Monday, May 22, 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: "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"

# # #

Why Net Neutrality is Your Friend

[Graphic credit: ACLU]

President Donald Trump kept his promise. He said he’d “drain the swamp” in Washington. He has. What he didn’t tell us was that he would then fill his administration with the creatures that crawled out.

The news media and late night shows have reveled in their good fortune. Trump has provided them a daily flow of stories both entertaining and terrifying to move their audiences between tears and laughter.

But as a result, that 99 percent-plus of the federal government that’s not in the White House is mostly ignored by the media.

Farmers worry over the loss of overseas markets from Trump trade agreements. Public schools must deal with the loss of revenue from school vouchers. The oil and gas industry cheers a removal of regulations that rivals the Teapot Dome scandal that sent one of President Warren Harding’s cabinet members to prison.

And my old agency, now Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, is going about repealing the consumer protection called Network Neutrality. You don’t need to know anything about computers or the Internet to understand that one.

You do need to understand monopoly capitalism.

Most cities of any size have an abundant array of restaurants from which to choose – locations, menus, prices, and atmosphere. Aside from health concerns, “marketplace forces” provide adequate consumer protection.

By contrast, with rare exception most neighborhoods in those cities have no choice among monopolist internet service providers, such as Mediacom.

It’s the business of business to maximize profits by increasing prices and cutting costs (quality and services) until both reach optimum levels.

In a conversation with Chicago economist Milton Friedman he used the example of corporate pollution of rivers. “You are appealing to them to be ethical,” he said. “They can’t afford to be ethical. They can afford to comply with a law that’s also applicable to their competitors. Your answer is in Congress and state legislatures, not preaching in the streets.”

If an Internet service provider (ISP) also profits from distributing content it owns, it can make more money by censoring a competitor’s content, charging more for it, or slowing its delivery to your TV. If it doesn’t own content providers, it can bargain with those who are, providing them unfair advantages for the right price. And ISPs will set customers’ charges at the optimum profit maximizing level.

Harm to consumers will be limited only by the ISP’s imagination.

Once cities have as many ISPs as restaurants we can talk about “marketplace regulation.” Meanwhile, common decency requires that the FCC retain the consumer protection of Network Neutrality.

# # #

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Mediacom's 1000% Interest Late Payment Fee

It takes a lot of money to survive in this economy if you're an unemployed single mother, trying to raise a couple of kids -- or working multiple jobs at the minimum wage or less. Millions of American men and women of all ages confront similar challenges.

How's that?

Dependent on public transportation, poor folks may end up paying convenience store prices for their groceries, rather than the cheaper prices (for more nutritious food) at Costco or mega-supermarkets. When there's "too much month at the end of the money" they have to borrow, paying interest on the money they use to pay their bills. If the bank won't loan to them, the interest on a "payday loan" to pay off the last payday loan may end up costing hundreds of dollars more than they initially borrow. Annual percentage rates of 400% are not unusual. If they're lucky enough to have a checking account, but unlucky enough to not have enough money in the bank, they may end up owing the bank $30 for each "insufficient funds" check -- plus another $30 to each of the merchants they were trying to pay, depending on merchants' charges for returned checks. [Photo credit: Nick Graham, staff, Dayton Daily News.]

These are expenses with which the wealthy are unfamiliar, because they've never had the experience of dealing with them.

However, there is one more expense analogous to Anatole France's observation that, "La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain." ("The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.") Le Lys Rouge, ch. 7.

Rich and poor alike are subject to the penalties for late cable bill payments.[fn 1]

Of course, like laws criminalizing the theft of bread, late payment fees fall heavier on some than others. The wealthy don't fail to pay their bills on time because they don't have the money. It's because they were on holiday in Europe when the bill arrived, put it in a pile of paper that they didn't go through in time, someone pays their bills for them, or they just don't care. For their poorer cousins it may mean one more payday loan.

I'm not wealthy. And I didn't major in STEM courses. But I do know enough math to work the numbers.

Here's an example of what I mean. Our City water bill is something less than $60 a month. What would it cost me, I wondered, if I just kept a balance of $60 with the City? These days it's hard to get more than 1% a year return on invested cash. So if I put that $60 in a savings account or CD it would produce 60 cents at the end of the year. That would be my cost, my loss, my "insurance policy" premium, for letting the City hold my $60 for a year. In exchange, I would never have to pay a single late payment fee (5% of the bill, plus unspecified "service fees" plus an additional fee for turning water back on). Such fees would be, in total, for a single offence, multiples of the 60-cent annual cost of avoiding them. And so long as I didn't fail to pay the bill for over two months I wouldn't have to worry about precise due dates.

It worked. No more risk of late payments fees. I started maintaining a balance with others. Except for the cable company, Mediacom. I tried it, but they seemed unable to handle the concept of a positive balance, so I gave up and tried to remember to pay promptly. Until this past month, when their bill got lost in a stack of paper, and they introduced me to their version of a late payments fee.

Now there's a little background you need.
• (1) To the best of my recollection I had a record of prompt cable payments every month for 28 years.

• (2) Very significant in this case, the cable company bills in advance. That is, I was charged a "late payment" fee for not paying in advance promptly enough for service I hadn't yet received (and is of often of unacceptable quality -- a technician is coming this morning to deal with broken signals[fn 2]).

• (3) Not knowing of the late payment fee that had been assessed on April 24, I had paid the amount due when the bill was discovered on April 26, in a check that cleared on April 27.

• (4) Thus, on the assumption that had I paid two or three days earlier the penalty would not have been imposed, what had the company lost? It had lost what it could have earned on $76.19 for (let us be most generous) four days. What would that have been at an annual percentage rate of 1%? Slightly less than one penny.

• (5) And how much was the penalty for this loss of 8/10ths of one cent? $8.50. And what is the annual percentage rate represented by $8.50 for four days use of $76.19? Roughly 1000% per year -- for paying a bill in full, four days late, for services not yet received. Rates like that make the pay-day-loan business look like a public charity.
Thirty years go this year (September 14, 1987), I was asked by an organization of cable company executives (CTAM) to participate in a debate with former FCC Chair Dick Wiley regarding the state of the cable industry. Here is a brief excerpt of my comments on that occasion. Although a bit harsh, they were delivered in good humor and received as such by the executives present. The question today is, just how much better has the industry become during the intervening years? Is it enough that they aren't dragging customers out of their recliners and onto the streets, airline style? Shouldn't we demand a higher standard?



