Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lucky's Gets Lucky: $1.7 Million of Taxpayers' Money

November 23, 2014, 12:30 p.m.
"The Iowa City Council decided in a 6-1 vote Tuesday night to allow CORE Sycamore Town Center LLC to convert the Iowa City Marketplace’s vacant anchor space into Lucky's Market, a Boulder, Colo.-based grocery chain . . .."

-- Andy Davis, "Iowa City Marketplace receives $1.75 M in TIF aid," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 19, 2014

Sycamore TIF Unnecessary

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 23, 2014, p. A5

Hats off to Iowa City Councilor Jim Throgmorton for thinking, speaking and voting rationally regarding his colleagues’ generous $1.75 million gift of your money and mine to a Colorado corporation. (It’s the second such gift to the Sycamore Mall, after the first proved, once again, that TIFs very often don’t deliver on their backers’ expectations.)

For 41 previous columns and blog essays detailing a dozen categories of reasons why transferring taxpayers’ money to the bottom line of private citizens’ for-profit businesses is bad for taxpayers, consumers, competitors of the recipients, the general economy, neighboring communities and governments, see “TIFs: Links to Blog Essays,”

And hats off to Andy Davis and the Press-Citizen for not limiting their TIF story (”City Council votes to provide funds to improve Marketplace,” Nov. 19) to quotes from council members’ swooning over the glories of TIFs. Included within it we find:

“Councilor Jim Throgmorton ... voiced his concerns during the meeting about whether TIF money should be used for the project. ‘One normally thinks of a TIF as an incentive. I’m not yet persuaded that the owners need support from the city to take actions that are already in their own economic self-interest.’ ”

His judgment is supported, in another TIF district, by two of those bidding for the former St. Patrick Church property. They’re also able to profit within a pure capitalist system, with no need for taxpayers’ money.

Given our councilors’ untreated addiction to TIFs, and their repeated refusals even to acknowledge the harms, they leave voters with no other option than to oppose their re-election.

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City

# # #

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Iowans Keep Alcohol Flowing

November 19, 2014, 3:30 p.m.

Taking a Look at the Numbers

With the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, 80th Annual Report (2014), this may be a good time to take a look at Iowans' drinking habits. (And see Rod Boshart, "Alcohol sales in Iowa leveling off but still record," The Gazette, November 19, 2014.)

While some argue it's time to call off our war on drugs, Ethan Nadelmann, "Why We Need to End the War on Drugs," TED Talks, October 2014, others suggest we need to reexamine our peace treaty with alcohol.

One is reminded of the story of the father who, when told that his son and friends were nearly killed in a drunk driving accident responded, "Oh, thank goodness they weren't using drugs."

Alcohol is, by almost every measure, far and away our nation's number one hard drug. It is involved in roughly half of all sexual assaults and other violent crimes, a problem for roughly half of all our prison population, the cause of billions of dollars in losses to businesses and taxpayers, with an adverse impact on millions of children, other family members, and fellow employees.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports in its "Alcohol Facts and Statistics" that 56% of Americans over 18 reported consuming alcohol during the past month, and 25% reported binge drinking (the source of 75% of the $223 billion annual loss from alcohol misuse, including 40% of aggressive incidents, 22% of police time, and 13% of employee sick days). The third leading preventable causes of death are alcohol-related (6% of all global deaths, or 3.3 million persons; 40% of traffic-related deaths). Alcohol has been identified as a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, liver, and breast. Those affected by others' alcohol misuse include millions of family members and fellow workers; 10% of children live with a parent with alcohol problems.

As those of us associated with universities and colleges know, alcohol creates special problems for students. For example, among those 18-22 years old, 60% of college students, but only 52% of those not in college, drank alcohol during the past month. (Binge drinking is reported by 40% and 35% respectively.) [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson.]

Researchers estimate that each year: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes; 696,000 students are assaulted by a drunken student, including 97,000 students who report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. About 1 in 4 report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

So just how much are Iowans drinking?

According to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, 80th Annual Report (2014) there are 2,178,145 Iowans of legal drinking age (over 21).

How should we calculate "a drink"? For consistency, we'll use the definition of a "standard drink" provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is the average content of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. "What Is a Standard Drink?" National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The Iowa agency reports our alcohol consumption in gallons: 74,910,545 gallons of beer, 5,019,618 gallons of hard liquor, and 4,382,755 gallons of wine. Since it also reports there are 2,178,145 Iowans of legal drinking age (over 21), that means our per capita consumption per year (in gallons) is 34.39 gallons of beer, 2.30 of hard liquor, and 2.01 of wine. [Photo credit:]

Since most of us don't even drink water a gallon at a time, let lone alcohol, here it is in "standard drinks" consumed annually by each of us (on average): 366 bottles of beer, 196 shots of 80-proof liquor, and 51 glasses of wine. (Johnson County, with 93,581 legal drinkers is consuming 250 shots a year per capita, and is probably substantially above the state average for beer as well, especially if the illegal consumption by students could be counted.)

What should one conclude from these numbers? It's hard to say. There are skirmishes around the drinking age -- whether it should be 21 or 18 -- but there is no longer any pressure for prohibition. The stats indicate that we're consuming a lot of alcohol (certainly by my personal standards), especially when one considers that roughly one-third of all Americans don't drink at all. And we're suffering our share of the consequences in violence, prison and hospital admissions, economic losses, and other aspects of a boozing lifestyle. On the other hand, Iowa is 23rd among all the 50 states in per capital consumption -- for any who find the comparison comforting.

Nonetheless, for a state that's having difficulty even approving medical marijuana, let alone substituting treatment for prison for all recreational drug use, it's long past time we treated alcohol as the nation's number one hard drug that it is. We can do better -- for our health, for our young people, and for our taxpayers.

# # #

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Net Neutrality: An Interview

November 13, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

Introduction: Because of the recent attention to net neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission and President Obama, I have received requests for explanations from a number of individuals. Given Vanessa Miller's excellent interview and explanations, I am taking the liberty of reproducing here her story from The Gazette of November 12, 2014, as it appeared online two days earlier. The story is copyright by The Gazette, and will be taken down if the paper requests. Information about subscribing to The Gazette can be found here.

