Friday, February 16, 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: "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

"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,

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities,

John Logsdon,, and on Twitter,

Josiah Pickard,

. . . 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"

# # #

UI Funding Worse Than Thought

President Bruce Harreld has shared some numbers regarding financial support the UI receives from Iowans and their elected representatives – with the conclusion that therefore "the university must increase its tuition." Bruce Harreld, "UI Must Press Forward Despite Disinvestment in Higher Education," The Daily Iowan, February 13, 2018. [Photo credit: Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan.]

Putting aside, as the old line has it, "I followed him all but the ‘therefore'" regarding tuition increases, the numbers cried out for more analysis. That analysis suggests the Iowa Legislature’s abandonment of higher education (while simultaneously bemoaning the shortage of skilled workers and exodus of young Iowans) is much worse than even President Harreld thinks it is. Our representatives have essentially transformed what Iowans once happily supported, and proudly called SUI -- The State University of Iowa -- into just another (at least 90%) private university.

He reports that, since 1998 (20 years ago), the total state budget has increased from $4.36 billion to $7.26 billion, while the UI’s appropriation declined from $223 million to $216 million. Meanwhile, enrollment increased from 27,871 to 33,564.

To make sense of those numbers, it is helpful to consider the impact of inflation, increase in the number of students, the appropriation per student, and the UI’s percentage share of the total state budget.

What cost you $1.00 in 1998 now sells for $1.50. You can’t meaningfully compare an appropriation of $223 million in 1998 with $216 million in 2018 – as bad as a $7 million reduction may look. You must consider inflation. A $223 million appropriation 20 years ago would be $334.9 million in 2018 dollars. The shortfall has not been $7 million, it has been nearly $120 million!

As a share of the state’s total budget the UI has dropped from 5.1% to 2.97%.

Comparing the appropriation per student for both years also requires an inflation adjustment. In 1998 the state appropriation was $8001.15 per student; this year it is $6435.47. Again, this is not merely a reduction of $1565.68; after inflation, it is a reduction from $12,016.12 -- $5580.66.


For much more on this subject, and its consequences for the State of Iowa, see, Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa’s Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research," FromDC2Iowa, May 5, 2014.

# # #

Thursday, February 15, 2018

School Shootings: What You Can Do

We’re told those 17 Stoneman Douglas High School students killed on Valentine’s Day in Broward County, Florida, were the victims of the eighteenth school shooting during the first six weeks of 2018. [Photo credit: Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles logo.]

We feel helpless after each school shooting, and in many ways, we are. It is all but impossible to identify and stop a single individual, operating alone, free to select the time and place of carnage, from causing a good deal of it.

But there are things we can do.

(1) Start Early. There are many moral, ethical, and compassionate reasons for giving every child a fair start in life. But one of those reasons is that waiting to act until there are signs a child is a potential mass killer can be too late – as it was with Nikolas Cruz.

Make sure no child feels left out – or picked on. Encourage understanding and acceptance by teachers and students of those of different race, ethnicity, background, socio-economic class and abilities. Look for young children who are shy, seem to have no friends, have challenges and no support (or worse) at home, suffer from depression, are angry and discouraged, feel like they “don’t belong,” and have no adult they can turn to.

Don’t suspend, or expel, students for their behavior without first finding, and doing something about, the causes of that behavior. That’s not easy to do, especially in schools with large student populations (like Stoneman Douglas’ 3000) and inadequate resources. But even using students’ names while offering a kind word can go a long way and pay enormous future dividends.

(2) Ask questions. You have a right to know what your own school district is doing about (a) getting informed, and acting, regarding students showing signs of potential mass violence, (b) creating and informing teachers and students about what they should do in emergencies (including shootings), and running sufficient drills to make sure they can do it, and (c) maintaining building security at an optimum level – enough to be safe, while not unnecessarily increasing students’ anxieties.

(3) Commonsense gun controls. There are probably many reasons why the United States has far and away more gun deaths than other countries from mass shootings at schools. But clearly one of the major distinctions is the relative ease with which those who wish to create this carnage can acquire their weapon of choice: an AR-15 – as Nikolas Cruz did.

Find out what your federal and state senators and representatives have done, or refused to do, about the many proposed commonsense gun control measures opposed by the National Rifle Association.

Have they taken leadership on these issues, spoken out, written and introduced legislation? Signed on to legislation introduced by others? If they haven’t written or signed onto such legislation, have they at least voted for it?

Or, have they done the opposite? Have they advocated the NRA line, introduced its legislation, signed onto it, or at least voted for it – while opposing others’ commonsense suggestions?

Find out. And then work and vote for those who will help curtail, rather than perpetuate, this carnage of our children.

No one of us can make all these shootings stop. But here are three things you and I can do to reduce their number.

# # #

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Religious Rights and Civil Wrongs on Campus

NOTE: This blog post does not constitute "legal advice." It does not even rise to the level of a "legal opinion" derived from legal research. It is merely an informal, uninformed exploration of some questions the dispute suggests to the author. If you are personally involved in, or affected by, litigation related to the issues discussed, you should consult a lawyer. — Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, Jan. 20, 2018

UPDATE on Federal Court proceeding: Federal District Court Judge Stephanie Rose granted plaintiffs, Business Leaders in Christ, a temporary injunction on January 23, 2018. This will permit the BLC an opportunity today (January 24) to participate in the UI "recruitment fair" and sign up additional members. Note that this is not a final decision in this case. It only applies to the next 90 days. It does, however, require that the judge has rejected any prejudgment that there is no way the plaintiffs could possibly win on the merits (not that they will win). — N.J., Jan. 24, 2018

Additional Contents


How the University of Iowa Became 'Congress'"

Newspaper Coverage and Related Matter

A member of a University of Iowa student organization that calls itself Business Leaders in Christ (BLC), asserts that, "put simply, the school is discriminating against our group because it doesn’t like our Christian beliefs." The University insists it’s simply enforcing the legal and regulatory human and civil rights of LGBTQ students. [Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Des Moines Register, December 14, 2017; and Ira Lacher, "Op-ed left out important facts," Des Moines Register, December 22, 2017.]

What that student "put simply" is now a federal district court case. Business Leaders in Christ v. University of Iowa, U.S. District Court, S.D. Iowa, Eastern Div'n, Civil Action No. 17-cv-00080-SMR-SBJ, Memorandum in Support of Application for Preliminary Injunction Oral Argument Requested (Expedited relief before January 24, 2018 requested), December 13, 2017; Declaration of Hannah Thompson; Declaration of Kimberlee W. Colby; kDeclaratiion of Jacob Estell; Declaration of Eric Baxter.

In this age of political divisiveness — "us" vs. "them" — few political movements, if any, can resist using various forms of an often successful litigation strategy. For some, the "them" are the "billionaires and corporations."

In this case, the "them" are what the plaintiffs' financial backers, and those of similar persuasion, have at times asserted are one or more of the following: elitist, liberal, politically correct, ivory-tower, anti-Christian college faculty and students.