[fn 1] I should make clear that the objection I advance in this post addresses the amount of the penalty for late payment, not the existence of such fees. The value of money, a payment, or a debt, is always a function of time. I would not deny for a moment that creditors are entitled to that value. I would strongly disagree that they are entitled to 400% (payday loan) or 1000% (cable company fee) returns during that time.

[fn 2] In fairness I should report that the two techs who came (and resolved the problems) were excellent in every way. They arrived at 10:00 for a 10:00 appointment, combined a friendly demeanor with a professional, experienced, serious approach to the challenges at hand, diagnosed more difficulties than they anticipated. Stuck with it until the problems were resolved, and left me a happy customer.

# # #

Monday, May 01, 2017

What Trump Needs to Know About Libel

[This commentary is not legal advice, and we do not have a lawyer-client relationship. If you are involved in, or contemplating, suing or being sued for defamation you should consult a lawyer, preferably one with experience in such matters. Lest you wonder, that cannot be me; I've long since turned my bar memberships in Iowa, Texas, and the District of Columbia to "inactive" status. -- N.J.]

I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. . . . So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace . . . we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're totally protected. . . . we're going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before."

-- Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Rally, Ft. Worth Texas, Friday, February 26, 2016, Hadas Gold, “Donald Trump: We're going to 'open up' libel laws,” Politico, February 26, 2016.
President Donald Trump campaigned, and now governs, with ongoing attacks on the judiciary and the media – two institutions designed by the drafters of our Constitution to provide a check on presidential abuse of power. For those who look to the “original intent,” that was the original intent.

The president’s attack on the media has included the assertion that he is going to “open up our libel laws” so that he can sue newspapers like the New York Times.

Trump can already sue for libel. For starters, he already has the legal right to sue any newspaper or other media outlet for defamation (“libel” if written, “slander” if spoken). Anyone can sue for defamation. That includes the president.

Whether the plaintiff will win involves many elements of a defamation claim, but here’s a summary. There is a statement, about the plaintiff (not always obvious), the meaning of which must be ascertained (not always obvious), as understood by the individuals of relevance (such as customers of the plaintiff, neighbors, or members of the plaintiff’s profession), that was factual in nature (as distinguished from “opinion”), false, and which caused a measurable harm to the plaintiff’s reputation (among those individuals of relevance).

In short, it's simply not true, as Trump has asserted, that the reason he hasn't sued the media is he has "no chance of winning because they're totally protected."

(Many of the president’s tweets and other informal comments attacking and demeaning individuals and institutions would seem to fall within that definition of defamation. But the issues involved when a citizen wishes to sue the president for defamation would require another commentary.)

Different standards for plaintiffs who are public officials. If what Trump meant to say is that, as a public official, he must meet a slightly different standard than you or I to recover a judgment for defamation, he is right. That standard was set in a Supreme Court case.

What was new about Justice Brennan’s analysis for the Supreme Court in the landmark defamation decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 967 (1964), was that he approached the language involved from a First Amendment perspective rather than, or in addition to, solely a defamation analysis. [Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., photo credit unknown.]

He wrote,
“[W]e consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
Sullivan, the plaintiff, was one of three elected commissioners in Montgomery, Alabama –- and therefore a “public official.” As such, the Court held, he had a right to sue for defamation, but to prevail on the elements just itemized he would need to show not just that the Times story had some factual errors.

He would need to show what the Court called “actual malice” – an unfortunate choice of words, since the everyday meaning of “malice” was no part of the standard. “Actual malice” meant that he would need to show “that the statement was made . . . with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

The standard involving plaintiffs who are ordinary citizens focuses on, recognizes and protects the asset value of individuals’ reputations – with the byproduct of reducing remedies involving violence. Unlike the standard involving ordinary citizens, which only requires a false statement, public officials must show a measure of fault on the part of the media. This is because of the First Amendment value of speech involving public policy and public officials – speech that lies at the heart of what the First Amendment was designed to protect.

Balancing the desire to offer citizens a means for protecting their reputations against the value of First Amendment speech, this is where the Court came out.

Constitutional restraints on congressional and presidential law making. Article I of the Constitution lays out what in high school we call, “how a bill becomes law” (in Article I, Section 7). Clearly the president cannot create “law” all on his own; he cannot “open up our libel laws,” or any other laws for that matter.

Nor can Congress make any laws it pleases. Congress only has the power to legislate regarding what the Constitution grants in the 18 clauses within Article I, Section 8 – none of which come remotely close to libel laws. The “interstate commerce clause” (Article 1, Section 8, clause 3: “The Congress shall have power . . . To regulate Commerce . . . among the several States . . ..”) has been stretched pretty wide by the courts. But defamation? Originating in the English “common law” (judicial decisions) at least in the early 17th Century, if not before, has been considered a matter for the U.S. states.

Hopefully, Mr. President, you’ll find this analysis helpful in your quest to “open up our libel laws.”

# # #

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Millionaire by Age 30? Here's How

A fellow named Grant Sabatier has revealed his technique for turning millennials into millionaires by the time they reach 30.

There's a lot of wisdom in his story. But it reminds me of another story.

A concert audience member, blown away by the pianist's skill, walked up to the stage as the other audience members were leaving. She told the performer how much she'd enjoyed the concert, and then added, "I'd give anything to be able to play the piano like you do." Expecting a reply of "thank you," or "ah, shucks, ma'am," what she got was, "Oh, no you wouldn't." Startled, she protested, "Oh, yes I would. Why do you say that?" "Because," he replied, "you wouldn't be willing to practice six hours a day for ten years."

In other words, while our young millionaire has his math right -- any teenager willing to do what he says will have a shot at $1,000,000 by his or her 30th birthday -- few if any would be willing to follow the steps and live the life required to achieve that wealth.

Mr. Sabatier's recommended life, a kind of ultimate deferred gratification, reminds me of another story by way of explanation.

A farmer was leaning on his fence, looking out over his pasture, when his neighbor came over to chat. Noticing a mule lying on his side in the middle of the pasture, the neighbor asked,"How's your mule doing?" "Not so good," replied the farmer. "I was training him to live on dew; almost succeeded when he uped and died."

