Saturday, November 18, 2017

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

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

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essays: "Media'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"

# # #

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.

# # #

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Free Speech Rights

Trump vs. NFL
Right: "A moral or legal entitlement to have or do something."

-- Concise Oxford English Dictionary, p. 1238, "right. n.2"
As you may have noticed, the latest target of the President of the United States, right up there with North Korea, appears to be the National Football League (NFL) organization, owners, coaches and players. The kerfuffle involves, in part, the players' "right" to express disagreement with the president by failing to stand or otherwise participate in national anthem ceremonies prior to football games. (The protest involves both his attacks on the NFL, and his less than firm rejection of systemic and overt racism, neo-Nazis, and unwarranted police shootings of African-Americans.) [Photo credit: The Tennessean. Detroit Lions players "taking a knee" during national anthem, Sept. 24, 2017.]

At least for today, I will leave to others the effectiveness of this mode of protest, the cultural role of the national anthem, the Pentagon's payments to the NFL (plus fly-overs and other efforts to militarize sports), colleges' treatment of athletes (especially women), football's concussions and other health hazards (especially for players under 18), and other issues.

My limited focus at the moment is the widespread use of the word "rights" in this dispute -- especially the express or implied suggestion that the players' "constitutional" or "First Amendment" rights are somehow involved.
What follows is not a "legal opinion." If you have a personal stake in these issues, talk to your lawyer. There are constitutionally acceptable limitations on First Amendment "rights" (e.g., you cannot lie in your stock prospectus, operate a sound truck through residential neighborhoods late at night, falsely shout "fire" in a crowded theater, advocate "imminent lawless action," or joke with the airports' TSA employees, among a great many other examples). Outcomes turn on the applicability of law to, and the specific facts of, individual cases.
Call me fussy if you must, but the relevant language of the First Amendment is, "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .." Since its adoption, the word "Congress" has been interpreted to mean any form of "state action," whether by Congress, the executive branch, states, cities, or state universities.

Among the values, or consequences, of the First Amendment are (1) its role in meeting the needs of a self-governing citizenry to be informed, (2) its importance to the search for truth in a "marketplace of ideas," (3) its relationship to the "checking value" of the media, as it watches for, and reports, abuses by large institutions, (4) its bearing on "self-actualization," basic liberty, and individual freedom, and (5) the "safety valve" it provides, permitting dissidents the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction verbally, rather than through violence.

Variations on the values represented in that constitutional language, the reasons for its existence, may be equally applicable elsewhere by virtue of social norms or a moral entitlement referenced in the definition of "right," above.

Parents and teachers may reject the old adage, "children should be seen and not heard," believing that children (and adults!) will benefit when children are encouraged to speak. Employers may choose to reward, rather than punish, workers' desire to participate in management by criticizing present procedures and suggesting improvements. A university president may welcome, rather than resist, "shared governance" with the faculty.

But these applications of First Amendment values in other contexts do not constitute the bestowal of constitutional or legal rights on children or employees. The First Amendment does not say, and has not been interpreted to mean, that "no institution or individual shall abridge the freedom of speech of another." Other applications of First Amendment values are merely opportunities to speak, bestowed as a matter of grace, not as a matter of legal right.

Do NFL players have a First Amendment right to speak (by words or actions) from the football field, during a nationally televised game, on matters other than football? No; not unless their speech is being restrained by "state action." I'll leave to others whether the President's efforts to silence them could constitute that state action. Their right to speak could be granted by some other constitutional provision, federal or state law or administrative regulation, or a contract provision, just not by the First Amendment.

In what sense could someone have a "right" to violate an express prohibition of particular speech? In the case of government laws and regulations, the violation could be "civil disobedience" -- deliberate violation as "speech," protesting the law, knowing that there will be punishment for doing so, and with a willingness to accept that punishment (fine or imprisonment).

In the workplace setting, the employer is given wide discretion in setting the terms of employment with regard to employee behavior, dress, and some aspects of speech. Like civil disobedience, the overt flouting of contractual standards may be grounds for dismissal -- though it could be said that the employee has the "right" to violate them and accept the punishment for doing so. Of course, with "employment at will" contracts an employee can be fired for any reason at all, without either just cause or warning. [At-Will Employment,]

Thus, when it comes to speech, citizens and employees are granted some rights to speak (without being punished) by the First Amendment (government); contracts and employee manuals (employment); forbidden some speech (for which they can be punished) by legislation or company policies; and left in limbo with regard to other speech (for which there are no standards).

As with most controls of human behavior, social norms rather than "the law" are the most common restraints.

