Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Business Background: Enough for University President?

September 2, 2015, 9:35 a.m.

Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?

Links to Sections
Educational Minimums
Relevant Values
Skills Allocation
Business Record
Public Forum

Public hanging of non-performers and culture change resistors was done in order to send a message . . ..

-- Bruce Harreld on ensuring employee compliance at IBM because "culture is a critical control system" [see footnote for source and occasion]

Some say the best hires for university presidencies are those with experience as university or college presidents, vice presidents, or provosts. Others believe these are essential requirements.

Since yesterday [Sept. 1, 2015] the University of Iowa's stakeholder groups (e.g., Regents, administrators, faculty, staff, students) have been addressing these standards.

Bruce Harreld, the fourth of four finalists following a national search, held his "public forum" that afternoon. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson]

This is a matter of some urgency for the University of Iowa, as the Regents will be picking the next UI president tomorrow, September 3.

But it is perhaps also a useful case study (as they say at the Harvard Business School) for colleges and universities elsewhere. This is neither the time nor space to be itemizing all the challenges confronting higher education today. But there remains a current of anti-intellectualism in America always quick to suggest that the universal solution for challenged governmental or non-profit organizations is to simply become more "business-like."

Here, then, are one person's reflections about the potential role of business executives as university presidents.

Admittedly, universities cannot be administered like Fortune 500 corporations or branches of the military. Among American institutions, they are sui generis, with missions, values and history unlike any other (think faculty "tenure," and a century-old "shared governance" tradition). However, that does not mean a mix of experience that included familiarity with business might not be useful for a university president.

But neither does it mean that any and every person with business experience would make a great university president -– or even a passable business leader. While they should not be peremptorily dismissed from consideration, they need to be subjected to a more creative and in depth evaluation than the more traditional candidates.

It is said that many persons go through as many as a half-dozen careers in their lifetime. Assume hypothetically that one of our UI law school graduates accepts U.S. Court of Appeals and Supreme Court clerkships; a tenure-track position at a major university’s law school; private sector corporate law practice; a couple appointments from the U.S. president to head agencies; the chair of a non-profit organization; and then combines a national column, lecture business, radio commentary, and role as TV host, before returning to law school teaching. Nothing in that range of experience would qualify them to function as CEO of a major corporation, but the combination of government administrative experience, plus the legal representation of major corporations, would at least be of some relevance.

Similarly, a comparable range of experience for a business school graduate, including at least some interaction with university administrators, would be of some relevance when they were considered for a university presidency.

Assuming someone with business background is to be considered for a university presidency, what should his or her thorough vetting require? What would a decision tree look like? What are the minimums that should be required in terms of familiarity with education in general and higher education in particular?

Prestige. A celebrity-class name is neither a prerequisite nor a sufficient reason for a hire. But a Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), or Jack Welsh (General Electric) -- like General Dwight Eisenhower’s not totally satisfactory term as president of Columbia University, 1948-52 -- could bring a kind of “wow!” factor to a university.

However, it should be noted, Jeff Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science. Warren Buffett attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, holds a B.Sc. in business from the University of Nebraska, and a M.Sc. in economics from Columbia. Jack Welsh earned a B.Sc. from the University of Massachusetts, and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois.

Reminiscent of Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s rejoinder to Senator Dan Quayle in the 1998 vice-presidential debate (“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”), “Bruce Harreld, you’re no Jeff Bezos.” No fault in that; he never suggested that he was. Few of us are a Jeff Bezos. But it does mean that whatever else Harreld may offer the University of Iowa, and State of Iowa, he does not bring the additional prestige of a business celebrity.

Educational Minimums. It may not be necessary for a university president to have been a university president, or provost, elsewhere, but it is not unreasonable to require at least some education-related administrative experience.

Harreld has literally no administrative experience at any level of our educational system, from K-12 schools through our largest public, research universities. He has never held even a tenure track position at a college or university, and would not meet the UI College of Business requirements for one here (status normally provided university presidents who qualify). He has produced little writing that might be considered serious "scholarship." His bio reflects an engineering degree from Purdue, and an M.B.A. degree from Harvard, but no suggestion of academic distinction. Not incidentally, as a "business candidate," he also has no CEO experience with major corporations, and such business experience as he possesses has created a mixed record.

His teaching experience has been limited to that of an adjunct or lecturer at Northwestern and Harvard Business School, but there is no indication of his assuming any administrative role, however menial, at those institutions.

Relevant values. Lacking much in the way of educational credentials, one might look to a business candidate’s history of action and speech with regard to the values of the academy. What can Bruce Harreld point to from his past to indicate that he respects and values the work of academic researchers, scholars, and professors, the mission and contribution of liberal arts education -- indeed, any of the missions, goals, and accomplishments of higher education beyond those of a business college -- not only to a state’s economy but to its culture and quality of life?

There is, of course, an overlap between some of the functions and necessary skills within for-profit and non-profit organizations, such as accounting and human resources practices. But there are also major differences, such as values and goals. What do we know about Harreld’s understanding, respect, and advocacy for non-profit institutions -- as distinguished from the contributions from America’s largest for-profit corporations?

Skills Allocation. It is true that one can no more expect a president of a university than the president of the United States to possess all the knowledge, skills, and expertise -- or even energy -- required to carry out their job. They must rely on others, such as personal staff, vice presidents, or in an academic setting, deans and department heads as well as individual faculty and staff members.

However, in my opinion, a university president needs to be an educational leader, setting the tone for an educational institution. It is far easier, and cheaper, to find those skilled in data management, accounting practices, wealth management of endowments, media relations, building maintenance, marketing and branding, and all the other requisite professions and skills. It is both more difficult, and inappropriate, to try to outsource, hire, or contract for, educational leadership, vision, mission creation and execution. That should be a university president’s job one, a job that requires a depth of knowledge regarding higher education.

It makes no more sense to rely on a business person to go through on-the-job training in order to develop competence as a university president than it would be to pluck a distinguished, tenured scholar-professor with no business or administrative experience out of a university and make her CEO of a mid-sized corporation.

Business Record. If the primary qualities of a business person chosen to be a university president is their experience in business, it seems only fair to put that record in business on the table for thorough review.

So far as the record reveals, Bruce Harreld may be a wonderful person -- kind to children and dogs and a good neighbor. Notwithstanding an hour and a half listening to him, we've never met, so that experience plus the written record and newspaper reports is all that's known.

But based on that business record, set forth immediately below, I would be hesitant to hire him even as a corporate CEO, let alone the president of a major American research university. Here is how the Gazette's journalist, Vanessa Miller, reported in the September 2 edition what she had found out regarding Harreld's business experience:
He was president and member of the board for Boston Market Company in Golden, Colo., from 1993 to 1995, working with five partners to grow the organization from 20 stores in the Boston area to more than 1,100 stores nationally, according to his CV.

In 1995, Harreld was listed as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him and other corporate leaders of insider trading and conflict of interest. That initial lawsuit was dismissed, but plaintiffs persisted and the case eventually settled.

From 1983 to 1993, Harreld was senior vice president and division president of Kraft General Foods in Northfield, Ill., leading the $2 billion “frozen foods unit,” which included Tombstone Pizza, DiGiorno, Budget Gourmet, and Lenders Bagels.

According to the CV provided by the Board of Regents, Harreld lists himself as managing principal for a firm called Executing Strategy LLC, out of Avon, Colo., advising public, private, and military organizations on “leadership, organic growth, and strategic renewal.”

But no business with that name is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in Colorado, and representatives with an Avon-area chamber of commerce said they have no knowledge of the business. An Executing Strategy LLC was registered with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2009 under the signatory James Bruce Harreld, but it was dissolved earlier this year.

Harreld, according to public records, on Feb. 6, 2013, filed three mandatory annual reports for the business for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. But no reports have been filed since, and the secretary of the commonwealth on June 30 took action to dissolve the business, which listed its services provided as consulting, strategy, implementation, marketing, and turnaround advice.

Harreld’s LinkedIn profile currently lists him as a corporate adviser in the Greater Denver Area and working for General Motors from 2015 to present -- although the CV provided by the Board of Regents doesn’t include work with General Motors.
Vanessa Miller, "Fourth University of Iowa presidential candidate: Bruce Harreld; Candidate is managing principal at Colorado-based Executing Strategy, LLC," The Gazette (online), August 31, 2015; hardcopy: "Peer Praises Business Skills of Harvard-Educated Executive," The Gazette, September 1, 2015, p. A1.

Public Forum. Tuesday's [Sept. 1] public forum did not go well for Mr. Harreld. It may not have been his fault. He may not have been adequately briefed on what he needed to know, and what he should suspect.