Sabatier doesn't require that his followers live on dew, but his requirements are only marginally more generous. He would probably agree with the thrust of the Saturday Night Live sketch in which a young couple with financial problems (played by Steve Martin and Amy Poehler) are urged, "Don't buy stuff."

The basic formula is that you hold more than one job, one of which you grow into a business, cut expenses to the bone, and invest a far larger share of your income than most would choose to do.

His investment strategies seem sound enough, and similar to what many investment advisers have to say: Buy index funds with the lowest percentage fees (rather than individual stocks or managed funds); on a regular schedule ("dollar cost averaging"); diversifying among max cap equities, small cap growth, foreign firms, real estate, and bonds (taxable and tax-free). Of course, that's the easy part -- once you have the money to invest.

I've given teenagers similar advice with a couple illustrations, both leading to the million dollars (in my illustrations, by age 65). One involves a 15-year-old smoker who gives up the habit and invests what would otherwise have been burned up. As I put it to a one-or-two-pack-a-day teen, "Smoking is not a $10-to-$15-a-day habit, it's a $1-to-$2-million-dollar habit."

The other illustrates the contrast between paying cash and buying on credit. Two teens want cars. One buys on credit and makes monthly payments for cars all his life. The other saves first, pays cash, drives the car while putting aside and investing monthly payments for the next one, repeating the process for all of his life. When then reach 65 they both still have cars, but the one who pays cash will also have $1-million in investments.

Or, as I used to tell law students (albeit before graduation carried with it $100,000 or more in debt), "If instead of buying a Mercedes or BMW you continue to live during the next ten years (as a lawyer) the way you did during the last ten years (as a student) you could retire at 35. You'll find your 'lifestyle' living on 90% of what you earn not noticeably different from living on 110% of what you earn."

It's all about the capacity for deferred gratification, illustrated by the marshmallow experiment. Jacoba Urist, "What the Marshmallow Test Really Teaches About Self-Control," The Atlantic, September 24, 2014. I was born during the Great Depression. Deferred gratification was not a goal, it was a reality born of lack of money. There was no alternative, if I really wanted a bicycle, to getting a paper route first, saving my money, and then paying cash for it. One saying of the time was, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

But there is an alternative to poverty as the driving force.

If one thinks of doing without as painful deprivation, it is unlikely any teen who uses all their money to "buy stuff," one whose very identity is dependent upon physical possessions, will have any significant investments by the time they are 30, let alone $1-million dollars.

Yes, it's hard to alter one's behavior if one cannot alter one's thinking. But it's possible to alter one's thinking. I've written a book about it: Test Pattern for Living (available from Amazon).

Interested? Start by learning a little more about Grant Sabatier's journey, accomplishment, and program. Grant Sabatier's Millennial Money Blog; "Millionaire By Age 30? One Blogger Offers a Few Not-So-Easy Steps," Here & Now, WBUR, April 25, 2017.

The financial rewards can be enormous. But, like the lady who wished she could play the piano like that virtuoso, whether you are willing "to give anything" to achieve them is up to you.

_______________

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Airlines, Crisis Communications 101, and Prohibited Speech


[Photo credit: frame from passenger video; CNN]
"The Friendly Skies" unfriendly expulsion of a paying customer from one of its planes April 9 (fortunately a plane still on the ground) has produced a plethora of complaints, comments, and constructive suggestions.

What seemed to me one of the more creative suggestions starts by accepting that the airlines are going to continue the business model of contracting with customers to perform something (air transportation between two designated airports at specified prices, times and dates) that the airline can unilaterally refuse to perform at any time -- up to and including immediately prior to a paying customer's boarding.

Given that assumption, the suggestion is that airlines require passengers to specify when buying a ticket the refund from the airline that will be necessary for them to agree to forfeit their seat at boarding time (a) if another flight is available that day, or (b) the next day (always including accommodations and meal vouchers if an overnight stay is required).
There are a number of issues raised by the events of April 9th.
Contents

Airlines as a Mode of Transportation

Load Factors and Bumping Passengers

What's the Law?

Prohibited Speech

Crisis Communications 101

What to Do?
____________________

Airlines as a Mode of Transportation

Air travel has always been problematical. Prior to the Wright brothers, many designs (with flapping wings like birds and such), if set aloft from on high, simply ended in humiliating crashes. For the Wright boys, it involved their, ultimately successful, need to blend technology, engineering, and physics.

Today's commercial aircraft have solved most of those problems. When the weather's right, they seem capable of lifting the equivalent of one's high school gymnasium off the ground, enabling hundreds of complaining occupants to sit in chairs miles in the sky, covering in hours distances that, 200 years ago, would have required their ancestors months to traverse (as Louis C.K. has observed; Google: "louis ck complaining flying").

Notwithstanding this engineering accomplishment, airplanes and the companies that operate them, have become dysfunctional as a mode of transporting humans.

For starters, airlines, like farmers, are dependent on the weather -- albeit one wants clear skies and the other prays for rain. But the impact on passengers who need a timely arrival at a destination is the same when the planes don't fly, whether it's because of lack of crew, "mechanical difficulties," severe turbulence, or iced up planes and snow covered runways.

Then there are the lost bags, TSA screenings, and flight delays. Passengers buy a time-specific arrival. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they have to sleep on the floor of an airport overnight while the airlines try to sort out the cancelled flights, lack of crews, and backups in the national system caused by one airport's problems.

Wall Street's pressure for ever-increasing airline profits has encouraged the substitution of pretzels for meals, narrower seats and less leg room, extra charges for everything from bags to specific seats -- and the overbooking that results in bumping paying passengers from flights. (Fortunately, regulations prohibit the sale of "standing room only" passage.)

Load Factors and Bumping Passengers

Selling seats on departure-specific airplanes is a business like restaurants and motels. A grocery store may have fewer sales during severe thunderstorms, but the gallon of milk it doesn't sell today will be sold tomorrow. The revenue lost from today's empty airline seat, motel room, or restaurant table is more often gone forever than simply time-shifted to the next day.

No-show paying passengers contribute to this airline problem.

