Tuesday, August 15, 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: "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

"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, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . 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"

# # #

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," Gallup.com, 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," Wikipedia.org.
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," Wikipedia.org. 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."

# # #

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Does Trump Really Want a Chief of Staff?

Updates: August 4, 2017. Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, "John Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military Discipline on White House," New York Times, August 4, 2017, p. A1 ("Among Mr. Kelly's immediate challenges: brokering peace between warring factions in the West Wing; plugging leaks about internal activities; establishing a disciplined policy-making process; and walling off the Rusia investigation. . . . On Capitol Hill, Mr. Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration for his long military service and disappointment that he has been too willing to embrace and defend Mr. Trump's more controversial policies, especially on illegal immigration."

Leon Panetta, "How John Kelly Can Fix the White House," Washington Post, August 4, 2017 ("The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic: 1. Trust. . . . 2. One chief. . . . 3. A clear chain of command. . . . 4. An orderly policy-development process. . . . 5. Telling the president the truth. . . ..")

August 5, 2017. Although I almost never bring my own (now grown) children into these blog posts, reason for exception has come to my attention. My eldest son caught a line in the post below that encouraged him to involve two of the others as well. If you're curious as to what all of this is about, go down to HERE.

August 7, 2017. Jennifer Rubin, "Kelly Can't Fix Trump's Biggest Problems," Washington Post, August 7, 2017 (which concludes, "In sum, Kelly can improve White House discipline but until he is empowered to can Bannon, prompt the president to replace incompetent secretaries and senior advisers with seasoned hands, instill an atmosphere where truth and integrity are paramount and get past the scrutiny of the special counsel, his changes will be limited and wholly insufficient.")


General John Kelly
Chief of Staff
Executive Office of the President


It has not been, as Garrison Keillor would say, "A quiet week in Lake Wobegon." Indeed, as Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker described it, "Donald Trump has had . . . his worst week since the last one." [Kathleen Parker, "President Donald Trump's Iceberg Looms," The Gazette, August 1, 2017, p. A5.]

Six months into his presidency, President Trump may have come to the realization a Chief of Staff might be a useful addition to his White House.

Time will tell whether he really wants, and can work with one -- General John Kelly.

The Military Frankly, I think the very best people in our military are among America's best and brightest. Those I'm thinking of are experienced, disciplined, thoughtful professionals, schooled in much more than military history, organization, and operations.
Such as Napoleon's command and control (C2) organization: "Napoleon had an understanding of concepts in organizational design that would not be realized until they became areas of study in the twentieth century" -- an understanding of which is often relevant to some of General Kelly's challenges. [Norman L. Durham, "The Command and Control of the Grand Armee: Napoleon as Organizational Designer," Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, June 2009.]
They have the kind of comprehension of a broad liberal arts and sciences education that would make any college dean proud.

Rather than civilian restraint on the military, it is these military officers who restrain civilian leaders who believe "whatever is the problem, war is the answer." Their "Powell Doctrine" is analogous, for war, to a banker's insistence on a rational "business plan" for startups.
Here's one expression of the Powell Doctrine's checklist: "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?" [Six Step Program for Avoiding War," November 11, 2014.]
General John Kelly appears to be such a military officer. At 67, he's enjoyed a 47-year upward trajectory through the military. In addition to a degree from the University of Massachusetts, he has attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, School for Advanced Warfare, National War College, and Army Infantry Officer Advanced Course. [Photo credit: Department of Defense.]

A Marine, he has served as an infantry company commander, on aircraft carriers, and in two tours leading troops in Iraq.

He has held chief-of-staff-type positions for the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and Secretary of Defense. He's had more legislative experience than most on Trump's team, including a four-year stint as Liaison Officer to the U.S. House of Representatives (1995-99) and three-years as Legislative Assistant to the Commandant (2004-07).

His last military assignment was Commander, US Southern Command (see description immediately below). When appointed Trump's Chief of Staff he was serving as Secretary, Department of Homeland Security. [For detail see, John F. Kelly, Former Commander, U.S. Southern Command" U.S. Department of Defense, Biographies.]
"The Commander in Chief of SOUTHCOM is responsible for all U.S. military activities on the landmasses of Central and South America, the island nations of the Caribbean, and the surrounding waters south of Mexico. . . . Brazil is larger than the continental United States; Peru is three times the size of California. There are 32 sovereign nations in this theater [with] social and political systems appropriate to its culture and circumstances. SOUTHCOM is a joint command comprised of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine elements. Headquarters SOUTHCOM . . . includes representatives from the Department of State, DEA, DIA, NSA, the Coast Guard, and Customs." US Southern Command
For balance, two points should be noted. (1) There's nothing to prepare someone for the White House Chief of Staff job. The responsibilities of a military officer with specific place and job description in a chain of command are of some but limited value. And a position as the single administrative head of a cabinet-level department also involves a relatively limited mission (even for the Department of Homeland Security, which has one of the greatest variety of agencies), and relatively broad range of personal authority. The position as Commander, Southern Command, probably comes closest, since it requires some knowledge, and ability to deal effectively with, the history, culture and politics of 32 nations while considering the politics of the Department of Defense, Congress, and the White House.

"Any chief of staff must find the tricky balance between serving the president and managing the building, between being an adviser and being a boss -- tasks all the more challenging in President Trump's faction-filled White House. . . . [The task most daunting is] imposing discipline on a president who evidently wants no part of it. . . . 'Whether it's General Kelly or Reince Priebus . . . the reason the White House is failing is not because of staff. It's because of the president himself. This is like rearranging deck chairs on a Titanic.' [Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif, on CNN.] [General Kelly's experience] 'in national security [is] a very different matter than someone who has to navigate all the crosscurrents of dealing with [domestic politics, Capitol Hill, and] dealing with a president who just can't throw his phone away and stop tweeting,' [John D. Podesta, former Pres. Clinton chief of staff, on ABC's "This Week].") [Peter Baker, "Sage Advice From the 'Gold Standard' of White House Chiefs of Staff," New York Times, July 31, 2017, p. A12.]

