Saturday, November 28, 2015

Syria, Terrorism, Craziness and Common Sense

If you're looking for material regarding University of Iowa, its new President Bruce Harreld, and the Iowa Board of Regents, CLICK HERE.

Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015, p. A11

There’s so much craziness involved in our response to “terrorism,” and potential Syrian refugees. Where to begin?

Let’s start with risk assessment.

It turns out that fear of dying in a terrorist attack is like a two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker with a fear of flying.

About 3000 people died in the Twin Towers collapse, September 11, 2001. But that number die every month of every year from guns. An equal number die every month in automobiles. Over 7000 die every month from alcohol related causes. Tobacco contributes to 40,000 deaths a month – a risk for our cigarette smoker 10,000 or more times greater than airlines. [Photo credit: Unknown]

Your risks from the most bizarre accident you can imagine is greater than your risk of a terrorist act.

Will we have more U.S. radical jihadist terrorist attacks? Probably; mostly home grown. Can we stop all of them? Of course not. Would more NSA surveillance of Americans help? Probably not. There was advance intelligence about terrorists’ suspicious flight training, and Osama bin Laden’s intention to strike New York. The Russians told us about the Boston Marathon bombers. ISIS’ attacks in Paris were masterminded by someone well known to authorities. Making the haystack bigger doesn’t make the needle easier to find.

It has been suggested that we admit Christians from Syria, but not Muslims – indeed that all U.S. Muslims be issued identity cards and entered in a database.

There are so many thing wrong with such violations of our values and Constitution. We don‘t punish religions. Moreover, if we’re going to do it anyway, we need to single out Christians not Muslims. Christians have committed multiples more domestic terrorist acts than Muslims.

When emotions run high, we need to recall our shame at refusing to welcome German Jewish refugees before World War II. Provoked by politicians, Americans’ fear the Jews might be communists caused our government to turn the Jews’ boats around and send them back to their death at the hands of Nazis.

If we’re going to respond to events in Paris with anything beyond what we’re already doing, refusing to take Syrian refugees is one of the worst things we could do. Not only will it fail to make us safer, it will help to make ISIS stronger.

Focusing on Syrians rather than Europeans is like focusing on Afghans after planeloads of Saudis, funded by other Saudis, brought down the Twin Towers. Not only were the Paris bombers Europeans, not Syrians, as such they could easily enter the U.S. as tourists.

Nearly 35 million foreigners visit our country every year – many don’t even need visas. If we don’t fear admitting those 35 million, without vetting them, by what logic do we refuse to take 10,000 Syrians who have gone through years of the most intense vetting imaginable?

Since 9/11 we have admitted 785,000 refugees into our country. During those 14 years only three have been arrested on terrorism-related charges. That’s 0.0004 of 1 percent. There’s no credible reason to believe our vetting of Syrians will be significantly less successful.

Over 10 million Syrians have left their homes. Europe has welcomed them. We can’t accept 1/10th of 1% of that number?

Bear in mind, ISIS is not trying to take over our 3 million square miles, or kill our 300 million people. This is not your grandfather’s war. ISIS is just trying to terrorize us, to make us fearful. When we build more chain-link fences and hire more security guards, when we can’t enter an airplane – or even a college football stadium – without being frisked or x-rayed, they’ve won.

Our military presence in the Middle East has helped them recruit far more suicide bombers than we’ve ever killed. And our leaving Syria’s young people with no option but to join ISIS will do the same.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City native, managed sealift to Viet Nam when serving as U.S. Maritime Administrator, and maintains Contact:

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Regents, UI, and Bruce Harreld Resources

Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces from September 2 through October 31, 2015, updated daily, 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<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of 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

Anyone for Democracy?

The following text was submitted to The Gazette as a part of one of its "Writers Circle" projects, this one focused on "voting." Portions removed from the hard copy published version are enclosed [in brackets]. The title was changed from "Anyone for Democracy?" to . . .

Let's Seize Our Opportunity, Take Responsibility Seriously

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, November 22, 2015, p. C3

“I am waiting for someone
to really discover America . . .”

-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting,” A Coney Island of the Mind (1958)

On November 3 Iowa City held an election of city council members. The somewhat unique existence of two slates of candidates, whose differences over issues were clearly drawn, might have produced a massive voter turnout. It did not.

Approximately 62,000 Iowa City residents are eligible to register as voters. Of that number only 45,000 do so (72 percent). But wait; it gets worse. In the latest city council election only 15 percent of those who bothered to register also bothered to vote.

My Oxford English Dictionary (1971) defines “democracy” as “that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them or by officers elected by them. In modern use often more vaguely denoting a social state, in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege.”

Has America ever had such a democracy? Does it have one now?

We believe we can bring “nation-building” to others, showing them the virtues of our democracy. But it is they who assume the risks associated with voting, including in some instances death, stand in long lines for hours, and emerge from the polls with a proud smile and a finger painted purple.