So who are the "us," the financial and legal backers of BLC? It’s a group called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — perhaps best known for its work on the Hobby Lobby case. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, 573 U.S. ___ (2014).

Here’s how The American Prospect describes the organization:
By choosing cases that will . . . slow the progression of same-sex marriage, critics contend, the fund has become ideological. The money seems to point in that direction. . . In 2012, the Becket Fund received almost a quarter of a million dollars from DonorsTrust, a shadowy middleman used to funnel money from benefactors like Charles and David Koch to conservative think tanks and advocacy groups. (The Becket Fund declined repeated requests for comment about its work and funding.)
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, "The Spirit and the Law; How the Becket Fund became the leading advocate for corporations’ religious rights," The American Prospect, June 18, 2014.

Thus, at the outset we need to recognize that this is not what one might normally think of as a "lawsuit." This is not two corporations suing each other because they can't resolve their differences; a consumer suing one of them; or a suit for damages suffered from personal injury in an automobile accident.

This lawsuit at least raises the possibility that it is but a single case in a nationwide political and ideological effort to make the case that (a) Christianity is under siege, and that (b) higher education is engaged in brainwashing young minds with socialism, liberal ideology, and agnostic to atheist religious views — including acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Indeed, it is even possible that Becket may have been involved in some way with the creation of the BLC, shortly before this conflict arose, in anticipation of a federal court case. I have no way of knowing if that occurred or not. Plaintiffs allege the organization has eight-to-ten members. I've not seen their names, and even if 10 that's 3/100ths of 1% of the student body. Moreover, BLC's filings in the case include a document making reference to a prior controversy at the University of Iowa nearly identical to this one. Declaration of Kimberlee W. Colby.

An effort to "follow the money" in this case is a story all its own. But with some exceptions, who is behind a law suit and why is of little relevance to the legal rights of the parties. Even serial killers are entitled to their constitutional rights. And Becket and BLC members are as well, almost regardless of motives.

Student organizations can increase their membership at the University of Iowa’s "recruitment fairs." The next one is scheduled for January 24-25, 2018. Because the controversy has resulted in the decertification of BLC as a student organization, it will not be able to participate. Therefore, Becket is asking the court for a "preliminary injunction" — by which one assumes it means the reinstatement of plaintiff as a student organization prior to January 24.

The primary requirement for preliminary injunction relief is a demonstration of the probability the plaintiff will ultimately win a permanent injunction.

Becket argues that BLC will ultimately win reinstatement, because plaintiff’s constitutional rights have been violated by the University.

Becket sites the First Amendment; but because it only limits "Congress" ("Congress shall make no law . . .") does it even apply to the University of Iowa? Yes; for the reasons why the University would be included in what the Founders called "Congress," see the Appendix, below.

What might be of relevance in the First Amendment? There are primarily three clauses (plus another three discussed below): The University "shall make no law ["law" includes "regulations"] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. . .."

Although the BLC's student spokesperson believes the University "doesn’t like our Christian beliefs," it’s important to distinguish between (a) beliefs that are held by students but not expressed, (b) the expression of students' beliefs in speech or writing, and (c) actions driven by those beliefs.

The University could not even know, and certainly does not restrict, students’ unarticulated beliefs or other thoughts — whether regarding religion or other subjects.

The University neither restricts students’ expression of their beliefs, nor could it legally do so — subject to some exceptions, such as disruption of the University's educational mission, or the provocation of "imminent lawless action."

This case involves BLC's actions — namely, its refusal to permit one of its members, who is openly gay, from running for a leadership position in the organization. It contends that student organizations, and student religious organizations most of all, must be permitted to retain what it believes is their constitutional right to insist that its leaders share the mission of the organization and the beliefs of its members.
Consider this hypothetical. From 1844 to 1978 the Mormon Church withheld from African Americans the opportunity to enter its priesthood — with theological arguments to support its position. Max Perry Mueller, "Is Mormonism Still Racist?" Slate, March 2, 2012. Assume that, prior to 1978, the University of Iowa had the same human and civil rights policies it has today. If the BLC's rationale were to be applied to that set of facts, could a UI Mormon Students Association successfully insist that it had a constitutional right to bar African American Mormon members from its leadership, while still enjoying the benefits of a UI-certified student organization? If not, why not; what is the distinction?
Note that University has not forbidden the existence of BLC in Iowa City, has not indicated a desire to do so, and probably could not do so. That is not at issue in this case.

This case merely involves whether a student organization at the University of Iowa, insisting on its asserted constitutional right to violate the University's written policies regarding students' human and civil rights (made expressly applicable to student organizations), is nonetheless constitutionally entitled to receive the benefits accorded University-certified student organizations. These benefits include such things as access to meeting rooms, participation in recruitment fairs, and financial support. Registration of Student Organizations ("It is the responsibility of each registered student organization to adhere to the mission of this University, its supporting strategic plan, policies, and procedures.")

All of which brings us to the distinctions between a "public forum" and a "limited public forum."

If the University, or other state institution, makes an auditorium or meeting rooms available to all organizations and members of the public, it has created a "public forum." As such, the institution cannot exclude any individual applicant or group from access to the public forum because of their religious beliefs, ideology or the content of their speech.

But that is not a public institution's only option. It can also create a "limited public forum" — that is, an auditorium or meeting rooms that are only available for designated groups or purposes. For example, use could be limited to "official university functions," or "college or department-sponsored events." That is, in effect, what the University of Iowa has done with regard to students' access to facilities, "recruitment fairs," and financial support. This privileged access is limited to student groups that have been certified as compliant with, among other things, the University's policies regarding individuals human and civil rights.

There is the possibility of some ambiguity in the BLC’s approach to students who identify as LGBTQ.

The BLC seems to accept the University’s Human Rights Policy requirement that BLC welcome all otherwise qualified students to membership regardless of the applicants’ sexual orientation. BLC Website, Membership Process ("The organization accepts anyone at any time throughout the year and will not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or any other factor. However, because it is geared towards business students, the target audience for this organization would be for students already admitted into the Tippie College of Business, pre-business students, or students considering business as a major/minor.")
The University is guided by the precepts that in no aspect of its programs shall there be differences in the treatment of persons because of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, service in the U.S. military, sexual orientation gender identity, associational preferences, or any other classification that deprives the person of consideration as an individual, and that equal opportunity and access to facilities shall be available to all. (emphasis added)
Operations Manual, Ch. 3, Human Rights, Sec. 3.1; and Policies, I. Student Rights, F. University Policy on Human Rights.

