Sunday, July 08, 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: "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"

# # #

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

# # #

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

# # #

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.

# # #

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Democrats Should Choose Norris

Introduction: If Iowa Democrats hope to win the governorship in 2018, their strategy needs to change. Most recently, their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, carried only 6 of Iowa's 99 counties. In 2014 it was even worse. Their last candidate for governor, Jack Hatch, carried only one county, Johnson -- known to Iowans in the western part of the state as "the People's Republic of Johnson County."

Whoever gets the nod in the Democrats' June 5 primary (or June 16 convention) will have the support of virtually all the state's Democrats, and access to the necessary money, for the general election on November 6. Thus, the issue for Democrats voting in the primary really ought to be, not who can win the primary, but who has the best possibility of winning the general election. Iowans registered as Republicans have an edge over the number of Democrats. But the largest political party by far is the "No Party" party, the independents. Whoever is chosen ought to be able to get the majority of votes from Hillary's 6 counties. The question is who can pile up the most votes in the other 93 counties.

Among the five candidates, my intuition, after a lifetime of politics, is that John Norris would do the best of the five in those 93 counties.

But there is a more powerful reason, almost unrelated to partisan politics, why Democrats Should Choose Norris. And that is the subject of this piece in the Press-Citizen.

N.J.


Democrats Should Choose Norris

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 23, 2018, p. 7A

Why do you make primary choices? How do you choose from six quality governor candidates?

Politically? Win-at-any-cost? Even so, winners of primaries aren’t always best for general elections.

The best fundraiser? Party officer who’s “earned it”? One with most “Elvis”? Youngest? Oldest? Tallest? Best looking?

Looking for comfort, compatibility? Someone your age, gender, socio-economic class, race, religion? Policy positions closest to yours?

Understandable, after this legislative year, for a Democrat to focus on a winning governor and House candidates.

But once they’re there? Being a wise, compassionate, effective, politically savvy, accomplished governor requires very different qualities and skills from those of a winning candidate.

What are they?

For an Iowa governor: someone with whom Iowa farmers are comfortable; experience in the governor's office and Iowa agencies; party leadership; understanding Iowa's relationship to federal government, international markets and organizations

By these standards? It’s John Norris, hands down. He was a fifth-generation farm boy in southwest Iowa; been chief of staff to an Iowa governor, federal cabinet member, and congressman; chair of Iowa's Utilities Board and Iowa Democratic Party; presidential appointee to federal and United Nations' agencies; worked with a U.S. senator. Experienced at winning, and one fine guy.

Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City

# # #

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Sinclair TV Defies Originalism

Introduction: Opponents of Sinclair Broadcasting's drive to acquire the Tribune stations, moving it from "biggest broadcaster" to "even bigger," have tried to frame arguments within the wink-wink loose standards of today's FCC and Congress. By law, local stations are responsible for their local news and opinion. Sinclair management requires local stations' anchors to read pro-Trump commentary from Sinclair headquarters as if it was the opinion of the local anchor/station. That would seem to be a violation.

As serious as that is, it pales in comparison with the "original intent" of those creating the American system of broadcast regulation. I'm not a supporter of knee-jerk "original intent" interpretations of the Constitution by some Supreme Court Justices. But since many conservatives are "originalists," presumably including some supporting this Sinclair power grab, it seemed only fair to measure Sinclair's station ownership and performance against the regulatory intentions of those creating our first Radio Acts.

(1) The first document, below, is an op ed column in The Gazette (as published). (2) Below it is the text submitted (that needed to be edited for space). (3) Below that is a column appearing in The Gazette on the same day (and page) written by the general manager of the local (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Sinclair station. (4) At the bottom of the page are samples of emails commenting on the column. (Usually, and in this case, I do not engage in prolonged exchanges with those criticizing a column, in the belief that (a) visitors to the blog are fully capable of coming to their own judgments, and (b) since I've had my say, those who wish to provide a civil response should be granted as much.) -- N.J.