The airlines' response -- to sell more tickets than they have seats -- is not entirely irrational (though there are preferable alternatives and modifications). But predicting how many additional tickets should be sold is an inexact science. So they error on the side of selling too many, and then apply a marketplace approach to the paying passengers they refuse to board: How much money would it take to satisfy a bumped passenger with flying later -- or not at all? Usually something like $400-$800 is enough.

There are some questions regarding what happened prior to departure of United Express 4311 from O'Hare (Chicago) to Lexington, Kentucky, on April 9. Was the flight overbooked, or was the problem only created by a last-minute need for four seats for United crew members? Did the passenger in question board, get off the plane, and re-board? What is unambiguous, because documented on videotape, is that he was on the plane, sitting in his seat, when he was forcibly removed from his seat, dragged down the aisle, and taken off the plane by O'Hare security.

What's the Law?

In addition to federal regulations, the relationship between an airline and its passengers is governed by a contract (even though most passengers -- and in this instance even United personnel and executives as well -- may be unaware of its terms). There are two Rules (Rules 21 and 25) potentially applicable to the events of April 9th.

One rule deals with pre-boarding bumping; the other deals with the circumstances under which a seated passenger may be removed from the plane. The former is inapplicable because it is limited, by its terms, to the airline's rights prior to a passenger's boarding. The latter is inapplicable because it deals with itemized justifications for removing a seated passenger from a seat, such as severe illness, drunkenness, or other disruptive behavior -- a rule inapplicable by virtue of its spirit as well as its letter. See, John Banzhaf, "United Airlines Cites Wrong Rule For Illegally De-Boarding Passenger," LawNewz, April 11, 2017.

Prohibited Speech

The letter of the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, only applies to efforts to restrict speech by governmental units. For most of us, most of the time, any restraints on our speech come from social mores and norms (e.g., "that's not nice," or in days gone by, "I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap") -- or civil suits for such things as defamation or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A subset of these informal standards involves instances in which what was said is deemed to be grounds for dismissal from a job. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Was It Something I Said? General Semantics and the Unacceptable Remark," Institute for General Semantics, New York City, October 30, 2010; Nicholas Johnson, "Quck Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015.

That could have been an issue in the United case, when United CEO Oscar Munoz's first response was a memo to United employees that included the following: "Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right." "Text of letter from United CEO defending employees," Washington Post/Associated Press, April 10, 2017. Not much better was his follow-up, including: "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." Re-accommodate? Michael Hiltzik, "United Finds a New Way to Make Itself Look Awful, and Then its CEO Shows How to Make Things Worse," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2017.

As it happened, this was about the same time that President Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, was explaining the missile attack on Syria as warranted because Assad had gassed his own people, which made him worse than Hitler. Nicholas Fandos and Mark Landler, "Sean Spicer Raises Outcry With Talk of Hitler, Assad and Poison Gas," New York Times, April 12, 2017, p. A13.

Crisis Communications 101

There are some relatively simple steps that public relations firms urge upon their clients confronting crises of various kinds. One is an illustration of the advice that when you find yourself in the bottom of a hole the first step is to stop digging. In this context, when an organization has done something horrible, and news of it has reached the public, the best strategy is for the top executive to respond with "immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy." See, Nicholas Johnson, "Crisis Communications 101," February 14, 2011.

Instead of coming out with one statement displaying "immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy," United's CEO produced three, each defensive and failing to improve on its predecessor (until his days-late expression of "shame"). "Read United CEO’s 3 statements on passenger dragged off flight," Boston Herald, April 11, 2017.

If it was an ill conceived tactic of United's public relations operation (and not just the product of a curious journalist working independently), I would find particularly despicable a corporate response of attacking the victim's personal reputation (like a rapist smearing the reputation of his victim) -- something having nothing whatsoever to do with the propriety of dragging the victim off the plane. Bruce Golding, "Doctor Dragged Off Flight Was Convicted of Trading Drugs for Sex," New York Post, April 11, 2017.

What to Do?

Imagine you have reserved a motel room, paid for by credit card, arrived, settled in and gone to bed. Imagine being awakened when all the lights go on, you see the manager standing there, and he informs you that you are going to have to dress and leave because he overbooked the motel that night.

Or consider the restaurant equivalent. You've made reservations for you and your partner. You arrive on time, are seated, and give the wait person your orders. Before the food arrives you are told you need to get up, put your coats on and leave, because the restaurant is overbooked that evening.

That behavior would be enough to put that motel, or restaurant, out of business.

Not so for the airlines apparently. Offer us the lowest fare and we'll take the risk that we'll be bumped (though not the risk that we'll be forcibly dragged from the plane once seated).

What were United's alternatives in this situation? There are a number that occur to me, and probably more that airline experts could come up with.
They could have done a reverse auction with all passengers: raising the amount they'd pay to a volunteer until one was found.

They could have avoided the issue by doing a better job of anticipating and managing crew location. If the crisis was the result of too few employees, possibly the cost of hiring more would have been worth it.

United is, after all, in the transportation of human bodies business. Chicago is their hub. Didn't they have a corporate jet available, or even a small United Express plane that could be spared for a couple of hours? No? Well how about a bus, limousine, or taxi? It's only 375 miles from Chicago to Lexington. What they chose to do delayed the flight two hours. The four crew members could have been driven there in a little over five hours.

Presumably even a United steely-eyed bean counter would see this as a matter of comparative cost. What would be the incremental cost of a 375-mile round trip in a corporate (or leased private) jet; or a limousine for the four crew members? So long as they could get a passenger to release his or her seat for less than that (or other alternatives) they'd pay the passenger and put the four crew members on the plane. Otherwise, they'd use the alternative. It's not that complicated.
But that's the past. What about the future?

They might consider changing their business plan that requires turning away paying customers, inconvenienced and upset.

On the assumption they are unwilling to change, they ought to build the practice into the contract and pricing. One way would be what's outlined at the top of this blog post: require that customers making reservations indicate ahead of time how much money it would take for them to voluntarily agree to be bumped.

Another might be to create a new, cheaper, bump-able class of ticket. That would be kind of like a life insurance contract: the company bets you're going to live and keep paying premiums; you bet you're going to die young. In the airline business: you bet the plane won't be full and you'll save on the fare; the airline bets it will be, you'll be bumped, they will owe you nothing, and the average fare per passenger will be higher.

And that's what I meant by, "There are a number of issues raised by the events of April 9th."