UI professor and former FCC commissioner sides with Obama on net neutrality
Johnson: ‘The Internet holds so much promise for everybody’

The Gazette, November 12, 2014, p. A9

Net neutrality garnered national attention this week after President Barack Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt strict regulation over consumer broadband Internet.

But the topic long has been on the mind of University of Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson.

Having served as a commissioner for the FCC from 1966 to 1973 — followed by stints as a presidential adviser for the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services and head of a Washington-based media reform group — Johnson said he for years has held the position Obama espoused Monday.

“I have always felt it ought to be essentially controlled by Title II” of the Communications Act, Johnson told The Gazette on Tuesday.

Obama’s proposal urges the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, under Title II to give the commission power to prohibit them from blocking or slowing content and playing favorites with content providers.

The approach requires thinking about wired and wireless broadband service as a public utility, and Johnson said that’s how it should be. Ideally, he said, content and conduit would be totally separate — like the former AT&T network.

“Anyone who wants a phone gets a phone, everybody pays the same amount, and it’s not heavily subsidized,” Johnson said. “Once you got a telephone, you could say anything you wanted. That’s not saying you couldn’t break the law … but AT&T wasn’t going to get involved.”

That was a good model, according to Johnson, and it’s one that should be replicated for cable and Internet access. The Internet should be fair game for anyone to use any way they please, he said, and carriers shouldn’t be allowed to block, slow content, or prioritize service for those with the most money — offering faster Internet to providers willing to pay.

“They can’t say to Netflix and Amazon, we are going with just one of you, and it’s open bidding, and whoever pays the most to deliver the information in a timely way wins,” Johnson said. “We’ll just block the other one.”

That, he said, “would be really unfortunate.”

“Because the Internet holds so much promise for everybody,” Johnson said.

From entertainment and education to entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations, it offers an easy way to share information.

“There is no limit to what it can be,” Johnson said. “But the problem with turning some stuff entirely over to capitalism, with no regulation, is that it doesn’t best serve the public.”

From the global perspective, Johnson said, some countries have regulations that enable Internet speeds 10 times what Americans have at a much lower cost.

“We are really lagging behind the world as a result of turning the pricing and bandwidth decision over to these companies,” Johnson said.

The business of regulating monopolies or quasi-monopolies dates back to the late 1800s with a group of Iowa farmers upset about railroads playing favorites, according to Johnson. Those principals have been applied to other necessary services over time — like water, electricity and natural gas.

“They are regulated in a variety of ways, and one way is that they cannot play favorites,” Johnson said. “They have to provide service to everyone and charge the same rates.”

Part of the debate around Internet regulation is whether it’s considered a necessity.

“The question is, has the Internet taken on enough of those qualities,” Johnson said.

The FCC’s previous net neutrality rules were struck down by a federal appeals court in January, and the commission in May released a new proposal that would maintain light regulation. Obama on Monday said that proposal doesn’t go far enough.

Obama’s suggestions for the commission, an independent agency that doesn’t answer to the president, were praised by online content providers, like Netflix, but denounced by Internet providers, like Comcast, as being heavy-handed and likely to kill online investment and innovation.

Johnson said that although he’s in line with Obama, there is an issue with the president intervening with “such a heavy hand.” Before Johnson joined the FCC, he was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the U.S. Maritime Administrator.

After he started on the commission, Johnson said, his communication with the president stopped.

“He respected that independence,” Johnson said.

Although Obama this week made clear he understands the separation of powers, Johnson said Obama also made it clear that he’d like the FCC to “decide it my way.”

As to whether the commission will, Johnson said, “It’s hard to predict.”

# # #

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Step Program for Avoiding War

November 11, 2014, 6:00 a.m.

Introduction: Given that (a) those addicted to various substances or behaviors seem to benefit from 12-step programs, (b) the seeming addiction to war of many of our politicians, and (c) their disinclination to read or otherwise undertake anything that will take a lot of time, I have cut their work in half by offering this six-step program for treating their war addiction.

Be sure to look at Sam Osborne's powerful comment at the end of this blog essay; and if you're interested, click on "Notes From Which This Column Was Drawn," and "Links to Samples of Prior Writing on Terrorism and War."

Now, here's today's [November 11] column:

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

It’s too late to challenge President Obama’s recent doubling of U.S. troops in Iraq.

But it may be the right time to rethink America’s approach to war.

The Pew Research Center’s Andrew Kohut reports “the public feels little responsibility and inclination to deal with international problems that are not seen as direct threats to the national interest.”

Yet too many of our Washington politicians are like the small boy with a hammer who thinks everything he encounters needs pounding. Spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, war becomes their first, rather than last, resort.

This approach to foreign policy consumes trillions of taxpayers’ dollars, billions in rebuilding costs, creates millions of homeless refugees, kills hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, wounds and kills thousands of American soldiers, and decreases our national security by increasing Islamic State’s recruitment of angry terrorists from 80 countries.

America won World War II in four years. Our current wars last three times as long with nothing yet approaching “Mission Accomplished.”

The computer in the 1983 movie War Games, in its countdown to “Global Thermonuclear War,” finally concludes that, like tic-tac-toe, “The only winning move is not to play.”

Can’t we learn, in a dozen years, what that computer figured out in a dozen seconds? The best, and sometimes only, way to win a war is to avoid it.

Here’s a six step program for doing that.

Citizen Involvement. Consider a draft, and other World War II-style citizen sacrifice. It’s not only a winning strategy; increased citizen involvement is a more democratic strategy. Potential Viet Nam War draftees were the backbone of that war’s citizen protest. After 9/11, we were told to “go shopping.” Today less than 1 percent of us fight wars about which the rest of us know little and care less, compared with the 16 million who went into WWII.

Pay-As-You-Go. Stop putting the cost of wars on a credit card left to our grandchildren. A supplementary war tax would focus citizen and congressional attention on the financial realities of war, while reducing national debt.

Accountability. Make every senator and congressperson cast a recorded vote, yes or no, before starting or escalating wars — as our constitution envisioned.

UN Force. When our national interests aren’t involved, shift responsibility for humanitarian military interventions to a United Nations rapid deployment force.

Discussion.Authorization for the human genome project mandated review of its ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI). War involves more than military considerations. It deserves mass media giving voice to America’s best independent minds, and public discussion of the ethical, legal, social, cultural, economic, medical, international relations and many other issues raised by war.