However you may feel about the content of the players' "speech" (as distinguished from the time, place and manner of its expression), it's useful for them, the commentators, and the rest of us to remember that whatever "rights" the players may have, they do not come from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

# # #

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Afghanistan: Our Unaffordable War to Nowhere

The Reasons We Should Leave



Absent Prerequisites for War

"War on Terror" is Oxymoron

Cost of Wars

The Powell Doctrine


Nicholas Johnson's Additional Writing on War and Terrorism

Some Recent Afghanistan-Related General Media News and Opinion

The shorthand for President Obama's foreign policy? "Don't do stupid stuff."[Christi Parsons, Kathleen Hennessey and Paul Richter, "Obama Argues Against Use of Force to Solve Global Conflicts," Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2014.]

Our 16-years-long military efforts in Afghanistan qualify as "stupid stuff." The list of reasons is long, and has been discussed in a variety of contexts by me since 2001, illustrated in the 23 examples linked below. So I'll try to keep this short.

-- Sam Cooke, "What a Wonderful World" ("Don't know much about history . . ..")

History. We fail to learn from history. When it comes to war, we go where "no nation has won before."

France had been interested in Vietnam since the 17th and 18th Centuries, ultimately creating a large colony (French Indochina) in 1887 which it ruled until defeated by the Vietnamese in the First Indochina War [1946-1954]. ["France-Vietnam Relations," Wikipedia.] Never mind. We're not French. Those Vietnamese won't be able to defeat our military might. Remember how that worked out for us?

And so it's been in Afghanistan.

"Great Britain and Russia [were] maneuvering for influence in Afghanistan" as early as 1826. The British brought military force to Afghanistan on three occasions: 1839-1842, 1878-1889, and 1919. None ended well for the British.
Following the 1839-1842 conflict, "The Afghans. . . would tolerate neither a foreign occupation nor a king imposed on them by a foreign power, . . . insurrections broke out" and ultimately the British were run out of the country. The outcome of the second Afghan War was a little more complicated, but ended with the murder of the British envoy, and a joint effort of Britain and Russia to draw what are today's Afghanistan boundaries.
After the 1919 war, Britain had to recognize Afghanistan's independence, and Afghanistan was one of the first states to recognize the Soviet Union (with a treaty of friendship). That "special relationship" lasted until the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Editors, "Anglo-Afghan Wars," Encyclopedia Britannica.

Russia (Soviet Union) was involved militarily in Afghanistan from 1955 to 1989. "The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978–1980," Department of State, Office of the Historian, Milestones: 1977-1980 ("Since 1955 Moscow had provided military training and materiel to Afghanistan; by 1973, a third of active [Afghan] troops had trained on Soviet soil.")

The results for the Russians were little better than for the British. "The War" lasted from December 1979 to February 1989. "Soviet-Afghan War," Wikipedia.

And with what results?
"In the brutal nine-year conflict, an estimated one million civilians were killed, as well as 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, 18,000 Afghan troops, and 14,500 Soviet soldiers. Civil war raged after the withdrawal, setting the stage for the Taliban's takeover of the country in 1996."
Alan Taylor, "The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989," The Atlantic, August 4, 2014 (includes 41 large photos).

Absent Prerequisites for War. Might there be some common themes in why Great Britain, Russia, and the United States have been so unsuccessful over the past 200 years in trying to conduct "wars" in Afghanistan? Let's see.

In addition to our refusal to study history, and our hubris in believing we have a level of smarts and military might denied all other countries, it's as if we don't recognize that war1 is not war2 -- all wars are not the same. You can't expect to win wars you launch willy-nilly, wherever, whenever, with whomever you choose. There are conditions and characteristics that make for wars' successful, and unsuccessful, likely outcomes.

It's best if your military effort is a response to your country being attacked (e.g., Revolutionary War; World War II). Next best is coming to the defense of another country that has been invaded (Kuwait in Gulf War I). Worst are unnecessary, "pre-emptive" attacks on other nations that have not attacked us (e.g., Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).

Why? Think about it. If Iowa had a 200-year-history of Canadian military invasions from time to time, and Canadian tanks and military were now moving, uninvited, through Minnesota, toward Iowa -- regardless of their pretense for doing so -- even I would be picking up a gun. The Canadians would have a hard time "winning Iowans' hearts and minds." Similarly, when we create a war inside a country with a centuries-old history of foreign invaders, it's not unreasonable for those whose home it is to think of us as just the latest in that history, and respond as Iowans would to Canadians.

Obviously, supporting one side in another country's civil war is even worse. There's no way it can be universally popular ("a British shipyard [built] two warships for the Confederacy . . . over vehement protests from the US." "United Kingdom and the American Civil War"

Fighting in countries where most Americans know little or nothing about that country's language, culture, economy, history, politics, literature, religion, social structure, and geography -- such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan -- is bristling with unintended consequences that make "winning" somewhere between extraordinarily difficult and impossible (as distinguished from the European Theatre of WWII).