Meanwhile, many Americans stay at home with their TV sets and video games on Election Day, only to have their faces turn purple months later as they rail against the evils of [“guv-ment” (in quotes) was deleted and "government" was substituted].

Fact is, our nation began, not as a democracy, but as the plutocracy it remains today. As Noam Chomsky reminds us, it was John Jay who proclaimed that “those who own the country ought to govern it.”

To insure this result, voters were initially limited to males who were white, over 21, and owned land. This has been gradually expanded to include African Americans, those without land, women, and finally all over 18. Thus, those who own the country today have to govern it by choosing the nominees.

[William “Boss” Tweed, of New York’s 19th Century Tammany Hall, is credited with having said, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Today the nominating takes place in New York’s financial district, Wall Street, well to the south of the old Tammany Hall at 141 E. 14th Street. As Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his friends have said privately about Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, echoing Boss Tweed, "Those would be two very good choices and we’d be perfectly happy with them."]

[But if the American poor, working poor, working class, and lower middle class were well informed regarding their interests, registered, and then voted as a block, they could put their candidates in every elected position in the country, from school boards to the White House. That’s why it’s so important for the 1%, even though they do the nominating, to put every possible roadblock in the path of the poor on their way to the voting booth –- with schemes only restrained by the limits of their imagination.]

[And that is why the establishment’s two major parties make it virtually impossible for third parties to rise and survive. Proposals like instant runoff, fusion, and many more, would make it possible for us to vote with both our hearts and our heads -– better reflecting Americans’ true preferences, while leaving the two parties dominant. But the two majors generally succeed in keeping third party candidates from even being seen in the national debates.]

[Asked to delete or substitute something for the above paragraph, I proposed, and The Gazette used:] Voting reforms such as instant-runoff, ranked choice, or preferential voting would enable voters to vote for more than one candidate. Voting with both one's heart and head would better reflect Americans' true preferences. It also would breathe life into third parties, now usually excluded from participation by a Commission on Presidential Debates made up of the Democratic and Republican Parties' leadership.

Iowans are blest with laws and practices encouraging, rather than stifling, registration and voting. We are given the heady responsibility of playing a disproportionate role in the nomination of our presidential candidates. If anyone will ever “really discover America” it will probably be right here in Iowa. But only if we’ll take our responsibilities seriously and use the opportunities we have.
Nicholas Johnson, an Iowa City native, has worked in every presidential campaign since 1948 [, was a congressional primary candidate, and participated in party organizations at the national, county and precinct level]. He is the author of Are We There Yet? (2008) and the blog Contact:

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The Gazette's online publication of the columns can be found here: "Writers Circle: Engaging Voters in Local Elections," November 23, 2015, 8:00 a.m. ("Earlier this month, members of The Gazette Writers Circle gathered to discuss this question: A fraction of eligible voters turned out to cast a ballot in this month’s municipal elections. How do we get more people engaged in local political decision making?")

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Brandon Weber, "Here Are 3 Big Reasons Millions of Americans Don't Feel Like Voting," Upworthy (online), November 16, 2015 (gerrymandering; primary voting system; electoral college)

Monday, November 09, 2015

UI and Higher Education in Context

Parallels Between School Systems Staggering

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), November 9, 2015, 4:23 p.m.
[hard copy: "Parallels Between School Systems Are Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, p. A5]

Tim Wolfe Resignation: When Money Talks in Higher Education [formerly: Wolfe Resignation is a Cautionary Tale for Higher Education]

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette (online), November 9, 2015, 4:09 p.m.

Once upon a time, a Midwest university’s governing board hired a president who was a lifelong business person with no advanced degrees, record of scholarship or political experience. They cited his “business acumen” as sufficient qualification – over faculty protests. He had worked for IBM in sales and ultimately as vice president. He then became a business consultant, and headed a corporation no longer operating under that name.

He froze faculty salaries, except for a favored few (without explanation), and scaled back graduate assistants’ tuition waivers and health insurance subsidies, just hours before fall classes began. He discontinued clinical privileges for a Planned Parenthood physician, and terminated relationships with Planned Parenthood affiliates.

This is not a once-upon-a-time bedtime story. It’s a true tale. But it doesn’t involve Iowa’s Bruce Harreld.

It’s a Missouri story. The state’s multi-campus system is headed by a president, the campuses by chancellors, all governed by a Board of Curators.

The current dustup is at the university in Columbia, and involves the president’s insensitivity to the grievances of African-American students regarding racial epithets and worse. It wasn’t something he said. It was that he said nothing.

Realizing that nothing gets an administrator’s attention like loss of revenue, especially from sports, the football team announced it would boycott all “football related activities” until President Timothy M. Wolfe resigned or was removed. Serious at any time, it was especially so before the BYU game November 14, to be held in the Kansas City Chiefs’ stadium. If the game was forfeited, the university would not only lose ticket and related revenue, it would owe BYU $1,000,000. The coaches and others on campus supported the team.