Check list. There are also military issues. Military leaders, more than politicians, wisely insist on answers before committing troops. We should, too.

What’s the problem, or challenge? What’s our goal? Is it sufficiently important, clearly defined, and understood? Why will military force contribute to, rather than impede, its accomplishment? What possibly more effective non-military alternatives are there?

What are the benefits and costs, gains and losses, risks and rewards? What will it require in troops, materiel, lives, and treasure? How long will it take? Are the American people and their congress supportive? How about the local population where we’ll be fighting? Do we know their language, culture, history, tribal and social structure? What are the metrics for evaluating if we’re “successful”? What, then, is our exit strategy? After we leave, will things be better than now, the same, or become progressively worse?

Sometimes, regretfully, war may be the only choice. But the thesis of this six-step program is that, if we were to follow it, we would be less likely to leap into ill-considered, unwinnable, counterproductive military actions, and more likely to succeed in those that cannot be avoided.
As U.S. Maritime Administrator, Nicholas Johnson was involved in providing sealift for the Vietnam War.


Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War

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

"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;

"America Needs a War Tax," February 9, 2010;

"There is No War in Afghanistan," December 4, 2009;

"Republicans' Practical Joke; President's Unwinnable War," September 11, 2009;

"The Next Step: Theories of Terrorism," October 7, 2006;

The Limits of Empire II: The Assassination Policy," September 25, 2006

"Don't Like to Say 'I told you so,' but . . .," September 24, 2006;

"The Limits of Empire," September 24, 2006;

"General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Fordham University, New York City, September 8, 2006;

"Experts Say We're Losing War on Terror," July 9, 2006;

"Worthwhile 7-Minute Listen: War on Terror," July 8, 2006;

"Perspective on Military Murder and the Mission at Hand," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 2, 2006;

"Murder in Iraq," June 23, 2006;

"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.

Additional Commentary: Notes From Which the Above Column Was Drawn

Introduction and Spoiler Alert:

I'm about to give away the ending to the 1983 movie, "War Games." So if you haven't seen it during the past 31 years, but still have it on your list, you might want to skip this introduction.

The story involves the introduction -- and then the removal -- of human infallibility in a system for launching nuclear missiles. The solution is to "take the humans out of the loop," substituting a supercomputer which, once it has been fed all relevant available data and run it through various war game scenarios, will make the final decision to launch. The computer is called "WOPR," for "War Operation Plan Response."

A young, 1980s computer geek with no evil intent, using techniques similar to those I used 'round about that time, connects with it, thinking it to be a repository of video games. Stymied when a password is required, I would stop; he does not, and his research ultimately uncovers the "backdoor" password. Like many mainframes at the time, it contains a list of simple, conventional games -- such as tic-tac-toe and chess. But it also has the serious war game scenarios. Ultimately, our young fellow decides to play "Global Thermonuclear War" and the countdown begins.

When WOPR starts breaking the launch codes on the ICBM missiles the young man, now at NORAD Headquarters surrounded by some very anxious military officers, gets WOPR to play tic-tac-toe, hoping the computer will thereby learn the principle of unwinnable games -- which it does, just in the nick of time.

WOPR speaks: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."
-- Computer's conclusion about the war game "Global Thermonuclear War," from movie "War Games" (1983).

We Need Military Might and the Willingness to Use It

Especially given that introduction, it is important to make clear from the outset what this blog essay, this six step program, is not advocating.

It is not advocating that the United States abolish the Department of Defense, withdraw from the world, and hope for the best. The use of military force is sometimes the only realistic option. And to be prepared to bring about a satisfactory end to such actions requires human and other resources both suitable and adequate for the task.

This raises questions regarding the amount and cost of adequate preparedness -- whether, for example, our security requires we spend more on military preparedness than the rest of the world combined -- but the answers to those questions are outside the scope of this essay.

However, We Also Need to Do a Better Job of Evaluating When to Use Military Force

The U.S. got in, and out, of World War II in four years. It has more recently spent a dozen or more years supporting American troops in 150 countries, including fighting five seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. The cost is variously estimated at some $3 trillion dollars, especially when those estimates include the often-lifetime of medical costs for wounded veterans, and the rebuilding of nations we have helped to destroy. Thousands of American military lives have been lost, hundreds of thousands of civilians, and there is significant evidence that our presence has only increased the recruiting of terrorists.

The President has said our country should not do "stupid stuff." But some of these military operations have been "stupid stuff" -- notwithstanding the military's willingness to follow orders with professional skill and discipline.

The thesis of this essay is that our national security could be provided more economically, efficiently, and effectively if we were to follow some procedures that have been successfully used in the past, are grounded in our Constitution, laws, and history, and have been advocated by well educated and experienced military leaders.

The fact that these proposals have precedent and rational basis does not mean they are not controversial -- especially among those who benefit financially from Defense Department contracts, or are ideologically committed to war as a first, rather than a last resort, and support the idea of so-called "preemptive wars," or other arguably unnecessary military operations.

Executive Summary

We begin with a summary of the six steps, following which each will receive more detail and explanation.

(1) Sacrifice. During World War II virtually every American made a sacrifice of some kind toward fighting that war -- men, women, young children and seniors. That's not only a winning strategy, it's also a democratic strategy that increases popular support for the effort.

(2) Payment. There was wartime debt during World War II, but income taxes plus the sale of "war bonds" meant there was proportionally less war-related debt than now. The cost of the war was not simply put on a credit card and left to grandchildren and future generations. Nor can we finance a war with tax cuts for the wealthy -- however popular the effort may be with politicians' major donors.

(3) Authorization. The Constitution provides that "The Congress shall have power . . . to declare War . . .." (Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 11). Congress has acted, in the form of the War Powers Resolution, 50 U.S.C. Sec. 1541, et seq, that provides, among other things, that any president-initiated military action must be halted after 60 days if the Congress has not approved it. (There can also be what is called a congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).) This third step is simply the proposal that these requirements be followed with greater formality, requiring every member of Congress to cast a vote, yes or no.

(4) UN Force. Every effort should be made to create a United Nations Rapid Deployment Force with sufficient equipment and personnel to deal effectively with genocide, displaced persons, and other human rights violations when military action is required and authorized under the UN Charter -- rather than making the only realistic options either doing nothing, or unilateral intervention by the United States.