"War on Terror" is Oxymoron." Whatever "terror" may be, it is not a country, or even a tightly coordinated group of individuals. Of course, every country seeks to minimize the death and damage to its citizens and property from acts of violence. But were the deliberate human and property damage in Oklahoma City, Boston, and Charlottesville really part of a "war"? The literary license in labeling anti-violence efforts a "war" is questionable at best; but strategies and tactics premised on the assumption that it really is "a war" are self-defeating and dangerous.

Wars are best when fought on behalf of, or against, countries rather than failed states; countries with some semblance of an organized central government -- more like Germany in WWII, rather than 21st Century Afghanistan, which is still largely a collection of tribal war lords' fiefdoms.

Wars are best when both sides wear uniforms that distinguish them from each other -- and the surrounding civilian population. The Taliban and ISIS often don't wear uniforms. Without uniforms it's very difficult to tell your enemy from your allies, and civilian casualties mount and further erode support for U.S. forces -- who are easy to identify.

Wars are best when there is a "front line" (as in Europe in WWII). (1) Fighting individuals without uniforms, (2) who can easily blend in with the population, (3) over constantly shifting parcels of land, (4) individuals who can easily shift from one place to another, (5) resulting in our gaining, losing, and regaining once again the same "battlegrounds," is a recipe for our seemingly endless wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, with their ever-increasing death tolls and financial burdens.

Cost of Wars. A year ago, the combined costs of U.S. military actions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan (2001-2016) were estimated at $4.207 trillion ($4.792 trillion minus the Department of Homeland Security budgets). Neta C. Crawford [Boston University], "US Budgetary Costs of Wars through 2016: $4.79 Trillion and Counting; Summary of Costs of the US Wars in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Homeland Security," Brown University Institute of International & Public Affairs, September 2016.

Because it's hard to imagine that much money, how could we translate $4.2 trillion into its opportunity cost -- the other things we could have bought with it (but weren't able to)? What else could that $4.2 trillion have paid for? Here are some possibilities: a 35-year program of tuition-free college at public universities, or health insurance premiums for every American for 12 years, or wiping out all student loan and credit card debt while leaving an additional $2 trillion for rebuilding infrastructure, or a fund to pay for rebuilding after the damage from the next 41 major tropical storms. Ethan Wolff-Mann, "7 Amazing Things America Could Have Bought Instead of a $1.45 Trillion Jet," Money, May 2, 2016 (if you care, and can't follow my math, email me for an explanation).

While I believe the Brown University and Money magazine numbers do not distort the reality, even with the best of intentions precision in these matters is impossible. For starters, what do you count? The numbers do not seem to include the post-war costs of such things as rebuilding the infrastructure we've destroyed in war (such as the post-WWII Marshall Plan), lifetime healthcare for wounded combat veterans, the consequences from the opportunity costs mentioned above. If you include the costs in the war torn countries (as I think we should), although worse than economic numbers convey, what tort law calls the "pain and suffering" of the population, the survivors who have lost their primary income provider, not to mention their homes, the wounded, dying and dead, the children denied food, shelter, and education -- not to mention parents -- would be enormous. [Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense.]

Even if we could agree on what costs to include, determining what they were is virtually impossible with a Defense Department that is so sloppy in its accounting that it is impossible to audit. "The Department of Defense . . . once again finds itself under intense scrutiny . . . because it couldn't account for more than a trillion dollars in financial transactions, not to mention dozens of tanks, missiles and planes." Tom Abate, "Military Waste Under Fire / $1 Trillion Missing -- Bush Plan Targets Pentagon Accounting," SFGATE, San Francisco Chronicle, May 18, 2003.

The Powell Doctrine. There are some basic questions to ask about any rational undertaking -- starting a business, choosing a college and major, planning a vacation trip, building a new home or office building.

The consequences of failing to do so can lead to physical injury, financial disaster or bankruptcy, or merely great disappointment.

In the case of war, the consequences can be much more serious, as the discussion above suggests. This is not to say that there are never acceptable reasons for going to war, or maintaining overwhelming military might as a strategy for avoiding the need to go to war. It is only to say that, if you prepare and use a checklist before packing the car and going on a family vacation, you might also want to have and use a checklist before going to war.

Here is a variation of the ways I've summarized that checklist of questions in the past -- sort of my version of the Powell Doctrine:
  • Is the national security of our homeland seriously threatened?

  • What, specifically, is the goal you’re trying to accomplish?

  • What nonviolent means might accomplish the goal, and have they all been tried and failed?

  • Why do you think a military operation will contribute to (rather than impede) the accomplishment of the goal?

