Thursday, May 19, 2022

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Latest Half-Dozen Posts (Full Text)

Why Iowa Dems Should Back Franken

Why Iowa Dems Should Back Franken
Nicholas Johnson
A proposed letter to the editor, May 19, 2022

I’ve often supported losing candidates whose utopian hopes aligned with mine. Everything being equal, I’ve chosen women candidates.

Today things aren’t equal.

Not this primary. Not among Iowa Democrats’ U.S. Senate choices. All Iowans will benefit from having a Democrat join our Republican. Plus, there’s much each senator can do for Iowa – whichever party controls the Senate.

For winning, the strongest candidate is former Admiral Mike Franken, hands down. He already knows Washington, with personal experience in the Senate, White House and Pentagon. His leadership skills have been recognized and rewarded. He will immediately have the respect of the other senators.
[Photo credit: wikimedia commons.]

Most important in winning, Franken was raised and shaped by Western Iowa.

Republican majorities carry 93 of our 99 counties. Democrats need a goal of a more statewide political party.

Based on my time in Ida County, and in north central Iowa during my 1974 congressional primary, Mike Franken’s demeanor, record, common sense, and ties to the people in small town western Iowa will help Iowa’s Democrats reach that goal.

- Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City


Franken’s “experience in the Senate, White House and Pentagon. His leadership skills have been recognized and rewarded.”

“In Washington, D.C., he served a fellowship in congressional affairs for the Office of the Secretary of the Navy; as the political-military chair in the Chief of Naval Operations' Executive Panel, in Navy's Plans and Strategy Deep Blue staff; in the Assessments Division in support of Navy's representation in the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and in the Joint Staff's Joint Operations Division overseeing U.S. Pacific Command operations. He presented the worldwide orders book to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 2003 to 2005 and was the first military officer to serve as a legislative fellow for Senator Ted Kennedy.[4]” “Michael T. Franken,” Wikipedia,

“Franken earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree from the College of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School and professional studies at MIT, UVA’s Darden School of Business, and the Brookings Institute.[1] Franken was a member of the U.S. Navy. He retired from military service as a three-star admiral in 2017.[1] Franken worked in a variety of positions in Washington, D.C. He was the first military officer on Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Defense.” “Michael Franken,” BallotPedia,

“He saw sea duty in four navy destroyers, a destroyer squadron, and an aircraft carrier. He deployed frequently to the world’s hotspots and was the first commanding officer of the USS WINSTON S CHURCHILL. He has significant Pentagon experience beginning with a legislative tour with Senator Edward Kennedy, and then in multiple strategy, policy, and planning positions involving the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. In these uncertain times with our democracy under attack, Iowans need Admiral Mike Franken in the US Senate. Through his work in the US Navy and at the Pentagon, Mike knows the global challenge of Russian aggression, and the propaganda and disinformation tactics used by Vladmir Putin. . . . Michael Franken has dedicated his life to serving our country and doing what’s right. Franken was the only voice on a team of military advisers to oppose George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Franken served under President Barack Obama and oversaw numerous successful missions to protect our country including leading U.S. forces in Africa to fight terrorists and pirates.” Franken for Iowa,

“raised and shaped by Western Iowa.” “Franken was born the youngest of nine children in rural Sioux County, Iowa. His father was a machinist and blacksmith. His mother was a school teacher. He joined the navy at age 22 at the urging of an older brother.[9] In 1989, Franken married his wife Jordan. Together, they have two children.[10] Franken lives in downtown Sioux City, Iowa.” “Michael T. Franken,” Wikipedia,

“Franken was born in Sioux County, Iowa. He was one of nine children. During his youth, Franken worked alongside his father at the Lebanon Farm Shop, working with farm equipment and trucks. When he was 17 years old, Franken began working at Sioux Preme Packing Company to pay for college. He also worked as bar manager, math tutor, bouncer, and as a law firm’s civil engineer.” “Michael Franken,” BallotPedia,

“Mike grew up working in his father’s small machine shop where he ran a lathe, did welding, and helped with general implement repair. He was a hired hand for neighboring farms until, at the age of 17, he began a three-year-stint working at a slaughterhouse in Sioux Center, Iowa. He obtained a Navy scholarship in 1978 and graduated in engineering from the University of Nebraska. . . . His life in Lebanon, Iowa has taught him the values of community, family, faith, and rural life, which guides his efforts to invest and build in rural Iowa. . . . As the father of a child with disabilities, he has seen how inconsistent care can be in years where he was transferred 17 different times. She would have great support in one community and the next there would be no support. For his daughter and for veterans who were injured, he seeks to pick up the banner of former Senator Tom Harkin as a disability advocate.” “Franken for Iowa,”

“Republican majorities carry 93 of our 99 counties.” Trump carried 93 of 99 Iowa counties in 2020. “Donald Trump Won in Iowa,” Politico, Jan. 6, 2021,

# # #

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Breaking the Arc Towards Justice

Breaking the Arc Towards Justice
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, May 10, 2022, p. A5

I’ve never met a woman who thought an abortion was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Legally, overturning Roe v. Wade is not about abortion’s pros and cons, life vs. choice. It’s about the Constitution’s grants of protection from government intrusion.

It’s not about our opinions regarding abortion. As the bumper sticker has it, “Opposed to abortion? Don’t have one.” It’s whether a state can constitutionally prevent a woman and her doctor from what they believe best. Roe says “no, that’s unconstitutional.” Justice Samuel Alito says “oh, yes they can.”

This makes it possible for one to be both “opposed to abortion” (as a personal choice) while also opposed to state abortion bans (as a governmental overreach).

Besides constitutional law, Alito’s leaked draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade raises questions about the Court.

Having spent a year as law clerk to Justice Hugo Black, I care about the Court as an institution. I’ve written here before how “politicizing an impartial Court weakens our democracy.” (“High Court Mystique is Shattered,” Feb. 16.)

The sails of the abortion debate are driven by the winds of religion and politics: the official stand of the Catholic church, before and after Roe; the Republican Party’s decades-long efforts. Six of the seven Catholic justices (including Alito) were appointed by Republican presidents G.W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Warranted or not, this multiplies the Court’s public relations challenge in regaining public trust as non-political.

The Court has become the judicial wing of the Republican Party. Alito’s draft opinion in the Dobbs case becomes the final nail in the founders’ hope for a non-political judicial branch.

The unprecedented leak of an opinion? I’m speechless. My fellow law clerks and I lived by commonsense norms. When Bob Woodward wanted to interview me about Justice Black for Bob’s “behind the scenes” book, The Brethren, I refused.

Chief Justice Earl Warren issued the only rule. We played basketball with the Court’s guards in a gym above the courtroom. (Above the Supremes, it was “the highest court in the land”). The Chief said bouncing basketballs during oral arguments was disrupting; please play at other times. We obliged.

I’m unconvinced by Justice Alito’s attempt to justify states’ abortion bans.

We’re left with dozens of questions. Here are a handful.

Will Alito’s opinion be the majority’s? Will revisions, or separate opinions matter?

Will Alito’s rationale repeal other rights? He says not, but he’s already used it in his 2015 Obergefell gay marriage dissent.

How will the decision affect the midterm elections?

If Republicans win both the House and Senate will Senator Mitch McConnell push his national abortion ban proposal? Is it constitutional?

Will Republicans provide for women, especially the poor, adversely impacted socioeconomically by abortion bans?

Will gender equality require a ban on men’s vasectomies and contraceptive purchases (overturning the 1965 Griswold case)?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., asserted “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Alito’s opinion reverses that arc -- toward its breaking point.
Nicholas Johnson is the former co-director of the Iowa Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy

# # #


Alito’s opinion. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Feb. __, 2022 (“opinion of the Court”),

Bumper sticker. From memory; and Linda Greenhouse, “Abortion Cases: A Conservative Judicial Agenda?’ New York Times, April 1, 2019, (“The best bumper sticker I’ve ever seen read: ‘Opposed to abortion? Don’t have one.’”)