(5) Broad Discussion. Once military action is contemplated, the focus of our media, government and public discussions seems to narrow to military considerations, such as "boots on the ground" (or not), high-tech aircraft and other equipment, damage from our bombing runs, and strategic and tactical considerations. It would help slow and sharpen our approach if we would bring to bear a full range of academic and others' informed analysis of considerations other than military -- both before war, and as an evaluation after a war of lessons learned. Analogies for this approach might be environmental impact statements, or the authorization for the human genome project requiring an ongoing review of the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) it raises.

(6) Check List. The "law of the instrument," first expressed by Abraham Kaplan, is "Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding." So it is with military power. That some challenges can be successfully resolved with military force does not mean that all can be. In addition to the broad discussion, there is a shorter checklist of considerations and questions before going to war, sometimes called "the Powell doctrine."

It is the thesis of this six step program that, if we were to follow it, we would be less likely to leap into ill-considered, counter productive military actions, and more likely to succeed in those that cannot be avoided.


Feeling burned by Iraq and Afghanistan and burdened by domestic concerns, the public feels little responsibility and inclination to deal with international problems that are not seen as direct threats to the national interest.

-— Andrew Kohut, Founding Director, Pew Research Center, “American International Engagement on the Rocks,” Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, July 11, 2013
Many Americans in and out of government, holding diverse political and ideological positions, are concerned about our current military adventure in Iraq and Syria –- not to mention the American soldiers stationed in an additional 150 countries.

There are very serious constitutional and other legal issues regarding the President’s authority to conduct these military efforts -- however those questions ultimately may be resolved by scholars, legislators, and judges.

It’s true of our current adventures involving the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Does the President have the legal authority? With mounting domestic needs, should we be spending more trillions abroad? Is our presence increasing, rather than decreasing, the recruitment of terrorists and the likelihood of attacks on our homeland? Is there any end in sight? Even from a military perspective, how can we “degrade and destroy” an enemy on the ground with planes in the air?

Above all, what is our process for going to war? What should it be? How can a public, skeptical about the wisdom of more wars, insure that military adventures will only be undertaken as a very last resort?

Few if any of us would want to forbid any wars ever, regardless of the circumstance. Nor would we want to tie the hands of the President or Congress, for example, by requiring a referendum in which a majority of American voters approve each military response to a genuine threat to our national security.

But there may be more that we can do to slow what often appears to be a knee-jerk shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach to international challenges.

(1) Sacrifice.

Among those inclined to war as a first resort, the primary lesson learned from our Viet Nam adventure is that drafting unwilling young men and women for battle tends to create popular opposition to war.

The story is told of the farmer who bought a mule from his neighbor, having been assured that the mule was obedient and would respond to spoken commands. When the buyer discovered this was not the case, he called his neighbor who drove over in his pickup truck. When the buyer told the mule to move forward, left, and right, and got no response, the seller fetched a two-by-four from the back of his truck and proceeded to give the mule a sharp blow to the head. The mule then did what the seller told him. He explained to the buyer, "You see, he'll do what you tell him, it's just that first you have to get his attention."

A draft gets the public's attention; a war fought with volunteers does not.

During World War II everyone sacrificed. The 1940 population was 132 million; of that number 16 million went to war. Today, with a population of 320 million, 2 million have served in Afghanistan or Iraq -- less than one percent. During World War II those at home worked at building weapons of war, served in hospitals, lived with rationed (or unavailable) food, fuel and other products formerly available in abundance. Children were recruited for recycling efforts, and asked to buy war bonds -- one dime at a time. After the 9/11 attacks no one was forced to go to war, nor was there an imposition of any sacrifice on those remaining at home. Indeed, rather than rationing, President George Bush suggested the most appropriate citizen response to the attacks was that we "go shopping."

When there is no obvious cost of war, those citizens who are not apathetic can be caught up in the government propaganda and media drumbeat in support of war. And when citizens don't care, neither do their elected representatives. If war is to be taken seriously, thought about deeply before it is undertaken, and reviewed in detail after it is concluded, imposing some sacrifice -- through a draft or other forms of compulsory service -- can be a way of getting the public's attention, the kind of useful brake on precipitous action a true democracy requires.

(2) The Powell Doctrine

The use of force should be restricted to occasions where it can do some good and where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that will surely ensue.

-- General Colin Powell

* What is the problem or challenge believed to require U.S. attention?

* What, specifically, is the goal to be achieved?

* Is that objective important, clearly defined and understood?

* Have all other non-military alternatives been tried and failed?

* What are the reasons for believing military force will contribute to, rather than impede, the accomplishment of the objective?

* What are the benefits and costs of military action, the gains and losses, risks and rewards?

* What will it require in troops, materiel, lives and treasure to achieve the objective?

* How long will it take to attain the objective?

* Are the American people and their Congress prepared to provide and sustain those resources and pay those costs during that time?

* How will we know if we are ever “successful” in attaining our objective?

* What, then, will be our exit strategy?

* When we leave will the situation we leave behind be better than when we arrived, about the same, or worse?

* Will that situation be consistent with our original mission?

Might have to reconsider imposing a draft.
A pay-as-you-go progressive war tax to cover all costs.
Require mandatory Congressional approval and deadlines (War Powers Act) whenever new war, or war expanded to an additional country or terrorist organization, or mission creep from “training” to “combat.”
Organized national discussion among individuals from range of disciplines. At least a public discussion -- if not a unanimous, or majority, vote approving, the proposed military action -- by a group of the nation’s leaders from a range of academic and professional disciplines from anthropology to zoology. History and culture of the region. Outside party to review war; hard to do within government.
Before and after war require compulsory, satisfactory written answers to the half-dozen or so questions in “the Powell Doctrine” from the Administration and Congress.
At least consultation, if not required approval, by representatives of other countries (e.g., some unit of the United Nations).
Availability of significant United Nations rapid deployment force.

# # #

Friday, October 31, 2014

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Sarah Palin

October 30, 2014, 10:40 a.m.

"When Will We Ever Learn?"

Senator John McCain has been accompanying Joni Ernst around Iowa. Why would they want to do that? Take off Sarah Palin's snow boots in moose country and put on Joni Ernst's chore boots in hog country and John McCain's new bff is as frightening as anything on Halloween. Did the Republicans learn nothing from their experience with the McCain-Palin ticket?