The University's enforcement of these requirements is complaint-driven — thereby avoiding the intrusion, administrative difficulty, and excessive costs of investigations into the detailed operations of every student group on campus. Anyone can complain of violations, and if they do the University will inquire into the facts. My guess is that the issue plaintiffs are asserting (the University's prejudice against "Christian beliefs") has either never, or very seldom, arisen before. Thus, it is not surprising that when plaintiffs did undertake an investigation they were able to find what they allege to be the inconsistent enforcement of the human rights standards they are charged with violating. (Obvious examples would be sports teams, or Greek organizations, that limit membership to a single sex. They also found a Muslim organization with standards similar to those of BLC with regard to beliefs of the organization's leaders.) However understandable, this inconsistency in enforcement may be a problem with the University's defense. It may, at a minimum lead to a reexamination, and restatement, of the application of the University's policies regarding human and civil rights.
"U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose pressed UI attorney George Carroll, specifically, on whether UI has addressed allegations it unequally enforced its human rights policy by deregistering Business Leaders in Christ for barring an openly-gay student. The student organization — which goes by BLinC — has argued other UI groups limit membership and leadership to those who agree with their ideals and religious beliefs, including Imam Mahdi, which reserves leadership posts for Shia Muslims and requires they 'refrain from major sins.' 'Has the University of Iowa taken any steps to ensure that organization has modified its constitution?' Rose asked about the Muslim group. Carroll answered, 'No.'" Vanessa Miller, "Federal judge presses University of Iowa on singling out religious student organization," The Gazette, January 19, 2018, p. A1.
It is true that BLC insists there should be a distinction between a certified student organization’s inability to reject members and what should be its freedom to apply stricter standards with regard to its selection of officers of the organization. (Becket argues an analogy to the "ministerial exception," that “a religious group’s 'selection of its ministers is unfettered.'" Brief, above, pp. 21 et seq.)

But even with regard to officers, there is an additional ambiguity in BLC’s position.

On the one hand, there is the suggestion that the organization’s Christian values are at odds with any male student self-identifying as gay –- which, while not precluding that student’s membership, would preclude their sharing leadership as an officer of the organization. (Depending on one's approach to the member-officer distinction, this would constitute a clear violation of the University's Human Rights Policy.)

On the other hand, there seems to be, as well, the profession of BLC’s Christian value that sexual relations outside of a marriage relationship are sinful. It is suggested that while individual occurrences of such a sin would not be disqualifying for BLC leadership (once appropriately atoned for), an open rejection of that value as a restraint on one’s behavior would be disqualifying –- possibly for membership, but certainly for leadership.

The complainant — an openly gay member who wished to be considered for leadership — was told he could not be an officer. It is possible that the BLC decision was grounded, not in the complainant’s sexual orientation status (his outing himself as gay), but rather on his insistence that he intended to continue to pursue sexual relations outside of marriage.

If so, and BLC applies the same standards to straights and gays alike (because sexual promiscuity is not one of the University’s protected human rights), the BLC’s decision would not seem to be a violation of the University’s prohibition of exclusion based on sexual preference.

As promised, not only is this blog post not legal advice, neither does it offer any answers, predictions of the judge's ruling, or proposals for revisions in the University's policies.

Moreover, there are many other issues involved in this case, and the others around the country involving student Christian organizations. It will continue to be interesting to follow how this case evolves over time.

# # #


"Establishment," "Free Exercise," and Why the University is "Congress"

The University of Iowa has denied "Business Leaders in Christ" its status as a student organization because of what the University believes to be BLC's alleged anti-gay policies. WWJD (what would Jesus do)? Apparently, Jesus would sue the University in federal court, because that's what BLC is doing. Neither facts nor law are clear.

Constitution. Let’s start with the Constitution.

Mention "the First Amendment" and most folks (including myself) think "freedom of speech."

Of course, 'free speech" and "press" (media) are not only mentioned there, they are among the fundamental pillars of democracy. [See, "Defending Democracy," December 3, 2017.]

But so are other foundations of our democracy: the right "peaceably to assemble" and to "petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Religious Freedom. In fact, the First Amendment begins, not with freedom of speech, but with freedom of religion:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Is the UI "Congress"? How can the First Amendment, with its restraints on the Congress ("Congress shall make no law . . .") even apply to the University of Iowa?

Simple. The Supreme Court is said to have created this "interpretation" of the word "Congress," by adhering to Humpty Dumpty's assertion that, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean" [Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, chapter 6, "Humpty Dumpty," (1871).]

Being lawyers, the justices’ logical analysis was not, in fact, that simple. Consider the case of Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925). Although the facts involve a fascinating bit of American history giving rise to New York’s punishment of Gitlow for his speech, we’ll jump to the Court’s reasoning. True, the words of the First Amendment don’t apply to New York. However, the words of the Fourteenth Amendment do: "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This led the Court to reason — or leap, as you may see it — to assert:
freedom of speech and of the press which are protected by the First Amendment from abridgment by Congress are among the fundamental personal rights and "liberties" protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States. [268 U.S. 652, 666]
There you have it. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, which are not, by their words, applicable to the states, are simply "incorporated" into the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which clearly is applicable to the states. ["Incorporation of the Bill of Rights,"]

And that is how the University of Iowa became "Congress," forbidden by the First Amendment to either "establish" a religion, or prevent a religion’s "free exercise."

# # #

Some Newspaper Coverage and Related Matter

Naomi Hofferber, "UI expels Christian student club over leadership requirement," The Daily Iowan, December 12, 2017

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 561 U.S. 661 (2010)

” One Iowa Responds to Becket Fund’s Lawsuit Against the University of Iowa,” December 13, 2017;

Vanessa Miller, "Christian Organization: UI Ban Was Religious Bias; University of Iowa Dropped Student Group Over Its Treatment of Gay Member," The Gazette, December 14, 2017, p. A1;

Andy Davis, "Religious Liberty Case: Ousted Christian Student Group Sues UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 14, 2017, p. A1;

Vanessa Miller, "Christian Organization: UI Ban Was Religious Bias; University of Iowa Dropped Student Group Over Its Treatment of Gay Member," The Gazette, December 14, 2017, p. A1

Andy Davis, "Religious Liberty Case: Ousted Christian Student Group Sues UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 14, 2017, p. A1 Michael Fitzgerald, "Christian Group Banned For Kicking Out Gay Student Sues University of Iowa," Towleroad, December 15, 2017;

Vanessa Miller, "Rejected Christian student group wants to recruit at University of Iowa; Motion for injunction says campus recruiting fairs 'crucial' to its existence," The Gazette, December 20, 2017, p. A1

Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Des Moines Register, December 14, 2017 (also, Iowa City Press-Citizen: Jacob Estell, "Why Did UI Single Out Christian Group?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 20, 2017, p. A7)

Zachery Schmidt, "University of Iowa Derecognizes Christian Club Because of 'Sexual Moral Conduct' Rules for Leaders: Suit," The College Fix ("Your Right-Minded News and Commentry"), December 20, 2017

David Pitt, "Iowa lawsuit pits gay rights against religious freedom," Associated Press, January 15, 2018

Leigh Jones, "University of Iowa Forces Christian Group Off Campus," World Magazine, January 17, 2018 (with discussion of cases at UC Hastings Law School (5-4 U.S. Supreme Court, favoring school) and Vanderbilt University)

Vanessa Miller, "Federal judge presses University of Iowa on singling out religious student organization," The Gazette, January 19, 2018, p. A1

Vanessa Miller, "Judge Tells UI to Let Faith Group on Campus For Now; Business Leaders in Christ Was Banned For Bias Against Gay Student," The Gazette, January 24, 2018, p. A1 ("U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose sided with Business Leaders in Christ in granting a temporary injunction, which — for now — reinstates the group’s status as a student organization and allows it to recruit at a fair in the Iowa Memorial Union. 'BLinC’s motion is granted based solely upon the university’s selective enforcement of an otherwise reasonable and viewpoint neutral nondiscrimination policy,' Rose’s order states.")