Roe. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

Justice Black clerk & Supreme Court references. Commonsense norms. Woodward interview request. Basketball above courtroom. Chief Justice’s request. My one-year clerkship (the usual term in those days) ran from the fall of 1959 to the summer of 1960 (“the October 1959 Term”). These items are from memory.

Mystique is Shattered. Nicholas Johnson, “High Court Mystique is Shattered,” The Gazette, February 16, 2022, p. A7

Catholic Church official stand. “Catholic Church and Abortion Politics,”

Republicans use of abortion issue. Numerous sources; here’s one: M. McKeegan, “The Politics of Abortion: A Historical Perspective,” Womens Health Issues, Fall 1993, National Library of Medicine,

Catholic Justices. “Demographics of the Supreme Court of the United States,” 5.2 “Catholic justices,”

Impact of Alito’s Dodd opinion on other rights. In Dodd he says “no.” But in Obergefell (the gay marriage case) he said in his dissent, “’liberty’ under the Due Process Clause should be understood to protect only those rights that are ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’” Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S ____ (June 26, 2015) [blank page number because not in official reports], but available elsewhere, e.g.,

Ian Millhiser, “If Roe v. Wade falls, are LGBTQ rights next? Justice Alito is a staunch opponent of LGBTQ rights, but he may not have the votes to turn back the clock.,” Vox, May 6, 2022,

Griswold case. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Arc of Justice. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Smithsonian Institution, (“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” Speech given at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968.)

Sample general sources. Caroline Mala Corbin, “ 8 legal reasons to dislike Justice Alito's draft opinion on abortion; It overrules decades-old precedent to impose conservative justices’ anti-abortion views because they finally have the votes to do so,” THINK, NBC News, May 3, 2022,

Charlie Savage, “Draft Opinion Overturning Roe Raises a Question: Are More Precedents Next? The legal reasoning that the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc is considering to end abortion rights could uproot a series of other past rulings that created modern rights,” NYT, May 5, 2022,

Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Abortion: A Woman's Private Choice

Jennifer Schuessler, “The Fight Over Abortion History; The leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade also takes aim at its version of history, challenging decades of scholarship that argues abortion was not always a crime,” New York Times, May 4, 2022,

# # #

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

What's Up With Rising Inflation?

What's Up With Rising Inflation?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 26, 2022, p. A5

Inflation can be a cruel, cold wind. It bites hardest those at the bottom of the economic ladder, or on fixed income -- especially when political leaders cut benefits. The wealthiest never knew what they were paying for groceries, still don’t know nor care.

All the rest of us need to know about inflation is whether we suddenly have too much month at the end of the money – and, if so, what can we do about it?

We don’t need to understand, let alone try to calculate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index formula: CPIt = Ct/Co * 100. That may produce a number, the percentage increase in the CPI, but we don’t buy the CPI, as if investing in an index fund. We buy from among millions of individual items.

For example, “bread” is one of the CPI products. But there are over 100 types of bread, in various sizes, from different bakeries, stores, cities, days, with very different prices.

That’s why there’s no single “inflation.” There is only your memory of what you paid your grocery store for your family’s favorite bread last summer and what you paid yesterday.

Memory is at the core of the impact of increasing prices on our mood. Some remember last year’s prices. Others can recall prices during their youth. Depending on one’s age that can make an enormous difference.

I can remember, and the BLS reports, when things cost a nickel. An ice cream cone with two generous scoops. An adult’s cup of coffee. A loaf of Wonder bread. Many grocery items were a dime, as were my movie tickets.

My young buddies and I had pennies and occasionally sacrificed one to be flattened on the railroad track. We speculated whether a 50-cent piece might derail a steam engine. But none of us had ever possessed a half-dollar or would have willingly sacrificed one to science.

My first car, a roofless Model A, cost $25. Tuition at the University of Texas was $25. My four-door Texas Model A, with a roof, cost $75. The neighborhood Texaco station charged 19 cents a gallon. [Photo credit:wikimedia commons, public domain, John Margolies.]

During my 1974 congressional primary race my house rent was $40 a month.

Of course, wages increased, too; but without unions they haven’t kept up. It’s virtually impossible to calculate with any precision how much ahead or behind we are from 10, 20 or 50 years ago. My rule of thumb is that most things are now priced at least 20 to 30 times the prices I remember.

Nor is there much we could do even if we knew. Find a job that pays more? Good luck.

Our most expensive purchases are for “time-shifting.” Americans pay $120 billion a year in credit card interest to have things now rather than pay cash later. Sometimes that’s necessary, but not always. (Google “marshmallow experiment” or Steve Martin’s “Don’t Buy Stuff.”)

Hey, how about we pay more attention to who’s financing the politicians we vote for?
Nicholas Johnson still picks up pennies from sidewalks in Iowa City.

# # #


Current inflation. “U.S. Inflation Highest Since 1981 as CPI Hits 8.5% in March,” Inflation Calculator, April 12, 2022,

BLS CPI. “Consumer Price Index,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, (a source that slices CPI by more ways than even imaginable)

CPI Calculation. “Consumer Price Index (CPI) Calculator, Calculator Academy, Aug. 3, 2021, (for formula displayed in column)

“Consumer Price Index: Calculation,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nov. 24, 2020,

“How to Calculate the CPI and Inflation Rate,”,year%2C%20in%20this%20case%201984

Bread. “Bread is among the food items which are widely consumed worldwide. As per the reports suggested by different restaurants, food surveys, and data, more than 100 types of bread are present today, with different types popular among different societies.” “Different Types Of Bread From Around The World You Should Know!” kidadl, Jan. 20, 2022,

List of recalled prices. These are from memories from late 1930s and WWII believed to be accurate, and consistent with BLS amounts, but not documented.

The BLS reports, for example, from a later time period, “Prices of selected food items, 1947”:
Apples, 12.8 cents/pound
Potatoes, 5.0 cents/pound
Bananas, 15 cents/pound
Flour, 4.8 cents/pound
Rice 18.4 cents/pound
White bread 12.5 cents/pound
Round steak 75.6 cents/pound
Milk, 18.7 cents/quart
Butter, 80.5 cents/pound”
“One hundred years of price change: the Consumer Price Index and the American inflation experience,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2014,

Inflation decreases wages. Judge Glock, “Inflation Drives Wages Down, Not Up; The ‘wage-price spiral’ is a myth. It’s much easier to raise prices than wages,” Wall Street Journal,” Jan. 31, 2022,

(“The Labor Department released a report Friday showing that worker pay increased about 4% in one year, the fastest rate in two decades. This led to predictable alarm that the U.S. is facing a “wage-price spiral,” in which higher wages push up prices, which lead to demands for still-higher wages, and so forth. But the wage-price spiral is a false and antiquated economic idea that refuses to die and keeps generating bad policies.

“Wages don’t spiral up during inflation; they spiral down as higher prices eat away paychecks. The dollar amounts on paychecks will rise, but not fast enough for their real value to outpace inflation. The recent stories of wage increases came not long after the government announced prices increased 7% in the past year. A more accurate headline for coverage of Labor’s report last Friday would have been “Real Wages Drop 3%.”

“The reason real wages are dropping is simple. Wages are what economists call “sticky,” meaning they don’t change as fast as other prices do. When inflation comes along, gasoline stations can switch their price signs in an hour and restaurants can adjust their menus in a day, but most employees get a salary bump only once a year. Some unions renegotiate their salaries only every five years.

“The combination of flexible prices and sticky wages also explains why inflation provides a temporary boost for business. John Maynard Keynes observed that inflation tends to increase profits because it creates a greater spread between the prices businesses charged and the wages they paid. As one International Monetary Fund report stated, during an inflation there is a “redistribution of income away from labor” to capital. This explains recent surging business profits.

