Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Afghanistan: Our Unaffordable War to Nowhere

The Reasons We Should Leave



Absent Prerequisites for War

"War on Terror" is Oxymoron

Cost of Wars

The Powell Doctrine


Nicholas Johnson's Additional Writing on War and Terrorism

Some Recent Afghanistan-Related General Media News and Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

And so it's been in Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What, then, will be the exit strategy?

  • What will happen when we leave?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    # # #

    Nicholas Johnson's Additional Writing on War and Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    # # #

    Some Recent Afghanistan-Related General Media News and Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    # # #

    Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Business Leaders: Make Legislators Fund Educated Workforce

    [This excerpt from the PBS Newshour, August 29, 2017, describes a program in Colorado, analogous to those in Switzerland and Germany, that is consistent with what's discussed in the column, below. With thanks to Gregory Johnson for the suggestion to embed this.]

    Can Biz Leaders Save Education?

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

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

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

    Where can we turn?

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

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

    Might they lobby for education appropriations as well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    # # #

    Tuesday, August 15, 2017

    Unlearning Hatred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here are some details.

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

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

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

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

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

    # # #

    Sunday, August 13, 2017

    Thoughts on Eating Living Things

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

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