For starters, unlike the other three he had neither adequately researched the University of Iowa nor prepared a formal, coherent, written statement. Unlike, say, a Peter Drucker, he has not written any business literature of note. However, he has read it, and business magazines, and is comfortable with corporate-think, its current fads and consultant-speak jargon. But that was not enough to create a coherent presentation, sprinkled with specifics from higher education. (All candidates were asked to present a "vision" and "mission" for the University, and the first three prepared such narratives. Harreld's vision? Four words: Iowa should go "from great to greater.")

You had to feel sorry for the guy; "deer in the headlights" comes to mind. Whether he would ever have been able to do well in such a faculty setting is not clear, but he was certainly not able to do so Tuesday afternoon. One had the sense he hadn’t even watched the online videos of the prior three candidates -- what clearly could have been a competitive advantage offered him by whoever scheduled their presentations.

One of the worst exchanges was his response to law professor Shelly Kurtz's question as to whether Harreld could imagine himself agreeing to return $47 million to the Regents to distribute to Iowa State and Northern Iowa (as was done by the past UI president). Harreld said he could. He seemingly didn’t even grasp the most basic political/organizational fact that it is the UI president’s job (as viewed by most faculty and others) to represent the university’s best interests -– not to turn back $47 million if the president thinks the State of Iowa might better spend it elsewhere. Once the legislature, or Regents, makes their decision, however foolish, you either resign in protest or accept it and move on. But you don’t simply "start off backing up" and capitulate without a fight.

Conclusion. This is but one case study. Clearly, the take-away is not that those with business experience should never even be considered as possible university presidents. It is that there is no magic in business experience as such -- any more than there is magic in having had some kind of academic administrative experience.

The question, as with any candidate, is not whether a given past experience (or race, gender, or other categories) is either qualifying or disqualifying. It is whether this experience of this candidate contributes anything to his or her capacity to be an acceptable and effective president of this university.

A final lesson is that however transferrable CEO abilities may be from one industry to another very different industry (such as John Sculley going from president of Pepsi to CEO of Apple), they are not smoothly transferrable into higher education. Before someone with business experience is selected as a finalist for a university presidential search, for the sake of the candidate as well as the institution, there should be confidence that their knowledge of and commitment to the values of higher education are such as to enable that smooth transition.

That was not the case with Bruce Harreld at the University of Iowa. Of course, if Harreld is nonetheless selected by the Regents tomorrow, well, that raises another set of issues and questions, doesn't it.


Nicholas Johnson, "Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents; An Exchange with UI Presidential Finalist, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov," August 29, 2015 (with links to the 2006-2007 blog essays about the last Regents presidential selection fiasco)

University of Iowa Presidential Search Web page for Bruce Harreld (with link to the video of his public forum)

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Finalist: A Non-academic Can Run a University," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), September 1, 2015, 8:16 p.m. CDT; as hardcopy: Jeff Charis-Carlson,"4th UI Finalist Pays His Visit," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 2, 2015, p. A1

Vanessa Miller, "Fourth University of Iowa presidential candidate: Bruce Harreld; Candidate is managing principal at Colorado-based Executing Strategy, LLC," The Gazette (online), August 31, 2015; hardcopy: "Peer Praises Business Skills of Harvard-Educated Executive," The Gazette, September 1, 2015, p. A1.

Vanessa MIller, "Fourth University of Iowa Presidential Candidate Drilled; ‘Why did you even apply?' Asks Audience Member," The Gazette (online), September 1, 2015, 9:37 PM; hardcopy: Vanessa Miller, "Public Vets UI Finalists; Now It's Up to Regents," The Gazette, September 2, 2015, p. A1, and Vanessa Miller, "Forum Grills Last Finalist; Harreld Says UI Must Adapt to Changing Circumstances or Fail," The Gazette, September 2, 2015, p. A2

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Survey: Harreld Viewed as Least Qualified UI Finalist," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), September 2, 2015, 12:23 p.m. ("In a survey conducted by the UI chapter of the American Association of University Presidents, only 1.8 percent of faculty and 2.6 percent of other respondents answered “yes” to the question of whether Harreld was qualified for the position. The other candidates — Oberlin President Marvin Krislov, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein and Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz -— all had more than 90 percent of respondents view them as qualified . . ..")

Vanessa Miller, "Feedback Rolling in on University of Iowa Presidential Candidates; Board of Regents Set to Name President Thursday," The Gazette (online), September 2, 2015, 4:07 PM

Footnote: Bruce Harreld,"Lessons From the IBM Trenches: On Culture,"Special Session with Bruce Harreld, Harvard Business School Chronicles: Advanced Management Program 182, Posted 15th May 2012 by Vince Abejo (from his outline:

"Culture is a critical control system, it needed to be managed actively
Actions speak louder than words, and is the most effective way to set the culture
-Public hanging of non-performers and culture change resistors was done in order to send a message, but this was done sparingly
-Public rewards were communicated across all levels of the business in order to encourage and reinforce behavior"

# # #

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents

August 29, 2015

An Exchange with UI Presidential Finalist, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov

Links to Sections

Governance Model
Candor and Courage
President Krislov Exchange
Access Denied (but with video of exchange)
Regents' Disturbing Process
Regents' Search Fiasco of 2006-2007
Jeff Charis-Carlson's Report
Vanessa Miller's Report


Governance of major, public, research universities with associated hospitals, football and other athletic programs is somewhat bizarre in its complexity.

A central issue is how the governing board members of such an institution, and its president, consider and construct their relationship. Can the board, or even individual members of the board, tell the president what to do? If and when they give the president an order, is it their expectation that when they look back on the matter they will discover that, like Iran-Contra-arms-for-hostages Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North, the president will have "saluted smartly and carried it out"? Or, when compromise seems impossible, will the president stand up for what is perceived to be the best interests of the institution, rather than the contrary wishes of board members?

Few individuals coming on a board for the first time -- whether corporate for-profit, non-profit, public (city council; school board) -- have previously given much thought to governance. If they have given any thought at all to their role, it is more likely to involve the substance of the organization's challenges and opportunities.

But chaos or worse will result if no attention is given to "job one," clearly articulating the governance model, the process of decisionmaking: how and by whom decisions are made (i.e., the role of chief executive and board; defining what's delegated to the executive as "administrative"); how board members will relate to each other; the limitations on individual board members' authority (i.e., do members only speak and act as a board, rather than as individuals, albeit with public dissenting opinions?).

See collection of materials at, Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," where can be found, among other things, the writings of John Carver. As Carver has famously observed, most advice regarding board governance simply enables boards to do the wrong things better.

Candor and Courage. Of course, one of the most serious shackles on executives' candor and courage is fear of losing one's job. For middle level executives and supervisors this merely prevents the institution from enjoying the benefits of the suggestions from some of its best informed, loyal employees.

But when it restrains a university president, eager to please the board (in Iowa, the Iowa Board of Regents), it can be disastrous. It's contrary to the most effective board-administrator governance practices, severely weakens the president's ability to relate to stakeholder groups, enables the possibility of cronyism, and creates high risk of decisions improvidently arrived at.

For that reason, one of my preferences regarding university presidents is that their lifestyle and self-esteem not be tied to their income. (a) Maybe they have few major expenses, have trained themselves to live on relatively little, and are confident "enough" will always be available. (b) Maybe they have the confidence that they are in sufficient demand that there always will be other jobs out there providing very generous pay. (c) Maybe they are close enough to retiring that being fired a few years early would almost be welcome, should it happen. (d) Maybe they are otherwise independently wealthy. (e) Or possibly they even hold a perspective analogous to what then-Senator Joe Biden once shared with me: "Nick, there are some things worth losing an election for" -- in the context of a university president, "there are some things worth being fired for."

President Krislov Exchange. These were some of the thoughts going through my mind when I had an exchange with the first of the University of Iowa's four finalists, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov, during his public forum (a candidate, not incidentally, whom I liked and thought did well with his presentation).

Here is where you can watch the video of our four-minute exchange on August 27, 2015, in the Iowa Memorial Union. It starts about 45 minutes into the full video and runs from minute 46:47 to 51:07.

Access Denied. That is to say, you could have watched it if those responsible for the professions of "transparency" regarding the candidates' public forums -- which until today (August 29) included individual, publicly accessible Web pages for each candidate, complete with videos -- had not silently and secretly somehow denied public access to them sometime between Friday and Saturday (today, August 29, 2014).