“We also saw this story play out in the 1970s, when the idea of the wage-price spiral first attracted attention. At the time, many Keynesian economists wanted to blame inflation on anything but the Federal Reserve printing too much money. So they came up with the wage-price spiral, also known as cost-push inflation, which they thought was driving up prices. But they confused nominal and real wages. Even though paychecks were for more dollars, their actual value dropped by almost 20% over the decade, as real profits increased.” . . . )

Decline in unions decreased wages. Alana Semuels, “Fewer Unions, Lower Pay for Everybody; If organized labor were as strong today as it was in the late 1970s, nonunion men without a high-school diploma would be earning 9 percent more, according to a new study,” The Atlantic, Aug. 30, 2016,

$120 B credit card interest. Ashwin Vasan and Wei Zhang, “Americans Pay $120 Billion in Credit Card Interest and Fees Each Year,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Jan. 19, 2022,

Marshmallow study. “Stanford Marshmallow Experiment,”

Don’t buy stuff. “SNL Transcripts: Steve Martin: 02/04/06: Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford,” SNL Transcripts Tonight, Season 31, Episode 12,

# # #

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Use It Or Lose It

Public Radio: Use It or Lose It
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, April 9, 2022, p. 5A

I love radio. Always have. AM, shortwave, an amateur license, working for National Public Radio, and FCC.

Today’s NPR and Iowa Public Radio employees are the airwaves heroes in our civil war to save democracy.

Because 18-year-old Iowa Public Radio is currently celebrating its centennial, a little history is in order.

The first cross-Atlantic “wireless” transmission was 1901. Soon radio amateurs were building transmitters – as they have created communications innovations since. Launching communications satellites, bouncing signals off the moon, and making phone calls with hand-held radios long before your first smartphone.

Once their Morse Code gave way to the human voice the tussle began. Like Steve Martin’s Saturday Night Live routine, folks pointed to the talking box and asked, “What the hell is that?” Both the Navy and phone company fought for control.

Iowa’s President Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce 1921 to 1928, led the way, as homes with radios went from 300,000 to 10 million. Thirty stations became 618. The chaos of signal interference required regulation.
[Photo: wikimedia; accompanying text: "Photo of an American family in the 1920s listening to a crystal radio. From a 1922 advertisement for Freed-Eisemann radios in Radio World magazine. The small radio is on the table. Crystal sets work off the power received from radio waves, so they are not strong enough to power loudspeakers. Therefore the family members each wear earphones, the mother and father sharing a pair. Although this is obviously a professionally posed, promotional photo, it captures the excitement of the public at the first radio broadcasts, which were beginning about this time. Crystal sets like this were the most widely used type of radio until the 1920s, when they were slowly replaced by vacuum tube radios."]

Many nations responded with non-commercial-only, public (though not government) national broadcasting networks. Most famously, Britain’s BBC.

Congress called them “public airwaves,” but gave the FCC power to select and license private individuals’ use of them in “the public interest.” Hoover opposed “advertising chatter.” Even licensees urged “advertising in radio be absolutely prohibited.”

As commercialism took over radio, the push-back created “educational, non-commercial” stations. FCC’s first woman commissioner, Frieda Hennock, a Ukrainian, is credited with the reservation of educational TV channels. In 1945, the FCC reserved educational FM channels.

In 1911 engineering students and faculty at the University of Iowa got their “training school license,” 9YA, for their “wireless telegraph.” By 1916 free course material was broadcast in Morse Code. Later full licenses were granted for WHAA (1922) and WSUI (1925). By 1933 W9XK (later W9XUI) provided education via TV. WOI has similar history.

NPR began in 1971, and IPR in 2004 – the first step in a cutback in state support of Iowa’s university-licensed stations. This year the Board of Regents began the transfer of all broadcast licenses and property of university stations to IPR.

The Legislature no longer funds our universities to the extent it once did. (Now $389M less than 20 years ago, notwithstanding increasing costs.)

Meanwhile, the Golden Dome of Wisdom echoes with, “what have the universities done for us lately?”

Former UI President Sally Mason observed there are Iowans in “pockets where we may be less favorably viewed … a lot of them are west.” You think?

How sad the universities had an irreplaceable, invaluable statewide network of 26 stations – a public relations firm’s dream -- that could have told their story and won over legislators by helping small towns. University administrators, regents, legislators and governors failed to see its value.

It was “use it or lose it,” and now they’ve lost it. Happy Centennial.

Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, lives in Iowa City.

# # #


My amateur radio license. N0EAJ, Aug. 20, 2027,

Working for NPR. Although I have never accepted payment from NPR, and thus would not be considered an "employee" in that sense, my involvement has included providing daily reports, and an hour-long special, regarding RAGBRAI, reports from presidential conventions on how the media covers conventions, and uncounted opinion pieces over the years.

History of radio, general. Erik Barnouw, three-volume “A History of Broadcasting in the United States.” A Tower of Babel (to 1933), vol. 1; The Golden Web (1933-1953), vol. 2; and The Image Empire (from 1953), vol. 3

“History of Radio,”

Wireless in 1901. “Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi succeeds in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean …. The message–simply the Morse-code signal for the letter “s”–traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.” “First radio transmission sent across the Atlantic Ocean, December 12, 1901,” This Day in History, December 12,” History, Feb. 9, 2010,

Early amateurs. “The radio hobbyists, soon to be called radio amateurs, or ham operators, … were among the first to transform their hobby into the earliest broadcasting stations, and felt it was only proper they should be entrusted with radio’s future.[19] (Footnotes are to referenced sources in Nicholas Johnson, “Radio as Mysterious Miracle” in “The Origins and Future of Radio,” August 23, 2015,

Amateurs’ innovations. “Ham Radio History,” ARRL (American Radio Relay League),

“The radio hobbyists, soon to be called radio amateurs, or ham operators, provided most of the early improvements in radio – as they continued to do with electronics generally throughout the Twentieth Century.[18] (Footnotes are to referenced sources in Nicholas Johnson, “Radio as Mysterious Miracle” in “The Origins and Future of Radio,” August 23, 2015,

Steve Martin’s routine.

Navy and phone company control. “There was little agreement as to what radio was, how it could be used, and who should control it. The Navy, having used and advanced radio technology during World War I, understandably saw radio as a form of military equipment properly controlled by them – with wireless telegraphy’s ability to provide rapid, where telegraph wires were not an option communication, between ships, and ship-to-shore.[15] Telegraph companies argued that anything called wireless telegraphy was obviously still telegraphy, and a private business inappropriate for military or other governmental operation.[16] Telephone companies, with comparable certainly, saw radio as an obvious extension of their businesses – and even more so once radio started to be used for broadcasting programming. After all, as early as the 1870s telephone companies in the U.S. and Europe were distributing music and other entertainment programming over telephone wires -- what we today might call cable radio.[17] The radio hobbyists, soon to be called radio amateurs, or ham operators, provided most of the early improvements in radio – as they continued to do with electronics generally throughout the Twentieth Century.[18] They were among the first to transform their hobby into the earliest broadcasting stations, and felt it was only proper they should be entrusted with radio’s future.[19] (Footnotes are to referenced sources in Nicholas Johnson, “Radio as Mysterious Miracle” in “The Origins and Future of Radio,” August 23, 2015,

Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce. “Secretary of Commerce (1921-1928” (5), “Radio regulation and air travel” (5.1), “Herbert Hoover,” Wikipedia,

“Hoover's tenure as Secretary of Commerce heavily influenced radio use in the United States. In the early and mid-1920s, Hoover's radio conferences played a key role in the organization, development, and regulation of radio broadcasting. Hoover also helped pass the Radio Act of 1927….” Id., “Radio regulation and air travel” (5.1)

“Secretary Hoover went ahead with at least a frequency allocation scheme to bring a little order out of chaos and signal interference.[25]” Footnote links to Erik Barnouw, A History of Broadcasting in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 121-22, in Nicholas Johnson, “The Origins and Future of Radio,” lecture transcript, August 23, 2015,

Homes with radios. “Between 1923 and 1929, the number of families with radios grew from 300,000 to 10 million,[109].” “Radio regulation and air travel” (5.1), “Herbert Hoover,” Wikipedia,

30 (1922) to 618 (1930) stations. “United States Broadcasting Station Totals[2],” chart in “Radio in the United States,”