# # #

Comments

This blog post was published by OpEdNews in only slightly modified form as "Some Airline Issues," April 24, 2017, where I added the following three comments:

Apr 25, 2017 at 12:51:29 PM
Update: The American Airlines flight attendant who got in a struggle with a mother and her stroller was suspended (a decision undoubtedly affected by passengers' video of the events); American immediately issued one statement, not three (like United): "The actions of our team member captured [on video] here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care." The New York Times April 23 (p. A18) story can be found here: tinyurl.com/m82hd5s

Apr 25, 2017 at 1:06:57 PM
Update: Another United passenger (New Jersey to London) is suing the airline, alledging, "She had originally paid $1,498.90 for a window seat in the economy cabin before using 60,000 American Express miles, and an additional $498.56 in fees and expenses to upgrade to premium economy. . . . [S]he further upgraded her seat at the airport, paying $1,149 for a business-class seat . . .. About 20 minutes after she boarded the plane, and 10 minutes before takeoff, a gate attendant got on . . . demanded she move to the back of the plane . . . grabbed her arm and escorted her, 'in tears,' to a middle seat in the 21st row near the back of the plane, at one point calling her a vulgar name . . .." This Chicago Tribune April 24 story can be found in full here: tinyurl.com/lygzvau

Apr 25, 2017 at 5:06:16 PM
This piece deals with some (not all) airline issues. One that really should have been included is the extent to which the airline industry is subsidized by all taxpayers -- for the primary benefit of very few.

Our ability to create anything close to the efficient and environmentally sound passenger rail system we once had is stymied by many things, among them allegations from railroads' competitors that the railroads are "subsidized." Before we swallow those allegations, we need to consider how much taxpayer money is going to support the transportation system favored by the wealthy, business employees, and the politicians who hand out the money.

Bill McGee, "How Much Do Taxpayers Support Airlines?" USA TODAY, September 2, 2015, tinyurl.com/k4lb6lc . The answer is: "In the billions of dollars." The design and testing of what are modified to become their aircraft, as well as the training of their pilots, is paid for by the Defense Department. A significant share of the multi-billion-dollar cost of airport construction and expansion is paid for with federal, state, and local taxpayers' dollars. The TSA passenger inspection program alone costs $7 billion a year.

How much did most Americans benefit from these payments? The latest results from Gallup, tinyurl.com/h9b6g5f , indicate that 55% of Americans did not fly at all during the prior 12 months (25% only once or twice -- a total of 80%). Only 10% flew five or more times.

_______________

Friday, April 07, 2017

Of Missiles and Teachers

Note to potential critics of this post: It is not intended to, and does not, address whether we should be involved in Syria, or what we should be doing there if we are -- especially in response to gas attacks on Syrians. It does not argue that we do not need a military in these times. Read it again.
Spending on Military Always Comes at a Cost

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 9, 2017, p. D5

My father grew up on a Kansas cattle farm in the early 20th Century. Times were tough, and so were parents. He recalled sitting on the porch steps at a neighbor's farm house when that farmer's young, barefoot boy approached and asked for a nickel. The boy's father answered, "What did you do with the last nickel I gave you?"

It's much easier these days for America's military. Often it doesn't even need to ask. Elected officials sometimes send additional taxpayers' money its way for the weapons systems of major campaign donors, weapons the military would really rather not have, thank you.

As for "the last nickel I gave you," the General Accounting Office has often just thrown up its hands in frustration and announced that the military's financial records are in a condition that simply makes audits impossible.

So estimates vary, but most agree we are spending on our military more than the next seven nations combined -- much of which is used to make sure that we could win, should we ever have to fight World War II all over again. Unfortunately, there's little that the President Gerald Ford $8-to-13 billion aircraft carrier can do to defend us from cyber attacks or terrorists' random, homemade bombs.

Throw in the cost of caring for the wounded (Department of Veterans Affairs), and other costs throughout the federal budget, and the military's share of federal discretionary spending is well over the 54% just going to the Pentagon. (Estimates of the costs of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone, among the most difficult to audit, range between one and five trillion dollars.)

It's hard enough for most of us to deal with things measured in the millions of dollars. We can't even imagine how we should evaluate costs in the billions and trillions of dollars.

So let's just focus on the cost of one operation, during one day (yesterday, April 7), involving missile strikes on one Syrian Airforce base. [Photo credit: unknown; perhaps U.S. Navy]

It required 59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles. At $1.4 million per missile that's $82.6 million.

So how much is $82.6 million?

Think of it this way: Given the median income of Iowa's K-12 teachers, $82.6 million would be enough to pay the salaries of over 1700 additional teachers for one year -- roughly a 5% increase in the number of Iowa's 35,000 teachers.

That's something we can imagine.

Now multiply that by roughly 10,000 times and you'll have some notion of how much our military expenditures are denying us in healthcare, jobs programs, education, infrastructure improvements, and other pro-people social programs.

Think about what President Eisenhower's military-industrial complex did with the last nickel you gave it. Think about it -- and act.

_______________
Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City shared responsibility for sealift to Vietnam while serving as U.S. maritime administrator. Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

# # #

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin

Collusion
1. a secret agreement, especially for . . . treacherous purposes; conspiracy

2. Law. a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally . . . or to appear as adversaries though in agreement


-- Dictionary.com

Treason
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, . . . adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason . . . and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

-- 18 U.S. Code §2381 (1994)

Impeachment
The President . . . shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

-- U.S. Constitution, Article II, §4 (The 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides alternative procedures following a finding that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.")

_______________

What can we pluck from the speculation and wild accusations, alternative facts and devious denials, regarding Russia's involvement in our last presidential election? Here's a quick, three-part summary:

Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not fond of Hillary Clinton and preferred Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. Individuals in Russia were involved in hacking into computers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign, and facilitating release of some of their content. They, or others in Russia, prepared propaganda and false damaging information about Clinton and distributed it throughout the U.S. through social media. However probable it may be that some voters were, to some extent, influenced in their opinions of the candidates, and even ultimate choices at the ballot box, there is no procedure for collecting the data necessary to prove or disprove such suspicions. It is unlikely that, but for these Russian efforts, Clinton would have won the electoral vote (although there's no way that can be proved or disproved). There have been assertions that Russians wanted to manipulate voting machines, but no evidence that, if so, they were successful in doing so.