Well, it turns out they learned a great deal. And as recent polls indicate, this time it may even work for them.

It's all brought back memories of three political insights out of my past.

The first contributed to what ultimately became my interest, and professional focus, on the relationship between media, politics and policy. During the early 1960s, while teaching at the University of California law school in Berkeley (Boalt Hall), I read in the Wall Street Journal of a firm that promised election to all clients. It had four conditions: (a) pay them $100,000 up front, (b) turn over total control of your campaign, (c) agree to their spending all the money on TV ads, and (d) leave the district from which you are running (thereby removing the risk of any media mishaps). The Journal's story indicated that, at that time, they were enjoying 100% success in winning elections for their clients.

I say, "at that time," because this was the early days of television, and television in political campaigning. TV-commercials-based political victories were easier when a substantial volume of well-produced TV spots supported one candidate and there were virtually none supporting the other.

The second was my association with the Broadway musical "The Selling of the President" in 1972. Based in part on the Joe McGinniss' book of the same title regarding President Nixon's 1968 campaign, the purpose of the Broadway version, at least as I saw it, was to demonstrate for the audience how they could be manipulated by TV commercials. They watched with their own eyes the evolution of a relatively unsophisticated Nebraska Senator George Mason into a viable presidential candidate. I've always felt the reason the show had its limited run of five performances was because it was too good, rather than the reverse. Standing in the back of the theater, listening to audience members' comments as they exited, I heard one woman say to her companion, "Wasn't that George Mason wonderful? Don't you wish we had candidates like that to vote for?" In other words, rather than increasing her political sophistication regarding how media consultants go about "The Selling of the President," we had actually sold her our president.

The third involves a CBS news piece by Lesley Stahl in 1984. It was designed to document the contrasts between what President Reagan said and what he did -- for example, contrasting video from his Special Olympics speech with the fact he had cut funding for children with disabilities. In Stahl's book, Reporting Live, she says, "I knew the piece would have an impact, if only because it was so long: five minutes and 40 seconds, practically a documentary in Evening News terms. I worried that my sources at the White House would be angry enough to freeze me out." After it ran, she got a call from Reagan aide, Dick Darman. “Way to go, kiddo. What a great piece. We loved it.” A startled Stahl asked, “Didn’t you hear what I said [in the broadcast]?” To which Darman replied, “Nobody heard what you said. . . . When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you.”

Joni Ernst's political advisers, media consultants, and commercials producers have learned these lessons well, and are applying them. Stay away from major issues and specific positions. Show video of an attractive, well made-up, smiling woman with emotionally compelling backdrops. Don't let her talk to reporters and editorial boards. Keep her contact with voters limited to groups of rabid supporters. And, of course, attack the opponent.

Regardless of what you may think of Joni Ernst, regardless of how concerned you may be about her past positions, however offended you are by the power of out-of-state-big-corporate-donor money, you have to admit hers has been a brilliant media campaign.

But we are still left, as voters, with the need to assess the serious consequences her election could bring. Here is an assessment by one of America's most insightful public interest advocates:

9 Iowa Values that Joni Ernst Opposes

Joni Ernst claims she will bring "Iowa values" to Washington. This sounds nice in a sound bite, but how do Ernst's actual positions live up to Hawkeye State commitments?

1. Rewarding hard work

Iowans don't want handouts; they believe in working for a living. That's why they believe in a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. Joni Ernst has stated that she does not support a federal minimum wage, calling the idea "ridiculous," and opposing a raise in the minimum wage supported by a vast majority of Americans.

2. Honoring your elders

Iowans follow the Fifth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother. They believe our elders, after a lifetime of work, deserve a decent living standard. Ernst has said she wants to transition workers onto individual savings accounts and is open to privatizing Social Security, an objective eagerly desired by Wall Street bankers.

3. Practicality

Iowans want politicians to have the same practical problem-solving spirit that they and their neighbors exhibit in daily life. Ernst has peddled debunked conspiracy theories and called for impeaching President Obama.

4. Education

Iowans, many of whom are graduates of the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, value education. Ernst wants to cut federal support for education, aiming to eliminate the national departments tasked with conducting education research, distributing grants to schools and preventing discrimination.

5.Being forthright

Iowans don't like politicians talking behind their back saying one thing to them in public and another in closed rooms full of fat cats. Ernst attended a seminar hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers in August 2013 to woo donors, eventually crediting her exposure to their donor network with starting her "trajectory." She told the millionaires and billionaires present that her election campaign "started right here with all of your folks ... this wonderful network." Despite spending the day with the Koch brothers, she canceled multiple scheduled meetings with Iowa newspapers or refused to meet with them.

6. Responsibility

Iowans believe people should be held responsible for how they treat others. They believe corporations should be held responsible for the harm they cause to their workers and communities. Ernst opposes the Clean Water Act, which passed 40 years ago with full bipartisan support, believing that multinational corporations should not be held accountable when they pollute water Iowans use for drinking, fishing and swimming.

7. Love thy neighbor

Iowans don't want their neighbors in hard times dying because they're struggling to make ends meet. That is why they don't want their neighbors subjected to "pay or die" health care, whether it is because of the staggering prices of drugs, operations, emergency treatments or health insurance. Ernst stands opposed to the most efficient health care system: single payer, full Medicare for all, everybody in, nobody out, with free choice of doctor and hospital. She wants to have Iowa health care decisions decided by distant, profit-minded corporations.

8. Your day in court

Iowans believe everybody who is wrongfully injured or defrauded should have, by constitutional right, their day in court against the perpetrators. Joni Ernst wants to reform laws to limit Iowans' access to full compensation for harm committed against them.

9. No one above the law

Iowans do not believe anyone should be above the law. They want Wall Street crooks who crashed our economy and were bailed out by taxpayers to be prosecuted and put in jail. Ernst wants more money managed by the same Wall Street investment firms and banks who helped crash the economy, arguing that more student loans and more retirement savings should be transferred from public-interested, nationally-secured funds to risky, profit-interested Wall Street accounts.

As Iowans head to the polls Tuesday, I hope they keep these facts in mind about how Ernst has opposed these longstanding Iowa values.
Ralph Nader, founder, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Washington, D.C. Contact: Published in Des Moines Register, Oct. 29, 2014: column and many comments.