Signal interference -> regulation. “Secretary Hoover went ahead with at least a frequency allocation scheme to bring a little order out of chaos and signal interference.[25]” Footnote links to Erik Barnouw, A History of Broadcasting in the United States, vol. 1, pp. 121-22, in Nicholas Johnson, “The Origins and Future of Radio,” lecture transcript, August 23, 2015,

Other nations’ public networks. e.g., Sweden, Sveriges Radio AB (“The company – which was founded as AB Radiotjänst … on 21 March 1924 – made its first broadcast on 1 January 1925 ….”) Sveriges Radio, History,

Japan, NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) (“NHK's earliest forerunner was the Tokyo Broadcasting Station (東京放送局), founded in 1924 …. Tokyo Broadcasting Station … began radio broadcasts in 1925. The three stations merged under the first incarnation of NHK in August 1926.[6] NHK was modelled on the BBC ….”) NHK, History,

BBC. “The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom. Headquartered at Broadcasting House in London, it is the world's oldest national broadcaster, and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees ….” “BBC,”

Congress and “public airwaves.” “It is the purpose of this chapter, among other things, to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of radio transmission; and to provide for the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof, by persons for limited periods of time, under licenses granted by Federal authority, and no such license shall be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license.” 47 U.S.C. Sec. 301

“The public interest.” “if the Commission, upon examination of such application and upon consideration of such other matters as the Commission may officially notice, shall find that public interest, convenience, and necessity would be served by the granting thereof, it shall grant such application.” 47 U.S.C. Sec. 309(a)

Hoover “advertising chatter.” Then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover's oft-quoted objection was, "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service [for news, for entertainment, for education] to be drowned in advertising chatter." Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Cabinet and the Presidency 140 (1952), quoted in Erik Barnouw, A Tower in Babel: A History of Broadcasting in the United States 96 (1966). (See, “Public Radio's Self-Inflicted Wounds,” FromDC2Iowa, Nov. 11, 2008,

Licensees’ opposition to advertising. The licensees’ Recommendation III.E. provided, "It is recommended that direct advertising in radio broadcasting service be absolutely prohibited . . .." Report of Department of Commerce Conference on Radio Telephony, Rad. Serv. Bull., May 1, 1922. See Nicholas Johnson, "Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland," Federal Communications Law Journal, May 2003, p. 521, 527-28, n. 17, (See, “Public Radio's Self-Inflicted Wounds,” FromDC2Iowa, Nov. 11, 2008,

Frieda Hennock, first woman FCC. “Frieda Barkin Hennock (December 27, 1904–June 20, 1960) was the first female commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and a central figure in the creation of an enduring system of educational television in the United States.” Frieda B. Hennock,

Hennock Ukrainian. “Born in Kovel, then in the Russian Empire, now in Ukraine, the youngest of the eight children, she immigrated with her family to New York City in 1910 and became a US citizen in 1916 (in later life, she retained her fluency in Yiddish and continued to pray daily).[1]” Ibid.

Hennock educational TV. “Frieda Barkin Hennock, the woman credited with establishing educational television in the United States …. Returning to her work at the FCC, Hennock renewed her efforts on behalf of educational television. When the FCC's Sixth Report and Order was issued on April 11, 1952, it included 242 specific channel reservations for non-commercial television. Even though channels had been reserved for non-commercial use, Hennock realized that getting educational stations on the air was crucial in preserving those reservations…. Two years later [than 1953], when her term expired in mid-1955, over 50 non-commercial license applications had been filed and 12 stations were on the air.” “Hennock, Frieda B.,”,

Reservation educational FM. “On May 24, 1940, the FCC had announced the establishment, effective January 1, 1941, of an FM radio band operating on 40 channels spanning 42–50 MHz, with the first five channels (42.1 to 42.9 MHz) reserved for educational stations ….” [1] “On June 27, 1945, the FCC announced the reassignment of the FM band to 80 channels from 88–106 MHz, which was soon expanded to 100 channels from 88–108 MHz.[6][7].” “List of the initial commercial FM station assignments issued by the Federal Communications Commission on October 31, 1940,”,_1940

“Commercial broadcasting is licensed only on channels 221 through 300 (the upper 80 channels, frequencies between 92.1 and 107.9 MHz), with 200 through 220 (the lower 21 channels, frequencies between 87.9 and 91.9 MHz) reserved for non-commercial educational (NCE) broadcasting.” “FM broadcasting in the United States; History,”

“In 1945, in recognition of the differing needs of educators and commercial broadcasters, FCC policy had set aside 20 FM radio channels for educational use.” “Hennock, Frieda B.,”,

UI’s 9YA license. David McCartney, “Old Gold: WSUI Radio Marks a Century on the Air,” Iowa Magazine, March 13, 2020,

“WSUI,” Google search: History of radio at University of Iowa

Morse Code education. “Wireless Education Latest Undertaking,” The State University of Iowa News Letter, vol. 2, no. 8, Nov. 18, 1916,

“WSUI,” Google search: History of radio at University of Iowa

WHAA and WSUI. “WSUI,” Wikipedia, Google search: History of radio at University of Iowa

Educational TV. “WSUI,”

NPR origins. “WSUI,”

IPR origins. “Iowa Public Radio was created in 2004 by the Iowa Board of Regents ….” “Our History; About IPR,” Iowa Public Radio, “Iowa Public Radio Final Report,” Bornstein and Associates, Nov. 2004,

Board of Regents transferring stations. Grant Gerlock, “Board of Regents Proposal Would Transfer Broadcast Licenses from Universities to Iowa Public Radio,” Iowa Public Radio,” Feb. 15, 2022,

Andrew Wind, “Board of Regents initiates asset transfer to Iowa Public Radio,” The Courier, Feb. 27, 2022,

Decline in legislature support. Adjusted for inflation, the $506M appropriation in 1999 would be $875M today. In fact, the 2022 appropriation was $486M -- $389M less than 20 years ago, notwithstanding the increases in costs. “This fiscal year’s allocation of just over $486 million is nearly $20 million less than the state gave to public universities in 1999 — not adjusted for inflation. To put that into scale: $100 in 1999 would have the same buying power as about $173 in 2022.” Katie Akin, “Proposed GOP budget for state universities is less than 20 years ago,” Iowa Capital Dispatch, March 27, 2022,

Sally Mason “less favorably viewed.” "U of I's Mason on Other Topics," Des Moines Register, February 11, 2013 (reproduced in, “Self Help for a Helpful University,” FromDC2Iowa, March 1, 2003,

26 stations. “This statewide public radio network (a total of 26 stations) ….” “Our History; About IPR,” Iowa Public Radio,

Things universities could have done. See, e.g., "Are the Iowa Universities' Stations No Longer 'Educational," April 2, 2013, (with embedded, “Public Universities Not Using Radio Well,” The Gazette, March 28, 2013, p. A5);
“Self Help for a Helpful University,” FromDC2Iowa, March 1, 2013,;
"War On Sabbaticals Casualty of Iowa Public Radio; Universities Should Use Their Stations to Tell Story," December 13, 2010,;
“Public Radio's Self-Inflicted Wounds,” FromDC2Iowa, Nov. 11, 2008,

# # #

Tags: amateur radio, BBC, centennial, educational stations, FCC, Frieda Hennock, Herbert Hoover, Iowa, IPR, NPR, radio history, regents, Sally Mason, University of Iowa, WOI, WSUI

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Studying War

America Needs to Start Studying War
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, March 17, 2022, p. A4

Remember the song, “Ain’t gonna study war no more”?

We’ve taken it to extremes.

We need to study war more, not less; to review and reshape our defense spending and strategies. Now’s a time to, as they say in the theater, “Take it from the top.”

America’s founders wanted to avoid wars. Because the burdens in lives and dollars fell hardest on the people, and the House was closest to the people, it was the body to declare war.

But that brake only works if there is a draft of our youth, from families rich and poor, and members of Congress accept their constitutional duty to debate and declare war (or not).

The draft fueled public opposition to the Vietnam war. Realizing this, the powerful political forces President Dwight Eisenhower labeled “the military-industrial complex” successfully went about abolishing the draft.

Public opposition is further dampened by using corporate warriors – at one time one-half our fighting force in Iraq, and over 5800 in Afghanistan (suffering more deaths than the military).