Sinclair TV Defies Originalism

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6

Sinclair Communications holds the most TV station licenses of any broadcaster. It wants more, reaching over 70 percent of American homes. [Sinclair Broadcasting Group Headquarters, Baltimore (Hunt Valley), Maryland; photo credit: Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun]

To put this power grab in context, there’s a useful lesson from Supreme Court justices’ interpretation of the Constitution – Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, and Hugo Black.

It’s called “textualism,” or “originalism.” Originalists believe judges can’t say a word “means just what I choose it to mean” – what it has come to mean, or what they wish it meant. A word means what those who wrote it meant by it, at the time they wrote it.

Suppose we apply “originalism” to Sinclair. What was the intent of those drafting laws regulating broadcasters?

New technology leaves us struggling for vocabulary, let alone understanding. Automobiles were “horseless carriages;” radio was“wireless” telegraphy.

Given the mystery and miracle of 1920s radio, it’s remarkable Herbert Hoover (then Commerce Secretary) could see radio’s “ability . . . to furnish entertainment, instruction, widening vision of national problems and national events.” Even U.S. broadcasters, agreed with Hoover that, “it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.”

The Radio Act permitted “the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof . . . for limited periods of time, under licenses [which shall not] be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.” The standard for granting and renewing licenses was “the public interest.”

In 1932 a federal appellate court upheld the Commission’s denial of renewal for a broadcaster who regularly defamed government, officials, labor, and various religions. If broadcasters are permitted to “inspire political distrust and civic discord,” it wrote, radio “will become a scourge.”

Airtime for one candidate required “equal opportunity” for opponents. Personal attacks generated opportunity to reply. A “fairness doctrine” didn’t control content but demanded treatment of public issues and presentation of a range of views.

As early as 1926, when Congress was debating the Radio Act, Texas Congressman Luther Johnson warned, “American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations.” If “a single selfish group is permitted to . . . dominate these broadcasting stations . . . woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”

As late as 1970 no licensee could operate more than one AM, FM, and TV in one market. The national limit was seven AM, seven FM, and five VHF TV stations. Rules prohibited ownership combining stations and newspapers.

With broadcasters’ pressure on Congress and the FCC, regulations change. Original intent does not. Were it followed today, Sinclair would not have the licenses it does, let alone more. It would not dictate “local” commentaries to stations legally responsible for their content. And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate, or ideology.

• Nicholas Johnson served as commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from 1966-1973. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org
_______________

Column As Submitted
[before excellent editing/tightening improvements by Gazette Insight Editor, Todd Dorman, in published version, above]

Sinclair Communications holds the most TV station licenses of any broadcaster. It wants more, enough to reach over 70% of American homes.

To put this media power grab in context for TV watchers, there’s a useful lesson from some Supreme Court justices’ interpretation of the Constitution – Justices like Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, and even occasionally my mentor, Justice Hugo Black.

It’s called “textualism,” or “originalism.” Unlike Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, originalists believe judges can’t say a word “means just what I choose it to mean” – what it has come to mean, or what they wish it meant. A word means what those who wrote it meant by it, at the time they wrote it. Judges are bound by the “original” meaning of the “text,” the original intent of the drafters.

Suppose we apply to Sinclair the idea of “originalism.” What was the original intent of those drafting laws regulating broadcasters?

New technology leaves us struggling, even for vocabulary, let alone understanding. Automobiles were defined by their lack of horses (“horseless carriages”); radio by its lack of telegraph wires (“wireless” telegraphy).

Given the mystery and miracle of 1920s radio, it’s remarkable that Iowa’s own President Herbert Hoover (then Commerce Secretary) could see radio’s “ability . . . to furnish entertainment, instruction, widening vision of national problems and national events.” Other countries agreed, and established public corporations to operate stations. They, and even U.S. broadcasters, agreed with Hoover that, “it is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter."

The Radio Act declared its purpose to permit “the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof . . . for limited periods of time, under licenses [which shall not] be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.” The standard for granting, and renewing, licenses was “the public interest.”

It was a kind of cross between private use of public lands, and politicians’ reelections – use, if benefitting the public, but not ownership; officials’ fixed terms, reelection earned.

In 1932 a federal appellate court upheld the Commission’s denial of renewal for a broadcaster who regularly defamed government, officials, labor, and various religions. If broadcasters are permitted to “inspire political distrust and civic discord,” it wrote, radio “will become a scourge.”