Fortunately, I was able to find a clip from the public forum on YouTube, and you can watch it here:

But here is what you were told on Saturday, August 29, when you went to the Web page for Marvin Krislov ("candidate A"), formerly available at this site, "" -- "Access denied/You are not authorized to access this page." The warm welcome on the Web page for Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein today was identical. So much for transparency:

This is only the latest in a number of very disturbing features of this Regents' process for UI presidential selection: (a) the "search committee" (which included faculty and others, as distinguished from the expensive "search firm") was dismissed before the first finalist arrived on campus. (b) The entire on-campus presence of the four finalists is to be a mere four days (with an intervening weekend). (c) Public revelation of candidates' names is deliberately being withheld until the last minute. For example, the campus and public will not know who will be here on Monday, August 31, until Sunday night (which as a practical matter, for many people, means Monday morning). (d) As a result, there will be somewhere between little and no time for those with other obligations to search Google and other sources, call persons at the candidates' institutions or others known to have worked with them, read candidates' scholarship, or otherwise meaningfully inform themselves. (e) To the extent the faculty or members of the public do have information or opinion to share, as I understand it, comments are to be filtered through to the Regents by way of the search firm which, of course, has a conflict of interest insofar as revelations of a candidate's negatives that the firm failed to uncover, or did uncover but failed to pass on, tarnishes its professional reputation.

Regents' Search Fiasco of 2006-2007. For comparison, an even more disastrous process of UI presidential search occurred in 2006-07, and was chronicled here in a series of blog essays that the Chronicle of Higher Education characterized as "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." It began with "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006, the first series, that continued on through "UI President Search XVIII - Dec. 26-31," December 26, 2016. During 2007, the series was titled, "UI Held Hostage," beginning with "Day 54": "UI President Search - UI Held Hostage: Day 54," January 9, 2007 (for an explanation of where "UI Held Hostage" came from, see "UI President Search - Jan. 1-7, 2007," January 1, 2007). That series ended with "UI Held Hostage Day 505," June 10, 2007 and "More UI Prez Links," June 24, 2007. Each of those hundreds of blog essays, often lengthy, can be found by going to the "Blog Archive" in the right hand column of any of the blog essays (including the one you're now reading) and clicking on individual years, and then months.

Jeff Charis-Carlson's Report. Meanwhile, here is how the exchange was reported by Jeff Charis-Carlson for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen, and by Vanessa Miller for The Gazette, with the relevant excerpts from their stories. The links will take you to their full reports.

One of the more lively exchanges came when Nicholas Johnson, a professor of law, provided a multiple-choice question on what Krislov would do if the Iowa Board of Regents demanded he take an action that he felt was completely counter to the interests of the institution.

Would he, Johnson asked, a) simply do it; b) explain why it was a wrong decision, but do it anyway; c) refuse to do it; or d) refuse to do it and be ready to offer a resignation if necessary?

“I’m a firm believer in finding common ground in understanding what people want and why they want it and posing alternative and options,” Krislov said. “There are times when one may come to an impasse, and then there are ethical and moral questions to be determined. I will tell you that it is not worth it to me to have any job in the United States of America if I have to sacrifice my ethical and moral principles, I will not do that. … But I don’t believe we will need to get to that point.”

Johnson said afterward that he appreciated the conviction behind Krislov’s answer, but given that such conflicts are inevitable between the university and its governing board, Johnson said he didn’t think Krislov actually answered the question.
Jeff Charis-Carlson, "Choosing the Next UI President: Krislov Stresses Humility, Morals; After Oberlin and Michigan, He Says Past Provides Insight," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 28, 2015, p. A1. (The Des Moines Register carried Carlson's story the same day.)

Vanessa Miller's Report.
Krislov took question after question, including some referencing campus controversies involving sexual assaults, diversity and the regents.

Law professor Nicholas Johnson asked a “hypothetical” question that seemed to refer to the regents’ controversial proposal to implement a performance-based funding model that could have pulled tens of millions of dollars from the UI had it been approved.

Former UI President Sally Mason, now retired, signed a letter supporting it, drawing the ire of some faculty members. Johnson asked Krislov how he would react if “asked by the Board of Regents to take a position on some policy or to sign off on some document or fire someone” against his best judgment and beliefs.

“You have a reputation for being a great compromiser, but sometimes you can’t compromise,” Johnson said. “Some things are worth losing an election for -- a job for.”

Krislov espoused his belief in finding common ground by trying to “understand why people want what they want.”

“I will tell you that it’s not worth it to me to have any job in America that requires me to sacrifice my morals and values,” he said to applause. “But I do not think it would need to get to that point.”
Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: 'I Would Like to be Part of Your Team,' Finalist Says; Candidate for President of UI Tours Campus, Takes Public's Questions," The Gazette, August 28, 2015, p. A2.

# # #

Local, Non-Profit Radio's Future

August 29, 2015, 7:50 a.m.

KHOI-FM Turns Three Years Old

Locally-focused, non-profit (or "community"), sometimes low-power (KHOI-FM is not low power), radio stations have been a part of America's broadcasting history from the industry's beginnings to the present day.

One such station in Iowa -- Ames' KHOI-FM -- upon realizing it had been broadcasting for three years, decided to thrown a birthday party celebration at which a former FCC commissioner might speak. (Photos of KHOI-FM's studio facilities and equipment, taken by KICI-FM's Craig Jarvie, are available here.)

In today's [August 29] Des Moines Register the paper's Arts Reporter, Michael Morain, has told the story of the station's beginnings so brilliantly that I have embedded it below. In it he identifies Iowa's other stations like KHOI: KPVL 89.1 in Decorah, KSOI 91.9 in Murray, KFMG 99.1 in Des Moines, KRUU 100.1 in Fairfield and KICI 105.3 in Iowa City. KICI is not yet on the air, but representatives came from Iowa City to Ames for the occasion.

Not having had access to his story and notes, I chose as the subject and title for my talk that day, "The Origins and Future of Radio." Where does KHOI fit in the history of local radio? Who were its ancestors, its friends, the economic forces and individuals that might have eliminated it?

Following the talk on Sunday, August 23, the following paragraph was posted on my Web site's home page:
KHOI-FM Birthday Party. Nicholas Johnson most recently spoke on Sunday, August 23, 2015, on the occasion of the third anniversary of Ames, Iowa, local, non-profit, radio station KHOI-FM. The speech was broadcast on KHOI-FM August 27, 2015, at noon as part of “KHOI Previews the Arts and Heart of Iowa,” and the audio is available here — following introductory remarks by KHOI-FM’s Ursula Ruedenberg and ACLU of Iowa’s Veronica Fowler (00:00-12:10), the speech runs from 12:10-52:45, followed by Q&A to 57:10. Although video and transcript are not yet available, a 21-page, 73-footnoted paper prepared for the occasion, from which material was drawn for his remarks, is available at this link: "The Origins and Future of Radio." The following day, KHOI-FM “Local Talk” co-hosts Gale Seiler and Ursula Ruedenberg told about the KHOI Birthday Celebration that took place on Sunday and played excerpts from the talk given by Nicholas Johnson. Click here for a link to that program.
So if you are curious and want more, there are your links to the audio of the 40-minute talk, and to the 21-page document that represents some of the research that went into the preparation of brief speech notes. [Photo credit: KHOI-FM; speaking from front of United Methodist Church, August 23, 2015.]

There will probably never be a transcript of that audio -- nor need there be. The paper, "The Origins and Future of Radio," should more than satisfy anyone who would have wanted a transcript.

But here are transcripts of some selected portions of the audio that will provide at least some sense of the content of the talk.
"This is an incredible accomplishment! I'm not sure if those of you here, and affiliated with this station, and fans of it, are aware of that fact. I read in Forbes recently that something like 80 percent of all the businesses that start up -- profit, non-profit, whatever -- 80 percent have gone belly up after 18 months. You have been around for three years. You are in the top 20 percent of American enterprise. I think that is an extraordinary accomplishment in just three years. Give yourselves a hand for that."

# # #

"What we're doing with these low power stations is a major building block in trying to build the social capital that supports a civic society. That's really what this is about."

# # #

"Locally focused radio has been a consistent purpose and presence in America's broadcasting from its very beginning until today, and has never been more needed than it is now."

# # #

"Nothing has ever come along as good as radio [for communicating over distance without wires] -- this invisible electromagnetic energy that is capable of carrying whatever information we can embed in it and send along with it at 186,000 miles a second."

# # #

"At that time [1927] what we had as radio is very similar to what you are doing with your station. These were relatively low power stations, in relatively small towns -- much smaller than Ames is now -- that were of necessity putting out local programming because there wasn't anything else. But they were also mindful of the purpose that served and why that was desirable. Those are some of your station's ancestors -- those early 8,500 amateur radio stations, those 700-plus broadcasting stations putting out programming and music and speech."

# # #

"But even though the miracle of radio was barely understood in 1926, there was an awareness of the risk of monopoly power and ownership. And one member of the House, from Texas, Luther Johnson -- no relative of mine or of Lyndon's -- said,
"American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations. For publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a Republic, and when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership and dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them."
Woe be to those who dare to differ with them. How prescient can you be? He concludes,
"It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people."
# # #

"There was equal concern about the coming of advertising. At the time of the Radio Conferences that Herbert Hoover called in the 1920s -- 1922, '23, '24, '25 -- he said, 'It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.' Can you imagine that today?"