House members, applying former Speaker Sam Rayburn’s advice, “to get along, go along,” take the campaign contributions, and defer their constitutional war powers to the branch our founders most feared: the executive.

If the war is not here, the public has even less reason than the House to become informed (polls show we’re not), let alone care. Only 1 percent of our population does the fighting; no WWII-style sacrifices (remember the post 9/11 advice “go shopping”?); we don’t buy “war bonds;” or see the bills put on our grandchildren’s credit cards.

The consequence? Our “defense” budget and resources evolve into something the size of the next ten nations combined, millions of Americans fighting forever wars costing trillions.

Are some military actions warranted? Of course. But “don’t do stupid stuff.” On a trip to Saigon as Maritime Administrator I was asked to report my assessment of the war. My concluding line: “You can’t play basketball on a football field.” Colin Powell’s questions to ask and answer before going to war (including “exit strategy”) make a similar point. Military’s “best and brightest” keep us out of wars.

Recently there were about 200,000 U.S. troops abroad (“lowest in decades”) on 750 bases in 80 countries. Reductions make sense. But when Japan and Germany each have over 30,000, why couldn’t we have left 10,000 in Afghanistan?

Now, like the officers who didn’t intervene to prevent George Floyd’s death, we’re playing “Let’s you and him fight; I’ll hold your coats” with Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. How are those sanctions working for Ukrainians?

We told Putin we wouldn’t fight. Didn’t want WWIII. Especially with nukes. OK, so does that go for NATO nations as well? If you see a bully seriously injuring a kid half his size, do you not intervene unless the victim goes to your school? What if we had put our troops along the Ukrainian border, instead of telling Putin we never will? Would he invade? Go nuclear?

America needs to “study war.”
Nicholas Johnson, former U.S. Maritime Administrator, had shared responsibility for sealift to Vietnam. Contact:


Ain’t gonna study war no more. Down by the Riverside,

Take it from the top. “Take it from the top; idiom,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Military’s “best and brightest” keep us out of wars.

Founders and Declaration of War. “Power to Declare War, Origins & Development: From the Constitution to the Modern House,” United States House of Representatives,

"If America was going to survive as a republic, they reasoned, declarations of war required careful debate in open forums among the public’s representatives.

“there was a growing sense that such monumental responsibility belonged with the legislative branch.”

“Like George Mason of Virginia, the founders felt that war should be difficult to enter, and they expected congressional debate to restrain the war-making process.”

“to declare war against a foreign power is to send their constituents, their neighbors, their family, and even themselves into harm’s way.”

“Congress has not declared war since 1942”

Google search: Federalist Papers AND House of Representatives AND declaration of war

Federalist No. 29, “Concerning the Militia”

William Van Alstyne, “Congress, the President, and the Power to Declare War: A Requiem for Vietnam,” U Penn LRev, vol 121, No 1, Nov 1972, p. 7

Draft creates war opposition; Draft abolished, Selective Service kept. Elliott Ackerman, “Why Bringing Back the Draft Could Stop America’s Forever Wars,” TIME, Oct. 10, 2019, (“Although the draft was abolished in 1973, the Selective Service registration requirement was resumed in 1980 . . ..” “Congress has also taken a renewed interest in the draft, having created in 2016 a bipartisan National Commission on Military, National and Public Service charged with two missions. . . . The second is to ‘explor[e] whether the government should require all Americans to serve in some capacity as part of their civic duty and the duration of that service.’”

Need for additional. “Under the military’s current standards, 71% of Americans ages 17 to 24 do not meet the physical or mental qualifications for military service.” [from Ackerman, TIME]

Military-industrial complex. “Military–industrial complex,”

Corporate warriors. Use of “private military companies” employees. “Private Military Company,” Wikipedia,

Results of Google search: What proportion of fighting forces are corporate employees (like Blackwater)

In Iraq. Peter Singer, The Dark Truth about Blackwater,” Brookings, October 2, 2007, “the private military force in Iraq, which numbers more than 160,000 — at least as many as the total number of uniformed American forces there.”

In Afghanistan. Paul D. Shinkman, “Afghanistan’s Hired Guns,” US News, April 26, 2019, (“More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts, according to the latest report released this month that the military headquarters overseeing Middle East wars compiles for Congress.

“Of the 5,883 security contractors outlined in the latest reports from U.S. Central Command, 2,567 of them are armed private security contractors. . . . The Costs of War project has documented that as many as 2,800 contractors have died in Afghanistan – a figure that often goes unmentioned in public remembrances of the 2,400 U.S. military deaths in that war.

“Services provided by private contractors in this fiscal year amount to approximately $2.3 billion, Babb says.”

Ellen Knickmeyer, “Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars,” AP, August 16, 2021,

Sam Rayburn. “To get along, go along.” RayBURNisms, Margo McCutcheon, “A Rayburnism a Day Keeps the Memory Alive: Sam Rayburn Quotes,” Texas Historical Commission, January 5, 2022,

Lack of public involvement. “In the aftermath of 9/11, there was virtually no serious public debate about a war tax or a draft. Our leaders responded to those attacks by mobilizing our government and military, but when it came to citizens, President George W. Bush said, ‘I have urged our fellow Americans to go about their lives.’” [from Ackerman, TIME]

“If after 9/11 we had implemented a draft and a war tax, it seems doubtful that the millennial generation would’ve abided 18 successive years of their draft numbers being called, or that their boomer parents would’ve abided a higher tax rate to, say, ensure that the Afghan National Army could rely on U.S. troops for one last fighting season in the Hindu Kush. Instead, deficit spending along with an all-volunteer military has given three successive administrations a blank check with which to wage war.

“And wage war they have. Without congressional approval. Without updating the current Authorization for Use of Military Force, which was passed by Congress one week after 9/11. Currently we live in a highly militarized society but one which most of us largely perceive to be “at peace.” This is one of the great counterintuitive realities of the draft. A draft doesn’t increase our militarization. It decreases it.

“A draft places militarism on a leash.

“In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, 42% of Americans didn’t know whether we were still at war in Afghanistan.”

Burden on 1%. “The burden of nearly two decades of war–nearly 7,000 dead and more than 50,000 wounded–has been largely sustained by 1% of our population.” [from Ackerman, TIME]

Number of military actions since WW2. “Major Military Operations Since World War II,”, Updated March 23, 2020, (list of 17)

Increase in Defense budget. Richard Nixon, “Annual Budget Message to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1973,” The American Presidency Project, UCSB, January 24, 1972, (“To provide this assurance, budget authority for Department of Defense research, development, test, and evaluation is being increased $838 million to an all-time high of $8.5 billion in 1973.”)

“Long-Term Costs of the Administration’s 2022 Defense Budget,” Congressional Budget Office, January 11, 2022, (2010 approximately $800 B; request for 2022 $715B)

Inability to audit. Bill Chappell, “The Pentagon Has Never Passed An Audit. Some Senators Want To Change That,” npr, May 19, 2021, (“Despite having trillions of dollars in assets and receiving hundreds of billions in federal dollars annually, the department has never detailed its assets and liabilities in a given year. For the past three financial years, the Defense Department's audit has resulted in a "Disclaimer of Opinion," meaning the auditor didn't get enough accounting records to form an assessment.”)

Npr. waste, fraud and financial mismanagement. (“The Pentagon and the military industrial complex have been plagued by a massive amount of waste, fraud and financial mismanagement for decades. That is absolutely unacceptable," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, along with Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.”)

Don’t do stupid stuff. Matthew Dickinson, “Obama's Michael Brown address: I won't do stupid things,” Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2014,, (Obama is “ a president whose operating mantra is captured in the phrase “don’t do stupid things.”)

NJ’s Vietnam report. Personal experience; report unavailable.

Powell Doctrine. “Powell Doctrine,” Wikipedia,

Military opposition to war. “Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War,” Wikipedia, (“military critics of the [Vietnam] war pointed out that the Vietnam War was political and that the military mission lacked any clear idea of how to achieve its objectives.”)