(2) There has been some concern about his handling of immigrants while Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. "On Capitol Hill, Mr. Kelly is viewed with a mix of admiration for his long military service and disappointment that he has been too willing to embrace and defend Mr. Trump's more controversial policies, especially on illegal immigration." [Glenn Thrush, Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, "John Kelly Quickly Moves to Impose Military Discipline on White House," New York Times, August 4, 2017, p. A1.] Thomas E. Ricks, "Are U.S. Immigration Centers the Next Abu Ghraib?", New York Times, 28 23 February 28, 2017, p. A23 -- made a little more chilling by the fact he was General Mattis' Deputy Commander in Iraq at the time of Abu Ghraib. See, "Getting Away With Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees," Human Rights Watch Report, April 23, 2005.

Militarization Having praised General Kelly, there's an issue deserving of mention: the militarization of a civilian government. The founders of our nation were well versed in history, and the risks of giving too much power to the military. They placed the power to declare war in the Congress, not the president. [U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8.11 (The Congress shall have power . . . To declare War . . ..).] They forbid the creation of a standing army, by granting Congress the power, "To raise and support Armies," while limiting Congress' ability to fund them "for a longer Term than two Years." [Article I, Section 8.12.] They provided that the president, not a general, "shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . .." [U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 2.1.]

As Democracy Now! has reported, "Trump Has Appointed More Generals in His Cabinet Than Any President Since World War II," Democracy Now, December 16, 2016. Notwithstanding the special concern about maintaining "civilian control of the military," President Trump even selected General James "Mad Dog" Mattis as his Secretary of the Defense Department. General H.R. McMaster, Trump's National Security Advisor, replaced another General, Michael Flynn. And now his Chief of Staff is General John Kelly.

That's not to say any of these appointments were illegal (so far as I know), but they are made more problematical by President Trump's seeming total delegation to the military the formulation and execution of military policy and missions. "President Trump has let the military know that the buck stops with them, not him. . . . [W]ith the new freedoms come new dangers for the military, including the potential of increased civilian casualties, and the possibility that Mr. Trump will shunt blame for things that go wrong to the Pentagon." [Helene Cooper, "Trump Gives Military New Freedom. But With That Comes Danger," New York Times, April 5, 2017.]

"Chief of Staff" is one of many titles sometimes assigned to an aide many executives find essential. There are more details and tasks than one person can manage. Hiring a team of assistants simply multiplies the number of persons to deal with -- and can create additional conflicts (either deliberate or unintended). A chief of staff can function as a communications funnel, and impose a management by exception reporting -- bringing to the executive only what is going exceptionally well or badly, and decisions they've agreed the executive must make.

The closest to a presidential "chief of staff," though without that title, began with President George Washington's "Private Secretary." Originally paid by the presidents, in 1857 Congress created a paid position for "Private Secretary at the White House." During the first half of the Twentieth Century there were titles like "Secretary to the President," "Appointments Secretary," "Press Secretary," and "Personal Secretary to the President."

President Dwight Eisenhower's principal secretary was designated "Chief of Staff" in 1961, and the position became a permanent fixture during the Nixon Administration.

How President Trump and Chief of Staff Kelly work together involves an apparent agreement regarding, among other things, controlling others' access to the Oval Office, and perhaps a more disciplined process for policy development than Trump's troublesome early morning tweets. The rest will evolve over time and occasionally come to our attention from media reports.

One of the most important functions I assigned my own "chief of staff" was what we called the "Dutch Uncle" role.
"A Dutch uncle is an informal term for a person who issues frank, harsh, or severe comments and criticism to educate, encourage, or admonish someone." ["Dutch Uncle," Wikipedia, which see for 16th Century history.]
I made it expressly clear that, not only would I tolerate criticism from my chief of staff, I demanded it. Anyone can occasionally drift into self-inflicted wounds, ill-considered ideas, insensitive behavior, or ineffective actions. Unless an executive makes clear a desire for independent judgment and criticism, the default, the presumption by staff members, will be that adoration and enthusiastic praise and agreement is what's desired.

President Trump would have been so much better off six months into his presidency had he been able to encourage someone to play that Dutch Uncle role for him. Whether he will accept it from General Kelly remains to be seen.

Trump's agreement, on Kelly's first day at work, to permit Kelly's firing of Anthony Scaramucci, is a positive sign.

One of the toughest challenges will be the children's currently unlimited access to the Oval Office. Ivanka Trump's tweet is troublesome: "Looking forward to serving alongside John Kelly as we work for the American people. General Kelly is a true American hero." Ivanka Trump Tweet, 31 July 2017, 12:00 PM. "Serving alongside"?

When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as "advisers," have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office. But then, were I there now, it wouldn't occur to me to announce new policy through 140-character bursts in a Twitter account either. That Ivanka thinks her position in the organization chart is "alongside" the Chief of Staff may not end well.

There is much more that could (and has) been written about the potential tasks of a White House Chief of Staff.
"The duties of the White House chief of staff vary, yet traditionally encompass the following, such as: select and supervise key White House staff, control access to the Oval Office and the president, manage communications and information flow, and negotiate with Congress, executive branch agencies, and external political groups to implement the president’s agenda." [Rick Mathews, "White House Chief of Staff Isn't the Position You Think It Is," Mic Network Inc., January 24, 2013.]

Leon Panetta, "How John Kelly Can Fix the White House," Washington Post, August 4, 2017 ("The elements critical to improving White House operations are pretty basic: 1. Trust. . . . 2. One chief. . . . 3. A clear chain of command. . . . 4. An orderly policy-development process. . . . 5. Telling the president the truth. . . ..")