# # #

"Another sort of example of your ancestors is [that what] the FCC was asking for in the 'Blue Book' [Responsibility etc 1946?] was similar to what radio was in 1915 to 1920."

# # #

"[I]t has reached the point where John Oliver -– a standup comedian -– now seems to be America’s most reliable source of the data and analysis necessary for American citizens to address their most serious public policy challenges.

Regional and statewide news coverage has suffered from many of the same pressures [as national news has from Wall Street insistence on profit maximization].

Which brings us full circle round to the role you and other non-profit local radio stations play in today’s media environment. It is, as it turns out, very similar to where radio broadcasting began 100 years ago, and where the FCC’s Blue Book told broadcasters they ought to be 70 years ago.

There is a there there. And you are there. The state of radio is good -– both as a technology and as a local civic service, an endeavor that comes as close as any can to the potential for rebuilding the sense of community we so desperately need in these times.

Thank you for the invitation, happy birthday, and now let’s party on!"

Ames Community Radio Beats the Odds

Michael Morain

Des Moines Register, August 29, 2015

[Information regarding subscribing to the Des Moines Register and following Michael Morain's reporting, can be found here.]

Three years ago a group of upstanding citizens of Ames — well-educated, highly functioning grown-ups — huddled under a tent made of blankets inside an old dry-cleaning shop just off Main Street. The quilt hut, as they called it, looked like the sort of makeshift fort their kids could have made from couch cushions back home in the living room. But its sound-muffling magic did the trick: It was the first studio of the fledgling community radio station KHOI-FM 89.1.

“It was like something out of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’” station host Carole Horowitz said. “There were just two microphones, two chairs and a table.”

Now, as the station celebrates its third anniversary, it does so from the relative luxury of a real studio suite with fancy gear and foam-padded walls. It’s the buzzing, bustling hub for a totally homegrown operation — the sort of station that has flourished in other states but is still rare here in Iowa.

“In a lot of places” — especially Colorado and California — “the older community radio stations are a substantial cultural force,” said station manager Ursula Ruedenberg, one of two paid staffers among an army of KHOI volunteers. “The stations set the tone and really lead the conversation for the whole town.”

KHOI isn’t there yet. It’s still “a diamond in the rough,” Ruedenberg said, but it has already outlasted the odds.

In a keynote talk during last weekend’s anniversary festivities, University of Iowa cyberlaw expert and former Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson pointed out that eight out of 10 entrepreneurial projects fail within 18 months.

“That’s why even mere survival for three years is worth a birthday party,” he said. “It’s truly a remarkable accomplishment.”

The station’s story, in fact, started much earlier than 2012.

Following a freeze on new FM station licenses for several years, the FCC announced that it would accept new applications for a single week in October 2007. The decision prompted a frenzied scramble for the remaining frequencies, especially on the lower end of the dial already crowded with religious groups and nonprofits.

Ruedenberg, an Ames native, works for Pacifica Radio Network and was living in New York at the time of the FCC’s big news. She studied a map of open frequencies — about 3,000 nationwide — and spotted a few up for grabs in her hometown.

She wondered: Would it be possible to start a community radio station in Ames? The short answer was “yes.” She recruited a few key players to submit a successful application for the license to 89.1, anchored at a tower in Story City.

But the long answer was more complicated. The FCC required the new station to start broadcasting within three years, a deadline that arrived more quickly than anyone had predicted. The team had to find a space (in the old Pantorium dry cleaners) and connect it to a tower (through a circuitous route west and then north to Story City) and then recruit a bunch of on- and off-air volunteers.

“We argued for a year and half (about the studio floor plans), but it worked out,” Ruedenberg said. “Everybody kept the mission in sight.”

When the signal was finally active, the sounds of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” clattered over the airwaves, an ironic nod to the out-of-state religious station that had been using the frequency, through a translator, for the past few years.

“We couldn’t resist,” Ruedenberg said.

But after that first giddy moment, she and studio engineer Rick Morrison looked at each other and thought, Well, now what? Now that they had all this airtime, how should they fill it?

“It was all very abstract,” she recalled. “It hadn’t registered yet. It was just unheard of in this community that people could get together and have a real radio station.”

At the time, Ames’ popular WOI radio station was joining the statewide Iowa Public Radio network, so folks around town were looking for a new place to hear local voices and local news. WOI’s longtime jazz and classical music host Hollis Monroe signed on to the new station, as did dozens of others with less experience. One of the engineers is a senior in high school. His mom stopped by the studio earlier this week to make sure he made it to class.

The program schedule, like the old quilt hut, is a patchwork of creative ingenuity. It’s about half talk and half music, with a smattering of quirky surprises. “Blue Collar Philosopher” Lance Sumpter has two hours every Friday night. “Planetary Radio” explores questions about outer space during a half-hour slot on Saturday morning.

Morrison spins electronic and new-wave music in the hours after midnight. “We get feedback from insomniacs that he’s very comforting,” Ruedenberg said.

There are still a few slots to fill, but nothing is set in stone — or even permanent marker, judging from the whiteboard schedule by the coffee machine.

“That’s the most important thing: It belongs to us. It’s our community radio station,” said Horowitz, who co-hosts a showtunes program on Tuesday mornings. “It’s easy: Just come in the door. Bring in an idea and you’ll go on the air.”

The station’s board of directors is still figuring out a long-term funding plan, especially now that most federal grants have dried up. This year’s projected budget is $140,000, funded almost entirely by private donors and a few local businesses.

But the board hopes that fundraising will be easier now that the station is up and running.

“We’re a service to the community as much as a public park or a public library,” Monroe said.

He was shopping at the Fareway meat counter the other day when one someone recognized his voice. The butcher had been channel-surfing when he stumbled on 89.1 and was happy to hear Monroe spinning music again.

“Thank you so much,” Monroe replied. “Is there something you’d like to hear?”

Community radio in Iowa

Compared with other states, Iowa has relatively few community radio stations, which are nonprofit organizations run mostly by local volunteers (as opposed to the pros at Iowa Public Radio). But the FM dial has a few here and there, including KPVL 89.1 in Decorah, KSOI 91.9 in Murray, KFMG 99.1 in Des Moines, KRUU 100.1 in Fairfield and KICI 105.3 in Iowa City.

# # #

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Recognizing and Reducing Racism

August 9, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Note: This column was written as a part of one of the Gazette Writers Circle projects; in this case, the concept of "privilege." As the editor explains in the online and hard copy sections containing the columns,
When people talk about “privilege,” they are referring to rights, immunities or benefits enjoyed by some demographic groups over others. Members of The Gazette Writers Circle met last month in Iowa City to discuss the idea. Some of the questions we considered were: Is this something we see in Iowa City? Is it something we notice in our own relationships with others? If so, what, if anything can or should be done to counteract this tendency?
Given both the necessity of a narrow focus for such a broad subject, and the importance and tragedy of racism (primarily but not exclusively involving African-Americans) that is the subject of the following essay.

Six Writers Circle writers chose to write on this subject. All of the columns (including mine) can be found in The Gazette's online edition here. They also appear in the "Insight & Books" section of the hard copy edition for Sunday, August 9, 2015, pp. C2-C3.

Given the number of writers, and the length of the submissions, the Gazette's editor was required to make some cuts. Text below [in brackets] was submitted to The Gazette, but omitted from its hard copy and online editions. -- Nicholas Johnson

Recognizing and Reducing Racism

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, Gazette Writers Circle, August 9, 2015, p. C2

I am about as familiar as an Iowa white boy can be with the evil consequences of racism, as a result of spending most of the 1950s in Texas and throughout the South. There were still the poll tax designed to keep blacks from voting, black and white water fountains and restrooms, "No Colored" signs in restaurant and store windows, and the need for a lawsuit to open a law school to blacks. Crosses were burned in the yards of the U.S. Court of Appeals judges with whom I worked in their efforts to right these wrongs.

Such experiences helped shaped my reaction as an F.C.C. commissioner upon discovering that the broadcasting industry the Commission was supposed to regulate "in the public interest" was one of, if not the, country's most racist and sexist. I pushed for, and the Commission achieved, increased employment of African Americans and women in front of the cameras, in broadcast management, and ownership.

But there is no comparison between being a compassionate observer and being an unwilling target in such a world.

Make no mistake. The offensive Confederate flags may be coming down, but racism is still with us[, [south, north, east and west. Today’s black lives are more likely threatened by a bullet from a gun than a rope from a tree, but their churches are still burned by a match from an arsonist.]

The Southern Poverty Law Center's annual measure of hate groups in the U.S. indicates that while their number ranged from 131 to 149 during 2001 to 2008, during President Obama's presidency, from 2010 through 2014, the number ranged from 824 to 1360.