Airtime for one candidate required “equal opportunity” for all opponents. Personal attacks generated opportunity to reply. A “fairness doctrine” didn’t control content but demanded treatment of public issues and presentation of a range of views.

As early as 1926, when Congress was debating the Radio Act, Texas Congressman Luther Johnson presciently warned, “American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations.” If “a single selfish group is permitted to . . . dominate these broadcasting stations . . . woe be to those who dare to differ with them. It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people.”

As late as 1970 no licensee could operate more than one AM, FM, and TV in a single market. The limit nationally was 7 AM, 7 FM, and 5 VHF TV stations. Diversity of viewpoint required banning ownership combining both stations and newspapers.

With broadcasters’ pressure on Congress and the FCC, regulations change with the times. The original intent does not. Were it followed today, Sinclair would not have the licenses it does, let alone more. It would not dictate “local” commentaries to stations legally responsible for their content. And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate, or ideology.
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Nicholas Johnson served as commissioner, Federal Communications Commission, 1966-1973. www.nicholasjohnson.org, FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org
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Local Journalists Guide Sinclair Stations

Glen Callanan [General Manager, Sinclair station KGAN-TV2, Cedar Rapids]
The Gazette, April 14, 2018, p. A6

The editorial in the April 5 edition of The Gazette “News Consumers can help fight fake news” provided insight into how to protect against false information. That editorial pointed out KGAN CBS2 News and KFXA Fox 28 News here in Cedar Rapids are owned or operated by Sinclair Broadcasting.

We would like to remind your readers and our viewers that CBS2 and Fox 28 produce more than 33 hours of local news every week. As part of our newscasts we do air clearly labeled commentary provided by our parent company Sinclair Broadcasting. These commentaries account for roughly 8 minutes per week. Decisions about what to air and when to air it are made right here in our own newsroom. Our hardworking producers, reporters, photographers, anchors and a host of others work every day to bring our viewers the most up-to date, factually balanced stories from right here in the Corridor, our state, our nation and the world.

In just the last couple of years, CBS2/Fox 28 news has won multiple national and regional awards for our local news coverage from the Society of Professional Journalists, Upper Midwest Emmy, RTDNA Edward R. Murrow Regional Awards and the Iowa Broadcast News Association. Our entirely locally produced news public affairs show, “Iowa in Focus” had a run of more than 100 episodes focusing on issues relevant to Iowans including in-depth political reporting throughout 2016 and 2017.

We are also deeply involved in our community, providing support to community events and charities. Our station has a core belief in making an impact to improve our community. The Pay It Forward with Impact campaign is one example. In 2017, we began a twice a month series that features someone who gives back to the community. We tell their story and donate $300 in their name to a charity of their choice. Last year $7,200 was donated to charities such as the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, Camp Courageous and the Cedar Valley Humane Society among others. We are looking forward to helping more charities in 2018.

Sinclair has made a significant investment in our local news operations over the last few years which have allowed us to better produce our local newscasts. This includes equipment that improved the way we cover news, as well as adding jobs to a growing newsroom. When it comes to covering local news on a day-to-day basis, it is our people who live, work and play right here in the Corridor who make it their mission to uncover and report on the stories that affect our viewers.
• Glen Callanan is general manager of CBS2/Fox 28 in Cedar Rapids.

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Sample of Email Responses

While I agree with the substance of your argument about the abuses, current and proposed, of the Sinclair operation, dipping into originalism seems risky business in the long-run.

Such is companion, in its demonstrated application by Scalia, et al, to be a companion to biblical literalism. Once published, texts take on a life of their own. They can only be interpreted by live human beings in their present context. History changes the context of the original version of document, published or unpublished.

Freedom of the press in the 18th century did not anticipate the likes of Sinclair, or anything like electronic media. Dealing with such requires wholesale reinterpretation based on current realities and assumptions about the common welfare.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Robin Kash
Cedar Rapids

I read your article in the Gazette today with some interest. As someone who follows the media closely I have several comments on your thoughts.