"In sum, Kelly can improve White House discipline but until he is empowered to can Bannon, prompt the president to replace incompetent secretaries and senior advisers with seasoned hands, instill an atmosphere where truth and integrity are paramount and get past the scrutiny of the special counsel, his changes will be limited and wholly insufficient."Jennifer Rubin, "Kelly Can't Fix Trump's Biggest Problems," Washington Post, August 7, 2017.
The White House, and its adjoining Executive Office of the President building staff, amount to a government within the government. Some of the most significant and powerful Executive Branch units are located here. The EOB has a budget of about $700 million, with a total payroll that usually runs between 2000 and 5000 personnel. (At 5000, that is larger than the population of 90% of Iowa's communities.) ["Size of the Executive Office of the President," The American Presidency Project.] This includes some 26 major units variously called "Office of," "Council of," and other titles (e.g., e.g., "Office of Management and Budget" and "Council of Economic Advisers"). [List at, "What Is the Role of the White House Chief of Staff," Education, Politics & Government, Dummies.com.]

For now, "Bow our heads and let us pray."

# # #

Having Fun With Dad: A Family Challenge to My Memory

My eldest son, Sherman, whom I can usually count on to ensure that at least one person besides the author reads my blog, discovered the following line in this blog post (questioning the wisdom of President Trump's using family members as advisers):
"When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as 'advisers,' have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office."
He fired off the following email to two of his siblings:
Did you catch this quote?:

"When I was in a position to do so, it never occurred to me to designate my own children as "advisers," have them apply for top secret clearances, and let them wander in and out of my office."

It 'never even occurred to him'.

Petty cold, huh?

I for one, think we would have made fine advisors. For example, on policy:

1) Staff can stay up as late as they want.
2) Ice cream for breakfast!
3) Boring meetings must be limited to 20 minutes, followed by cartoons!
4) Field trips, and lots of 'em.
5) Stuffed animals in every office.
6) Bowls of candy
7) Everyone gets a new bike!
To which Gregory replied:
In the 1970s, when Dad was at the FCC, I was an advisor to him. I'd go to the office with him every day — or maybe it was just one visit, I don’t recall clearly — and anyway, he’d ask me for all kinds of advice.

“Gregory, what television frequency would you recommend?”

“Frequency? Ummm. How about daily?”

Sometimes he’d leave me working at his desk, usually on important matters, but mostly just scribbling with a coloring book.

People would come to the door saying, “I’m looking for the Commissioner.”

“That’s me!” I’d say gleefully.

“Good. Can you please sign this…” they’d reply and give me some kind of papers.

I’m not even sure what I signed into law.

One time I tipped over the water cooler.

I don’t remember going back after that…
Julie, the eldest, who was working for the National Resources Defense Council at the time, closed out the exchange with:
Those are just great. Of course I was too old and experienced at the time to be an assistant. I was already hard at work for a national environmental law firm in DC. 😁"

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Random Thoughts on Electric Cars
"Tesla unveiled its new Model 3 sedans, starting at $35,000, in a ceremony on Friday night [July 28] on the grounds of its sprawling assembly plant and research facility outside San Francisco.

-- Bill Vlasic, "In Pivotal Moment, Tesla Unveils Its First Mass-Market Sedan," New York Times, July 30, 2017, p. A1
Reading the Times story about Tesla's ceremony and first "sale" (to employees) of 30 Tesla Model 3 electric cars, my thoughts accelerated back to my first experience driving an electric car a couple years ago. [Photo credit: Tesla Motors.]

It wasn't a Tesla. It was a Nissan Leaf. I wanted to experience driving an electric car more than I wanted to buy one -- although that was both a possibility and the dealer's wish.

It was a very nice driving experience. There was no reason not to have one because of that drive.

Ultimately, analysis led me to conclude that although it might make no sense for my wife and me, I could imagine people for whom an electric car could be a wise purchase.

Meanwhile, here are some other random thoughts as well.

Environmental impact. Face it, the only forms of transportation that come close to environmental purity would be: walking, bicycling, horseback riding, moving through the air in a glider, or over water with a sailboat.

The operation of an all-electric vehicle may have substantially less adverse environmental impact than operating an internal combustion engine. But if the electricity came from a coal-fired power plant, and a lot of electricity was lost while in transit to your community, the difference is less dramatic.

Then there's the batteries -- a lot of batteries -- the China-controlled rare earth elements it takes to make them, and what happens to them in landfills when they need be replaced. ("Most electric car batteries use lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) cathodes and graphite anodes. 'Rare earth' metals dysprosium, neodymium and terbium, chiefly mined in China . . . are used in some electronic components of the motor." The Electric Car Revolution Is Making These Investors Very Optimistic," Reuters/Fortune, October 4, 2016.)

Convenience. However wonderful the act of driving an electric car may be, there are limits to how far and where you can drive one.

Gasoline filing stations are everywhere -- except in the dead of night in sparsely populated areas of the country. Charging stations for electric cars are not (yet) as available.

At this time, few would want to set off on a cross-country trip in an electric. Even with a probable range "up to" (as the cable companies say about megabits per second) 100 to 200 miles (depending on the make/model), to avoid being stranded without a sufficient charge you would want to allow margins of error when starting out on more than short trips around town.

And instead of filling your tank with gas every week or so, building a home charging station, and going through the routine of starting the charging process every night, would approximate the ever-present obligation of a dairy farmer to milk the cows every evening.

Buy or lease? For me, cars are just transportation, not collectors' items or bragging rights. As long as a car is reliable and safe, I've never cared how old it was or what it looked like. So I've never before calculated the comparative benefits of buying or leasing new cars.

But when considering the Leaf, my initial analysis was that leasing would make the most sense.