For those blacks able to avoid death, more common are the daily reminders of the painful ways in which they may have been negatively judged solely because of the color of their skin.

In a study, thousands of resumes were mailed to employers, identical except for the applicants’ names. Black-sounding names were 50% less likely to be called back.

Black people are charged prices roughly $700 higher than white people when buying the same cars.

Multiple studies show black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over for the same driving behavior.

Realtors will show black clients 18% fewer of the available homes than they show whites.

Although blacks and whites are roughly equal marijuana users, black people are four times more likely to be arrested.

Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people.

In another study, doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about an important heart procedure.

White legislators –- from both major parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names as whites.

So what is meant by “white privilege”? It’s what stand-up comic Louis C.K. is talking about when he says, “I've got a lot going for me: I'm healthy, I'm relatively young, I'm white. That is a huge leg up. Are you kidding me? I love being white. Let me be clear, by the way. I'm not saying that white people are better. I'm saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue?”

Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji reports that even young black children absorb the social construct that white skin is prestigious and black skin isn’t.

But to truly understand the consequences of the systemic racism in the lives of our African American friends and neighbors, we must do more than merely acknowledge its existence. We probably need to feel it emotionally before we will act.

[Here are some videos that may help: two TED talks, each watched over one million times, plus a powerful poet’s presentation.

Start with James A. White’s experience trying to find housing:

Then watch and listen to the passion of poet Crystal Valentine’s “On Evaluating ‘Black Privilege’" --

Follow that with what diversity advocate Vernā Myers urges will make things better:

And then do your own search for the numerous additional videos on the Internet -– and the opportunity to know and enjoy the people and benefits of living in communities with rich racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.]
Nicholas Johnson is a native born Iowan in Iowa City, who maintains and Contact:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders and America's 'Mainstream'

July 25, 2015, 8:45 a.m.

Like Mark Twain's Mississippi River, the "Mainsteam" Has Shifted


Face the Nation Exchange

Senator Sanders' Uniqueness

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

Senator Sanders' Positions

Just Where Is America's Mainstream?


Face the Nation
JOHN DICKERSON: What do you think . . . of Bernie Sanders and his challenge to Hillary Clinton? . . .

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: . . . [H]ere you have got one of the most liberal people in the Democrat Party running against Hillary Clinton . . ..

DICKERSON: What does it say about the Democratic Party?

BOEHNER: That they're out of step with mainstream America.
. . .
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: All right. Well, let me respond to that issue by issue. And you determine who is out of the mainstream.

I want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A recent "Wall Street Journal" poll said a majority of the American people want to do that. . . . [M]any of [Speaker Boehner's] members want to do away with the concept of the minimum wage.

I want to see this country expand Social Security benefits, not cut them. John Boehner, his party, want to either privatize Social Security or cut Social Security benefits to the elderly and disabled vets. . . .

I want to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. And I have introduced legislation to do that. [The] Republican Party is very reluctant to spend a nickel to rebuild our infrastructure.

DICKERSON: Senator, you ...

SANDERS: I want -- so, I think in terms of who is out of touch with the American people, I would say the Republican Party is. They want to give tax breaks to billionaires, not help the middle class.

-- "Face the Nation Transcripts, July 12, 2015: Boehner, Sanders, Cotton,"
Senator Sanders Uniqueness

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sent out a letter in June 2015 explaining why is is running for president. This is a serious campaign, make no mistake. But it is otherwise relatively unique among presidential campaigns in general -- and amongst this year's mob of candidates in particular. See generally, "Bernie! Why the 99% Should Support Bernie's Campaign," June 1, 2015.

Sanders is neither someone who runs every four years, nor someone running the first time who has hired expensive, professional campaign managers, media manipulators, pollsters, and fundraisers who tell him what to say and do. For starters, he won't take money from billionaires, PACs, or others seeking to enrich themselves through their campaign contributions. (Years ago I once calculated such contributors get a 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one return on their money; give a million dollars, get a billion dollars or more in return: "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996. I simply assume, with today's $1 billion-plus campaign seasons and unlimited Citizens United corporate contributions, it's probably worse.)

Even more important, he neither engages in new-found, crafted slogans, nor does he change positions with the political winds. Senator Sanders is still saying what he has been saying all his life as mayor, as a member of Congress, and as a U.S. Senator. "Authentic" is a word often used by political junkies who have spent their lives in a world of political "shuck and jive" and are now hearing Sanders for the first time.

He's not a college professor (though he could be). He's a politician running for the presidency. But he believes democracies are supposed to serve the 99%, not just the 1%, and that in order to do that campaigns need to include serious efforts to explore and resolve the more serious challenges facing the people, and to build the multi-million-member political organizations that will make possible the implementation of solutions.

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

This poses a double-barrelled problem for the media -- and therefore for Senator Sanders.

First, the media's owners are, by definition, well within the 1%. They have every possible financial, political, ideological, and social motive to try to prevent him being taken seriously. Savvy media employees who wish to stay employed can't help but be aware of the advantages offered them if they will cut back on or eliminate coverage of him (see description of the shameful exclusion of him by "Meet the Press" in "Bernie's Media Challenge," June 19, 2015), and when unavoidable (perhaps because he is getting the largest number of contributors and audience members of any candidate) diminish his reputation with ridicule, marginalization, and dismissal as "a socialist" whose views are "out of the mainstream."

Second, with rare exceptions, profit-driven media do not have the space or time, or a sufficient number of highly educated, informed and analytical journalists, to present lengthy print, online, or televised discussions of major public policy issues in a way that will involve, inform, and hold an American audience. (See "Three-Legged Calves, Wolves, Sheep and Democracy's Media," Dec. 1, 2014.) Thus, even if media owners were supportive of Senator Sanders' views, they aren't really set up to present anyone's views at length. Thus, political coverage tends to focus on fundraising (e.g., Senator Rand Paul's mediocre contributions; Jeb Bush's $100 million), poll results (e.g., leading Republicans excluded from Fox News debate), gotcha moments (e.g., Governor Rick Perry's 2012 "oops" moment), the bizarre (e.g., Donald Trump's behavior, characterized by Dan Rather as somewhat similar to "a manure spreader in a windstorm"), physical appearance (e.g., the Donald's hair; women's clothing), and those portions of candidates' past history they'd rather forget (e.g., Hillary Clinton's Arkansas Whitewater, 1990s healthcare efforts, Benghazi, 50,000 emails).

Senator Sanders' Positions

So what is this establishment-bucking Senator Sanders talking about? That brings us back to the June letter referenced above. This is certainly not the only written source, you should also check his campaign Web site generally, (Issues).

For now, here is just a brief summary of the headings for the topics he touches upon: jobs, wages, income inequality, progressive taxation, Wall Street reforms, campaign finance alternatives, climate change, universal single-payer health care, poverty programs, college for all, opposition to endless war, and finally "a political revolution." Here is where you can read a pdf of the entire Bernie Sanders' June 2015 3-1/2-page letter. A more current (yesterday) comparable and updated statement was included in a July 24, 2015, email from the campaign which you can read here.

Just Where is America's Mainstream?

Which brings us back to the question of whether his proposals position him in or out of the mainstream. The problem with conducting that inquiry without data, of course, is that the discussion tends to disintegrate into 'tis-'taint shouting matches.

That's why it seemed to me useful to find out precisely what recent polling on Americans' views actually reveals on the matter. Here are some of those results, either directly from the polling organization or as reported by others:
Josh Hakinson, "America's Views Align Surprisingly Well With Those of 'Socialist' Bernie Sanders," Mother Jones, May 19, 2015 (Wealthy should pay more taxes -- 68%; Close offshore tax havens -- 85% (small business owners); Public funding of elections -- "half" Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions - 64%; Universal single-payer healthcare -- 50%+; Breaking up big banks -- 58%; Free community college (2 years) -- 63%; Oppose fast-track for TPP trade deal -- 61%; Raising minimum wage to $15/hour -- 63%; Make union organizing of workers easier -- 53%; Expansion of Social Security and Medicare -- "majorities")

Philip Bump, "Bernie Sanders Says Americans Back His Agenda -- and He's Mostly Right," The Washington Post, June 12, 2015 (Support infrastructure spending -- 50%; Trade restrictions to support domestic industries -- 50%; High quality preschool programs -- 50%; College student loans, lower costs, longer to pay off -- 50%)

Drew Desilver, "State of the Union 2014: Where Americans Stand on Key Issues," Pew Research Center, Jan. 27, 2014 (Dissatisfied with income inequality -- 67%; One year extension of unemployment benefits -- 63%; Path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- 71%). And see, Drew Desilver, "5 Facts About Social Security," Pew Research Center, Oct. 16, 2013 (support for increases varies by party).