# # #

Additional labels: religion, civil rights, human rights, LGBTQ, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Business Leaders in Christ, student organizations, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby, Donors Trust, Charles Koch, David Koch, Christianity, Constitution, First Amendment, free exercise of religion, establishment of religion, public forum, limited public forum, Vanessa Miller

# # #

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Taxes Are Last Step Not First

[This blog post contains both a Gazette column, immediately below, a variation that appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the earlier blog post from which both were drawn [Introduction; Follow the Money; Where to Begin], and a sample of two of the comments they produced.]

Decisions Must Come Before Taxes

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, January 3, 2018, p. A5
[link to location on Gazette Web site.]

The worst thing about tax cut discussions is the “Oh, look at the squirrel” distraction from what we should be talking about.

Example? Cutting Iowa employers’ taxes can’t create more jobs when employers say their real problem is a shortage of skilled workers.

If a skilled workforce is needed, it’s time to increase, not slash, funding for the state’s universities and community colleges that create those workers.

What is your vision for America?

Some believe we are a nation of 320 million rugged individualists, where everyone is obliged to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — even those without boots. As Grover Norquist revealed, “My goal is to get government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Others believe those benefiting from a community are morally obliged to care for everyone in the human family. Some cite Jesus’ urging us to provide food, drink, clothing, health care, and prison visits for “the least of these.”

Until we decide whether we want an America of rugged individualism or humanitarianism, little agreement on public policy can follow.

This newspaper is full of reporting and opinion about our plethora of policy challenges — affordable housing, education, environment, flood control, health care, homelessness, hunger, jobs, net neutrality, refugees, transportation, water quality. The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas project explores some answers.

Lynda Waddington recently described Philip Alston’s U.N. report on U.S. poverty and human rights. Read his comparative rankings for U.S. infant mortality (highest), water and sanitation (36th in the world), incarceration rate (highest), youth poverty (highest), poverty and inequality (35th of 37). [Philip Alston, "Statement on Visit to the USA on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights," United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights, December 15, 2017.]

We built this America. Is it the nation and state you want? No? Then fix it. How do we do that? In order:

1. Don’t start with tax talk.

2. Decide whether we’re rugged individualists or humanitarians.

3. Provide enforcement of metrics for the values and society we want — for ourselves and “the least of these” — not just aspirations.

4. Develop public policies that can reach those goals.

5. Calculate their costs.

6. Explore ways of accomplishing goals through education and training, philanthropy and volunteerism, churches and trade unions, corporate policies and cost avoidance, other innovative approaches.

7. Propose a tax code, consistent with community values, sufficient to provide the remaining, necessary public funding. And remember:
• No tax cuts until there are surpluses and declining debt.

• When corporations and the wealthy have trillions of dollars they don’t use, don’t hand them more.

• Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy. If stimulus is needed, give the money to the bottom 80 percent who will spend it.
8. Vote.

Philip Alston reports that only 64 percent of Americans bother to register, and many of them don’t vote. In Canada and the U.K., 91 percent register, 96 percent in Sweden, nearly 99 percent in Japan.

Could that possibly be a part of our problem?
• Nicholas Johnson is a former law professor and commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission. Comments:


Taxes Are Last Step, Not the First, to Making U.S. Great

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2018, p. A6

The worst thing about tax cut discussions is the “Oh, look at the squirrel” distraction from what we should be talking about.

Example? Cutting Iowa employers’ taxes can’t create more jobs when employers say their real problem is a shortage of skilled workers.

If a skilled workforce is needed, it’s time to increase, not slash, funding for the state’s universities and community colleges that create those workers.

What is your vision for America?

Some believe we are a nation of 320 million rugged individualists, where everyone is obliged to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — even those without boots. As Grover Norquist revealed, “My goal is to get government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Others believe those benefiting from a community are morally obliged to care for everyone in the human family. Some cite Jesus’ urging us to provide food, drink, clothing, health care, and prison visits for “the least of these.”

Until we decide whether we want an America of rugged individualism or humanitarianism, little agreement on public policy can follow.

There’s no shortage of policy challenges, such as affordable housing, education, environment, health care, hunger, jobs, net neutrality, refugees, transportation and water quality.

Last month, Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, reported America’s standing among nations: infant mortality (we’re highest), water and sanitation (36th in the world), incarceration rate (highest), poverty and inequality (35th of 37). (Read more:

We built this America. Are the present policies of America, Iowa, and Iowa City what you want? No? Then fix it. How do we do that? In order:

1. Don’t start with tax talk.

2. Decide whether we’re rugged individualists or humanitarians.

3. Provide enforcement of metrics for the values and society we want — for ourselves and “the least of these” — not just aspirations.

4. Develop public policies that can reach those goals.

5. Calculate their costs.

6. Explore ways of accomplishing goals through education and training, philanthropy and volunteerism, churches and trade unions, corporate policies and cost avoidance, other innovative approaches.

7. Propose a tax code, consistent with community values, sufficient to provide the remaining, necessary public funding. And remember:
• No tax cuts until there are surpluses and declining debt.

• When corporations and the wealthy have trillions of dollars they don’t use, don’t hand them more.

• Consumer spending drives 70 percent of the economy. If stimulus is needed, give the money to the bottom 80 percent who will spend it.

8. Vote.

Alston reports that only 64 percent of Americans bother to register, and many of them don’t vote. In Canada and the U.K., 91 percent register, 96 percent in Sweden, nearly 99 percent in Japan.

Could that possibly be a part of our problem?

Nicholas Johnson is a former law professor and commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission.

# # #

Original Blog Post

Why Would You Want to Do That?

Introduction. It's not easy losing weight, and I wanted to share my accomplishment with my doctor.

"Got my weight down to 215 pounds," I proudly said, "and my new goal is 210" -- before I realized what would surely come next. It did.

"Why would you want to do that?" he asked. It was not the first time during the previous near-forty years he'd uttered those words.

If medical treatment was essential he'd provide it. Otherwise, if he thought a patient had a touch of anxiety about their health, he believed some exercise and a sense of calm and well being were often as good as, and always cheaper than, any pills he could prescribe.