A half hour after I began writing this column the Board of Curators called an emergency meeting, and twenty minutes after that Wolfe resigned.

(For a similar story about a business person as president of Iowa’s Parsons College, and its ultimate bankruptcy, see Laura Crossett’s “Parsons College: A Cautionary Tale for UI,”

Since September 1 I have been maintaining a repository of the news, opinion pieces and documents relevant to the Board of Regents’ process, and ultimate selection, of our new president. See and

These records are important, not only to us, as University of Iowa news for today and as an archive of Harreld’s presidency for tomorrow. What is going on in Iowa this year is but one part, one story, of what is happening in higher education all across America – as illustrated by the news from Missouri. It is far too early for historians’ evaluation of whether the “business person” solution preferred by many boards will turn out to be the salvation of challenged universities, or lead to their demise – or to know how many historians will then remain to tell the tale.

Nor is this story limited to our nations’ major research institutions. It is but a part of trends throughout our society during the past 35 years. Grover Norquist put it succinctly: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can . . . drown it in the bathtub.” We’re witnessing public support for outsiders as presidents of the United States as well as its universities.

Privatize prisons and their profits are tied to maintaining the world’s largest prison population. Privatize the military, pay contractors multiples more than soldiers, and we have perpetual wars. Bust unions in the private and public sectors and the middle class disappears and increased wealth goes to the top 1%. Repeal Glass-Steagall and taxpayers bail out the banks.

Corporatize the universities and . . . what? Watch this space.

Iowa City native, Nicholas Johnson, was formerly a member of legal teams at a major Washington law firm representing airlines and steel companies, and headed the U.S. Maritime Administration. Contact:

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two

Syria’s Refugees: Job One and Job Two

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, November 1, 2015, p. C4

“I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

-- Iowa’s Governor Robert D. Ray, welcoming Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants, 1975 (post Viet Nam War)

In March, 2011, Syria’s President Assad fired on peaceful Syrian, Arab Spring demonstrators. By July the demonstrators were joined by defectors from Assad’s army, renamed themselves the Free Syrian Army, and were engaged in a civil war. Soon Iran was supporting Assad; Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States came to the aid of the rebels.

Five years later, it has become a regional version of a World War III. In addition to Syria, it involves the countries of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey – and now Russia and the United States, among others. Other state-like groups include al Qaeda in Syria, Hezbollah, ISIS, Kurds, the anti-Assad rebels – plus another 100 factions – all of which switch sides and membership from time to time. Then there is the Islamic division, with Sunnis supporting the rebels and Shiites supporting Assad.

Nearly a quarter-million Syrians have been killed – most of whom were innocent civilians neither wishing for nor participating in this war. There are uncounted millions who have been injured, deprived of food or health care, and are missing family members. Homes and businesses have been destroyed, as have entire cities, leaving many without shelter or access to supplies.

The UN estimates 7.6 million Syrians (out of a pre-war population of 23 million) are now displaced within Syria, in addition to the 4 million Syrian refugees who have been able to leave.

Few if any of us have ever experienced anything remotely like what they have been through, and continue to experience.

But as we try to imagine what it must be like, one cannot watch the news of their lives, whether in Syria, or on their way elsewhere, and not be emotionally moved. What can we Iowans do to help from halfway around the world?

Iowans, like Americans in the other 49 states, have been, and continue to be, enriched by the diversity and skills of our new arrivals. The UI alone has students from 112 countries. And as the opening quote from former Governor Robert Ray reveals, Iowa has a proud history of welcoming those in need of a new home during Iowa’s recent, as well as its early years.

So it’s pretty clear what those of us within the Gazette’s circulation area can, and should do. We need to encourage our public officials to continue Iowa’s tradition – the presidential candidates, our Governor, legislators, county supervisors, and city council members. We need to work from within our churches, social service agencies, civic clubs and other organizations to build consensus – and collaboration – encouraging and preparing for their arrival.

That’s today’s job one in this crisis.

But job two still looms: trying to learn from this experience what America has apparently been unable to learn from our unwelcome military incursions into Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq – among many other countries.

The West created the Middle East. In May 1916, Mark Sykes (British), and Francois Georges-Picot (French), with Russia’s knowledge, came to a secret understanding to demolish the Ottoman Empire and draw new boundaries for French and British-administered areas.

World War III is not World War II. “Terrorism” is not a nation. If we wanted to treat it as such after 9/11 we should have been bombing and invading Saudi Arabia rather than Afghanistan and Iraq – since that’s where the money and airline hijackers came from. Our incursions have created more terrorists than have been killed.

The computer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) in the movie “War Games” ultimately called off a thermo-nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia after being frustrated by its inability to win at tic-tack-toe. As it concluded, “the only winning move is not to play.” We have not been as wise as that computer.

The answer? It can fit on a bumper sticker: “Whatever is the question, war is not the answer.”

Nicholas Johnson, a native of Iowa City and former FCC commissioner, maintains and Contact:

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