Why? Internal combustion engines, properly maintained and worked on, can operate for 250,000 miles or more. There are ways to extend (or curtail) the life of batteries, but they will need to be replaced at some point -- life and price data are not yet definitive, but five years and $5000 might be examples. "[B]attery replacement costs is one of three key considerations why 57 percent of Americans cited in a USA Today/Gallup Poll say they wouldn’t buy an EV." Jim Motavalli, "Replacing EV Batterries: Your Costs Will Vary," PlugInCars.com, June 19, 2012.

Of course, that was five years ago. The technology, and pricing, are still evolving.

It's hard to compare the cost of buying with leasing because there are so many variables. But the financial differences are usually not wildly dramatic.

Bottom line: leasing means you'll always have the latest of the rapidly evolving technology, have some additional guarantees and servicing from the dealer, and never need to spend thousands of dollars on a fresh set of batteries.

Borrowing from the TV pharmaceutical commercials,"Ask your doctor if an electric car might be right for you." So what made me decide to forgo the fun of leasing an electric car?

(1) Little or no need for any car. My wife and I are retired and live in Iowa City, Iowa -- which I sometimes refer to as a "toy town." The law school is a three-or-four-block walk from home. One of the nation's largest research hospitals is closer still. The Big-10 football in Kinnick Stadium is one block further. The dental school maybe three blocks beyond that. Going "to town" is almost exactly one mile, a 15 or 20-minute walk (often quicker than the total time, including parking, to use a car). I mostly get around by bicycle and walking. We already have one car each that mostly sit in the driveway, both old and purchased used.

(2) Need for internal combustion car. We would still need a car capable of distances beyond the range of an electric -- not only for cross-country trips, but for much of our travel within the state, or for two-day trips to places without charging stations.

(3) In order for the lease to make any kind of economic sense for us it would need to be driven distances as close as possible to the maximum permitted under the lease agreement (before there are additional per-mile charges). I was not sure that even using it for all of our around-town driving would come anywhere close to that.

"You began by saying, 'I could imagine people for whom an electric car could be a wise purchase.' So, whom might they be?"

I'm not thinking of those who say, "If you have to ask the price you can't afford it;" the people for whom "money is no object." They can buy any electric they want, regardless of how much they use it, run around in it for six weeks or six months, or until their name comes up on Tesla's backlog list of 500,000 potential buyers who've paid $1000 each to stand in line -- at which point they can give the first electric car to one of their kids.

No, here's who I had in mind. A young couple, with or without kids, both of whom have steady jobs that require daily commutes. They are wealthy enough to buy new cars, but not wealthy enough to consider a $100,000 Tesla.

One of those commutes is, say, 60 miles a day (round trip), or other distance well within the car's range on a full charge (so as to avoid any risk of being stranded). If that was not enough to approach the maximum allowed mileage under the lease, the electric could also be the car of choice for any running around town.

The closer the leased electric could get to that maximum mileage the more economic sense it would make to have the car. (Of course, like most electrics owners, they would need to build a charging station in their garage and remember to charge the car every evening.)

Their other car, new or used, could be a fuel efficient gasoline car. It would be used for the other partner's daily commute, any cross-country (or local) trips beyond the range of the electric, and for local errands once the electric had reached its budgeted monthly mileage.

And that's what I think about electric cars.

# # #

Friday, July 28, 2017

GOP Healthcare: Just 'Tell 'em I lied'

An aide to Louisiana Governor "Uncle" Earl Long (1939-40; 1948-52; 1956-60), having faced a group of constituents demanding to meet with the Governor, and angry over his failure to deliver them a promised road, asked Long what the aide should tell the crowd. Governor Long replied,

"Tell 'em I lied."

-- Louisiana Governor Earl Long [full story in Endnote, below]
Why do the Republican members of the House and Senate seemingly feel compelled, like those who self-flagellate their backs with knives and chains, to march on to ever greater self-inflicted wounds, in order to make good on their promise to "repeal Obamacare"? [Photo credit: Gov. Earl K. Long speaking to the Legislature in June 1956; New Orleans Times-Picayune archive.]

Surely they are aware that the titular head of their party -- the President of the United States, Donald Trump -- with all of his lies and broken promises to supporters, has nonetheless enjoyed a successful political career. After all, as he's said of the media, "I'm president and they're not." [Michael D. Shear, "'I'm President and They're Not': Trump Attacks Media at Faith Rally," New York Times, July 2, 2017, p. A18.] As the Times has reported, "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths."
"[H]ere are the numbers for the president’s first 100 days.
492: The number of false or misleading claims made by the president. That’s an average of 4.9 claims a day.
10: Number of days without a single false claim. (On six of those days, the president golfed at a Trump property.)
5: Number of days with 20 or more false claims. (Feb. 16, Feb. 28, March 20, April 21 and April 29, his 100th day in office.)" Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, "President Trump’s First 100 days: The Fact Check Tally," Washington Post, May 1, 2017.

And see, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, "Trump's Lies," New York Times, Updated July 21, 2017 (with chronological itemized list; "There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.")
As much as we may admire the congressional Republicans' ethical desire to keep commitments to constituents, why can't they, with regard to this healthcare business, follow their President's example, and that of Governor Earl Long, and simply say, "We lied"?

In fact, they even have a much more acceptable explanation than "we lied." I would suggest they consider something like this:
When Obamacare became law we did not like it. You did not like it. We did not like the process the Democrats used to get it enacted. During the years since, our efforts to repeal it have been frustrated by President Obama's threat to veto any repeal. As you've probably noticed, we've had our difficulties repealing it this year as well.

This is, in large part, a function of the passage of time.

There are things that even the Democrat Obamacare enthusiasts agree are wrong with the law. Whatever else happens, those defects must be fixed.