And see, Ed Wasserman, "Braley is a match for true Iowa values," Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 24, 2014.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Taxpayers' Money: Government Projects, Yes; Private Giveaways, No

October 28, 2014, 3:09 p.m.

Residents Deserve Courthouse Annex

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 28, 2014, p. A7

On Nov. 4 (or before) be sure to vote “yes” on the Courthouse Annex bond proposal.

Opponents of prior proposals wanted alternatives to incarceration, with less recidivism. They wanted a cheaper structure. They wanted to preserve views, and this National Historic Register courthouse’s architectural integrity. They wanted a “green” building and accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Well, guess what? The supervisors’ response is government at its best. They not only listened, they responded — with everything opponents asked.

Instead of jail cells, they just received a $192,000 grant for their Drug Treatment Court, with employment opportunities for offenders. Building costs are 25 percent less. Views of the courthouse are preserved. It will receive “silver” LEED certification and be ADA compliant.

Supervisors proposing legitimate governmental projects (e.g., courthouses, park acquisition) must get public approval to spend taxpayers’ money. Yet city council members who want to give taxpayers’ money to their friends’ non-governmental, for-profit, private businesses (e.g., luxury condos, grocery stores, motels), can do so while refusing to listen or respond to opponents. Ironic, isn’t it?

We need and deserve this courthouse improvement; supervisors deserve our thanks. Vote “yes.”

Nicholas Johnson

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Think Before Taxing Poor Additional 17%

October 8, 2014, 7:00 a.m.

October 9: Added, below, are comments regarding this blog essay/column posted to the Press-Citizen's online version of the column, and Facebook mentions of the column. They conclude with an emailed comment from a reader, and Nick's response to it. Below that are two comments from present and former Johnson County officials: an excerpt from Supervisor Rod Sullivan's Sullivan's Salvos, and a comment posted directly to this blog essay/column from former Auditor Tom Slockett.

On the Local Option Sales Tax, Think Before You Vote

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
October 8, 2014, p. A11

My response to the dueling sales tax columns on the Oct. 6 opinion page? Think before you vote. That’s all I ask.

Income inequality is as American as apple pie. The wealthy get the largest slices. So it has always been.

The 18th Century sentiment, “Those who own the country ought to govern it,” is attributed to John Jay, our first Supreme Court Chief Justice. It didn’t just burst forth as a talking point from today’s conservative rightwing corporatists or Fox News.

We’re familiar with the results from Washington. One family owns more than do 40 percent of the American people combined. The increased value since the 2008 bank fraud has gone to the upper one percent -– including those very bankers too big to jail.

What we and the media lose with our focus on Washington is that the same forces are playing out in state capitals, county courthouses, and city councils.

It would be hilarious if it was not so inhumane.

Why does the City Council tell us we need this sales tax increase? To make up for lowered property tax receipts, they say. And what are they going to do with the additional sales tax receipts? Why, use at least 40 percent of them to lower property taxes even further.

Read that a second time before you go on. Can you imagine what Jon Stewart would do with that one?

Landlords’ apartments that the occupants don’t own will now be taxed as if they did, with lower taxes for landlords. Guess how those savings will be divided between reductions in rents and increases in landlords’ profits.

The rich become ever-richer because the tax laws are rigged. The wealthy have lower rates on profits from investing money than the working poor have on pay for investing physical effort.

Those who have to spend every dime they earn are the ones hit hardest by the sales tax. (That’s why the quickest way out of the recession in our 70-percent consumer-spending economy would have been to flow money through their hands rather than the wealthy.) [Photo credit: Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed.]

Don’t be fooled by this increase of “a penny,” or “one percent.” For the math-impaired, an increase from six percent to seven percent is closer to a 17 percent increase.

Be aware we are playing Washington’s game right here in Iowa City. The Council is offering you a deliberate scheme to shift even more money from Iowa City’s working poor to its upper middle class and rich. Washington’s conservative corporatists would be proud.

[Illustration credit: Working Poor Families Project.]

You see, this is not just tax breaks for the rich -– which it also is. It’s worse. It’s Robin Hood in reverse: further enriching our local well-off by actually taking money out of the pockets of those most in need.

Before you vote to take 17 percent more from those suffering the most, consult your head, your heart, your conscience, your God. Is that who you are? Is that who you really want to be?
Iowa City resident Nicholas Johnson maintains the website


Comments Regarding this Blog Essay/Column

From comments posted to the the Press-Citizen online version of the column:

Mary Murphy, Iowa City, Iowa

Thanks for writing this. I’d like to have seen everyone think more creatively about how to conserve funds before asking for more. Is every capital project truly necessary? For example, my sense is construction work to raise Dubuque St. (IC’s Gateway project) will be far more disruptive than any flooding of Dubuque and cost the taxpayers an enormous amount—Only $10.5 million of its estimated $51 million plus cost will be covered by grants and the rest will be paid for by local option taxes, general obligation bonds, and wastewater operations revenues. If this project was set aside, other compelling projects like creating a secondary access to the Peninsula and extending Foster Road to Prairie Du Chien could be done at a fraction of the cost. Extending Foster Road would also create an alternative access to the downtown to and from the Dubuque St. I-80 exit in the event of future flooding on Dubuque St. Sure Dubuque St. would need some maintenance dollars spent on it; however, not $51 million plus dollars. As another example, Johnson County could work with Iowa City staff to use more consersation bond money to develop parks and trails within Iowa City (saving Iowa City some money), especially since Iowa City voters helped pass the bond. See for a list of Iowa City’s capital projects.

Mona SpeaksforthePoor Shaw

Nick, you nailed this to the wall. Thank you.

Thomas J. Gill, Coralville, Iowa

But it's only a Penny!, Great editorial, Thank-You

From comments posted to a Facebook notification of the column:

Phil Specht

On the other hand reducing the sales tax and replacing it with a transaction tax covering all movement of money would save the poor and tax where the "willie sutton" wealth is made.

Steve Hanken

Damned straight it would, Phil.

From Mona Shaw's Facebook share of the Facebook post:

Nicholas Johnson nailed this one to the wall. Johnson County, just don't vote for this. It's wrong. It's flat out wrong.

Lynda Waddington

What's the alternative? (Have not yet read Nic's piece.)

Tim Weitzel

The alternative is to not tacitly approve of tax cuts to the wealthy by approving additional regressive taxes that will most affect the poor. There are alternatives to the issue of affordable housing and budgeting for roads is a choice made between staff and city council.