  • In a benefit-cost analysis, what are the risks, what are the costs (including opportunity costs), what will a military mission require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure to achieve that goal, and what will be the benefits for the United States?

  • What is a reasonble projection of how long the military mission will take to achieve the goal?

  • Are the American people, their representatives, and the international community prepared to take those risks, provide those resources and pay those costs for as long as it takes?

  • What are the probabilities that a military intervention will make matters worse?

  • What are the metrics or other means to inform us whether we’ve ever been “successful”?

  • What, then, will be the exit strategy?

  • What will happen when we leave?

  • Will that be consistent with our original mission?
  • See, e.g., "General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Fordham University, New York City, September 8, 2006 (sub-heading "War: Military Control of the Civilians and the Powell Doctrine"); also as Nicholas Johnson, What Do You Mean and How Do You Know, ch. 6 "You As Citizen II: Terrorism and War," p. 61, and see, Stephen M. Walt, "Applying the 8 Questions of the Powell Doctrine to Syria," Foreign Policy, September 3, 2013.

    Conclusion. I could go on with this -- indeed the list below suggests I already have. Why? Because President Trump -- after opposing our war in Afghanistan for years -- has recently announced that it will be perpetuated by his Administration. In fact, he wants to send even more troops and taxpayer money into the hopeless pit.

    A "war" in Afghanistan was a mistake from the very beginning. If we were trying to punish the state most involved in 9/11 it was Saudi Arabia -- the country that supplied both the financing and the participants. But the U.S. didn't want to declare war on Saudi Arabia after 9/11 any more than it wanted to bomb Idaho after Oklahoma City. So we chose Afghanistan instead.

    It was argued that Afghanistan was "harboring terrorists." But any near-failed state can and does do that. To totally eliminate terrorist training in Afghanistan (1) would require more like 200,000 to 300,000 American troops (as I, and others, suggested at the time; clearly President Obama's 100,000 weren't enough) -- if even that would do it. (2) Our efforts to do that turn out to be counterproductive: our mere presence in the Middle East only intensifies anti-American feelings and terrorist recruiting. (3) Terrorists can, and do, easily move from one part of the world to another. If we drove them all out of Afghanistan they would not disappear, they would merely relocate -- as they now have in at least 70 countries. "Michael Evans" "Al-Qaeda finds three safe havens for terror training" The Times (of London), July 2, 2008 ("Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organisation, driven out of Afghanistan and defeated in Iraq, is re-emerging in strength in three alternative safe havens for training, operational planning and recruiting – Pakistan, Somalia and Algeria – according to Western intelligence and defence sources").

    To the best of my recollection, no American official has declared that our real motive for staying in Afghanistan is to plunder it's resources. I raised this possibility in "Why Afghanistan? Think Oil & Gas," September 25, 2009. Rachel Maddow recently suggested it might be our search for a source of the rare earth element Lanthanum (LA); transcript not yet posted. (If we were in Afghanistan for rare earth elements, however, we've been a little late. While we were sending troops the Chinese were sending negotiators, and have by now pretty much cornered all the supplies in Afghanistan's rare earth market.)

    In summary, the politicians pursuit of our Afghanistan War has ignored virtually all of the Powell Doctrine checklist. We never should have entered Afghanistan in the first place. As soon as that was obvious we should have left. Having failed to do so for 16 years, it is a very expensive tragedy (in lost lives and opportunities to fund what America really does need) that our current president has gone against his earlier instincts and is sending more troops to keep it going.

    # # #

    Nicholas Johnson's Additional Writing on War and Terrorism

    "Spending on Military Always Comes at al Cost," The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5, embedded in "Of Missiles and Teachers," April 7, 2017

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

    Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015; "What Motivates Terrorist Thugs," The Gazette, December 20, 2015,

    Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015, p. A11; and as "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Standard-Times [San Angelo, Texas], November 28, 2015

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

    "Why Unwinnable 'Wars' Are 'Stupid Stuff;' Add 'Impossible to Win' to Objections to War With ISIS," September 23, 2014

    "Six Step Program for Avoiding War," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 11, 2014, p. A7

    "Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS? Playing Into the Terrorists' Hands," September 19, 2014

    " Why Iowans Should Care About Iraq War III; Why Do We Accept Words Like 'Islam,' 'State,' and 'Caliphate'?" September 16, 2014

    "Is War the Best Answer?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 12, 2014, p. A7; embedded in " Whatever the Question, Is War the Best Answer?" September 10, 2014

    "Syria: Moral Imperatives and Rational Analyses; Spotting the Issues," September 4, 2013