But after seven years of Americans living with Obamacare, getting access to insurance and healthcare, many of you have come to depend upon it. Few if any of our proposals to repeal it have had the support of more than 15 percent of the American people -- including Republicans. Changes that would continue, or increase, the tens of millions of Americans with no realistic access to Medicaid, Medicare or other adequate health insurance and healthcare, are neither good medicine nor politics.

We have not abandoned our quest, your quest, to improve on Obamacare. What we have come to recognize is that an outright repeal, with or without a replacement, is not politically possible. What is possible is to do better than the Democrats did in fashioning Obamacare while essentially locking us out. What we can do is to start over with the traditional legislative process of staff research, committee hearings with the nation's experts, and full floor debate regarding amendments -- a process that will enable Democrats and Republicans to work together. What we can do is create a process in which facts replace ideological arguments, a process in which every member of the House and Senate has some skin in the game, a process from which can come the best healthcare for all Americans that our representative democracy is capable of creating for the American people.
There's something to the old saying that when you find yourself at the bottom of a deep hole, the first step to getting out is to stop digging. The Republicans continued digging. It hasn't worked. Perhaps it's time to call on Winston Churchill. As Churchill once observed of our democracy, "The Americans will always do the right thing -- after they've exhausted all the alternatives." Now that Congress has pretty well exhausted all the alternatives, perhaps the next step is to do the right thing.

# # #

The full story is told by Michael Kurtz and Morgan Peoples:
"During one of his campaigns for governor, Earl Long made a stump appearance before a crowd of farmers in rural St. Tammany Parish. In typical fashion, he promised that if elected, he would have a local road, heavily traveled and full of potholes, widened and paved. Long won the election abnd carried the rural district, but when the legislature convened, he failed to include the promised road work in his agenda of bills. Astonished and furious at this display of gubernatorial duplicity, a large contingent of irate citizens journeyed to Baton Rouge to see Governor Long. Earl would not see them, and they subjected his administrative aide to a barrage of threats and insults. Refusing to leave, they stood their ground and demanded that Long see them. Equally adamant, Earl turned down the impassioned pleas by his aid. The fist-shaking mob gave the aid one last chance, and out of sheer exasperation, he said to Long, "After all, governor, you did promise to have their road paved. What should I tell those people?" With a shrug, Earl replied, "Tell 'em I lied!"
Michael L. Kurtz, Morgan D. Peoples, Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, (LSU Press, 1990), Preface

I will leave to others the search for other possible indicia of similarities between President Trump and the Governors Long, such as, "[Huey] Long became a dictator, disdaining the ordinary processes of constitutional government and flouting the principles of separation of powers. . . . [H]is successors engaged in outrageous acts of personal enrichment, stealing an estimated $100 million from the state [roughly $2 billion today]. . . . [Earl Long] openly practic[ed] spoils politics. He wrecked the state civil service system, fired civil servants for 'political halitosis,' and openly accepted 'campaign contributions' from gamblers and mobsters." Id., p. 9.

# # #

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Acceptable, Available, Affordable Housing

Note: An edited excerpt from this blog post (primarily the "Is there a right to housing?" section) was published by The Gazette on August 1, 2017 ("Health Care, Housing Rights?") and reproduced below.

And see, Addendum: "Why Do So Many Christians Believe Lack of Effort is Cause of Poverty, or Jesus Would Oppose Government Social Programs?"

And, for a little good news on this subject, Lee Hermiston, "Shelter House Gets $2.7 Million for 'Housing First' Project in Iowa City; Construction Could Begin in October," The Gazette, August 4, 2017, p. A1.

Excellent and data-loaded: Editorial, "Locked Out: All Counties in Creative Corridor Lack Affordable Homes," The Gazette, August 6, 2017, p. D1 (not yet available online; link will be added when available; excellent data for 7 Iowa counties: population, persons in poverty, percentage who earn less than 30% of median income, number of affordable units for that population, percentages spending more than 30% of income on housing, increase since 2007 in rent for two-bedroom unit compared with percentage increase in median household income, number in 2016 who were homeless and sought emergency services.)


Is there a right to housing?
Whom are we talking about?
What are their needs; what are the solutions?
Housing in context
What's "affordable"?

Housing policy is, as President Trump once said of healthcare policy, "an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that [it] could be so complicated." [Michael A. Memoli, "Trump: 'Nobody Knew that Healthcare Could be so Complicated,'" Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2017.]
[For details on polling results and trends regarding the number of Americans who support universal single-payer health care, see Kristen Bialik, "More Americans Say Government Should Ensure Health Care Coverage," Pew Research Center, January 13, 2017 (e.g.: "Currently, 60% of Americans say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say this should not be the government’s responsibility.").]
Is there a "right" to housing?

At the outset of discussions of any social program is the threshold issue of "rights": to what extent do we have (legally) or feel (morally) an obligation to care for those beyond our own family, community or "tribes" (variously defined)? To what extent do others have a "right" to expect such care from us?

Obviously, if a majority of us believe, and act as if, others have no "rights," and we have no "obligations," that's pretty much a conversation stopper. So let's first try to figure out what we believe about "rights" in general, by considering some comments from others before returning to the matter of "rights" to housing.
"Right. That which is consonant with equity or the light of nature; that which is morally just or due."
-- Oxford English Dictionary (Compact Ed., vol. II, 1971), p. 669, Right, 3.

"Health care is not a right. Housing is not a right. A job is not a right. College is not a right."
-- Joe Walsh, May 4, 2017 (syndicated radio host; former member of Congress)

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." . . .
"Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
-- Jesus, Matthew 22:39, 25:40 (KJ)

"[W]e can see the TRUTH of the true religion of God woven like a GOLDEN THREAD throughout all faiths whose origin is from Him in the form of the GOLDEN RULE."
-- Bahai, Universal House of Justice (with quotes and citations from 16 major religions; emphasis supplied)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-- Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for . . . health and well-being . . ., including food, clothing, housing and medical care . . .."
-- United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, December 10, 1948
There remain differences among us as to whether our obligations to others should be fulfilled through governmental programs or non-governmental organizations' efforts. But as we see, virtually all the world's great religions, and nations (UN), are agreed that we do have at least some obligations to fellow members of our species. (Indeed, some would extend this to other animal (and even plant) species as well. Why? For answers see, Frans De Waal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?" (W.W. Norton, 2016), and Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees (Greystone Books, 2016).)