First let me point you to the editorial by Glen Callahan, also in the Gazette today. He did a nice job of explaining Sinclair's role in their local news coverage. I think the appropriate thought that he presented was that the "origin" of local news comes from his newsroom and not from Sinclair's corporate HQ.

Interesting comment "Originalists believe judges can't say a word means just what I chose it to mean - what it has come to mean or what they wish it to mean". It appears to me today that we have a preponderance of judges who ignore the Executive power of the President when it doesn't suit their political view and then support it when it does. The number of lawsuits regarding Visa and immigration issues reveals a totally corrupt judiciary that have decided "the words selectively mean what I chose it to mean". They decided the same issues differently.

What's more amazing though is the criticism of Sinclair "to dictate local commentary". it doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize the major networks, CNN, MSNBC and to a lesser degree the other networks singular hatred of President Trump. All responsible media studies in the past couple of years reveal a 90% negative coverage of President Trump. Claiming Sinclair is dictating news is preposterous when compared to the collusion between the major networks and national newspaper.

"And it could not be a propagandist for a single official, candidate , or ideology." Do you think anyone couldn't figure out which candidate the MSM supported in the election and everyday since? The bias is so loud people seems not to actually hear it over the din.

The free part of the press is almost unrecognizable today.

BTW the "Fairness Doctrine" was a way to stand on the neck of the free press and a means to limit some people's speech. It was not fair or useful in a free society.

Gary Ellis

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Making Sense of Trump's Syria Attack

Why Now?
"A republic, if you can keep it."

-- Benjamin Franklin
reply when asked what
government the Constitutional
Convention created

Our responsibilities as the citizens of a democratic state are a heavy burden, but one we willingly bear.

The pillars of our democracy are under as much stress today as I can recall ever existing during the past 50 years or so. From within our borders and without, there are attacks on the integrity of our media, elections, judges, FBI, political opponents, public education, and the norms of presidential governance and behavior.

Hiring and firing of presidential appointees, financial and sexual scandals, presidential decisions announced by tweet one day and reversed the next, special counsel and congressional investigations related to the president, and more, come at us like the floods of spring. Dramatic revelations and stories that, alone, might normally provide headlines for a week, disappear by nightfall, smothered by those that follow.

The first requirement of our role as public citizens is that we give at least some time every day to informing ourselves, and trying to make some sense out of what our public officials are doing -- and failing to do. These days one could say, "If you're not confused you haven't been paying attention."

So it is with Trump's announcement, and military attack on Syria, last evening (April 13, 2018).

Here's my effort to suggest what may be, if not the only factor, at least one of the motivating factors in President Trump's attack on Syria -- his decision to do what he did when he did it>

I believe my offering can best be conveyed with four videos -- if taken all together, and in this sequence.

(1) The first is German public television's documentary, "Dangerous Ties." It describes Trump's business partners and practices, the role of Russians in his finances, and other matters now being addressed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, following the acquisition of documents from Trump's lawyer. Matt Apuzzo, "F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump's Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen; Trump Calls It 'Disgraceful,'" New York Times, April 10, 2018, p. A1.

The 44-minute documentary is called "Dangerous Ties: Trump and His Business Partners." It reveals information that attentive American citizens need to know about their president. But it is especially relevant today, in its relation to the Syria attack, given the New York Times headline that, "Trump Sees Inquiry Into Cohen as Greater Threat Than Mueller" (Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman and Eileen Sullivan, New York Times, April 14, 2018, p. A1).

Here it is:



(2) The second is Danny Schechter's 2004 documentary, "Weapons of Mass Deception" (2004), describing the interlocked role of government and media in generating American citizens' support for war (1:38:00). If you watch the whole documentary carefully you will never again watch, or read, news stories of America's wars in the same way. I believe it is essential that citizens of a nation that spends more on its military than the next ten nations combined have at least this much sophisticated understanding regarding news of its nation's military.



(3) The third video is "Wag the Dog" (1997). As is occasionally the case, it provides understanding not as a documentary, but as an entertainment feature film -- at least the first 13 minutes of it. Because it grossed $64,000,000 you may well have seen it twenty years ago. If you didn't you should; if you did you need a refresher. (There doesn't appear to be a good quality copy available for free, but you can get it from Amazon (rent or buy) or Netflix (rent).)