Lynda Waddington

Due to state property tax reform, which included moving multi-family dwellings off commercial roles and to residential roles (bet no one has seen a reduction in rent), Iowa City is facing between $37 & $50 million revenue shortfall. Not saying LOST [Local Option Sales Tax] is answer, just that options for city government are limited.

Tim Weitzel

I'm aware of the limitations on revenue for local government. However, taxing the poor disproportionately greater to make up the shortfall seems highly counter intuitive. The argument has been made that most people won't even notice the difference in an extra 1% but those who are low income will notice. I guarantee it. Tough budget choices are part and parcel of running local government.

And, as a reader's email:

Just finished reading your guest opinion in today's Press-Citizen, and I both agree and disagree with what you wrote.

I agree with your description of our governmental landscape as unfair. Sometimes grossly unfair. Just off the top of my head is the reality that sales tax and Social Security tax both require significantly greater percentages from poor than from the rich. In the meantime, in between time, ain't we got fun.

I agree we have a flawed government, because it was designed and is now operated by flawed people. Someone once said we have the worst possible form of government.....except for all the others.

For instance, it wasn't infinate wisdom that our governor-for-life and tag-along legislature used to determine that buildings filled with rental apartments aren't actually commercial properties.

Where I disagree is your contention that we shouldn't use flawed governing tools, even though they're the only funding tools available. When cities -- especially those such as Iowa City and Ames with tons of apartment buildings -- are stripped of tax funding by the millions, they're forced to use the only alternative sources of funding realistically available at the present time.

Thus, my head and my heart and my conscience will vote in favor of the local option tax. About God, I believe he must have a sense of human, so he's out there somewhere laughing himself silly at what fools these mortals be.

And by the way, percentages and statictis do sometimes fall into the category of damn lies. It's correct that one penny is just one percent of a dollar. But it's also correct that one penny can represent a nearly 17 percent increase.

The whole situation is somewhat modified by the fact that all of us flawed people have at least modest control over what retail itejms we purchase, and important items such as groceries and medicdal items aren't included in the local option taxes.

As usual, I find your writing enjoyable and provocative. And what an uninteresting world this would be if we all agreed on everything."

And Nick's Reply to the reader's emailed Analysis:

You've indicated where you disagree with my contentions. Where I disagree with yours is the assertion that a 17% hike in taxes paid by the poor is "the only alternative source of funding realistically available at the present time." It's a sentiment also expressed in a letter on the Press-Citizen's opinion page this morning [October 9], James Conger's "Hold Your Nose and Vote 'Yes' on Sales Tax", p. A9. He writes, "The local option sales tax . . . is one of the only options available to . . . say[ing] goodbye to services that now serve the poor and the elderly."

Why is it that you, he, and undoubtedly many other local residents, immediately leap from "we need other sources of revenue" to "let's either raise taxes on the poor or cut their services"?

Not only do I believe there are many alternative ways to fund a City's legitimate governmental functions that I'll briefly discuss in a moment -- including expenses that can be cut as well as alternative sources of revenue -- I also believe that some of those alternatives are so unambiguously morally reprehensible (a category that, for me, includes taxes on the poor) that they should be off the table from the beginning of any discussion.

As now-Vice President Joe Biden once told me, "There are some things worth losing an election for."

Similarly, when it comes to budgets, revenue decreases, and cost cutting, whether for government, for-profit or non-profit corporations, I believe we retain moral as well as fiscal obligations to address the human consequences.

"Revenue is needed" was the justification offered by UI's athletic department for entering into contracts with the gambling and alcohol industries. As I said at the time, "Once 'revenue is needed' becomes your polestar, your moral compass begins to spin as if on the North Pole."

"Revenue is needed" was the reason a high school principal once gave me -- and a gathering of dentists concerned about what they called "Mountain Dew mouth" -- for keeping sugar-drink-dispensing vending machines in his high school. He had to do it, he said, in order to pay for the scoreboard for the football field. I said to him, "We've now established that you are willing to assign a higher priority to revenue for a football scoreboard than the health and welfare of your students. Apparently you do not feel constrained to avoid ways of raising money that will be harmful to them, including in this instance ways that are known to increase their rates of obesity, diabetes, and tooth and gum disease, among other medical conditions. That being the case, freed of such constraints, have you given thought to other even more lucrative, though harmful, revenue possibilities -- such as, say, a teenage prostitution ring?" Of course, it wasn't a serious proposal, but it made the point. Half the crowd applauded and laughed, the other half booed.

I'm really troubled by the knee-jerk, first reaction, when government expenses loom, or revenues decline (often, as in this instance, to cover tax cuts for the wealthy), "Well, I guess we'll just have to impose tax increases on the poor, or cut their programs."

That's really the beginning and end of the point I'm trying to make.

Given the sales-tax-increase advocates' conviction that there really are no other alternatives, however, let me list a few. Others might be even more undesirable, even bordering on the illegal. But we are not looking for a "good" alternative solution; we're looking for the "least worst" solution. And from my vantage point anything would be "least worst" than increasing taxes on the poor.

The first place I'd start would be for the City to limit the expenditure of the property tax revenue it does have to historically traditional, public, governmental services and functions. If it would stop providing gifts of substantial amounts of cash, "forgivable loans," tax deferrals, and redirecting dedication of tax revenues to specific for-profit developers and other private businesses, a significant portion of the problem would disappear. See, "TIFs: Links to Blog Essays" and this morning's column by Peter Fisher, "If Lucky's Getting Lucky, What About the Taxpayers?, Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 9, 2014, p. A9.

Sources tell me there are inefficiencies, and cuts in staff, programs and projects, within the City's budget that could also help cover some of the revenue decline.

Corporations and governments confronting budget cuts sometimes simply postpone previously budgeted maintenance, repair, renovation and construction projects -- if they are not essential to prevent death, disease, or injury. For example, the University's College of Pharmacy wanted to begin construction on a new building this year; the project has been postponed. Raising Dubuque Street might be an example of a project that could be postponed by the City.

Increases in fees could be focused on the upper middle class rather than the poor -- fees for building permits, trash taken to the City's dump, water and sewer, weekly trash pickup, and whatever else the City now charges for. It might even charge downtown bar owners for the cost of City employees' Sunday morning clean up of the vomit outside their businesses, and other goods and services provided downtown merchants. It might even cancel the program that enables downtown businesses to spruce up their storefronts at taxpayer expense.

