Why California's Drought is a Disaster for Your Favorite Fruits, Vegetables, and Nuts," Mother Jones, February 24, 2014,

"Oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought. . . . The amount of water used for fracking in each well varies widely by region. In southern Illinois, an operation can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time fracking triggers the flow of oil or gas into a well. In West Texas’ Permian Basin surrounding Midland and Odessa, fracking uses between 264,000 and 2.6 million gallons of water each time. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, south and eastern Texas, Arkansas, northern Colorado and Montana, fracking can use more than 9 million gallons of water."
Bobby Magill, "Water Use Rises as Fracking Expands; And Certain Wells Use Far More Water Than Others, a Possible Threat in Dry Regions," Scientific American, July 1, 2015,

"The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. On average, approximately 70 percent of that water is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer (a toilet alone can use 27 percent!)."
United States Environmental Protection Agency, "Water Sense; Indoor Water Use in the United States,"

“Data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over 40 percent of the states that reported lead test results in 2014 have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than Flint.”
Yanan Wang, "Untold Cities Across America Have Higher Rates of Lead Poisoning Than Flint," The Washington Post, February 4, 2016,

“The E.P.A.'s trigger level for addressing lead in drinking water -- 15 parts per billion -- is not based on any health threat; rather, it reflects a calculation that water in at least nine in 10 homes susceptible to lead contamination will fall below that standard.”

“The biggest hole in the drinking-water safety net may be the least visible: the potential for water to be tainted by substances that scientists and officials have not even studied, much less regulated. The EP.A. has compiled a list of 100 potentially risky chemicals and 12 microbes that are known or expected to be found in public water systems, but are not yet regulated. . . . There are thousands of other chemicals, viruses and microbes that scientists like Dr. Griffiths say the agency has not begun to assess.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency says streams tapped by water utilities serving a third of the population are not yet covered by clean water laws that limit levels of toxic pollutants.”
“[R]esearchers were long unaware that removing nitrates from finished water can leave behind a toxic byproduct, nitrosamines, the cancer-causing chemical found in cooked bacon.”
Michael Wines and John Schwartz, "Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint," The New York Times, February 9, 2016, p. A1,

“An estimated 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation (more than 35% of the world’s population)”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH); Global WASH Fast Facts,"

"Diarrhoea [sic] occurs world-wide and causes 4% of all deaths and 5% of health loss to disability. It is most commonly caused by gastrointestinal infections which kill around 2.2 million people globally each year, mostly children in developing countries. The use of water in hygiene is an important preventive measure but contaminated water is also an important cause of diarrhoea."
World Health Organization, "Water Sanitation Health; Water-Related Diseases; Diarrhoea," http://

"Inadequate drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene are estimated to cause 842,000 diarrhoeal disease deaths per year WHO 2014, and contribute substantially to the other diseases listed above."
World Health Organization, "Water Sanitation Health; Water-Related Diseases," http://

"Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths. There are an estimated 372,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide."
World Health Organization, Media Centre, "Drowning," Fact Sheet No. 347, November 2014, Key Facts,

“If all the land ice on the planet were to melt, it would raise sea levels about 197 feet . . ..”
Tia Ghose, "NASA: Rising Sea Levels More Dangerous Than Thought," Live Science, August 26, 2015,

"[H]undreds of millions of people live in areas that will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Higher sea levels would force them to abandon their homes and relocate. Low-lying islands could be submerged completely. Most predictions say the warming of the planet will continue and likely will accelerate. Oceans will likely continue to rise as well, but predicting the amount is an inexact science. . . .

[D]ire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, push sea level rise to 23 feet (7 meters), enough to submerge London."
"Sea Level Rise; Ocean Levels Are Getting Higher -- Can We Do Anything About It?" National Geographic,

“According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world's population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.”
"Fresh Water Crisis," National Geographic,

“Off and on for two decades, my colleagues and I have worked on issues involving water, including some discussed here. This experience has led me to conclude that statesmanship must go beyond diplomacy, in particular to championing new agricultural technologies. Without growing more food with less water (land, too) the water-war surprises will come, perhaps not in one year, perhaps not in four, but soon, and long into the future.”
Clark S. Judge, "The Coming Water Wars; The Next Big Wars Will be Fought Over Water," U.S.Newsw, February 19, 2013,