He appeared puzzled. "Don't you experience the joy of eating?" he continued. "Why deprive yourself of that pleasure?"

"I just thought it might be better for my health," I mumbled. Whereupon he brought out the morbidity and mortality data to reassure me that the additional five pounds would provide no statistically significant difference in my health or longevity.

Follow the Money. I thought again of his words when reading about the Republicans' plan to put $1.5 trillion on a credit card and then hand over the cash to billionaires. "Why would you want to do that?"

The top 1% of Americans own 40% of the country's wealth -- more than the total owned by the bottom 90% combined, more than anytime in the last 50 years. Worldwide, the total wealth of 62 families exceeds that of 3.4 billion people. [Christopher Ingraham, "The Richest 1 Percent Now Owns More of the Country's Wealth Than at Any Time in the Past 50 Years," The Washington Post, December 6, 2017.] [Photo credit: Kalynn Hines, "Why Are All American Houses Like Mansions?" Quora.]

It's hard to get a precise number on the dollar value of the wealth of individuals in the 1%. It depends on which economist you ask, what is and isn't counted, means vs. medians, and what year you use. But here are some (approximate) numbers from 2007 (obviously there have been substantial increases during the last 10 years of a soaring stock market).
Top 1% -- $14,000,000
Top 5% -- $1,250,000
Middle Fifth -- $110,000
Bottom Fifth -- -$14,000 (debt)
Joshua Kennon, "How Much Money Does It Take to be In the Top 1% of Wealth and Net Worth in the United States," Thoughts on Business, Politics, and Life, Table 3, November 14, 2011.

Even more significant is the near-two-trillion dollars of cash (and cash equivalents) held by American corporations (one-third of it by the top 5; 72% held overseas). [Matt Krantz, "A Third of Cash is Held by 5 U.S. Companies," USA Today, May 22, 2016.]

"OK, so what's your point?" you ask.

Ultimately, I want to address why a discussion of taxes is not the right place to begin. But since that's where the nation's dialog is at the moment, let's deal with it.

1. There's a "National Debt Clock" that increases by the second. On December 23, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. CT, the national debt was $20.6 trillion and growing. If massive tax cuts might sometime be appropriate, this is not that time.

2. If there ever were to be rational tax cuts they should come after the national debt is significantly reduced, and from balanced budget surpluses. Putting the cost of tax cuts on a credit card makes no more sense that paying for wars of choice with debt.

3. Why mention individuals' wealth and corporations' cash reserves? Because when there are trillions in cash sitting on the sidelines and bank loan rates are relatively low, there is no compelling rationale for handing out more cash to those who already have access to more than they can use.

4. Using the funds to improve the environment and the lives of those at the bottom of the wealth pyramid would not only create more human happiness per dollar, but would also more effectively boost an economy 70% dependent upon consumer spending. The wealthy already have most of what they need or want, and tend to invest, rather than spend, any excess income. [Photo credit: unknown; file photo.]

5. If the idea of helping the bottom 50% is not appealing, the money could at least better be used to carry out President Trump's expressed support for massive, essential, overdue, infrastructure projects.

In short, "Why would you want to do that?" It doesn't make economic sense.

But economics -- more specifically taxes -- is not where this conversation should begin.

Where To Begin? Imagine this breakfast table conversation:
"What are your plans for the day?"

"Oh, I thought I'd go down to the bank and borrow some money."

"How much?"

"Maybe $10,000, maybe $25,000. I don't know."

"Tell me now, why would you want to borrow that much money?"

"I don't know. I was just thinking I'd like to have more money."

"But you wouldn't have more money. After paying off the loan and interest you'd have less money. What are you going to do with the money anyway?"

"Just have it. I haven't really thought about what I'd actually do with the money."
That's one unlikely breakfast conversation. This one is more likely:
"We have to fix that big hole in the roof. How are we going to pay for it?

Insurance should cover most of it. And what better use for our "rainy day fund"? "Rainy day fund," get it?

Yeah, I get it. It's just that right now I don't find it funny. What if we need more?

Once we find out how much it's going to be, if we don't have enough I can always go down to the bank for a loan.
Where do you start? You start with your desire for a warm, dry house, and the ongoing maintenance to keep it that way. Then you address how you're going to pay for it.

That's how it ought to be with all governmental budgets -- city, county, state, and our federal budget. You don't ignore economic growth, the need for revenue, and tax policy. It's just that you don't start there.

You start with the most fundamental question. From your answer to that one the answers to the others will more easily flow.

Do you believe you have an obligation -- or if not, at least a desire and willingness -- to create an America that is a large, caring community in which no one is invisible? Or, do you find more appealing a country of individuals, with everyone on their own, where "greed is good," pollution is acceptable as long as it's profitable, and everyone must "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" -- regardless of whether or not they have boots -- until they, like you, can say, "I've got mine, Jack"?

If we're not just talking about professions of belief on Sunday, but the supporting evidence of action throughout the week, there is a discouraging quantity of evidence that a substantial number of Americans, and their elected representatives, are somewhere between a willingness to accept, and an enthusiasm for, the second choice.

So, let's pause for a moment to examine where America may have holes in its roof -- and its safety net.

I am indebted to The Gazette's Lynda Waddington for bringing to my attention Philip Alston, "Statement on Visit to the USA on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights," United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner Human Rights, December 15, 2017. (Mr. Alston is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.) Lynda Waddington, "American Poverty is On Display," The Gazette, December 23, 2017, p. A5 (not yet available online).

When Philip Alston crawled up there on America's roof to take a look, here are some of the things he found.
In talking with people in the different states and territories I was frequently asked how the US compares with other states. While such comparisons are not always perfect, a cross-section of statistical comparisons provides a relatively clear picture of the contrast between the wealth, innovative capacity, and work ethic of the US, and the social and other outcomes that have been attained.
  • By most indicators, the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
  • It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined.
  • US health care expenditures per capita are double the OECD average and much higher than in all other countries. But there are many fewer doctors and hospital beds per person than the OECD average.
  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries.
  • Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality ranks the most well-off countries in terms of labor markets, poverty, safety net, wealth inequality, and economic mobility. The US comes in last of the top 10 most well-off countries, and 18th amongst the top 21.
  • In the OECD the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality.
  • According to the World Income Inequality Database, the US has the highest Gini rate (measuring inequality) of all Western Countries.
  • The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality characterizes the US as “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league.” US child poverty rates are the highest amongst the six richest countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.
  • About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%. Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).
Is that really the country you want? Or is it just kind of what happened while we were watching the Superbowl game, neither voting nor otherwise paying attention?

That's where we need to begin. What kind of country do we want? Is it inevitable, or at least OK, that we are accelerating climate change, that some people are just going to have to sleep on the streets, go without healthcare, lack adequate nutrition, education, job training, and the dignity that comes from at least some kind of regular work?