"Poll: Most Americans Support Raising Investment Taxes for Wealthy; More Than Two-Thirds Say the Rich Pay Too Little in Federal Taxes, Most Back Obama's Proposed Tax Hike on Investments,"> Associated Press-GfK Poll, Aljazeera America, Feb. 23, 2015.
Senator Elizabeth Warren presented comparable numbers in a recent speech as evidence that a majority of Americans can, in fact, be accurately labeled as "progressives."
• Last November, when Democrats across the country had a terrible day, four -- four -- Republican states voted to raise their minimum wage. In South Dakota, 55% of voters supported a minimum wage increase. In Nebraska, 59%. Arkansas, 66%. And in Alaska, 69%. That shouldn't surprise anyone: 70% of Americans across this country support an increase of the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. Republicans may vote to keep workers in poverty, but on minimum wage, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that students shouldn't be crushed by debt and the federal government should not make a profit on student loans. And so do 73% of Americans. Beltway Republicans may vote to stomp on people who are deep in debt, but on student loans, the American people are Progressives -- and to them debt-free college sounds pretty darn good.

• Progressives believe people should be able to care for sick family members without fear of losing their jobs, and so do 80% of Americans. Republicans may pander to their big business pals, but on paid sick leave, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that millionaires and billionaires should pay the same tax rates as their secretaries, and so do two-thirds of all Americans. Republicans may support special breaks for the rich and powerful, but on tax fairness, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that after a lifetime of work, people deserve to retire in dignity and that means a commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security -- and 79% of likely voters in last year's election also supported increasing Social Security benefits. Republicans may try to cut benefits, but on Social Security, the American people are Progressives and they are ready to take on the retirement crisis in this country.

• Progressives believe in trade, but not the kind written behind closed doors by corporate lawyers that leave American workers eating dirt. Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor some sort of trade restrictions, and more than half oppose fast tracking trade deals. Republicans -- and some Democrats -- may want to make it easier for multinational corporations to ship jobs overseas, but on trade, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that powerful corporations and billionaires have far, far too much influence over our politics and their stranglehold over our government rigs the game. Nearly three-quarters of America agrees. Republicans may cozy up to their billionaire sugar-daddies, but on campaign finance and Washington reform, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher legal enforcement -- and that, five years after Dodd-Frank -- it's time to stop pretending and really end "too big to fail" with rules like the Glass-Steagall Act. And 79% of Americans believe Wall Street should be held accountable with tougher rules. Beltway Republicans may be willing to let the biggest banks break our economy again, but on Wall Street reform, the American people are Progressives.

• And finally, I want to make one more very important point: Progressives believe that it shouldn't take a revolution on YouTube to drive a revolution in law enforcement. It shouldn't take a hurricane in New Orleans or a massacre in Charleston for Americans to wake up to what is happening -- what is still happening -- to people of color in this country. And it sure as heck shouldn't take poll numbers to unite us in our determination to build a future for all our children. House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag and Republican leaders may cower in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the American people understand that black lives matter and America is not a country that stands for racism, bigotry or hatred. To build an economy that creates real opportunity, that doesn't lock up millions of our fellow human beings and that uses the talents of all our people, Americans must prove that on equality and justice, the American people are Progressives.
Amber Ferguson, "Elizabeth Warren's Message At Netroots Nation," Huffington Post, July 17, 2015 (as prepared for delivery).


Of course, merely because a majority of your fellow Americans hold one view or another doesn't mean that it is "right," or that you are obliged to follow. Clearly, most who number themselves in the establishment's wealthiest 1% disagree, and you may be among them -- or agree with them even though you are not so financially blessed. Nor does it mean that no one should be elected who is not "in the mainstream."

But these polling results, and others that are comparable, should at least put to rest that, whatever else Senator Sanders may or may not be, he is clearly waist deep in the mainstream.

Today's "radicals" who really are out of the mainstream, as he has pointed out, are those who want to hold down, or even eliminate, the minimum wage; continue endless wars in the Middle East; deny climate change; oppose universal single-payer health care, federal jobs programs to rebuild infrastructure, increases in unemployment benefits, and want to repeal "Obama Care;" want to reduce taxes on the wealthy, continue college student debt, cut back on Social Security.

Wherever they may be on the river bank, it is they who are clearly not in the mainstream. Senator Bernie Sanders is.
# # #

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Militarization of America

July 5, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Note: This column was written as a part of one of the Gazette Writers Circle projects; in this case, the militarization of local police in Iowa and across the country. I saw the issues as merely a sub-set of those raised by "the militarization of America," and best understood and addressed within that context.

Having done so, it is useful to make clear by way of this note that I fully recognize: (a) the United States needs a military, (b) there are occasions when our national interests do require that it be used (such as World War II), and (c) that those who volunteer to serve, and do so with skill and honor, deserve our respect, thanks, and far more GI-Bill-style practical support on their return than we seem willing to provide. At a minimum, they should not be blamed for the foolish decisions of our elected officials. One way of honoring them is to discuss and question those decisions, as I attempt to do, below.

Text below [in brackets] was submitted to The Gazette, included in its online version, but omitted from its hard copy edition. -- Nicholas Johnson

The Militarization of America

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, Gazette Writers Circle, July 5, 2015, p. C3

Philadelphia police crowd control 30 years ago? Dropping a bomb from a helicopter; 60 homes burned.

Not the typical response of the thousands who do “protect and serve.” But today’s militarization of local police with hand-me-down Army equipment is worth examining — in context.

Because it’s only a small part of the militarization of America.

We are the world’s pre-eminent military power. Of the top ten military nations we spend more than the other nine combined. With our military presence in over 150 countries, and provision of weapons to others, we have militarized the world.

Expenditures reflect values. There is little political objection to the trillions of debt from credit card military adventures. We accept the opportunity costs as we reject universal, single-payer health care, starve our public schools, cut programs for the poor, and watch our infrastructure crumble. “We’re number one!” we cry, notwithstanding low international rankings for test scores, infant mortality, and life expectancy.

Our national anthem celebrates “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Our sporting events often begin with a vocalist and spectators singing that song. Athletic contests in many cultures serve, in part, to prepare young men for battle. Our most popular sport is our most violent: football. Those games sometimes begin with a flyover of military fighter planes. [Photo credit: Brian Ray, The Gazette.] See footnote, "Fighter Planes Flyover of Kinnick Stadium," below.

We have a [“ready, fire, aim”] militarized media, its cheerleaders for war ready to support every military action. [Never mind we haven’t been attacked, and there’s no realistic threat.] War coverage is dramatic and improves ratings, whether baby wars (Granada), “pre-emptive” wars (Iraq), or perpetual wars elsewhere. [TV stations used to “sign off” at night with visuals of flags and fighter planes. As Mason Williams said, “Every night, before it goes to bed, television gets down on its knees and prays to war.”] [Photo credit: unknown.]

We have militarized our homes and ourselves. Our children play with video games that train them as military sharpshooters and drone operators. Roughly 40 percent are living in homes with guns. The U.N. reports America’s gun death risk per 100,000 population is 20 times the average for other countries.

There are 50,000 suicides and homicides each year; 60 percent involve guns. (Homicide is the second leading cause of death of 15-25 year olds.) Some estimate guns in homes are 16 times more likely to harm occupants than intruders.

Given those odds, Americans must really love their guns a lot — a love that surpasses all understanding.

It’s natural such a nation would have a National Rifle Association (NRA) opposing virtually every form of gun regulation, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, retention of databases of gun purchases, background checks on purchasers at gun shows and changes in the registration of firearms.

With the expansion of permits to carry, we see the militarization of other institutions as well. There are guns on college campuses, in schools, malls, movie theaters, bars and even churches. And there are the all-too-regular reports of deaths — genuinely grieved, but all too quickly forgotten.

We have militarized our politics and governing. Few elected officials are defeated for supporting increased defense appropriations or the NRA’s agenda. Many have military bases or defense contractors in their districts. Coupled with the NRA’s campaign contributions, large membership, and ability to defeat its opponents, military-industrial complex and NRA victories are not surprising.

We’ve already militarized law enforcement.

The 1878 posse comitatus act makes it a federal crime to use “any part of the Army ... to execute the laws.” However, with many exceptions, plus the Insurrection Act, it’s a low hurdle.

In 1932, President Hoover ordered Army General Douglas MacArthur and Major Dwight Eisenhower to use the infantry to disburse the WWI Bonus March veterans from their Mall encampments. President Eisenhower used the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to integrate the Little Rock schools in 1957. When riots followed Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, President Johnson ordered 2,000 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers flown to Washington.

Sometimes Army intervention aids big business. In the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, President Harding ordered the Army to support mine owners against 10,000 miners. Since the 1890s union organizing and strikes have often yielded to government force — including the Army.

In October 2002, the activation of USNORTHCOM marked the first time since George Washington that a military commander’s mission is our own homeland.