    "Thinking About War -- Before Starting One," March 20, 2013

    "Terrorism, War, 9/11 and Looking Within," September 10, 2011

    "War in Libya, the Unanswered Questions," March 23, 2011

    "General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Fordham University, New York City, September 8, 2006; also as Nicholas Johnson, What Do You Mean and How Do You Know, ch. 6 "You As Citizen II: Terrorism and War," p. 61

    "War in Iraq: The Military Objections," International Law Talks: War With Iraq, University of Iowa College of Law, February 27, 2003

    "Ten Questions for Bush Before War," The Daily Iowan, February 4, 2003, p. A6

    Nicholas Johnson, "Capitalists Can Help U.S. Avert War with Iraq," Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sunday Insight, October 6, 2002, p. A11

    Nicholas Johnson, "On Iraq, Tell the Rest of the Story," Iowa City Gazette, October 2, 2002, p. A4

    Nicholas Johnson, "Let's not get between Iraq and a hard place," Omaha World-Herald, August 13, 2002 (and as published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen and as submitted to both)

    Nicholas Johnson, "Search for Better Response Than War; Don't Reward the Terrorists, but Understand Their Interests," Des Moines Sunday Register Opinion/Iowa View, June 30, 2002, p. OP3

    Nicholas Johnson, "Rethinking Terrorism," National Lawyers Guild Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, March 2, 2002

    "Teach Our Children Tolerant Ways," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 25, 2001, p. 9A

    # # #

    Some Recent Afghanistan-Related General Media News and Opinion

    Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, "Forceful Chief of Staff Grates on Trump, and the Feeling Is Mutual," New York Times, September 2, 2017, p. A1

    Micah Zenko, "Bush and Obama Fought a Failed 'War on Terror.' It's Trump's Turn." New York Times, August 26, 2017, p. A17

    Mujib Mashal, "Trump's Afghan Gamble Now Rests on General He Doubted," New York Times, August 25, 2017, p. A1

    Mujib Mashal, "U.S. Troop Increase in Afghanistan Is Underway, General Says," New York Times, August 24, 2017

    Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, "Why Afghanistan's War Defies Solutions," New York Times, August 24, 2017, p. A4

    Bret Stephens, "On Afghanistan, There's No Way Out," New York Times, August 24, 2017

    Rod Nordland, "What an Afghanistan Victory Looks Like Under the Trump Plan," New York Times, August 23, 2017, p. A1

    # # #

    Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Business Leaders: Make Legislators Fund Educated Workforce

    [This excerpt from the PBS Newshour, August 29, 2017, describes a program in Colorado, analogous to those in Switzerland and Germany, that is consistent with what's discussed in the column, below. It will automatically start at 36:38 into the program; the segment ends at 43:15, but will not automatically stop at that point. With thanks to Gregory Johnson for the suggestion to embed this.]

    Can Biz Leaders Save Education?

    Nicholas Johnson
    The Gazette, Insight, August 22, 2017, p. A6

    How can we get legislative funding for all Iowans’ post-high-school education?

    Aside from bemoaning tuition increases — before increasing them again — those responsible have shown little sympathy and less results: state university presidents, Board of Regents, Gov. Kim Reynolds, and legislators.

    Where can we turn?

    How about those who hold political power and control: the business community?

    Business leaders are assuming more social and political responsibility. When many Republican leaders did a little sidestep around President Donald Trump’s seeming tolerance of neo-Nazis, CEOs of large corporations resigned from Trump’s business councils in protest. A similarly prestigious group of corporate leaders defeated the Texas legislators’ “bathroom bill.” Many business owners are making sure their employees will have health care.

    Might they lobby for education appropriations as well?

    An educated population benefits everyone — and business most of all. Iowa’s problem is not a shortage of jobs. It is a shortage of skilled workers (as well as entrepreneurs and a creative class). More skilled workers mean less turnover and training, improved productivity, quality control, profits, and economic growth for Iowa’s towns.

    Business leaders are aware the post-World War II economic boom was driven by a college-educated workforce of veterans, paid for by the GI Bill. California and New York built comparable economic growth with decades of tuition-free higher education. Globally, business leaders in 24 countries are benefiting from employees with tuition-free college educations; 13 of those countries offer tuition-free educations to other countries’ students as well (including ours).

    Historically, Iowans willingly have financed public education since the first one-room schoolhouse in 1830. By 1910, the state was one of the first with a statewide high school system, until recently ranked one of the country’s best.

    After another 107 years, expanding public education from K-12 to K-14 is scarcely a premature, radical move. Rules vary, but nine states already have some form of tuition-free community college: Arkansas, California (San Francisco), Louisiana, Minnesota, New York (plus four-year college), Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

    Expanding such a program to the three, four-year regents universities (as New York has done) might be premature. But starting with Iowa’s 15 community colleges ought to be possible. [Photo credit: Kirkwood Community College; welding classroom]

    If Iowa wants to build a competitive edge in a global economy, it must first construct the educational foundation to support it. It simply can’t afford to leave qualified, willing students uneducated.