While the Powell Doctrine cannot be considered “opposition to war” it is clearly a form of opposition to thoughtlessly starting wars; a checklist that, if followed, will often result in thoughtful folks abandoning the creation or participation in one. See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, “Six Step Program for Avoiding War,” November 11, 2014,, Nicholas Johnson, “Thinking About War Before Starting One,” March 20, 2013,

Number of bases. David Vine, “Where in the World Is the U.S. Military?” Politico Magazine, July/August 2015, (“Despite recently closing hundreds of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad—from giant “Little Americas” to small radar facilities. Britain, France and Russia, by contrast, have about 30 foreign bases combined.”)

U.S. troops in other countries. Kirsten Bialik, “U.S. active-duty military presence overseas is at its smallest in decades,” Pew Research Center, August 22, 2017, (Japan, 38,818; Germany, 34,602; South Korea, 24,189)

U.S. bases. Mele Mathieson, “How Many Military Bases Are in the US?” omni, September 3, 2021, (“How many military bases are in the United States?

“According to figures from the Pentagon as well as the Military Analysis Network, the United States has approximately 450 to 500 military bases. All 50 states have at least one base (Wyoming has just two, the largest of which is Francis E. Warren Air Force Base), but several have dozens.”)

Officers not intervening in George Floyd’s death. “Three Former Minneapolis Police Officers Convicted of Federal Civil Rights Violations for Death of George Floyd,” DOJ Office of Public Affairs, February 24, 2022,

Let’s you and him fight. Use as Google search. And, “Let’s you and Him Fight,” tvtropes,

Letter to the Editor

"The U.S. should ‘start studying war,’"
Jerry Smithey
The Gazette, March 28, 2022, p. 5A

Nicholas Johnson nailed it in his recent column: the “brake” in the House to declare war only works “if there is a draft of our youth, from families rich and poor, and [if] members of Congress accept their constitutional duty to debate and declare war (or not).”

Continued all-male draft registration — no active draft — means few Americans have had a personal vested interest in conflicts since Vietnam. Soldiers have either been volunteers or, in effect, mercenaries. That is not to disparage volunteers, but volunteers are very different from draftees. Additionally, most Americans don’t fully understand the economic consequences of war.

Our Congress lacks the intestinal fortitude or honesty to declare war — partly, at least, to avoid being on the record and, conveniently, to blame a president and his/her party, for perceived failures.

Drafted in 1970, I served for two years in the U.S. Army, not in combat, but I observed many disfigured and damaged Vietnam vets. With that perspective, I propose to engage Americans in war decisions by activating the draft, including women and all of a certain age range to serve in some capacity, with virtually no deferments, for a period of two years. Service could be in the military, in schools, hospitals, etc., but the wealthy, friends and children of Draft Board members, and relatives of politicians should not escape public service.

Americans “with a dog in the hunt” will then care about the decisions (or lack of decisions) members of that club called Congress.

Jerry Smithey
Swisher, Iowa

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Saturday, March 12, 2022

Snopes, PolitiFact and Zelensky's Duet

I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to sources and fact checking. Look back over the significant quantity of citations in the "Sources" sections of The Gazette columns reprinted in this blog (and sent with the column copy to The Gazette editors). You'll see what I mean -- though of course sources never appear in the newsprint or digitial paper editions of The Gazette.

March 11, I posted a video on Facebook that I've discovered misled me, and of course those who reacted (42), commented (17), or shared it (65) [as of 3:30 PM this March 12 afternoon]. (It is embedded at the bottom of this page.) [As of March 14, 2045: reactions (50), comments (29), shared (77), views (626).]

When sent to me it was represented to be Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife, Olena, playing and singing together "Endless Love." At that time there was nothing in Snopes (a fact finding Website of which more below) to indicate that was not the case. Subsequently, I came to discover that the artists were not them but rather, "The singer identified as Zelensky is actually lead vocalist Alejandro Manzano, and the woman identified as his wife is actually Connie Talbot."

Rather than take down the Facebook post I've decided to leave it up for the beautiful music it is and the joy it has brought to so many -- along with crediting the actual performers. Of course, if they should object to this posting of their performance, and let me know, I'll be happy to remove it. Under the circumstances, so long as the facts are clear, I cannot see that Zelensky, Zelenska, Manzano, and Talbot are being harmed in any way by its distribution.

But I view the events surrounding this post of sufficient significance to warrant more discussion than would easily fit in a Facebook "comment."

Are Volodymyr Zelensky and Olena Zelenska Professional Musicians?

The short answer is, "I don't know." The longer answer is that the video I put on Facebook appears to, but does not, answer that question.

To the best of my recollection I have never posted to Facebook anything described in ways I knew to be false. Nor did I do so on this occasion. But I feel I should explain some of the reasons why it happened.

(a) The video was sent to me by a friend whose material has never before been questionable. (b) It was creditable. That the extraordinary personality, Zelensky, who had a prior career as an entertainer, would also be a musician seemed totally plausable. (c) Though I was then unfamiliar with his wife's appearance, the man certainly looked like Zelensky to me. (d) I am on guard with allegations that appear designed to harm the reputation of another (often candidates for office). This clearly did not appear to be that -- quite the contrary. (e) At that time, fact-checking source Snopes had published nothing about it. (f) My heart was so heavy with sorrow and empathy for Ukrainians, along with dispair at our permitting the Russians' slaugher of these innocents, and overwhelming admiration for Zelensky's leadership, that I found the thought of he and his wife singing "Everlasting Love" (for each other and their country) so moving that I wanted to share it with other Americans who felt the same way. (g) Once told of the suggestions that the performers were not Zelensky and his wife those assertions needed to be verified. (We are all, in this age of "alternative facts," well aware that what turn out to be true facts are sometimes maligned as "false (or fake) facts.")

To compare the appearance of the two couples, here is a picture of Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska. See the video, at the bottom of this page, to compare them with the actual performers:

We all have a responsibility to check out the stories we pass on to others. A list of fact checking organizations and Web sites can be found here: Bill Adair, "Fake News & Misinformation: How to Spot and Verify," Poynter Institute and St. Louis Community College Libraries, June 16, 2021,

My go-to fact checking site has been Snopes (, of which the article just cited says, "Founded by David Mikkelson, a project begun in 1994 as an expression of his interest in researching urban legends that has since grown into the oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet, one widely regarded by journalists, folklorists, and laypersons alike as one of the world’s essential resources. Read about methodology and rating system at"

As it happened, Snopes had not, as of March 11, reported on this video. I have emailed them about it, and I'm sure they will soon post something. [March 14: Snopes' post can now be found here: ]

Another fact checker, that has already reported about the video, is PoltiFact (, about which the article, above, says: "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida. PolitiFact staffers research statements and rate their accuracy on the Truth-O-Meter, from True to False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get the lowest rating, Pants on Fire").

PolitiFact has this to say about the video:

A video of a couple singing "Endless Love," a 1981 song by Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross, is spreading online with a surprising description: that it shows Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky and his wife. ... But the people in this video aren’t Zelensky, who was an entertainer prior to entering politics, or his wife, Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine. The couple has captured international attention as they have stood defiant and vocal in their resistance to Russia....We searched online for "Endless Love duet covers" and found the video was posted on YouTube two weeks ago by Boyce Avenue, a band from Florida known for their cover songs.The singer identified as Zelensky is actually lead vocalist Alejandro Manzano, and the woman identified as his wife is actually Connie Talbot."

Ciara O'Rourke, "Video shows Volodymr Zelensky singing 'Endless Love' with his wife; No, this isn’t a video of Zelensky singing a Lionel Ritchie song," The Pointer Institute, PolitiFact, March 10, 2022,

Here, then, is the video:

Along with the text with which I introduced it on my Facebook page:
Here is the couple whose lives are most at risk, from a war they did not start, and in which we told Putin we don't want to become involved. Watch the 4-minute video and then tell me if your eyes are still dry and the price of gas is still your greatest concern.