There is no secret sauce. It's clear what we could do, and how to do it. Other countries have offered us examples of how to create a caring nation -- one in which everyone has healthcare and meaningful work to do, one in which free public education extends beyond the 12th grade, one in which there's always someone to care for those without family or friends. Indeed, we accomplished some of these things ourselves coming out from under the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Until we candidly confront the kind of country we have become, decide we want a change, and fashion the programs that can bring it about, we can't begin to address how much it will cost, the best ways to pay for it -- and how to restructure our tax system.

# # #


Note: These columns and blog post generated much positive comment. With the permission of the authors, I reproduce here two emails that are illustrative of the others. Most merely addressed the proposed process and thought it a good idea. The author of the second comment, below, assumed hypothetically that the proposed process was in place and set forth some of the values and approaches he would bring to the table.

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I am an old man soon to be 79. was the Mayor of my small town for 8 years. HEAR-HEAR for your logical thoughts.

I wish the common sense you express was a very contagious viral disease and you could haunt the halls of all our elected bodies, state and federal, and infect all our law makers.

I am contacting my reps and telling to read and heed your thoughts.

Please continue your efforts to instill common sense in the electorate.

-- James Raymond


Read your piece in the Gazette today.

There are 6 million open jobs in America looking for qualified applicants.

The immigration systems both legal and illegal are bringing in people who do not have the skills or ducation to fill those jobs. So I assume you oppose the current immigration systems. Many people say we need immigration but then why are so many jobs unfilled with millions of illegal immigrants here?

Let's fix it:

- Revise the immigration system to be merit based. Limit chain migration and lottery systems that support unskilled entrants. Fund the wall and improve border security. Address VISA's for foreign students who want to stay, they are skilled people. I'm OK with DACA given these limitations.

- Approve a national voucher system so parents can chose where their funding goes for their children's education. Eliminate the US Dept. of Education and start over.

- Slash university funding. Focus resources on the kinds of skills and education the economy needs and minimize producing people with degrees who cannot find a job that matches those degrees. The current situation creates financial individual burdens and wastes valuable resources on inefficient programs.

- Create more programs to encourage trade schools to fill the jobs required to support the economy. Connect the funding to actual economic needs.

- Approve a federal budget amendment to limit federal debt. There is no net benefit to keep pushing ourselves toward the brink of financial > ruin.

- Impose a border tax so that countries that limit trade with the US are limited in access to our economy. Develop trade policies that support American jobs not American wealth.

- Reform Social Security and Medicare. Eliminate people who have not supported funding the system (see immigration). Increase the expense for those that can afford to pay a larger percentage of the cost of service.

- Make sure that the bottom 80% have skin in the game. Handing out free money is a fool’s errand. Instead of minimizing the number of people in poverty government policy has actually grown the percentage of the population on government assistance. The Great Society has been a colossal failure. Refer to 6 million job openings.

I vote every election. I vote against every Democrat because their party has moved so far to the left as to be unrecognizable as American citizens. Obama and Hillary Clinton are being proven to be crooks worse than the Watergate affair. At least the Republicans had the guts to tell Nixon to leave.

In conclusion the level of taxation is well above what is reasonable in a free society. I understand your point about deciding who you want to be before setting a level of funding. We simply disagree with so much of the current funding it seems reasonable to try and starve the beast, or as Grover put it "drown it in a bath tub". I would point out that the usual zero-sum arguments made by progressives receive on distain from me. There is always middle ground. I think you proposed that but I'm not really sure.

-- Gary Ellis


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Defending Democracy

Defending Democracy
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, December 3, 2017, p. C4
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it’s gone

— Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
There are many divisive issues these days: climate change, renewable fuels, perpetual war, health care, tax reform, higher education, trade policy. The list seems endless.

However, most agree on preserving democracy’s fundamental pillars: free speech, public education, voting rights, and an independent judiciary.

Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison offered us insights.

Media. Jefferson wrote, ““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.”

Media are one of the few industries expressly protected by the Constitution (First Amendment). They were to serve all the people, creating a “marketplace of ideas,” a check on abuses by the powerful, from which “truth” would emerge. There would be no central control of media by either government or big business.

Americans’ 19th Century “Internet,” its “social media,” was transportation -– rivers, roads, a trans-continental railroad, and pony express. Our “e-mail” was their postal mail. Low postal rates encouraged the distribution of books, magazines and newspapers.

For the FCC to repeal Net Neutrality, ownership limits, or the Fairness Doctrine, or politicians to say media are “the enemy of the American people,” chops away at democracy’s pillars. (Now 46% of voters believe media make up anti-Trump stories.)

Free public education and libraries. Jefferson continued, “But I should mean that every [person] should receive those [newspapers] and be capable of reading them.” In his epitaph, he chose to be remembered as “Father of the University of Virginia” –- omitting any reference to his presidency.

Madison agreed: “a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Free public schools would enable citizens to inform themselves. Free public libraries would provide every American access to the information resources of kings.

When legislatures don’t fully fund public universities, adding to the trillion-dollar debt of graduates, they are undercutting democracy’s pillar of “free public education.” This not only hampers America’s ability to compete with the nations that do provide tuition-free college, it also strikes a blow against democracy.

Voting rights. Over time, the opportunity to vote – a democracy fundamental -- was expanded from white, male, landowners over 21 to everyone over 18.

State legislatures that pass laws making it more difficult, rather than easier, for all to vote, or that draw district lines enabling a minority of voters to elect a majority of their representatives, are attacking a democracy fundamental.

Independent judiciary. The founders created a respected, independent branch of government, the judiciary, as a constitutional check on Congress and the executive branch. Federal judges’ independence was protected by their lifetime appointments. Justice would be delivered under a “rule of law” rather than a law of rulers.

To disparage the judiciary, charging bias, or lack of competence, to appoint those unqualified, weakens a democracy’s last, best protection of our civil rights.

We can probably survive most wrongheaded public policies. What our democracy can’t survive are attacks on its fundamental pillars. Let’s defend what we’ve got before it’s gone.
Nicholas Johnson is a former FCC commissioner who maintains Contact:

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Saturday, December 02, 2017

Lipstick on TIFs

City is Putting Lipstick on TIFs
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 2, 2017, p. A6

The City Council is putting lipstick on its TIFs [see, "Andy Davis, "Iowa City Seeks Public Input as it Begins Discussion of Revised TIF Policies," November 18, 2017]. Like new headlights on a rusted-out clunker, it’s an improvement, but no reason to buy the car.
[Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson]

There are overwhelming reasons for not putting public money into private, for-profit projects [see, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Tussling Over TIFs: Pros and Cons," April 13, 2014, and Nicholas Johnson,"TIFs: Links to Blog Essays," March 16, 2014].

How else can the Council create public benefit? City ownership – like libraries, parks and schools. By applying zoning and building code requirements, or new ordinances, to private projects.

Iowa City is an economic and cultural magnet. We don’t have to bribe new arrivals.

Ah, the argument goes, if we don’t play this dirty little game some other city, or state, will get the business. (They may; it might also come here without TIFs.)