“The American Water Works Association . . . puts the tab [to provide clean drinking water to all Americans] at $1 trillion in new spending in the next 25 years.”
Editorial, "Fixing Our Broken Water Systems," The New York Times, February 14, 2016, p. SR8,

"Erik D. Olson, head of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: '. . . We're mostly living off the investment of our parents and grandparents for our drinking water supply.'"
Michael Wines and John Schwartz, "Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to Flint," The New York Times, February 9, 2016, p. A1,

# # #

The State of the Media

The State of the Media

Nicholas Johnson

League of Women Voters of Johnson County, Iowa
Sunday Speaker Series

Iowa City Public Library
February 28, 2016, 2:00 p.m.

The media. Mass media. Mainstream media, or MSM.

What’s in, what’s out? What are we talking about? The local publication, Little Village? My blog, FromDC2Iowa? The public’s access channel on local cable, PATV? Or, locally, is it just things like the Iowa City Press-Citizen and WSUI?

“State of the media.” What does that mean? Financial health? And, if so, whose -- the income of the owners, or Iowa City’s economy, since media is a major driver of the consumer spending that constitutes 70% of our nation’s GDP? Broadcast stations are still licensed to serve “the public interest.” So what does that mean? And whatever it means, should we evaluate the state of newspapers by the same standard as broadcasting?

You and I are concerned about the adequacy of the media to support a democracy. And how should that be measured? Is it, like voting, something that we offer citizens but, unlike Australia, do not demand of them? Is it enough that what a citizen needs to know is potentially accessible – like books in this library that are never consulted – or is it the media’s responsibility to do whatever is necessary to ensure that a critical mass of citizens actually know what they need to know?

There are more creative approaches to public education than just serious news and documentaries. For example, health and safety information has been embedded in soap operas for third world audiences. Comedian John Oliver gives his multi-million followers some of the best public policy presentations available on television today. The Harvard School of Public Health reduced auto accident deaths by working with Hollywood producers and writers to include brief shots of police fastening their seat belts.

Our task of searching for the state of the media is further complicated by what might be called a multiple-variable analysis. That is to say, we are dealing with many streams and trends of change, sometimes in isolation, sometimes overlapping, that impact upon the media.

Here are but a few.

We have been witnessing both a concentration of media control and, simultaneously, an increase of citizens’ choice of media and an increase in citizen power to affect its content.

Twenty-five years ago or more, when Time and Warner wanted to merge, a number of us opposed the merger. I asked one of their executives why they wanted this merger. He replied, “Well, Nick, someday there are going to be five firms that control all the media on Planet Earth, and we intend to be one of them.”

For example, when I was a boy there were human owners of the Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Today, both are part of the Gannett empire that controls over 90 daily newspapers, nearly 1,000 weekly newspapers, and the national paper, USA Today, with operations – and political influence -- in 41 U.S. states and six countries.

There have also been efforts to combine multiple media types – with financial advantages for shareholders, and content disadvantages for the audience. A single firm may control significant subsidiaries in newspaper, magazine and book publishing; movie studios, and television production; theaters, TV and radio stations and networks; cable and satellite distribution companies.

As journalism has morphed from a profession of individuals into an industry of corporations, citizens have lost out. What Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers have done to banking, they have also done to democracy’s journalism.

The Los Angeles Times was doing quite well, thank you, with its 20% profit margins – until Wall Street decided to demand 30% returns. Because of a profusion of alternative sources of news, and a decline in younger persons’ interest in newspapers, it was difficult to increase readership. Without an increase in readership it was difficult to increase advertising revenue. The only way to increase profits was to decrease costs. And the easiest way to decrease costs was to fire journalists.

Here in Iowa City we’ve seen what Wall Street’s pressure on Gannett has done to the Press-Citizen. It tried to increase profits by selling off its building and doing away with reporters and other staff members. Not content with those savings, it has now decided to not only reduce the number of pages in the paper, but to totally eliminate the opinion page on Mondays and Tuesdays – thereby increasing the proportion of the paper devoted to sports fans.

When I was a commissioner of the FCC I studied media in other countries – Great Britain, Sweden, German, Japan, and elsewhere. I discovered that NHK, in Japan, had more minutes of news about the United States everyday than did NBC. In addition to which NHK also covered news from Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe – and of course, Japan.