And the text that accompanied the video that I received:
"A crooner before a comedian and commander-in-chief. During this tense and horrifying moments in Ukraine, aside from intense prayer to God, let us listen to Pres Volodymyr Zelensky and wife Olena Zelenska sing 'Endless Love' not only for each other but for their beloved country Ukraine."
# # #

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Supreme Court, Constitution and Democracy

High Court Mystique is Shattered
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, February 16, 2022, p. A7

Who finally decides what is “the law”? The Supreme Court.

Justice Robert Jackson once conceded, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible because we are final.”

Politicizing an impartial Court weakens our democracy.

Imagine as many as 30,000 parts, precisely engineered, manufactured, and delivered. If properly installed and maintained, they can become what you call “my car.”

Our democracy is also a creation of many parts.

At its base are what Alexis de Tocqueville [Democracy in America, 1835] called “associations.” We are volunteers in over a million non-profits and informal gatherings, from union locals and church congregations to clubs for gardening or playing bridge.

Next are the institutions I’ve called the Columns of Democracy, such as public schools and libraries to educate us; independent investigative journalism to inform us; networks from highways to broadband to promote our e pluribus unum; culminating in an expanding electorate and ever easier voting.

Of course, as Columbo might say, “There’s just one more thing.” The judiciary.

Most of our behavior is moderated not by laws but by norms, such as “Iowa nice.” There are norms for resolving most disputes. But occasionally, whether in business or in marriage, we just can’t “work it out.”

One approach used to be the challenge to a duel or some other form of homicide. Or maybe a war.

Another is like fighting siblings going to one or both parents to settle a dispute. We realize we need a resolution and agree to accept the decision of an arbitrator or judge.

And if 94 federal district and 13 appellate courts don’t agree about “the law”? We ask our “parents,” the Supreme Court, to hear our case.

Unlike the politicized executive and legislative branches, the Constitution gives justices life tenure, in part, to create a politically nonpartisan, impartial Court. In selecting which cases to hear, it may reject those turning on a “political question.”

With no access to military force, the Court needs more than finality and impartiality for public acceptance of its infallibility. It needs some mystique.

Like the building.

I served as Justice Hugo Black’s law clerk. My first day my wife needed the car and drove me to work. When she pulled up in front of the Supreme Court, our wide-eyed, disbelieving daughter, Julie, asked incredulously, “Daddy, you work in there?!” (Not incidentally, as I recall, there were no “partisan” conversations among clerks or justices during my year.) [Photo credit: U.S. Supreme Court.]

It’s not just the building’s exterior. There’s also the marble, high ceilings, hallway gates, black robes, the curtain dramatizing justices entrance into an imposing courtroom, the bench well above lawyers and audience, the secret justices-only “conference.”

Now politicians, journalists, public – and even justices’ behavior – are treating the Court’s justices as a third political branch (“liberal,” “conservative”). It’s as if they were throwing rocks, shattering the mystique and grand vision of the Constitution’s drafters.

Who’s left to be infallible? Only authoritarians?
Nicholas Johnson clerked for Justice Hugo Black and is the author of Columns of Democracy. Contact
# # #

Infallible because we are final. Deborah Rhode, “Ethics in Practice: Lawyers’ Roles, Responsibilities, and Regulation,” Oxford University Press, (“An observation by Justice Robert Jackson applies to judges generally: ‘We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible because we are final.’” Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 532, 540 (1953) (Mr. Justice Jackson, concurring). 10. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. Sec. 455; and American Bar Association, Model Code of Judicial Ethics.”)

30,000 car parts. Nicole Wakelin, “How Many Parts Are In A Car?” NAPA Know How Blog, July 2, 2021, (“The exact number of parts in a car varies widely from car to car, but what’s the average? Typically, you can expect that there are about 30,000 parts in your car, from the tiniest nuts and bolts to the engine block.”)

Civic Society. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835)

Steve Hoenisch, “The Relation Between Civic Society and Newspapers in the Writings of Alexis de Tocqueville and Robert Putnam,”,

“Associations Matter,” The Center for Association Leadership, 2012,

Columbo. Columbo, Wikipedia, (“Columbo is an American crime drama television series starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. … He often leaves a room only to return with the catchphrase "Just one more thing" to ask a critical question.”)

Number of federal district and circuit courts. Offices of the United States Attorneys, “Introduction To The Federal Court System,” (“There are 94 district courts, 13 circuit courts, and one Supreme Court throughout the country.”)

“Political Question” Doctrine. “Political Question Doctrine,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, (“Federal courts will refuse to hear a case if they find that it presents a political question. This doctrine refers to the idea that an issue is so politically charged that federal courts, which are typically viewed as the apolitical branch of government, should not hear the issue.”)

Court as Third Political Branch. Jeffrey Rosen, “The Court Loses Its Chief Pragmatist; With the upcoming retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, the country moves into a more ideologically divided future,” The Atlantic, January 26, 2022,

“Public’s Views of Supreme Court Turned More Negative Before News of Breyer’s Retirement; 84% say justices should not bring their political views into decisions,” Pew Research Center, Feb. 2, 2022, (from August 2020 to January 2022, approval of Court dropped from 70% favorable to 54%; lowest in 40 years)

# # #
Additional Related Material Not Used Directly

Today’s court justices: name, BDY, year appointed, home, law school:

Google search: "Supreme Court" AND (political OR politics)

Federalist No. 78 discusses the power of judicial review. It argues that the federal courts have the job of determining whether acts of Congress are constitutional and what must be done if government is faced with the things that are done on the contrary of the Constitution.

Why is Federalist 51 important? Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments.” Madison wrote Federalist 51 to explain how separation of powers with checks and balances protects liberty. Madison borrowed the concept of separation of powers from Montesquieu, a French political philosopher.Sep 6, 2011

Federalist No 81 - The Avalon Project › fed81 The Federalist Papers : No. 81 ... But the errors and usurpations of the Supreme Court of the United States will be uncontrollable and remediless.

Supreme Court of the United States › DocketPDFPDF Jan 31, 2019 — to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ... Madison James, Federalist 47, THE FEDERALIST. PAPERS. 25 pages

ABA’s “landmark cases” -

Lifetime appointments related to non-political decisions - Hamilton's main point in Federalist #78 is that a lifetime appointment will give Federal Justices the ability to work objectively on behalf of the people. If they were to seek reelection, they might act in bad faith in an effort to retain the office. May 1, 2020 Lifetime Appointments for the Court - Federalist #78 - Founder ...

Google search - "Constitutional Convention" 1787 (judges OR "judicial branch" OR judiciary OR "supreme court")

Debate from the Constitutional Convention regarding the function of the judiciary (July 21, 1787) -

See also:

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Sunday, February 06, 2022

It CAN Happen Here

The Republican Party is currently split between followers of former president Donald Trump, and those rejecting Trump – who more closely resemble the Republicans of my days in Washington – men and women who put the preservation of democracy uber alles, above their own reelection and fundraising.

Some Republicans in the latter camp have come together in “The Lincoln Project.” [] “The Lincoln Project is an American political action committee (PAC) formed in late 2019 by former and incumbent Republicans.” [https://en.wikipedia/wiki/The_Lincoln_Project]

One of the Lincoln Project’s undertakings is the production of videos. One, “Bloodlines,” portrays how democracies have – and can again – be transformed into authoritarian states. That video is embedded below where you can watch it.

It is preceded in this blog post with the famous poem, “First They Came” – which will take on even more meaning after you have watched the video.

-- Nicholas Johnson, February 6, 2022

First They Came

German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

"Bloodlines," The Lincoln Project, January 22, 2022

January 6, 2021

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Who Pays?

Who Pays for the Losses from Our "Freedom"?

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 27, 2022, p. A4

As Dad pulled into Uncle Chet’s Iowa farmyard, the first thing I spotted was my older cousin’s shiny, new motorcycle. Would he give me a ride? He proudly obliged. We sped up the dirt farm road to the intersection and back, thankfully without incident.

Once back in Iowa City, I blurted out my overwhelming desire for a motorcycle. Dad didn’t say “no.” He just said I should talk to my friend Russ about it.

“Russ” was Dr. Russell Meyers, University of Iowa chair of neurosurgery and a pioneer of ultrasonic neurosurgery. I just knew him as a friendly guy at my folks’ parties who played boogie-woogie on our living room piano while others swayed.