The essential premise of the film for our purposes is that a president, caught up in a sex scandal with an important election looming, turns to a political consultant who proposes the creation of a media story sufficiently powerful to drive reporters away from the president's troubles. After considerable reflection, the consultant concludes the only media story big enough would be the creation of a war -- whether in fact or only in believable fantasy. You can get a suggestion of this theme from the first 33-seconds of this original theatrical trailer:



4. Finally, there are the President's remarks last evening. "President Trump Announces Strikes Against Syria," Voice of America, April 13, 2018 (0:7:40). On Tuesday, April 3, without warning to DOD, veering off topic from a speech on trade, Trump called for an immediate removal of American troops from Syria. The next day, April 4, he was finally briefed by his military advisers and backed off. Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Trump Drops Push for Immediate Withdrawal of Troops From Syria," New York Times, April 5, 2018, p. A12. On April 11 he tweeted, "Get ready Russia, because they [missiles] will be coming, nice and new and 'smart.'" Jonathan Chait, "Trump Uses Social Media to Announce Attack on Syria, Confess to Obstruction of Justice," New York Magazine, April 2018. And by last night (two days later, April 13) they were.

What is the President's mission in Syria; what is his strategy? No one thinks using chemical weapons on one's people is a cool thing to do. But missiles are not a strategy -- especially when following a president's expressed desire to pull out all troops immediately, followed the next day by a reversal of position, and accompanying an express rejection of regime change.

So, why are we there? He has to offer something. It was, he said, because it is "a vital national security interest of the United States," because "the United States . . . is doing what is necessary to protect the American people." What these assertions mean, and why they are true, was left to our imaginations. What can the American people do? He concluded, "Tonight I ask all Americans to say a prayer for our noble warriors."



We will probably never know how much of last evening's missile attack on Syria was about "storming Damascus" and how much about "Stormy Daniels." Clearly, it diverted attention from this weekend's and next week's promotion of James Comey's blockbuster book, A Higher Loyalty, and the revelations of what Michael Cohen and Donald Trump have been cooking up, soon to be revealed in the documents from Cohen's office, home, and hotel room.

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Monday, March 05, 2018

Dorman Enlightens on Law Process

Note: The Todd Dorman column to which this Letter refers has been reproduced at the bottom of this post. This Letter to the Editor of The Gazette was published by the paper, but apparently never entered as a blog post here. A hard copy having been found, along with a Gazette digital version, the Letter is being posted now, March 5, 2018, five years later, "for the record."

"Dorman Enlightens on Law Process"
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, June 29, 2013, p. A5

Todd Dorman’s column is always a good read. But he outdid himself with his investigation and revelations in “Auditor law ‘mystery’ is not” (June 20).

His description of the Iowa legislative process reminds me of my late friend Molly Ivins’ regular commentary regarding what she called the “Texas Ledge” (“I never saw anything funnier than Texas politics”).

Dorman’s column ought to be required reading for students learning from our old filmstrips, “How a bill becomes law.”

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

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The Original Todd Dorman Column

"Solving the Legislative Mystery of the Auditing Auditors"
Todd Dorman
The Gazette, June 20, 2013

Some questions are tough to answer. Why are we here? What does it all mean?

How did a provision get tucked into a budget bill at the Statehouse?

The provision, in this case, allows county auditors to actually audit county accounts and transactions. It adds 27 words to the Iowa Code, and hands Linn County Auditor Joel Miller a prize that he could not win through a nasty three-year court battle with the Board of Supervisors. The auditor may begin auditing July 1.

Those words were added to a roughly 40-page budget bill funding state government administration and regulation. It went through a joint House-Senate subcommittee, two appropriations committees, passed both chambers, went to a conference committee, passed both chambers again, and then on to the governor, who signed it Monday.

And yet, this week, news of auditing auditors hit these parts like a bolt from the blue. Its conception unclear, perhaps immaculate.

“Honestly, I don’t know where that came from, and I wasn’t aware of that specific change until I read about it in the paper,” said Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, when I called him Wednesday morning. He sits on the subcommittee where the bill began. And he wasn't the only lawmaker I contacted who was unaware of the provision.