And yet, among Americans, Joe Walsh (above, "Housing is not a right") speaks for the majority.

This is somewhere between ironic and inexplicable, given that over 50% of Americans say "religion is very important in their lives" (the highest of any wealthy nation). How can we square "I've got mine, Jack," shouts of "Get a job," and denying healthcare to tens of millions of Americans, with the Golden Rule and caring for "the least of these"? How can we explain that "57% of Americans disagreed with the statement 'Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,' a higher percentage than in any of the European nations polled. . . . [Or that] 73% said hard work is very important for getting ahead in life compared to a European median of 35%. . . . [And that] nearly six-in-ten in the U.S. (58%) believe allowing everyone to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state is [most] important [, whereas] majorities in all European nations polled in 2011 said guaranteeing that nobody is in need is more important." [Richard Wike, "5 ways Americans and Europeans are Different," Pew Research Center, April 19, 2016.]

In a nation in which a majority holds such beliefs, a nation willing to trust its democracy to a political process fueled (and therefore largely controlled) by the largest campaign donors, it can't be shocking that many elected officials share some donors' belief that "my right to a tax cut trumps (so to speak) your right to come in out of the cold."

Thankfully, there are also thousands of knowledgeable, caring individuals in Iowa and throughout our nation who are trying to do something about insuring every American has decent housing. This blog post is dedicated to them, and addresses the challenges they face.

Whom are we talking about?

Many of us are relatively well housed. Of America's 135 million dwelling units, about 60% (in Iowa and the nation) are single family, detached houses. Others live in condo units or rented apartments. When it comes to housing, these are among the most fortunate, notwithstanding their occasional difficulty paying mortgages, rent, taxes, and utility bills. Thus, with rare exception, housing is not much of an issue for those in the top 20% (annual income $111,000 or more).
["Stats for Stories: American Housing Month," Housing, U.S. Census Bureau, June 2017 ("The 2015 American Community Survey counts almost 135 million housing units in the U.S.: 61.4% are detached single-family homes and 6.3% are mobile homes.") "Most Americans Make It To The Top 20 Percent (At Least For A While)," Planet Money, National Public Radio, May 5, 2014.]
It's a little different story for the homeless -- those roughly 500,000 Americans with no place to call home on any given day. Some have shelter, others are on the streets, or otherwise unsheltered. Some are individuals, including children on their own; some are part of homeless families. They may be chronically homeless or only temporarily so. [Photo credit: unknown.]

Of course, some of those "sheltered" may be couch surfing, or otherwise living in overcrowded conditions shared with other families or friends.

Others may be in a shelter considered unhealthy or otherwise dangerous substandard housing. ("About six million homes in the United States are substandard by American Housing Survey (AHS) standards, a statistic that has seen little change over the last two decades." Dwellings considered substandard have "interior and exterior leaks, signs of pests, and other factors collected by local public health and code enforcement agencies." ["Substandard Housing," National Center for Healthy Housing.
And see, "What Is Substandard Housing?", HomeGuides.sfgate.com ("Substandard housing . . . , often in severe disrepair, [is] housing that poses a risk to the health, safety or physical well-being of its occupants . . . associated with increased risk of disease, crime, social isolation and decreased mental health. . . . Some cases of substandard housing are not so visible. Outdated or dangerous electrical systems, rusting or loose pipes and gas leaks . . . might go unnoticed until an accident happens.")]
Housing can be unsafe for other reasons, such as spousal abuse, or neighborhoods with relatively high levels of violent crime.

The remnants of Americans' prejudice can make it more difficult for some to find housing -- those of a given race, religion, country of origin, new immigrants, or former convicts who've served their time and are trying to reenter society -- regardless of their ability to pay.

But some of those most at risk for becoming homeless are living in "poverty" (defined as an individual with $12,060 annual income or less; $24,600 for a family of four). [Kimberly Amadeo, "Federal Poverty Level: Definition, Guidelines, Chart,"The Balance, February 2, 2017.] Note that "poverty" can result not only from steady employment at a low wage, but also from unsteady, seasonal, or otherwise occasional income (regardless of hourly rate) that doesn't reach an annual total in excess of poverty levels.

The unemployed are an at risk group for housing. "The share of prime-age [American] men (ages 25-54) who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the 1970s. . . . [One] in six prime-age men in America are either unemployed or out of the workforce altogether -- about 10 million men" -- one of the highest rates in the world. [Derek Thompson, "The Missing Men," The Atlantic, June 27, 2017.]

Another category are those paying over 50 percent of their income for housing. "When more than 50 percent of a poor household’s income goes to paying rent, that household is experiencing what is known as severe housing cost burden. [These are] households . . . more likely to have an unexpected event -- such as loss of employment or unexpected medical costs -- result in . . . homelessness." [The State of Homelessness in America (2016), pp. 48-49, endhomelessness.org.]
[For one of the best collections of data regarding the financial challenges confronting nearly all Americans regardless of income and net worth, presented in 24 pages of graphics and very readable text, see "On Track or Left Behind? Findings from the 2017 Prosperity Now Scorecard, July 2017 Prosperity Now.org, released July 25, 2017.]
What are their needs; what are the solutions?

Although "categories" are listed above, most of those with housing needs have stories that are somewhat unique -- as are the solutions, to the extent possible.

An abused spouse or children may not be lacking shelter; their problem is not a leaky roof, it's the violence to which they're subjected. They need an alternative shelter, or safe house -- along with some legal assistance -- until they can relocate (or the abuser is imprisoned). There may be other reasons why temporary, rather than permanent, housing is the solution.