Trump. A second, related, line of inquiry has involved the past and present ties that Trump, his family, campaign and other associates, may have with Russian oligarchs, banks, politicians and government officials. This includes Americans' interests in investments there (or payments from there) and Russians' investments or payments here. A significant number of individuals in both countries, meetings, and transactions have been identified and reported. Of course, a substantial impediment to a thorough understanding is Trump's refusal to comply with the norm that presidents reveal their past tax returns. And the Trump Team's case has not been strengthened by the number of instances in which their contacts with Russians (or payments from Russians) have been denied, only to have been unequivocally confirmed later.

Collusion. A third, and seemingly final inquiry addresses the possibility that there was "collusion," a "conspiracy," among the joint forces of Putin and Trump, working together in their efforts to defeat Clinton and elect Trump. Such a finding ("beyond a reasonable doubt") is somewhere between extremely difficult and impossible to prove without documents (e.g., electronic messages, meeting notes, transcripts of conference calls) or the testimony of those present at such meetings. If a "secret agreement" or "conspiracy" (as "collusion" is defined at the top of this post) can be shown, fine. But an inability to do so should not be the end of the matter. Indeed, it should not have been the beginning, either.

Here is an effort at an explanatory analogy for where the Putin-Trump inquiry should have begun.

Consider the terrorist attack on 9/11. That involved collusion, or a conspiracy -- an organization, communication and control, financing, training, a plan, and the execution of that plan. That was the case with some of the terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere. But as our government, intelligence community, and international cooperation became more sophisticated, loose affiliations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS found it increasingly difficult to carry out such organized attacks. Did they give up? No. What did they do? They changed strategy and procedures.

They began sending out to everyone in the world with an Internet connection the equivalent of the computer-generated emails we all get from time to time notifying us that we can't "reply" to the email. They said, in effect, "Don't leave your country; don't try to contact us or come to the Middle East for training; don't try to organize massive destruction like 9/11. Do what you can do where you are: shoot somebody or throw them off a rooftop, make a car bomb or drive your car into a crowd." Many to most of those who were persuaded by these Web pages and social media messages, persuaded to engage in some terrorist act, were not a part of a conspiracy, or collusion with a terrorist organization's leadership. They had attended no meetings, had no conversations, received no electronic communications personal to them. What they do is "consistent" with the organization's goals and strategies, but it does not constitute "collusion."

This is something we experience in our daily lives. Local street demonstrations -- whether the global "Women's March" demonstrations on January 21, or those throughout Russia on March 26; whether those of the Tea Party or Occupy -- often emerge and grow without any need for a conspiracy, collusion, or communication. Nor need it always be as dramatic as terrorist acts or demonstrations. The same is true of fads in food, dress, sports, or smartphones.

And that, I believe, is how we should approach the actions of Putin and Trump before, during, and after the November 8, 2016, presidential election. It is not necessary that they and their teams talked strategy with each other, or enabled each other's actions, or coordinated their campaign strategies and tactics. [Photo credit: Reuters/Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Business Insider/Skye Gould]

"Treason," defined at the top of this post, only speaks of "giving [enemies] aid and comfort." Clearly, Putin derived "aid and comfort" from the outcome of the election, and the attitudes and actions of Trump's Team that have paralleled Putin's own.

So where's the evidence? Here are some excerpts from Newsweek's take last August:
Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-Russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. . . . Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, “unlike what we have in this country.” Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies (“Our country does plenty of killing also,” he told MSNBC) . . .. When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails [from the DNC] . . . Trump called on “Russia, if you’re listening,” to hack some more. . . .

“Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights,” [says U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014] Michael McFaul. “A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin’s international interests.” . . . Kremlin-sponsored propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT . . . have lavishly praised Trump, . . . supported Trump’s assertion that Barack Obama “founded ISIS,” and Russia’s world-class army of state-sponsored hackers has targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. . . .

[T]he Kremlin’s support for Trump is part of a longstanding strategy to sow disruption and discord in the West. Whether it’s by backing French ultra-nationalists . . . or boosting Donald Trump’s chances by blackening the Democrats, the Kremlin believes Russia benefits every time the Western establishment is embarrassed. . . .

Former CIA Director Mike Morell wrote . . . that Putin “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation” with flattery. But the truth is more nuanced. Trump’s pro-Putinism goes back to at least 2007, when he told CNN that [Putin] was doing “a great job” rebuilding Russia. Trump was pushing real estate deals in Moscow at the time and, according to one Moscow-based American businessman . . . Trump’s admiration for Putin was rooted in “pure self-interest. . . . He was looking to make friends and business partners” among Russia’s politically connected elite. . . .

Trump’s . . . political career has made him an important part of Putin’s wider strategy to weaken the West and court conservatives around the world . . .. into a grand anti-liberal alliance headed by Russia. In August, Moscow hosted a gathering of nationalist and separatist activists from all over Europe and the U.S. . . ..

“The target of the hacks wasn’t just Clinton,” [former head, Estonian intelligence] Eerik-Niiles Kross, wrote . . .. "What the Russians have in their sights is nothing less than the democratic fabric of American society and the integrity of the system of Western liberal values. . . . The political warfare of the Cold War is back -- in updated form, with meaner, more modern tools, including a vast state media empire in Western languages, hackers, spies, agents, useful idiots, compatriot groups, and hordes of internet trolls.” In other words, Trump is merely a useful stooge in the Kremlin’s grand design to encourage NATO disunity, U.S. isolationism and the breakup of Europe.
Owen Matthews, "How Vladimir Putin is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia's Goals," Newsweek, August 29, 2016.

OK; keep the search for "collusion" or a "conspiracy" on the back burner. But what the media's investigative reporters, House, Senate, and any other investigative committees ought to be focusing on is making the case for what Putin and Trump are doing in parallel that results in weakening the world's great democracies -- whether or not it is the result of joint planning.

_______________

Comparable analyses and conclusions are found in many other sources, including "The view from the Kremlin: Putin's War on the West," The Economist," Feb. 12, 2015; and Mark Galeotti, "Putin’s Chaos Strategy Is Coming Back to Bite Him in the Ass," Foreign Policy, October 26, 2016 ("The Russian president has sown confusion and conflict around the world the past two years. But his short-sighted meddling isn’t the work of a mastermind.")