Militarized nations need blanket surveillance of their civilians. We have that, too. The NSA plus 15 other spy agencies we know about.

That’s the context. Now let’s talk about the militarization of police.

Nicholas Johnson, as U.S. Maritime Administrator, had responsibility for military sealift to Vietnam.,,


Fighter Planes Flyover of Kinnick Stadium

The two photos, above, were taken in Kinnick stadium in Iowa City during the Iowa-Ohio State football game, November 20, 2010.

The flyover demonstrated America's militarization by blending the Star Spangled Banner, being played at the time, with the low, swooping flyover of the stadium by four T-38 fighter jets.

For the most part, the crowd seemed to love it: "The military flyover came at the end of the 'Star Spangled Banner' and was followed by loud cheering and a standing ovation by many Hawkeye football fans."

Although I've not thoroughly research the matter, I am unaware of any writing at the time (beyond my own) questioning the propriety of an institution of higher education promoting militarization. "UI spokesman Tom Moore [chose to specifically acknowledge that] 'The purpose of the flyover was to honor all of our military personnel."

The primary focus of objections only related to the height, and clearance of the stadium, at which the fighter jets were flying at such high speed. Haley Bruce, "Officials Say Kinnick Flyover Too Low," The Daily Iowan, December 13, 2010 ("Officials said a flyover at Kinnick Stadium during the Iowa-Ohio State football game last month may have violated Air Force regulations by being hundreds of feet too low, the Associated Press has reported"). [Photo credit: Rob Johnson, The Daily Iowan; "Four T-38 jets fly over during the national anthem at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010."] And see the follow up, "Pilot in Low Kinnick Flyover Blamed Other Air Traffic," Associated Press, The Gazette, March 31, 2014.


James Edward Johnson, Comment on Facebook, July 5, 2015, 10:11 a.m.

Generally, I agree, but with one exception. Allowing people to privately possess the tools of self-defense is an acknowledgement that total control (through mass surveillance, overwhelming force, and general denial of our Constitutional rights) by the police is an undesirable goal. This is the heart of the values represented by the Second Amendment - particularly as extended thought the 14th. We should not have standing armies or a militarized police force. But, to secure the rights that may be protected by state power, the people should be directly enabled to secure those rights.

Since moving to Chicago, it has become clearer that disadvantaged people are, too often, both unprotected or threatened by the police, and at risk from a small number of criminals who terrorize their communities. The individual right to self defense, and the ancillary right to retain the tools for that purpose, exist so that people are not dependent on forces that threaten their liberty just as much as they promise to protect the people from other threats.

As a society, we should work to improve the integrity of our police, repeal laws against victimless crimes that enable police harassment of the people, and ensure educational and work opportunities that strengthen communities against such state and criminal threats.

However, the people hurt by these systemic problems should not have to wait on the rest of us to take remedial action. I support the Huey P. Newton Gun Club because I believe they take these rights seriously. We should not conflate their actions with the actions of a militarized police that acts offensively.

# # #

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Coming to 'Yes' on New Buildings and Demolition

June 30, 2015, 10:30 a.m.

And see: "But Seriously Folks . . . Preservation Policy," March 9, 2015.

Building Consensus on Iowa City's Vision, Future

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 30, 2015, p. A9

When it comes to building new structures, and preserving the old, Iowa City needs a process that produces consensus.

Iowa City’s downtown was laid out in 1839. Like Iowa’s 99 counties, it was literally designed for a horse and buggy age. One hundred years later, even with automobiles, the downtown neither had nor needed parking garages or parking meters. Its department stores, hardware stores, five movie theaters, barber shops (for the weekly “shave and a haircut”), Sears, Montgomery Ward and others with farm supplies, served Johnson County’s farmers on Saturdays and residents every day.

Today that function is served by the Coral Ridge Mall, with more than 100 businesses and 5,000 free parking spaces. There’s no way downtown Iowa City can regain its 20th century role in competition with that mall. And no way could it handle the crowds if it did.

For years I’ve advocated a vision for our downtown of a small, quaint, walkable, livable, residential center of history, entertainment and restaurants — along with the minimal number of banks, grocery stores and other businesses to sustain that resident population. That’s something downtown could become.

And because it is a vision shared by Marc Moen and the City Council, it is what it is becoming.

That’s not to say everyone agrees with every detail. There are disagreements about building design, height, and location; the housing balance between those living in half-million dollar condos and minimum-wage residents in low-income housing; and the destruction of historic structures, such as the Civil War cottages. (Photo credit: Josh O'Leary. Photo caption: "Three brick cottages, dating to the mid-1800s, stand in 600 block of South Dubuque Street in what was once the city's rail district. The Historic Preservation Commission deemed the cottages historically significant at its meeting on Thursday [December 11, 2014]." Andy Davis, "Panel: Dubuque St. Cottages Are Historically Significant," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 12, 2014.)

Then there’s the taxpayer funding of private ventures with TIFs and other benefits -— my major disagreement. See, But even on that I agree with Moen, whom I also appreciate for his civic commitment, aesthetic creativity — and patience. As he said at the June 8 council meeting regarding the TIF decisions, “I know there’s a lot of controversy about this. ... It’s a political decision whether it’s a good idea or not.”

When a developer is invited to accept taxpayers’ money, whether from Congress or a city council, she should no more be criticized for accepting a foolish TIF than when she takes an irrational, legal, federal tax deduction. If blame there be, it should be laid at the feet of the politicians.

Moen is right. It is a political decision.

But political decisions call for political process. Democracy has never been perfect; it’s just the least worst of the alternatives. Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote in 1958, “I am waiting for someone to really discover America.” Now at 96, he’s still waiting — and so are we.

Historically legitimate, traditional, public building projects, such as schools, libraries, court houses and jails, do have a democratic process. Governments can’t build them unless voters approve the sale of bonds — bonds repaid with taxpayers’ increased taxes.

Ironically, there is no similar democratic process to control government’s use of taxpayers’ money to fund for-profit, private building projects. It may be “a political decision,” but there is no political democratic process for arriving at that decision. Listening to citizen complaints after the decision has been made is not a meaningful democratic process.

The historic preservation process is worse. Many cities receive economic, as well as aesthetic, value from historic preservation. In Iowa City, with enough developer pressure, the council simply overrules the best judgment of historic preservation groups, zoning boards and previous planning documents. (Photo credit: Andy Davis. Photo caption: "Crews from Iowa City-based Noel’s Tree and Crane service work Wednesday [May 27, 2015] to tear down two cottages at 608 and 610 S. Dubuque St." Andy Davis, "2 remaining Civil War-era cottages on Dubuque St. torn down," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 29, 2015

Imagine if the council voted all the money necessary to preserve the homes and buildings we agree should be preserved, and the developers had to hold bake sales to add more floors to their high rises.

Maybe we need to vote. Maybe quality polling would be sufficient. What we must have is a better, more democratic process for evolving consensus regarding the Iowa City we want — and the “political decisions” about destruction of the old and building the new to get us there.
Nicholas Johnson, a native-born Iowa City resident, once served on the local school board, and maintains and the blog

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Bernie's Media Challenge

June 19, 2015, 11:40 a.m.

See also, Bernie!, June 1, 2015.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Radio Station
Our corporate media's approach to politics in general and the presidential primaries in particular [is] as a horse race, and delights over their gotcha presentations of candidates' gaffs. When Sanders is mentioned at all it's usually to compare him with Hillary. Seldom has any report devoted even a single sentence to each of his policy proposals -- most of which, polls show, are supported by a majority of Americans.

However one might characterize what the media is currently doing, it's not an effort to inform and involve the American people in a discussion and debate regarding the "best practices" approach to our nation's challenges. Since that's what Bernie wants to do, no other candidate seems to, and therefore ought to be one of the most newsworthy elements of his campaign, the fact that it's impossible to report his exciting platform in the media's 20-second sound bites is a substantial campaign challenge.

-- Bernie!