Dr. Meyers’ described to me the brain surgery he provided motorcycle riders after accidents. I never again rode a motorcycle.

Years later I watched such an accident. Two students, the man navigating, the woman clutching him, without helmets or protective clothing, were speeding south on Riverside Drive. He lost control, and they went screaming down the road on bare skin.

They were exercising their “freedom,” like others today who refused COVID vaccination, and are now filling overcrowded hospitals or among the 850,000 dead.

My question, for this column, is: How should the cost of their care (or a lifetime of disability payments) be allocated?

Those causing another’s loss pay for it. Borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, break it, and the civilized norm is what Thomas Friedman applied to the U.S. in Iraq: “the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it.” You pay for the lawnmower repairs.

This norm is also the law in many contexts. To have known, or ought to have known, that your actions could result in someone’s death can give rise to a criminal charge of manslaughter, or civil liability for wrongful death.

Why should the same principles not apply to someone who causes economic losses to others by negligently doing harm to oneself? Let’s say, motorcycling without a helmet, extreme sports like wingsuit flying and solo climbing without a safety rope – or refusing a COVID vaccination? [Photo credit: Wikimedia, Creative Commons 3.0]

For the sake of argument, let’s grant such folks the “freedom” to do these things. Most of us don’t like to hear about or see anyone suffer severe pain, injury or death. But these individuals have only themselves to blame. What harm have they done to us?

Plenty, as it turns out. The extra costs and stress on first responders and health workers at the time of the incident. If the person survives, the continuing, and perhaps lifetime, costs of treatment and disability payments. If they die, the costs of funerals and burial.

If the individual was supporting dependents, the dependents have lost her or his future earnings (a major item in wrongful death cases) and suffer emotional distress.

And all of us have lost what the person might have contributed: their skilled workmanship, start-up businesses, inventions, cures, sense of humor.

Solutions? Start by acknowledging their “freedom” isn’t free. Others are paying for it.

Nicholas Johnson is the former co-director of the Iowa Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy. Contact:


First motorcycle ride. Recollection of personal experience; no recorded source.

Dr. Russell Meyers. Taylor J. Abel MD1, Timothy Walch PhD1, and Matthew A. Howard III MD1, “Russell Meyers (1905–1999): pioneer of functional and ultrasonic neurosurgery,” Journal of Neurosurgery, v. 125, Issue 6, pp. 1589-1595, Dec. 2016,

Students’ accident. Recollection of personal experience; no recorded source found.

850,000 dead. CDC, “COVID Data Tracker,” (last visited Jan 19, 2022)

Friedman’s “pottery store rule.” Thomas L. Friedman, “Present at … What?” New York Times, Feb. 12, 2003, (“The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq -- and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation.”)

Manslaughter. “Manslaughter,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, (“Involuntary manslaughter is negligently causing the death of another person.”)

Wrongful death. “Wrongful Death Action,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, (“A civil action against someone who can be held liable for a death.”)

Extreme sports. “Extreme Sport,” Wikipedia, (“Action sports, adventure sports or extreme sports are activities perceived as involving a high degree of risk. These activities often involve speed, height, a high level of physical exertion and highly specialized gear.”)

Rachel Brown, “41 Extreme Sports Listed from Intense to INSANE!” Active Cities, no date, (40. Wingsuit Flying, 41. Solo Climbing (without safety rope))

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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Doing Well By Doing Good

Doing Well By Addressing The Poor
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, January 18, 2022, p. A6

I asked Senator Hubert Humphrey what he told newly elected senators. He said, “I tell ‘em they have to work four years for the Lord and then two years to get re-elected.”

There may never be another Hubert Humphrey, but there are officials who agree. Some may be responding to Jesus’ admonition we provide “the least of these” with food, water, shelter, clothing, health care – and prison visits (Matthew 25). Some acquire similar values from a different path.

Of course, others focus only on reelection -- pleasing major donors and party leadership.

Economics is not an exact science.

President Harry Truman’s assistant, Dr. John Steelman, described the President’s reaction to an economist providing “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” advice. When the economist left the oval office, Truman asked Steelman, “John, do you think you could find me a one-armed economist?”

That there are no “one-armed economists” is not because they are lacking in courage or knowledge. It is, as Harvard’s Alan Wang put it, “due to the inherently unpredictable sphere of study in which economics operates.”

“Greed – for lack of a better word – is good,” said Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, in the movie “Wall Street.” Milton Friedman established the precedent with his assertion that “businesses serve society best when they abandon talk of ‘social responsibilities’ and solely maximize returns for shareholders.”

It’s hard to make social progress without support from the “greed is good” crowd.

Fortunately, there’s a small group who see the selfish interests for all, including billionaires, from a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” They prosper “doing well by doing good,” aware that shortsighted greed can lead to shooting oneself in the pocketbook.

To boost an economy, 70 percent of which is driven by consumer spending, consumers need money. Cutting taxes for the wealthy may increase sales of private planes and yachts but doesn’t do much for our Gross Domestic Product.

The futility of the “trickle down” theory was best explained by Harvard economist Ken Galbraith: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”
• Iowa has a skilled workforce shortage. Community colleges create skilled workers. Many high school grads can’t afford tuition. Iowa’s businesses don’t want to train them. If greed is good, why don’t businesses force the legislature to provide free community college for all? They’d get their skilled workers – and shift the cost to taxpayers. [Photo credit: Kirkwood Community College,]

• Employee healthcare creates both hassle and huge costs for business. A universal single payer system would eliminate both – and give taxpayers the bill.

• Self-described plutocrat Nick Hanauer makes a similarly persuasive case for a $15 minimum wage, citing Seattle’s experience. That way those who work in restaurants can afford to eat in them. Everyone benefits, including the plutocrats – according to the 135 economists who agree.

Iowa legislators, how about putting in at least one year for the Lord? If greed is good, suppressing the poor makes neither dollars nor sense.
Nicholas Johnson is the author of What Do You Mean and How Do You Know? Contact:

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“Four years for the Lord.” This is my memory from a personal conversation between only the two of us that does not seem to have been recorded anywhere else.

“Matthew 25.” Bible, King James Version, Bible Gateway,

President Truman, one-armed economist. “Quote Investigator,”

Alan Wang, “unpredictable sphere of study.” Alan Y. Wang, “No, Economics Is Not a Science,” Harvard Crimson, Dec. 13, 2013,

“Greed is good.” “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (movie), 1987. (a 2:05 clip from the movie “Wall Street” containing this quote)

“His point . . . was that businesses serve society best when they abandon talk of ‘social responsibilities’ and solely maximize returns for shareholders.” Richard Holden, “Vital Signs: 50 years ago Milton Friedman told us greed was good. He was half right,” The Conversation, Hoover Institution, Sept. 17, 2020,

GDP & consumer spending. Kimberly Amadeo, “Components of GDP Explained,” The Balance, June 26, 2020, (“Consumer spending comprises 70% of GDP.”)

Galbraith’s sparrows. John Kenneth Galbraith, “Recession Economics,” The New York Review, Feb. 4, 1982, (“If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”)

Workforce. Erin Murphy and James Q. Lynch, “Iowa lawmakers agree on need for workers — but not how to get them,” The Gazette, Jan. 10, 2022,

Minimum wage. Nick Hanauer.

Molly Ball, “A Plutocrat’s Case for Raising the Minimum Wage,” The Atlantic, Jan/Feb 2016,

Google search phrase: economists who believe raising minimum wage helps economy (“stimulate consumer demand, business activity, and job growth”) -- with list of 135 names

Minimum wage is about to rise in 21 states, 35 localities as more › story › money › 2021/12/20 Google search phrase: which cities or states have a $15 minimum wage

$7.25 The minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25. This is the same as the federal minimum wage, which has not changed since July 2009. Iowa is one of 21 states that follow the federal minimum wage. Mar 9, 2021 Google search: what is minimum wage iowa

What You Need to Know About Iowa's Minimum Wage – Square › guide-to-iowa-minimum-wage

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