    Business leaders: Legislators look to you for ideas as well as campaign contributions. You can give them a nudge, give them permission, you can insist they fund at least tuition-free public community colleges for Iowans.

    Indeed, if you don’t insist, it will never happen.

    Do it for your business, your shareholders, your town, your family — or because you know it’s the right thing to do. Just do it.
    Nicholas Johnson is a former university professor who maintains Comments:

    # # #

    Tuesday, August 15, 2017

    Unlearning Hatred

    "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

    -- President Barack Obama, Tweet, August 12, 2017, quoting from Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

    "You've got to be taught
    To hate and fear,
    You've got to be taught
    From year to year,
    It's got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear . . .
    You've got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people . . . whose skin is a diff'rent shade, . . .
    You've got to be taught before it's too late,
    Before you are six or seven or eight,
    To hate all the people your relatives hate,
    You've got to be carefully taught!"

    -- Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught," South Pacific (1949 musical)

    Like a ship hitting a rocky reef beneath the water's surface, every once in a while America runs aground its subterranean racism. [Photo credit: Southern Poverty Law Center.]

    So it was in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, August 12. If you're unfamiliar with the events, here's one of the best collections of various aspects of the story before, during, and after these events: Maggie Astor and Christina Caron, "A Guide to the Violence in Charlottesville," New York Times, August 13, 2017.

    Picking out all of the issues this event burst forth is like trying to catalog all the items from a backed up sewer. Here are a couple.

    The Neo-Nazi-White-Nationalist-KKK-Alt-Right folks have always been there, are now, and undoubtedly will continue to be -- as long as parents teach hatred to their children, and politicians are tempted to play to their prejudices. That's the message quoted above, from Nelson Mandela, to Barack Obama, to Rogers and Hammerstein. Nor is the Neo-Nazis' hatred limited to African Americans. They are equal opportunity haters of anyone black or brown, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, LGBTQ, recent immigrants -- seemingly anyone who does not look like them and agree with their hate-driven ideology (if it can be called that).

    Their movement is racism and bigotry made visible. In Charlottesville, literally so. Without their hoods or face masks, and carrying torches, they were easily photographed. As the photos are circulated and reach their employers, some have been fired.

    I remember the University of Iowa of the 1930s, with few if any women, African American, or Jewish professors. What some Iowans now call "The Peoples Republic of Johnson County" (where Iowa City is located), the home of "left-leaning liberals," was then a place where the few African American students could not find housing -- or a barber who would cut their hair.

    I lived and worked in the South during the 1950s, attending a law school that refused to admit African Americans until the Supreme Court ordered it to do so eight years before I graduated. [Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950)]

    Is it better today? In some ways, yes, of course. Lynchings are extraordinarily rare. There are far more subtle techniques than the poll tax for discouraging minorities and the poor from voting. There are no longer separate water fountains and restrooms for African Americans -- although transgender folks are dealing with new restrictions.

    But in some ways, it is the less visible, systemic racism, the racism embedded in virtually every American institution, that is even more difficult to identify and acknowledge than the alt-right folks who dress up as Nazis, shout offensive slogans, and parade with torches.

    "Systemic racism is about the way racism is built right into every level of our society. . . . While fewer people may consider themselves racist, racism itself persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere." "7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real," (listing wealth gap, employment, education, criminal justice, housing, surveillance, and healthcare).

    Here are some details.

    Employment Bias A scientific study responded to help wanted ads with fake resumes, identical in every respect except for the name of the non-existent applicant. The researchers "sent resumes with either African-American- or white-sounding names and then measured the number of callbacks each resume received for interviews. . . . In total, the authors responded to more than 1,300 employment ads in the sales, administrative support, clerical, and customer services job categories, sending out nearly 5,000 resumes. . . . Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback." "Employers' Replies to Racial Names," The National Bureau of Economic Research; Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," NBER Working Paper No. 9873, July 2003.

    Segregated Schools. Do you know which American city has the most segregated schools? Read on. "[T]he [school integration] gains of Brown v. Board have been almost entirely reversed. Last year, a report by the Government Accountability Office found 'a large increase in schools that are the most isolated by poverty and race.' Between 2000 and 2014, the number . . . more than doubled, from 7,009 to 15,089. . . . [New York City] has ' the most segregated schools in the country,' a study by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, found in 2014. That partly has to do with housing segregation, as well as the yawning disparity of resources to which that disparity inevitably leads." Alexander Nazaryan, "Whites Only: School Segregation is Back, From Birmingham to San Francisco," Newsweek, May 2, 2017. And see, Jason Le Miere, "White Supremacists Target High Schools and Colleges in Renewed Recruitment Drive," Newsweek, March 21, 2017.