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting's research discloses that between January 3rd and May 3rd of 2015, Meet the Press (NBC; host, Chuck Todd) made no mention whatsoever of Senator Bernie Sanders, notwithstanding 16 mentions of Hillary Clinton, 13 of Jeb Bush, 12 of Scott Walker, 11 of Chris Christie, and 10 each for Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee. In total, 24 presidential candidates received mentions during this four-month period. Bernie? Zero. "Meet the Press Breaks Its Silence on Bernie Sanders," Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), June 2015, vol. 28, no. 5, p. 3 ("Meet the Press host Chuck Todd . . . declared on the show's May 3 episode . . . 'I'm obsessed with elections.' Yet the one major candidate who had announced he was running that week -- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who declared on April 30 he was running for the Democratic nomination -- was strikingly ignored on that same broadcast.")
Bernie Sanders is the only avowed "Democratic Socialist" serving in the United States Congress. Defeating both Democrats and Republicans, he served as Vermont's only member of the House of Representatives for 16 years (1990-2006). Sanders has now served in the United States Senate for more than nine years (2006 to the present). As acknowledged by Todd himself . . . , in all those years, Meet the Press never saw fit to have Sanders appear on "America's most watched...Sunday morning public affairs program" until September 14, 2014 when Sanders was interviewed about his "possible" run for the Presidency. (One month earlier than the October date initially cited by Todd in response to FAIR.)
Ernest A. Canning, "Bernie Who? Media Watchdog Documents NBC's 'Meet the Press' Marginalization of Sanders," The Brad Blog, May 11, 2015

Only following FAIR's report was an invitation extended, which Bernie accepted. "Meet the Press Transcript - May 31, 2015." While it certainly counted as an after-the-fact "mention" of his candidacy, it was scarcely an effort to explore his past and approach to the issues.
As one of Sanders’s first nationwide appearances as a presidential candidate, you might think that Todd would take the opportunity to probe more deeply into the senator’s not uncontroversial policy proposals, such as providing free tuition to students attending public colleges, or raising the marginal tax rates, or how he might deal with ISIS. But you would be wrong. To begin, Todd spend the first part of the program discussing the unfolding Dennis Hastert scandal in a not-so-subtle effort to tell us what it says about Congress as a whole. (Answer: nothing, but that’s not newsworthy, so….) When Sanders finally made his appearance about midway through the program, Todd begin with one useful question regarding whether the senator would support the House bill to extend the USA Patriot Act, then under debate in the Senate. . . .

At that point, the interview degenerated into full horse-race, candidate-personality mode. Specifically, Todd sought Sanders’s views on a topic arguably of far less relevance to the senator’s qualifications to be president: Hillary Clinton. He began indirectly by asking Sanders to weigh the relative merits of Bill Clinton’s presidency versus Barack Obama’s. When Sanders appeared to praise Obama more than Clinton, Todd pressed further: “You singled out President Obama for praise but not President Clinton. Why?” You might wonder why Todd raised this issue, since Bill is not a candidate for higher office, but Todd’s intention soon became clear when he asked Sanders to comment on Hillary Clinton’s apparent leftward movement on a number of issues, including “same-sex marriage, on immigration … on NAFTA, on trade, on the Iraq War, on Cuba. She has moved from a position, basically, in disagreement with you, to a position that comes closer to your view. So I guess is, do you take her at her word?”

Cue the horse race! To his credit, Sanders refused to take the bait. Instead, he expressed hope that “the media will allow us to have a serious debate in this campaign on the enormous issues facing the American people” and tried to move the conversation to his policy views. Todd, however, had no interest in having a serious debate on the issues; he followed up with: “Do you trust these changes that Hillary Clinton has made? Or do you think she’s been doing it just for primary politics?”

When Sanders again refused to engage Todd in a discussion of Clinton’s motives, the MTP [Meet the Press] moderator closed with his zinger: Sanders’s 43-year-old essay discussing women’s “rape fantasy.”
Matthew Dickinson, "Bernie Sanders and Chuck Todd's 'Meet the Press' fiasco: 50 shades of bad; Bernie Sanders deftly refused to engage in media-generated controversy and expressed hope that 'the media will allow us to have a serious debate in this campaign,'" Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 2015.

Earlier this week I heard a radio call-in talk show addressing the matter of the media's coverage of politics. A professional journalist, one of the formal guests, was offering as advice to journalists that they should not just repeat what the candidates say (however fairly and accurately they do so) but go beyond that to the candidates' experience, consistency and credibility, dig into the issues that really made a difference for ordinary Americans, understand and explain candidates' positions on those issues from Americans' perspective, and provide the information that will enable voters to participate more intelligently in the democratic process.

Realizing that the story of the media's treatment (or non-treatment) of Bernie Sanders, told above, was dead center on topic, and that somehow Bernie had not even been mentioned by name during the first part of the program, I decided to give the station a call. I was asked my name, city, what I wanted to add to the program, and was left with the impression I would soon be up. While placed on hold, I could listen to the program. Soon the person I'd spoken to came back on the phone. Although there did not appear to have been any caller ahead of me, I was told that I would not be put on the air anyway. Explaining that I'd be happy to wait through the break, I was told that the topic was going to change. So I thanked her and hung up -- but continued to listen on the radio.

For some reason my mind wandered back to my time as an FCC commissioner, when most networks and local stations seemed anxious to put the "controversial commissioner" on the air. (Apparently I was good for ratings. Following my appearance on CBS' Sunday show, Issues and Answers they told me it produced the most mail they'd ever received for the show.) When scheduling permitted, I'd usually accept.

The networks all had their late night shows, too. Dick Cavett hosted the one on ABC show, Merv Griffin was on CBS, and Johnny Carson on NBC. Cavett and Griffin both had me on their shows. Carson did not. But it was not for his young staff's not trying.

I'd get an invite from some young producer inviting me on the Tonight Show. I'd accept, but add, "However, you may find yourself calling me back in a couple weeks and uninviting me." "Why do you say that?" she would ask. "Oh, never mind," I'd reply, "let's just wait and see." Sure enough, the call would come, "Oh, it turns out we'll not be able to have you on that night." "Well, how about another night then?" I'd reply, knowing what was coming next: "There just don't seem to be any open right now." Someone had slipped me the information much earlier that NBC had an internal memo indicating that neither Ralph Nader nor I was ever to appear on the Tonight Show. Apparently, the newest assistant producers for the show "never got the memo."

There was another occasion in a station's studio, when in the middle of an interview, ranting on about the abuses brought on the American people by the AT&T telephone monopoly, the station's phone lines suddenly went dead.

It's true that AT&T was then everywhere. They had one lobbyist just devoted to me. They were in the White House, the Congress, governors' offices, state legislatures, and city councils. AT&T had eyes and ears everywhere. I used to joke that they probably supplied most of the scout masters and den mothers for scout troops. So they certainly could have cut off the service because of what I was saying. But I really think that was unlikely; that it was probably just a coincidence. But it makes a good story regardless. (As Mason Williams once ended a song lyric, "This is not a true tale, but who needs truth if it's dull?")

So it is with my recent radio experience. I think the irony makes a good story; "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Radio Station" (with apologies to the Broadway show, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum").

What's the irony? Not only does the media not give Bernie his due, ignoring him completely, or refusing to permit him to discuss the issues he is raising -- which is the real "news" of his campaign, making him unique among the army of candidates -- but a citizen is kept from even raising the media's failure during a program discussing the media's inadequate coverage of politics.

FAIR and others, such as Project Censored, have amassed considerable evidence of the impact of big business, the wealthy, media owners, and advertisers on what subjects are covered at all, and how they are covered. More than one broadcast journalist has done a mea culpa or two over their cheerleader presentation of President W. Bush's "preemptive war" in Iraq. Even as lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as a threat to women, MS magazine continued to carry cigarette advertising and no articles about the dangers of smoking. There are hundreds of examples. So it is not surprising that the same forces from the outside, and self-censorship on the inside, would result in some favoritism toward the candidates with a pro-corporate ideology and Wall Street contributors.

Consider: ""During his campaign kickoff Saturday, [candidate Martin] O'Malley referenced reports that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein had told employees that he would be happy if either Bush or Clinton were elected. 'I bet he would,' O'Malley said '. . .. 'I very much was supportive of Hillary Clinton the last go-round,” he [the Goldman Sachs CEO] told Politico last year. 'I held fundraisers for her.'” Ali Elkin, "Martin O'Malley Uses Goldman Sachs to Hit Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush," Bloomberg, May 31, 2015.

In fairness, as with my AT&T story, I need to make clear that this week's radio program is one of its network's best, hosted by one of its finest hosts. (I don't mention names because I don't want to risk this blog essay being interpreted as criticizing either.) My call did come toward the end of the program's first segment. And while the second segment also dealt with politics, it did switch from the media coverage issues.

I could make fun of its second segment choices: Clinton, Bush, and the Republican's clown, Donald Trump -- and ask why Sanders is not at least as important as Trump. But there was a rationale to the program's choice: those three were the most recent additions to the field of 20-plus. Moreover, before the second segment was over, however insignificant, Bernie did get one mention of no more than his name, and another in the context of how his positions (not identified) might have influenced Hillary's move to the left (both mentions together probably totaling less than 10 seconds).

It's still kind of a wonderful irony. It illustrates the point that no one on the radio program mentioned Bernie's treatment as one of the best examples of media failures in political reporting, and that when it was offered the information from a caller, it chose not to put it on the air.

Oh, and that when I tried to upload this blog essay just now Google told me, "An error occurred while trying to save or publish your post." Et tu, Google?! Maybe later.

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