ABC, CBS and NBC once had foreign news bureaus. I asked an executive about their coverage of African countries. He assured me they had an African bureau. On further inquiry I discovered it had only one reporter, and she was based in Paris. Recently I shared that story with a reporter who informed me she was no longer there.

We pay a price as a democracy for our lack of information about what’s going on in the world and in our own town.

We are a nation approaching 325 million individuals, many of whom have so little memory of their education, and such obliviousness to basic information, that Jay Leno was able to make an entertainment format out of it on the Tonight show. Our gross ignorance of other countries and cultures helps create everything from "ugly American" tourists to endless, unwinnable wars abroad that actually increase the risk of terrorism at home. Many high school grads headed to Iraq couldn't find Iraq on a map -- 10% couldn't even find the United States.

Even if you want to engage in wars of choice, which I wouldn’t advise, you need knowledge. While I was handling sealift to Viet Nam as U.S. Maritime Administrator, President Johnson asked me to look around Southeast Asia and provide him my reactions. What I said was, “You can’t play basketball on a football field.” There are some places where war is just not a possible option – when you don’t know such things as your enemy’s language, history, culture, religion, and tribal relations. I later published an open letter to President George W. Bush with similar observations about his proposed adventure in Iraq.

I’ve always been a fan of the BBC since I was a young boy, first listening to its shortwave programming on a World War II surplus radio receiver – later when carried on WSUI during the night, and now with an app on my smart phone. There are countries that may go for a year without even being mentioned by name on U.S. media, and never covered, countries from which the BBC regularly provides us in-depth understanding.

But wait, it’s worse. Not only do our once big-three networks try to present the news without journalists, not only do they devote to it a fraction of the time of public broadcasting systems in other countries. With the time they devote to commercials and self-promotion, the so-called “half-hour news” becomes more like 20 minutes.

And it’s worse than that. It’s not just that they don’t tell us what we need to know, it’s the material they do offer us instead that we’d really be better off not knowing, or is at best is a waste of our time.

Mary and I watch the local news on the ABC affiliate KCRG that always has an ABC News promo before it feeds into the ABC Evening News (when we switch to the PBS Newshour). I became so appalled at ABC’s choice of content that I took notes for a couple of nights.

The unifying theme throughout ABC’s presentation seems to be a play on our emotions -- 15 minutes or more of drama designed to frighten us, increasing our fears and stress, followed by a happy close -- thereby playing with both our adrenalin and our dopamine.

Nearly 100 years ago, Walter Lippmann wrote that the problems of the media,

go back to . . . the failure of self-governing people to . . . [create and organize] a machinery of knowledge. It is because they are compelled to act without a reliable picture of the world, that [they] make such small headway against . . . violent prejudice, apathy, preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for sideshows and three legged calves. . . . [A]ll [of government’s] defects can, I believe, be traced to this one.

ABC’s choice of frightening subjects is mostly a herd of three-legged calves interrupted occasionally by, "Oh, look at the squirrel."

Here are some illustrations.

A snowfall is a "deadly" storm. The early use of drones becomes a drone "scare." A White House intruder is a security "scare." Notwithstanding the absence of any supporting video, a pre-verdict Ferguson was a "State of Emergency." We were shown an "alarming image" worthy of a "Holiday Alert" that holiday gift packages are about to be stolen from our homes. There was a "mystery" involving a beauty queen. And the happy close? A couple given $14 million for their idea involving digital photos -- with the lottery-like closing line, "Is your idea next?"

Celebrity news is regularly given time -- the cancellation of Bill Cosby's show, Bono's auto accident, and the death of Motown singer Jimmy Ruffin – items more appropriate for "Entertainment Tonight," or other video versions of People magazine.

The next night was babies’ night. We were warned that our babies fingers might be cut off by their strollers. Another "warning for parents" was the segment headlined "Spying on Your Children," which informed us that the Russians were hacking into our security cameras and streaming the content of our baby monitors. We were told that the car crash tests' results were "the worst ever seen," truly "alarming." And then, as if to drive the point home, and add another threat to our survival to the long list of ABC-engendered fears, we were shown video of "Car Demolishing a Building" -- "an entire building demolished in seconds in a cloud of dust."