“No, I know we didn’t have a discussion in committee," said Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, who was the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "I didn’t have anyone talk to me for or against it outside of the committee."

By Wednesday afternoon, Staed was piecing the mystery together. He went back through the records and found that the auditor provision was added to the bill during a March 14 subcommittee meeting. The stated intent at the time, he said, was to allow auditors to keep tabs on federal social services dollars and flood relief bucks. But the Linn County power struggle never came up.

No written amendment was filed. The idea was simply added to the bill on a voice vote, Staed said.

“It was kind of a magically appeared thing,” Staed said. “Makes you want to be more cautious next time.”

Staed’s explanation fits the paper trail. On March 12, the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency issued an analysis of the administration and regulation budget bill with no mention of auditing auditors. When a new analysis arrived on March 14, the language was included. And it stayed in until it became law.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Robins, who co-chairs the budget subcommittee and floor managed the bill in the Senate, also checked on the history and said in an email that a subcommittee staffer noted a discussion on flood relief auditing and a voice vote.

But who proposed it? House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said it was Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, a subcommittee member and chair of the Local Government Committee. “That’s my understanding,” said Paulsen, who frowns on putting non-spending policy proposals into budget bills, but supported allowing auditors to audit.

Schultz called me while he took a short break from field work on his farm. “I guess I’m kind of excited that somebody noticed I did something,” Schultz said.

Schultz said he’s been concerned about issues surrounding county mental health funding and how it’s being spent. “Who is watching the money?” Schultz said. “I asked around and found out that county auditors can’t audit.”

Surprised, Schultz offered up his simple idea to change that. He said he had no knowledge of the Linn County dispute.

So one lawmaker noticed what he saw as a problem and offered a solution. But almost no one noticed his solution until it became law. Mystery solved.

These things happen in the Legislature. Among the hundreds of bills and amendments moving around the joint, surprises are always possible, make that probable. And as surprises go, this isn’t going to jolt the course of Iowa history.

But it is a significant change, one that probably deserved additional legislative discussion and public scrutiny. I think it’s a good change. Letting auditors audit puts another set of eyes on taxpayer bucks. Now we just need sharper eyes in the Legislature.
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Sunday, March 04, 2018

Bars, Students Should be Thankful

Note: A Letter to the Editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 3, 2013, was inadvertently not reproduced in FromDC2Iowa at the time and so has been added now, March 5, 2017.

Bars, Students Should Be Thankful
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 3, 2013, p. A8

Bars are in the business of profiting from the sale of alcohol. Those under 21 are legally prohibited from buying, possessing, or consuming alcohol. The most logical and easily administered standard would be to keep those under 21 from entering bars, as is done elsewhere.

Instead, Iowa City enables bar owners to profit maximize, and those who cannot legally purchase alcohol to be in their bars 20 hours a day. They are excluded only from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's scarcely "21-only."

Our City Council's approach is exceedingly generous to bar owners and their student customers alike, something for which they should be grateful rather than protesting.

To keep the underage, 20-hours-a-day bar access, you vote "No." To repeal it you vote "Yes." So voters may be confused. They may not even vote. But few are undecided.

So why write more?

Because there are a couple of really bizarre bits of rhetoric the controversy has inspired that need examination.

One is that people who are legally precluded from purchasing what a business is selling are deprived of their "human rights" if they are kept out of such establishments for the four hours each day when they cause the most mischief.

There are all kinds of laws restricting those underage from, among other things, getting married, driving cars, buying guns, performing in porn videos, purchasing cigarettes -- and yes, alcohol. Never, before now, has any been considered a human-rights violation.

The other is that because the drinking age should be 18, rather than 21, therefore it's OK for underage students to violatre the law and drink alcohol. I follow that argument "all but the 'therefore.'"

Until they persuade the Legislature of their position, (1) keeping those under 21 out of bars is logical, (2) permitting them in bars until 10 p.m. is generous, and (3) leaving them there until 2 a.m. is just asking for trouble -- the trouble we got the last time we tried it.

See, "Underage Drinking As Human Right? I Don't Think So," and links.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

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