For those with a "severe housing cost burden," or without the resources even if they used all their earnings for rent, there may be public housing, "affordable housing" required of landlords, or subsidies such as "Section 8." [Housing Act of 1937, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1437f.]

Housing in context

As with medical specialists who are less aware of a patient's related conditions, so it is with housing. By contrast, some doctors actually make "house calls" -- not to see the patient, but to see the house, and how it might be contributing to the patient's condition.

For example, in addition to the occasional relationship between housing and healthcare, there is often a relationship between housing, educational level and unemployment.

There can be a relationship between housing, poverty and public transportation (or access to a reliable vehicle). If businesses would build housing close enough to their stores or factories that their employees could walk or bike to work -- with rent they could afford on the hourly wages they were paid -- it would solve both the housing challenge and eliminate employees' costs of commuting from the distances necessary to find affordable housing (as well as improving workers' health and the environment). Public buses or trains that run every 10 or 15 minutes (rather than half-hour or hour), and don't require two or three changes from home to work, would help.

Child care, on the job site or nearby, could sometimes make the difference.

Of course, social workers and others are aware of these interrelated needs and solutions -- as they are aware of not having the necessary resources to do what they know needs to be done. Just as there are IEP's (individual education plans) for K-12 students with disabilities, it would help when addressing individuals' "housing in context" challenges to create a plan for every individual who comes into the system that addresses housing, healthcare, nutrition, transportation, training, childcare and whatever other needs and services are relevant.

What's "affordable"?

There is much reference in discussions of housing to so-called "affordable housing," defined as housing that one can obtain for 30% or less of one's income.
"Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States." ["Affordable Housing," Department of Housing and Urban Development.]
"Affordability" is not a very precise concept at best, and is certainly subject to, among other things, almost unlimited potential multiple variables.

Income. Thirty percent of what? What do we count? What do we deduct? Is it what's left after taxes? Which taxes (i.e., federal and state income tax; FICA; sales tax)? What about essential fixed expenses?

Fixed expenses. The minimal, essential expenses for a family of four (or more) will be both different, and far exceed, those for a young, childless single person. Childcare expenses can be significant if there's no grandmother to volunteer. A family paying for grandparents' nursing home costs, or services for a person with a disability, or a mortgage, will have far less for food and other expenses than someone who does not.

Absolute dollars. No one can eat a percentage. Someone in the top 20%, earning $200,000 a year, has $140,000 left over after paying 30% ($60,000; $5,000 a month) for housing. Someone earning the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) and lucky enough to work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year ($14,500 a year) has $10,150 ($846 a month) left over after paying 30% ($4,350, or $362.50 a month -- if such apartments even exist) for housing.


Like a bull in a china shop, or a pig in the parlor, there's nothing inherently wrong with capitalism -- so long as it's kept in its proper place. To protect competitors, employees and consumers some government regulation is often necessary, but "free private enterprise" and "marketplace competition" can produce greater incentives for innovation, productivity and efficiency by business, along with greater choice and lower prices for consumers.

But just as there are some sectors of the economy in which government ownership and operation may not be the optimum approach, there are also other sectors of the economy that seem inappropriate for capitalism.

There are some who seemingly want to privatize everything. But there appears to be at least a significant minority, if not majority, of Americans who recognize the advantages of public ownership and operation of K-12 schools; libraries; national, state, and local parks; and the Interstate Highway system.

Profit-maximizing businesses can have conflicts of interest when providing public goods. Experiments with private ownership of prisons, for example, show that there is an inherent conflict of interest between public policy goals of shorter sentences and alternatives to incarceration and the prison owners' goals of profit maximization: the more people convicted and incarcerated, and the longer their sentences, the greater their profits.

There are doctors and dentists who volunteer in free clinics and elsewhere to provide healthcare to those who otherwise would have to do without. But for the most part healthcare is a private, profit-maximizing industry. As those urging a form of universal, single-payer healthcare say -- a form of healthcare available to citizens in most industrialized countries -- there is a big difference between "health insurance" and "health care." The statistics on such measures as years of life expectancy, or rates of infant mortality, suggest that we are paying more while getting less and serving fewer than those countries. We joke about medical students who want their specialty to be "diseases of the rich," but the fact is that in a capitalist healthcare system everyone from medical professionals, to Big Pharma, to hospitals, to insurance company shareholders and executives would like to be paid more.

Admittedly, there is no more agreement regarding public housing than there is about healthcare. The UN may say, as quoted above, that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for . . . health and well-being" (including housing and healthcare), but there are still individuals who believe that even those without shoes should simply "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." [United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, December 10, 1948.]

Home builders and realtors will, when necessary, build, remodel, sell, or rent homes and condos to those scarcely able to pay. But when their income is calculated as a percentage of the price of their sold homes, or the square footage of those they've built, large, expensive homes for the wealthy are clearly to be preferred over those for the poor. Segregation in our communities is largely perpetuated by housing policies, which are often driven in part by what the upper 20 percent believe to be "the best schools."

A builder of a city center high rise full of condos, who can sell them for a half-million to a million dollars or more, has zero economic incentive to include units that college students, or minimum wage workers, could afford. Of course, a city government that is gifting the builder a portion of construction costs (say, a TIF that reduces the owner's property taxes) has a lot of leverage -- if it will use it -- to insist on some cheaper units. But that's little more than a tiny one-off contribution to the community's housing needs for the poor and working poor.

Which brings us to "data."


Schools don't just open their doors, let children wander in, and go to whatever room they please. Enrollment is limited by the numbers of classrooms, teachers, and desks. And there are precise records of each child, with information about parents or guardians, address, and perhaps special needs.