But what if, as the computer concluded in the movie War Games, "the only winning move is not to play"? Why do we want more growth and sprawl? What are TIFs’ costs as well as benefits?

In 1910 Houston was roughly Iowa City’s size today: 79,000. By 2010 it was 2,100,000. How have Houstonians’ quality of life improved from two million more people? Would we be happier with two million more neighbors?

That should be the first question.
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Media's Role and Future

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and 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. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

-- Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington," January 16, 1787, Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 11:48-49 (emphasis supplied).

In an effort to save costs, some media owners are giving us the choice between -- to borrow from Thomas Jefferson -- newspapers without reporters, or reporters without newspapers, while in the process creating both.

-- Nicholas Johnson

Democracy's Media
Newspapers' Decline
Newspapers' Challenges
Government Without Newspapers

Note: There are some discrepancies in the cited statistics, below, owing to different sources, dates, and methods of calculation, although they generally support comparable conclusions. Readers disturbed by this are invited to do their own research, and report their findings to the author.

Democracy's Media. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that if put to the choice he would choose "newspapers without a government," he was writing about the essential pillars of a democracy -- of which citizens' opinions, informed by the media, was one. [Photo source: Wikimedia; statue in Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.]

Note that the quote, above, continues that everyone "should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." That sentence covers three more of democracy's pillars: (1) a postal system with reduced rates for books, magazines and newspapers; (2) free public libraries; and (3) free public education -- to which he would later add the First Amendment's protections for "freedom of speech, or of the press."
As evidence of Jefferson's inclusion of education as one of democracy's pillars, he limited his gravestone's inscription to "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & Father of the University of Virginia." ["Jefferson's Gravestone," Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation.] In other words, he put more importance on his creation of a university than his having served as president.

Given the fundamental role of a free and independent media in our democracy, President Trump's deliberate efforts to diminish the public's respect for, use of, and dependence upon the media stand in stark and worrisome contrast to President Jefferson's design for our democracy. Here are some excerpts from Trump's comments about the media (he refers to as "they") on August 22, 2017:
30. "And yes, by the way -- and yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. You see that."
31. "I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that."
32. "Look back there, the live red lights. They're turning those suckers off fast out there. They're turning those lights off fast." [narrator voice]: They weren't.
33. "CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I'm saying tonight, I can tell you."
34. "If I don't have social media, I probably would not be standing."
Chris Cillizza, "Donald Trump's 57 Most Outrageous Quotes From His Arizona Speech," CNN, August 23, 2017.
In a democracy dependent upon citizens' trust in the independence of the media, President Trump has kept up a drumbeat of attacks on the media's integrity and accuracy. On February 17, 2017, Trump even went so far as to tweet that the media "is the enemy of the American people." Michael M. Grynbaum, "Trump Calls the News Media the 'Enemy of the American People,'" New York Times, February 18, 2017, p. A15 (the full text of the tweet read: "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!" February 17, 2017, 4:32 p.m.).

Although "a correlation is not a cause," it would not be unreasonable to suspect that President Trump's attacks on the media are having some impact. A Politico/Morning Consult poll in October 2017 found that, "More than three-quarters of Republican voters, 76 percent, think the news media invent stories about Trump and his administration . . .. Among Democrats, one-in-five think the media make up stories . . .. Forty-four percent of independent voters think the media make up stories about Trump . . .." Steven Shepard, "Poll: 46 percent think media make up stories about Trump," Politico, October 18, 2017.

Newspapers' Decline. Trying to define "when newspapers began," or to identify "the first newspaper" is impossible without an agreed upon definition of "newspaper." Written forms of shared "news" probably go back to cave paintings and personal communications.
For an excellent essay on "The History of Newspapers," see the encyclopedia entry, Mitchell Stephens, "History of Newspapers" (undated), with illustrative examples: "'Public Occurrences, Both FORREIGN and DOMESTICK' was printed in Boston on September 25, 1690. . . . 'The Boston News-Letter,' which first appeared in print in 1704, survived for 72 years. . . . There were about 200 newspapers in the United States when Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801."
Whenever "newspapers" may have begun, they've demonstrated a great capacity for survival, and are "still here" -- at least for now. [See, Stephen Sondheim, "I'm Still Here"]

But the stark fact is that, today, newspapers' circulation and advertising revenues have declined by roughly 50 percent (revenue from $60 to $30 billion, since 2004; weekly circulation from 50 to 20 million, since 1990). [Michael Barthel, "Despite Subscription Surges for Largest U.S. Newspapers, Circulation and Revenue Fall for Industry Overall," Pew Research Center, June 1, 2017.]

The industry's response has included largely unsuccessful efforts to increase cash flow, and devastating efforts to cut costs. Because reporters are more than just a "cost," cuts in their numbers produce a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of the unique, democracy-sustaining product they create. As a result, in an effort to save costs, some media owners are giving us the choice between -- to borrow from Thomas Jefferson -- newspapers without reporters, or reporters without newspapers, while in the process creating both.

From a citizen's perspective, it is local news that's taken the hardest hit. Although the total quantity of all reporting is down, there remain online (and sometimes delivery of hard copy) alternative sources of national news (e.g., The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal), international news (e.g., Le Monde, The Guardian, The Asahi Shimbun) -- and sometimes state news (e.g., in Iowa, The Des Moines Register). But when local papers (often monopolies) go out of business, or make deep cuts in staff, there are often few, if any, adequate alternative sources of local news.
Recently, one community's chain-owned, once-robust local paper -- that now offers its subscribers only a slim, six-page main section, with an opinion page only Wednesdays and Saturdays -- published an issue that contained no stories written by local reporters. (All copy was reprinted from USA Today, the Associated Press, and another of the chain's papers.)

By contrast, another local paper, The Gazette, which is locally owned, has a stable of local reporters who produce a constant flow of serious stories of local significance -- though possibly with fewer reporters than in years past. It has dropped its Associated Press subscription and substituted sources such as Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, McClatchy Washington Bureau, Miami Herald, Reuters, Tribune News Service (and Tribune Washington Bureau), Washington Post, as well as Iowa papers Burlington Hawkeye, Des Moines Register, Quad-City Times, or Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Because, today, one has access to online versions of most of the world's newspapers, television and radio stations, podcasts, blogs, and more, this is not the service it might once have been. I carry on my iPhone access to Al Jazeera, Associated Press, Bloomberg, CBS Sports, Des Moines Register, Deutsche Welle (German), Gazette, Guardian (London), Iowa Public Radio, Le Monde (Paris), New York Times, PBS News Hour, Reuters, Rudaw (Kurdistan), Shanghai Daily (China), South China Morning Post (China), Sputnik (Russia), Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