But most of the 20 minutes that night was consumed by Mike Nichols' death and a tribute to his life -- with occasional references to the fact he had been married to ABC's Diane Sawyer. That evening’s so-called "news" both opened and closed with lengthy tributes and film clips regarding Nichols.

By contrast, here's what the "PBS Newshour" included that first night: "A look at the Gulf oil spill after the cameras had gone"; "Will arming school administrators protect students?"; "What's next for NSA reform in Congress?"; "Protecting Afghanistan's Buddhist Heritage"; and "Debating the implications if Obama acts on immigration." There are also differences among commercial networks.

CBS took a positive, factual approach to the Ferguson story, offered data and insight about "cyber shopping" and Amazon's 15,000 robots filling orders, a significant Supreme Court case regarding threatening speech, and AAA research regarding the safe driving records of those over 65. The network had been tracking remedial programs for high school dropouts and reported on one more.

You may recall that I earlier mentioned that “We have been witnessing, simultaneously, concentration of media control and diffusion of citizen choice and power.”

So what’s the good news?

When I joined the FCC the world had one communications satellite and three dishes. The number expanded, as first military, and then governments and large corporations, like AT&T, used them. By the time the price of a dish had dropped from $3 million, to $300 thousand, to $35 thousand, the cable industry was using them. When it reached $3000 they started popping up like mushrooms in farmers’ yards, and soon thereafter the smaller, pizza-sized little dishes, at $300 were installed on 15 million homes and apartments.

We’re used to sales when prices are cut by 10%, or maybe even 50%. The reduction in price on communications technology is what I refer to as the 99.9%-off sale.

Such radical reductions in size and price mean that more people can have more electronics, that they can carry, and connect, from more places. There are almost as many mobile phones on Earth as people – 50% more than the number who have toilets.

Similar reductions in size and price, plus increased competition, and the existence of the Internet, mean that large and small media companies alike are entering many more media modes. Advertising is increasingly focused on telling consumers a company’s Web page address. Newspapers’ and magazines’ online editions present video as well as text and pictures. TV stations’ Web pages have text and transcripts. Companies like Netflix and Amazon don’t just sell others’ DVDs; they stream the content over the Internet – and compete with movie studios making their own movies.

There are over 1 million apps available for the iPhone. Television and radio programs offer streaming and podcasts. Nor are we limited to our local newspapers.

President Johnson had two teletype machines in his office, the AP news and the UPI. Both were the size of small refrigerators. Today, on my shirt-pocket iPhone, smaller than a pack of cards, I display links to the news not only from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, but from Al Jazeera, BBC, the Guardian of London, Le Monde in Paris, the Kurds’ news service Rudaw, and the South China Morning Post, among others.

But there’s another side to this coin. These changes not only give us access to more of others’ information in more forms, they also make it possible for us to enter this world of media with our own content.

We can become book publishers – writing, publishing and promoting the sale of our own books, and make them available through Amazon and other outlets, for little or no money. We can publish our own equivalent of a newspaper – in the form of a Web page, Facebook page, blog, or Twitter account. We can own and be the star of our own streaming radio or television station, by using YouTube – also free.

And this is where you, and the League of Women Voters, have a role to play. There are a number of models and proposals for a way out of our current “state of the media.”

We don’t have time to explore all of them – and none of them is an all-purpose answer anyway.

But something we can do is what I’ll call “citizen journalism.” Local newspapers with fewer and fewer reporters need all the help they can get. Our fellow citizens need more reporting from public bodies – school boards, county boards of supervisors -- than the papers can provide. Citizens need more identification, and exploration, of the major local public policy issues.

That is a major contribution that your organization, and each of you individually, can provide and to some extent already are providing.

Pick a unit of government, or office within it, or a local issue that interests you. Attend all the meetings, many of which won’t have a reporter present. Write up and post on your Web page or blog what you think is most significant about what you’ve observed or uncovered. Learn the ways you can promote it to more potential readers or viewers.

As some of you may know, that’s what I’ve been doing over the past six months, tracking the administration of our new UI President Bruce Harreld, providing links to almost all of the news stories and opinion pieces of relevance for anyone interested in this historical period of the University of Iowa.

In short, we can do more than merely bemoan the current state of the media. We can actually do something to make it better – right here in River City.

# # #