Successful businesses startups have business plans. The owners have at least some sense of traffic flow as well as revenue flow, the potential population from which they will draw, the competitors who will be offering the same or similar services.

It's not that those giving their lives to providing housing for the poor aren't aware of the value of comparable information about housing, or that they aren't making efforts to try to create it -- sometimes creative, impressive efforts. It's that they are simply not provided the resources they need to gather all the necessary data. They know, better than I, what they need. But here's how it looks from here.

Take Johnson County, Iowa, as an example. It's helpful to have another Habitat for Humanity house here, a shelter house there, a TIF requiring some below-market units in a condo project. But if we really want to get everyone housed, it's not enough to just "do something." We need some basic data about "supply" -- an inventory of what housing we have (whether occupied or not), such as, how many one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments there are, with their locations and rent.

The Census Bureau does a pretty good job of counting and reporting housing units. But apparently the landlords and developers are sometimes reluctant to reveal their rental rates and the number of vacancies.

Equally important, is information about "demand" -- especially regarding persons who can't afford any housing available in the county, and those who are suffering from "severe housing cost burden" (rent exceeding half of their income).

It is the demand side that is the most problematical. Ideally there would be enough social workers that every individual in the county in need of one or another form of assistance would be identified, regularly visited, and assisted in finding, or improving, their housing. Unfortunately, in today's political climate that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

However, gathering one county's housing supply and demand is not a "big data" project -- like the recent White House effort to create a database record of every person registered to vote in America, along with their personal data.

There are only 62,000 housing units in Johnson County, and 59 percent of them are owner-occupied -- presumably most of them by owners who are not in need of housing assistance. The remaining 40 percent would be a number that could fit in a single Excel spreadsheet on anyone's laptop computer.


Meanwhile, four things might help. (1) Think about a county's housing challenges as a whole, rather than one dwelling unit, and occupant, at a time. (2) Prioritize the need to gather as much detailed data as possible about the county's housing supply and demand. (3) Recognize that housing is but one of many interconnected challenges for those in need that can most effectively, and efficiently, be met by recognizing how they are connected. (4) Manage the undertaking with measurable goals, timelines, and public accountability in the form of management information reporting systems.

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Here is The Gazette's edited excerpt from this blog post (primarily the "Is there a right to housing?" section):

"Health Care, Housing Rights?"
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, Insight Guest Opinion, August 1, 2017, p. A5

There’s been discussion recently about housing (locally) and healthcare policy (nationally). Unlike government-funded programs used by all, these are programs for those most in need.

Developing public policy for social programs seems to be, as President Trump famously said, “an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that [it] could be so complicated.”

That’s not precisely accurate. We are blessed with thousands of knowledgeable, caring individuals who do know how complicated it is.

Do you and I have (legally) or feel (morally) obligations to care for those beyond our family or community? To what extent do others have a "right" to expect such care?

Former Congressman Joe Walsh unambiguously put in his answer: "Health care is not a right. Housing is not a right. A job is not a right. College is not a right."

If healthcare is a product and housing is a privilege; if a majority believe, and act as if, the needy have no "rights," and we have no "obligations," that pretty much ends the discussion.

Where to find insight?

Religion? Jesus said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" and "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." The Bahai Universal House of Justice cites 16 major religions espousing the Golden Rule.

Founding documents? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Virtually all the world's great religions, and nations, agree we have some obligations to fellow members of our species. And yet, Walsh speaks for many Americans.

That's somewhere between ironic and inexplicable, given more U.S. citizens say "religion is very important in their lives" than people elsewhere. How can we square denying healthcare with caring for "the least of these"?

Could it be our “representatives” have adopted their major donors’ belief that "my right to even bigger tax cuts trumps (so to speak) your right to come in out of the cold"?
Nicholas Johnson is a former FCC commissioner and law professor who maintains the blog, FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Contact: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org


Addendum: "Why Do So Many Christians Believe Lack of Effort is Cause of Poverty, or Jesus Would Oppose Government Social Programs?"

Since the publication of this column in the Gazette two categories of responses to my genuine puzzlement (how can our country be both the world's most religious, and so many believe that social programs are "not a right") have come to my attention. One is the disparity between the religious and non-religious regarding the cause of poverty (circumstances vs. lack of effort): Julie Zauzmer, "Christians Are more Than Twice as Likely to Blame a Person's Poverty on Lack of Effort," Washington Post, August 4, 2017 ("53 percent of white evangelical Protestants blamed lack of effort while 41 percent blamed circumstances, . . .. In contrast, . . . Americans who are atheist, agnostic or have no particular affiliation [31 percent blamed lack of effort while 65 percent] said difficult circumstances are more to blame when a person is poor . . ..")

The other came in the form of emails insisting I had misinterpreted Jesus' teachings. Advocating from a WWJD ("what would Jesus do") position, they seemed to be arguing that, (1) were Jesus around to state his case today, he would oppose, or at a minimum not encourage, government programs to help the poor. (2) All Jesus ever said was that individuals should care for "the least of these" -- something that many individuals and churches are doing.

I view this difference of interpretation as analogous to the "original intent" arguments around the "meaning" of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution refers to an "army" and "navy" but makes no mention of an "air force." Yet no one I know of argues that the Air Force is unconstitutional. To the best of my memory the New Testament has little to say about governmental social programs for the needy -- the existence of such programs during Jesus' years, or even their proposal and rejection. If this was something beyond anyone's imagining at the time (even Jesus' imagining), one can't really fault him for a failure to advocate it.

Were Jesus around today he would probably be denied immigration status, and thus the issue would never arise. But if he was permitted to enter the U.S., it's not unreasonable to suspect -- given what he is credited with saying about caring for others, and the problems flowing from great wealth -- that he would adapt his role of activist to our culture, likely be a Bernie supporter, only be televised on Democracy Now!, and probably advocate for more (rather than less) taxpayer-funded programs for the poor.

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