    Housing Discrimination. And speaking of the relationship between housing segregation and segregated schools (a problem in Iowa City as well), "Discrimination against blacks, Hispanics and Asians looking for housing persists in subtle forms, according to a new national study commissioned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. . . . [M]inority customers were shown fewer available units than whites with similar qualifications, the study found." Shaila Dewan, Discrimination in Housing Against Nonwhites Persists Quietly, U.S. Study Finds," New York Times, June 12, 2013, p. B3.

    The examples are endless, embedded throughout our culture and institutions. But this should be enough for a blog post.

    We are a long way from eliminating racial and religious prejudicial thoughts, speech, and actions. For at least 300 years, generations of Americans have been "carefully taught" to hate, from America's days of slavery up to the present moment. It's not easy to learn anything; but it's far more difficult to unlearn something. Although most of us may not be Neo-Nazis, that doesn't mean we don't have a long way to go.

    # # #

    Sunday, August 13, 2017

    Thoughts on Eating Living Things

    "Almost a third of Americans, 32%, believe animals should be given the same rights as people, while 62% say they deserve some protection but can still be used for the benefit of humans. The strong animal rights view is up from 2008 when 25% thought animals' rights should be on par with humans'."

    Rebecca Riffkin, "In U.S., More Say Animals Should Have Same Rights as People,", May 18, 2015

    My wife, Mary, has discovered cooking for family gatherings is not what it once was.
    In my youth it was simpler. My father, who taught general semantics, believed "food dislikes" were a symptom of ignorance of general semantics principles. If someone might say, for example, "I don't like spinach," he would respond, "But you haven't even tasted this spinach; you're just reacting to the word, the label. Taste what's on your plate and see; maybe you'll like it."

    After months of "tasting" everything on our plates our food dislikes diminished and then disappeared -- which created another problem. We very rarely went to a restaurant, but a family story is told of one such occasion before I was 10 years old. After everyone else had ordered, I was still studying the menu. Urged to hurry up, I blurted out, "That's what you get, Dad, for teaching us to have no food dislikes!"

    A doctor gave me an allergy test, and reported I was allergic to a dozen or more items -- including corn (hard to avoid in Iowa) and wheat (requiring my loving mother to bake rye bread for the family). After a summer on my aunt and uncle's farm, playing in the corn bin and eating wheat bread, with no apparent ill effects, that was the end of my allergies.

    No one I knew refused to eat GMO food, was on a "gluten free" diet, "lactose intolerant," or allergic to peanuts (we lived on peanut butter sandwiches).

    To borrow Garrison Keillor's phrase, our mothers just "put the hay down where the goats can get it." "Food" was cooked, put in bowls on the table, transferred to our plates, and consumed -- usually meat, potatoes and gravy, two or three vegetables, and a little salad -- dessert if we'd been good, and were lucky.
    When we were young there were few, if any, vegetarians, let alone vegans, among the children of beef, hog, dairy and chicken farmers. Now our family gatherings include representatives of virtually every food preference group, each with their own special meals. (This includes the "lactose intolerant" and "gluten free" at our table.)

    Of course, those with real medical problems must be respected. But the varieties of beliefs about eating once-living things also need to be respected.

    I'd extend this to attitudes about abortion. If someone truly believes that aborting a fetus is "murder," it makes their "right to life" opposition to abortion more understandable -- especially if they only apply the belief to themselves and do not insist the government impose it on everyone else.

    I'd also be tolerant of what superficially, initially, appear to be inconsistencies: those who favor the availability of abortions, but believe it is morally reprehensible to eat a fish; or those who believe no one should be permitted to abort a fetus, but join the 62% of Americans (87% of Republicans) who favor the death penalty for adults. ["National Polls and Studies; Huffington Post, January 2014," Death Penalty Information Center.]
    "China, together with Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the US (the only G7 country to still execute people) carried out the most executions last year." "Death Penalty Statistics, Country by Country," The Guardian. Only 58 of the 195 U.N. nations still have the death penalty. "Capital Punishment by Country,"
    We come by our beliefs regarding diet, including eating once-living things, from our parents, experience, culture, religion, education; also our moral, philosophical and ethical beliefs. And so long as our beliefs and actions don't have an adverse impact on others we are all stronger for this diversity. [Photo credit: unknown; beef cattle feedlot]

    I started down the road now revealed in this blog post as a result of a conversation today regarding vegetarians and vegans. It seemed useful for me to try to think through where I come out.