And compare what Putin and Trump are seemingly trying to accomplish with this 2004 UN General Assembly list of the necessary elements of a successful democracy:
• Separation and balance of power
• Independence of the judiciary
• A pluralistic system of political parties and organisations
• Respect for the rule of law
• Accountability and transparency
• Free, independent and pluralistic media
• Respect for human and political rights; e.g., freedoms of association and expression; the right to vote and to stand in elections
Michael Meyer-Resende, "International Consensus: Essential Elements of Democracy," Democracy Reporting International (October 2011).

And see also, "Tracking Trump," November 9, 2016-January 19, 2017; "Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017.

# # #

Sunday, March 19, 2017

How to Save Higher Ed

Saving Higher Ed; Step1: Listen to What Iowans Want

Nicholas Johnson

"Insight & Books," The Gazette, March 19, 2017, p. D1

As a child of the University of Iowa – literally and figuratively – its current financial woes are troubling.

Frankly, I don’t think the Iowa Legislature can pass the laugh test when it awards $12 billion in tax breaks while fashioning a $7 billion state budget and then says it “can’t afford” to adequately fund its “state” universities. The truth? It just has other priorities.

What to do?

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences recommends its Lincoln Project’s “An Educational Compact for the 21st Century” (http://tinyurl.com/hk59pq9). It’s not the first proposal for our plight, and won’t be the last – but it’s coherent and data driven.

On March 9, the Academy organized a powerhouse panel in Iowa City (and later Des Moines) to discuss this Compact. It was headed by the project’s co-chair, Mary Sue Coleman, President, Association of American Universities, and former president of the Universities of Iowa and Michigan. Joining her were UI President Bruce Harreld and former University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise.

Our multi-faceted Jim Leach added to the panel his experience as our former member of Congress, Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and currently UI's Senior Scholar, Chair in Public Affairs, Professor of Law, and Interim Director, Museum of Art.

It turns out that Iowa’s woes are part of a national trend. States’ support of research universities declined 35% the last 17 years (per full-time student, in constant dollars). Private universities have three-to-four times state schools’ funding per student. We can hope for a brighter future, but as President Harreld said, “Hope is not a strategy. We may need a ‘Plan B.’”

There’s more to the Educational Compact than a column can hold: the impact of research universities' discoveries on Iowa's (and the world's) economic growth and job creation (the mere purchases of eight schools put $2 billion into 1750 counties one year), their research that corporations can’t or won’t do, their advances in medical science, their innovative cost-cutting efforts, the economic as well as personal value from arts and humanities (Jim Leach’s HUMANISTEAM), or their financial aid for low income undergrads, among many others.

The tuition-free college programs of California and New York – and the one in the post-World War II GI Bill – were a major reason for those states, and our nation’s, spurts of economic growth.

But if that evidence isn’t enough, how can legislators be persuaded?

President Harreld came the closest with his insightful, joking (and illegal) proposal for a vote-buying, pro-education PAC.

There’s another Politics 101 approach that never came up; something I’ve been harping on for years and was reminded of November 8, 2016.

In 1936 President Roosevelt won by over 24% (61% to Alf Landon’s 36%). The coalition that made that victory possible – the unemployed, working poor, working class, and ultimately union members -- held for 40 years. When the Democratic Party started turning to Wall Street and corporations for the money, and the East and Left coasts for the voters, it lost its natural constituency along with its soul – a constituency that, had it been served, could have assured victories in every election from school board to White House.

For higher ed to restore its state funding it needs the support of legislators; to have the support of legislators requires the support of their constituents. Higher ed has been as neglectful of its constituents as the Democrats have been of theirs.

Historically, Iowans’ enthusiasm and generosity for education has been overwhelming. It still could be.

In the 1800s they paid for 12,000 one-room schoolhouses for their kids. In the 1900s they were rightfully proud of funding a K-12 system ranked among the nation’s best. Iowa State University began in 1858, was aided by President Lincoln’s Morrill Act of 1862, and “focused on the ideals that higher education should be accessible to all.” But it, the University of Iowa, 1847, and University of Northern Iowa, 1876, were primarily built with Iowans’ dollars, further evidence of Iowans’ continuing financial commitment to these educational ideals.

It’s clear why businesses in Ames, Cedar Falls, and Iowa City, should support the Regents’ universities. But why should the residents of Iowa’s 96 other counties? How can we answer their question, as President Harreld posed it, “What have you done for us lately?”

We have answers: Where do you think your agricultural research, doctors, nurses, and teachers come from? (http://tinyurl.com/hrf9wwb; click on any county)

Main Street in Holstein, Ida County, one of my favorite western Iowa towns.
But what if they don’t have those doctors, our graduates aren’t their kids, and our astrophysicists’ discoveries haven’t touched their lives?

Let’s start by asking, “What do Iowans most want in their communities?” Then let’s shut up and listen, rather than telling them how great we are. As President Harreld said, “We can’t just wait for the people to come; we need to reach out. We owe the public something back.”

We’ve taken baby steps in that direction. I went on two of what are now called the University of Iowa Engagement Tours – Iowa professors travelling by bus, discovering our beautiful state, meeting with local leaders.

OK. But what we most need is at least a ten-fold expansion of what the UI calls our “Outreach” program. (http://tinyurl.com/j64swh5) Listening to the legislators’ constituents, then surveying the universities’ resources to see what we could do, as their responsive partners, to help solve their communities' problems or flesh out their proposals.

Iowa Public Radio, the multi-million-dollar statewide radio network, licensed to Iowa’s universities, could be a big assist with this effort.

We don’t need another bus ride. What we need is a “full Grassley” of 99 counties with an army of listeners.

The rule in Washington is that you do ten favors for a politician before you ask for one in return. The same applies to universities’ constituents. What collaborative favors have we done for Iowa’s communities lately?

This political approach will take time, yes, but it’s legal, will cost a lot less, and produce a lot more, than that PAC.
____________________
Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City is a retired member of the University of Iowa College of Law faculty, one-time Democratic primary congressional candidate, and three-time presidential appointee. comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org


[For The Gazette's online presentation of this column click HERE.