As a result, I don't need the Gazette to bring me news from those publications. On the other hand, I can't read each of these news sources thoroughly every day. So what the Gazette's selection of stories does provide, that my apps do not, is the added benefit of professional selection from national and global sources of stories the Gazette editor believes are the most significant for Iowa readers.
Of course, there are exceptions. Many of those working within the finance sector, or large corporations, understandably believe they simply must subscribe to a paper such as The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times (London). Others may feel a professional need to subscribe to The New York Times or other papers -- especially if, as is often the case, the expense can be considered a "business expense."
The Times' circulation revenue continues to hover around $1 billion a year (from 2006 to 2016, starting in 2006 at $889.72 million, a high of $936.49 million in 2009, to a 2012 low of $795.04 million, followed by a steady climb to $880.54 million). "New York Times Company's Circulation Revenue from 2006 to 2016 (in million U.S. dollars)," Statista, 2017. Its current circulation of the hard copy editions is 571,500 (daily; November 2016) and 1,087,500 (Sunday; May 2016). Its rapidly increasing digital-only subscriptions are now twice the Sunday hard copy numbers, at 2.2 million (May 2017). The New York Times, (By way of comparison, 25 years ago "The New York Times had a circulation of 1.2 million daily and 1.8 million Sunday in 1993 . . .." Mitchell Stephens, "History of Newspapers" (undated).
Newspapers' Challenges. Equally as serious as the President's continuous assaults on our democracy's independent media are the hurricane-like consequences from strong and shifting winds of cultural, technological and economic change during the past decade.

The newspapers' challenges from technology are nothing new.

The telegraph, ultimately recognized as an aid to journalism, was initially seen by publishers as a threat.
"At first, most newspaper owners failed to see the advantage of this disruptive technology; they were actually threatened by it. After all, why would you even need a newspaper when the news could travel between telegraph operators?" Ron Miller, "The Telegraph, Newspapers, and 19th-Century Disruption," EContent Magazine, May 8, 2012.
The radio, and then television with its pictures, provided an instantaneous form of delivery that printing presses, trucks, and delivery persons couldn't match.

Bad enough with three dominant TV networks through the 1950s, the arrival of "cable television," with its 500 channels, caused even the networks to lose nearly half of their audience share. And today, in addition to the 24-hour news channels, the telegraph's grandchild -- the ubiquitous, instantaneous Internet -- has become the competitor the telegraph operators failed to create, providing links to billions of sites, including most of the world's newspapers, television and radio stations, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

But what may be newspapers' greatest challenge today is the ferocious fight over a slice of every individual's 168 hours a week. We have other things we want and need to do besides reading a newspaper. Every hour at work or asleep, every game of golf or fishing trip, running errands or running for health, doing dishes or helping kids with homework, watching television or listening to music, looking at iPad and iPhone screens, is time we're not reading newspapers.

And however many hours we do devote to the electronic form of the intellectual, educational, informational, artistic and entertainment portion of our lives is divided among an ever more varied and available range of sources -- Netflix and YouTube, audio books and podcasts, Facebook and Twitter.

It's bad enough that we can predict what stories will air on the evening TV news -- never mind the next day's newspaper -- but the multiple sources of news throughout the day are taking time previous generations spent with a morning newspaper and cup of coffee.

And all of this competition presumes that people are actually looking for serious discussions of important events and public policy issues. Some are -- but not many. [Mitchell Stephens, "History of Newspapers" (undated) ("In 1940, there was one newspaper circulated in the United States for every two adults, by 1990 one newspaper circulated for every three adults. According to surveys, the share of the adult population that 'read a newspaper yesterday' has declined from 85 percent in 1946 to 73 percent in 1965 to 55 percent in 1985. . . . The United States had 267 fewer newspapers in 1990 than it had in 1940.")]

The Cision U.S. newspapers' circulation list shows the following as the top seven U.S. newspapers (as of 2016) with their circulation: USA Today (2,301,917), The New York Times (2,101,611), The Wall Street Journal (1,337,376), Los Angeles Times (467,309), New York Post (424,721), Chicago Tribune (384,962), and The Washington Post (356,768). "Top 10 US Daily Newspapers," Cision, June 18, 2014, updated May 11, 2016.

Thus, given a U.S. population of 325 million, it would appear that most individual newspapers are informing far fewer than one percent of our citizenry -- an information inequality that rivals our inequalities of wealth and education. Consider the circulation of all U.S. newspapers combined in 2016 (34,657,199) and it's still about 10 percent. ["Newspapers Fact Sheet," Pew Research Center, June 1, 2017.]

Compare that news with what's happening in India:
India now has the world’s largest number of paid newspapers, and the number continues to grow, from 5,767 in 2013 to 7,871 in 2015. Over those same two years, 50 newspapers ceased publication in the US, which has less than a quarter of India’s print papers. . . . [O]ver the last decade, newspaper circulation has grown significantly in India, from 39.1 million copies in 2006 to 62.8 million in 2016 -– a 60% increase, for which there is no parallel in the world. . . . [W]while newspaper circulation grew by 12% in India, it fell in almost every other major media market: by 12% in the UK, 7% in the US, and 3% in Germany and France.
Shashi Tharoor, "There's One Country in the World Where the Newspaper Industry is Still Thriving," World Economic Forum, May 24, 2017.

Government Without Newspapers. President Jefferson said he would prefer newspapers without government to a government without newspapers. Notwithstanding his preference, we seem to be heading toward a government without newspapers.

Most countries' authoritarian leaders seek to control the media -- by disparaging their journalists and owners, or closing down papers and TV stations that fail to propagandize on the leader's behalf, or taking ownership and control, making all sources of information and opinion a form of state media. We've seen the beginnings of this in the United States, with the President's attacks on the "fake news" and the FCC's willingness to let a prominent right wing television company acquire enough stations to reach over 70% of all American homes.

But responsibility falls on the citizens of a democracy as well. If we are to be in fact as well as in theory a democratic nation of informed citizens actively engaged in self-governing, more of us need to subscribe to and otherwise support our local newspapers -- and read more than the sports pages, comics, crossword puzzle, and obituaries. More of us need to watch the PBS NewsHour and turn off the commercial networks' "junk news" (as distinguished from "fake news"); see, "Two Nights with 'World News Tonight,'" in "Three Legged Calves, Wolves, Sheep and Democracy's Media," December 1, 2014. More of us need to take an occasional break from the silo, echo chambers that reinforce our predispositions More of those of us who are retired, or otherwise have some free time, need to pick a government body (e.g., city council, school board, county board of supervisors, state legislative committee), track its work, and "report" on it in letters to the editor, op ed columns, blogs, and other social media.

There is much more to think and write about, such as: What are "the media's" alternative futures thirty years from now? What can be done to minimize presidential disparagement of a democracy's independent media? What might K-12 and college educators do to improve citizens' media literacy and "civics" education generally? What are the most effective business plans for sustaining commercial media? What potential is there for "citizen journalism"? How might the FCC be reformed to encourage the use of its "public interest" powers to restrain corporate control of an ever-increasing number of outlets, or a content-neutral Fairness Doctrine approach to content diversity? But this is more than enough for one blog post.

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