    I am neither a theologian nor a research scientist. All I know -- or suspect or believe -- is what I have been reading in books like, Frans de Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016); Jonathan Balcombe, What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016); Jennifer Ackerman, The Genius of Birds (2016) -- and even, most recently, Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (2015). There are undoubtedly research scientists who attempt to refute the assertions of these authors; if so, I have not read their works. After all, I'm just reading books that interest me; I'm not engaged in research for a doctoral dissertation.

    I am even less well educated about the human biome, but further humbled and fascinated with the idea that I am carrying more cells of microbes and bacteria in and on my body than human cells (perhaps 100 trillion of theirs to 37 trillion of mine).
    "As of 2014, it was often reported in popular media and in the scientific literature that there are about 10 times as many microbial cells in the human body than there are human cells; this figure was based on estimates that the human microbiome includes around 100 trillion bacterial cells and an adult human typically has around 10 trillion human cells. In 2014 the American Academy of Microbiology published an FAQ that emphasized that the number of microbial cells and the number of human cells are both estimates, and noted that recent research had arrived at a new estimate of the number of human cells at around 37 trillion cells, meaning that the ratio of microbial to human cells is probably about 3:1. In 2016 another group published a new estimate of ratio as being roughly 1:1 (1.3:1, with 'an uncertainty of 25% and a variation of 53% over the population of standard 70 kg males.')" Human Microbiome Project," See also, NIH Human Microbiome Project; Karen Weintraub, "Findings From the Gut -- New Insights Into the Human Microbiome," Scientific American, April 29, 2016.
    Frans de Waal (Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?) argues (if I read him correctly) that humans are mistaken to evaluate how "smart" animals are by comparing their cognitive abilities with our own.
    Webster's defines "cognitive" as "activity such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering." "Definition of Cognitive," Merriam-Webster. Thus, Jonathan Balcombe's (What a Fish Knows) observation that "A small squid can learn mazes faster than dogs do, and a small goby fish can memorize in one trial the topography of a tide pool by swimming over it at high tide -- a feat few if any humans could achieve" could be considered examples of "cognitive ability" in animals.

    Actually, other species can often best our ability to do something. As I have written of squirrels, "Much as we may squirm to avoid admitting it, an honest evaluation of the data compels the conclusion that squirrels do, in fact, have a superior intelligence to humans. They also have more patience and determination. More willingness to work at, and stick with, problem solving. More commitment to scientific experimentation. And, not incidentally, an athletic prowess -- not to mention courage -- that puts our Olympic athletes to shame by comparison. As the clerk put it to me with commendable candor when I asked about a squirrel-proof bird feeder, 'Look, mister, there ain't no squirrel-proof bird feeders. There are just squirrel-resistant bird feeders.'" "The Natural Superiority of Squirrels" in "UI Held Hostage Day 498," June 3, 2007
    Mammals, fish, birds, insects, microbes -- and trees -- may need to communicate (and do); they do not need to speak English or solve the New York Times' crossword puzzle. The standard he says we should use is to ask, "Are their cognitive abilities sufficient to insure the survival of their species?" (not a direct quote).

    Measured by de Waal's standard, any honest, open minded inquiry into the cognitive and other abilities of species other than our own will leave the reader humbled, in awe, and filled with respect for the wide range of abilities of our plant and animal "cousins." Sufficiently so -- at least for me -- that when it comes to what I will and won't eat, I am unable to distinguish between the life force present in a chicken and a fish, a carrot and a shrimp.

    Which, of course, brings me back around to the oft-heard inquiry, "So, what's for dinner?"

    If one wishes to avoid killing and consuming plants and animals that possess not only a "life force" but sufficient cognitive ability to keep their species alive for millions of years, there is virtually nothing left on the menu.

    No one needs to live to eat, but everyone needs to eat to live. The variation of "necessity is the mother of invention" is that "mother is the invention of necessity." Eating is also the invention of necessity. Confronted as I am with the necessity of eating, what should I do?

    I have finally come around to the wisdom of many of the only true "Americans," those who were here when our ancestors arrived. I may have romanticized the teaching I received from a Meskwaki elder, but not by much. Without disclosing any of the details he shared in confidence, the general idea involved a respect for the Earth and living in harmony with all of its plant and animal inhabitants. One imposes as light a footprint as possible on the Earth, taking only the minimum one needs for food.

    So that will be my creed. Eat only what I need (which, as a side benefit, won't do my waistline any harm), going especially light on eating anything I would not have been willing to kill, and insofar as possible not contributing to that 40% of the food Americans buy and then throw away.

    I'm neither advocating this analysis for others nor criticizing others' different choices. It's a personal matter everyone can think through for themselves (or not). Moreover, I may change my mind. But, for now, these are my "Thoughts on Eating Living Things."

    # # #