The material also ran as a column in the Iowa City Press-Citizen: Nicholas Johnson, "Solutions for Iowa Higher Ed's Woes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2017, p. A7]

# # #

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Resources for Trump Watchers

CLICK HERE to go directly down the page to the "Trump Tracking Sources"

Note: This blog post is one of a series; it is designed to provide links to media organizations' pages that were created post-inauguration to track the day-to-day news of President Trump's talk and actions. Those blog posts listed below, other than the first ("General Trump Resources"), are individual blog posts dealing with a range of Trump-related issues (in reverse chronological order).

General Trump Resources: "Tracking Trump" (with links to a series of 10 weekly pages of links to items regarding the period from November 9, 2016 through January 17, 2017 (the President-elect period of Donald Trump's transition to the inauguration, January 20, 2017, and the presidency)

General Trump Resources: "Resources for Trump Watchers," February 11, 2017

"What Trump Needs to Know About Libel," May 1, 2017

"Collusion, Treason, Trump and Putin," April 5, 2017

"Who Are We?" January 31, 2017

"Republicans Need To Get Their Party Back From Trump," October 20, 2016 [published as column by Iowa City Press-Citizen]

"Law, Social Norms and Trump," October 2, 2016

"Donald Trump's Barrel of Squirrels," September 25, 2016

"Trump Might Not Be Blundering in Race," September 9, 2016 [published as a column by Iowa City Press-Citizen]

"Maybe This Explains Trump," August 15, 2016

"When Words Can Kill," August 10, 2016

"Why Trump May Win," July 25, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016 [published as a column by The Daily Iowan]

Introduction: Why Resources for Trump Tracking?

How are Donald Trump's presidential years like the Afghanistan War?

We've been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001. We're still there -- one of America's longest, continuous wars. The Afghanistan War was initially our response to the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. Why Afghanistan? For the same reason the fellow in the story who had lost a quarter was looking for it a block from where he'd dropped it. As he explained, "The light is better here." The 9/11 attack was primarily planned, funded, and executed by Saudis. Afghanistan had better light.

News from Afghanistan continues to dribble out: an attack on an American base here, our responsibility for civilian casualties there. But 14 years of details are forgotten, if not the next day, certainly by the next month. The only way to even try to make sense out of it is to wait for a book to weave those details into a storyl; or, at a minimum, read through a month or two's worth of all known details.

So it is with our new president. There are more details regarding what he's done and failed to do than we can even recall, let alone make sense out of. Indeed, given the Administration's penchant for secrecy and lack of transparency, and the President's ability to come up with multiple tweets and headlines a day to control the evening news and next day's papers, the media have done an extraordinary job bringing the audience as many of the details as they have.

Of course, not everyone cares about following the daily activities of President Trump. Many Trump supporters seem to either admire, don't care, or don't know what he has been doing. Other Americans -- some who voted, some who didn't -- have been so put off by the campaign, and the flood of news since the election, that they simply want to shut it all out. Among those who do care, many are willing just to dip in and out of the news; if they hear an item, fine, but if they don't it's no big deal.

The sources linked from this blog post are for those who, for whatever reasons, want to see the whole picture. They see the times we are living through as historically unique and potentially dangerous.
(1) There are concerns about Trump's personality and style, such as his attitudes, speech, and behavior regarding women. They see his troubling narcissistic personality traits, ease of factual misrepresentations, tendency to strike out against anyone not sufficiently admiring (including our global allies).

(2) There are concerns about his substantive policies regarding such things as immigration, healthcare, and the environment.

(3) But of all these concerns, and more, those that are of greatest importance are those that go to the heart of the ability of a self-correcting democracy to function: his disregard of centuries of American constitutional principles, legislation, and norms regarding the behavior of the president -- the authoritarian's technique of diminishing the people's regard for the media and judiciary; his almost total lack of education and experience regarding the role of government at any level, from local to NATO (and apparent disinterest in learning); his unwillingness to reveal his tax returns or establish a legitimate blind trust; his appointment of cabinet officers with similar lack of understanding and experience.
For those who, for these reasons, do believe they have a responsibility to keep a continuous eye on what Trump is doing, someone needs to bring the daily facts together for us.

Following the election, from November 9, 2016 to January 20, 2017, I decided that one of those someones would be me -- at least for the days of President-elect Trump. It's called "Tracking Trump", a blog post covering weeks one and two, to which are linked four additional "pages" for weeks 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10 -- organized under topics such as "international," "appointments," and "temperament."

This took a substantial amount of "opportunity time" away from other high-priority tasks which had to be postponed. So I decided to make President-elect Trump's weeks the finite period of time to be covered by my own efforts, and look for other sources of comparable efforts regarding President Trump's first 100 days -- or four years. With credit to Julie Johnson for her early efforts at ferreting out most of these sources, here are some you may find useful. I'd welcome your suggestions of more to add. And remember, it's never been more important to support the efforts of these media sources with our subscriptions!

Trump Tracking Sources

New York Times, Politics

New York Times, "First 100 Days Briefing." Use https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/us/politics/donald-trump-administration.html (substituting for 2017/02/09 the date desired) or search on "First 100 Days Briefing" on the Times' opening page search field.

Washington Post, Politics

Washington Post, Politics, White House

Lawfare Blog (excellent source for associated legal issues discussion)

The Guardian: "The First 100 Days of Trump; Tracking the 45th President of the United States, One Day at a Time"

ProPublica, "The Trump Administration" (November 18, 2016-present)

New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer: Eric Levitz, "All the Terrifying Things That Donald Trump Did Lately,"

Euronews: "This is What Trump Has Done So Far"

Politico: "Forty Five: A Daily Diary of the Trump Presidency"

Politico: "Handicapping Trump’s first 100 days; Trump’s campaign promises have run into trouble with his own party — even his own Cabinet members — before he even takes the oath of office," January 20, 2017

YAHOO! Style: Natalie Gontchrova, "Everything That's Happened Since Trump Took Office,"

Campaign Promises, Executive Orders and Tweets

Ray Giles' "Trump Campaign Promises Monitor"

USA TODAY: "On Politics: President Trump's executive actions: The complete list so far"

Los Angeles Times: "Here's everything Donald Trump has tweeted since he became president"

"Russia: Trump & His Team's Ties to Russia," Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Calif. 15th Dist.)

# # #