Bear in mind, I'm not advocating any of these alternatives. I don't have to. I'm just making a point about the role of the ethical, moral, philosophical -- and for some, religious -- values that ought to be in play when a government decides that increasing taxes on the poor is its only alternative. This brief list of untested alternative possibilities is only provided for those who insist there are none.


Rod Sullivan, Sullivan's Salvos
"More Sales Tax"
July 1, 2014, issue; emailed June 26, 2014

[Supervisor Rod Sullivan, a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, publishes a newsletter he calls Sullivan's Salvos. You may request a (free) subscription by emailing him at His views on sales tax are especially relevant both because of his official position and the experience and knowledge that position provides. This excerpt from Sullivan's Salvos is republished here with his permission. -- N.J.]

As many of you know, I am a bit of a wonk when it comes to taxes. My interest in this area has led to some strongly held opinions against sales taxes. Here are a few reminders as to why increasing our reliance on the sales tax is NOT a good idea.

Regressivity This means that the poor pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than do the wealthy. Sales taxes are the most regressive taxes. Income taxes are the most progressive taxes.

In 2003, a person with an income of $90,000 paid 3.2% of her income in taxes. A person earning $19,500 paid 11.1% of her income in taxes.

Relative to income, the poor pay twice what the middle class pay, and nearly 5 times the amount the wealthy pay. Even with exemptions, sales taxes hit the poor hardest.

Who are the poor? 31% (215,855) of the children in Iowa live in low-income families. 10%(70,857) of the children in Iowa live in poor families. Most of the people living in poverty in Iowa and elsewhere are children. There are more poor women than poor men. Plus we are talking poverty here, which is a much higher threshold than free and reduced price lunch.

Children are the poorest segment of our society. I will quote one of my favorite authors, Jonathon Kozol: “Charity is no substitute for economic justice.”

You cannot raise money for human services and believe they will make up for the damage done by a local option sales tax. Governmental agencies cannot improve their budget situations on the backs of the poorest of the poor. The needs of the poor will outpace any and all services that they have helped to fund.

In the Iowa City Community School District, parents and kids at Twain, Wood, and Hills pay a higher percentage of their income in sales taxes than parents and kids at Wickham, Lincoln, and Shimek. Does this make sense?

Wealthy services not taxed The services of accountants, attorneys, and stockbrokers are not subject to sales taxes. These and many other services (advertising, consulting, etc.) used primarily by the wealthy and by large corporations go untaxed. In addition, property taxes are deductible, while sales taxes are not.

Sales Taxes versus Property Taxes “Sales tax proponents frequently use the argument, “Sales taxes are better than property taxes.” First off, this is untrue. This argument is akin to saying, “Drinking is better than smoking, so we need more smoking.” Neither tax option is good for the poor.”

Sales taxes versus property taxes is a red herring The point is not which is worse, sales taxes or property taxes. The point is that BOTH hurt the poor unfairly. We need to create a more fair system of taxation, and we need to do so creatively. Sales & property taxes are not the only two options available. People who claim these are the only options are being shortsighted. We need to challenge our legislators to allow for greater local use of income taxes. This is the fairest way to finance local governments, and should be part of the mix.

What about renters? Rent includes the landlord¹s expenses plus profit. But there is no profit if there is no renter. So depending upon the market, the landlord can adjust her rent as much as she wishes, so long as the unit remains leased. Most landlords raise rents when they can, regardless of taxes. Most try to squeeze out maximum profit. This is supply and demand and will happen REGARDLESS of taxes. Supply and demand drives the rental market-nothing else. This is a fact, and economists of all stripes have backed this up. So before you E-mail me disagreeing with this fact, talk to a damned economist!

Another flaw in this argument is assuming that landlords are somehow entitled to no less profit than they are currently receiving. Owning property is an investment. People are not forced to own ¬ they can invest in CDs, gold, or the stock market. If your investments are not profitable, sell.

Programs that use relative wealth as a measure of eligibility (such as Medicaid) always include resources (property). It is not enough to have low income; you must also lack other resources, such as property. This is because the net worth of a property owner far exceeds that of a renter. Renters have less real assets. Under a sales tax, renters pay the same as their counterparts with real assets.

What about “outsiders”? Won¹t they help pay? People who live outside of Johnson County pay about 20-25% of the taxes collected. These are by and large not people from Chicago, however, but commuters who purchase goods on the way home.

I cannot, in good conscience, support a shift of the tax burden to people who have less money. What's more, I have trouble saying that a person earning$25,000 should pay more tax just because she lives in Williamsburg, Riverside, West Branch, Mount Vernon, Tipton, etc. Especially when the local wealthy would be let off the hook at her expense. It is critically important that we think of our middle and low-income neighbors who commute to this County.

In addition, there are “outsiders” who pay property tax; they are absentee landowners. Most of the buildings in downtown Iowa City are owned by people who live outside of Johnson County. Coral Ridge Mall, Proctor and Gamble, Regency Trailer Court, numerous student apartments, and thousands of other properties are owned by entities that do NOT call Johnson County home.Substituting sales tax for property tax lets these absentee landlords off the hook. Others will pay for the roads and services that add value to their properties.

Doesn¹t everyone else impose a higher sales tax? Yes. Currently, only Johnson County has no Local Option Sales Tax. When you are the only (or one of the only) counties that does something, you are either doing something very well or doing something very poorly. I believe Johnson County has been doing very well by choosing not to impose this tax.

Theological arguments I just happen to buy into a worldview that those who are able need to help those who are not. It is a basic organizing principle of any society, for one thing. Most major world religions subscribe to the idea of helping the poor.

I hold to a viewpoint (influenced by Christian doctrine) that says, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last”; “Do unto others”; “That which you do to the least among you, you do to me”; “The meek shall inherit the earth”; “Charity shall cover the multitude of sins”; “You cannot serve both God and wealth”; and “A rich man has a better chance of putting a camel through the eye of a needle than getting into Heaven.” Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and most major religions share similar doctrine when it comes to caring for the poor first. If you think I am making these up, consult your own religious authority.

I prefer to follow this lead rather than doing more to comfort the comfortable.

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