Tuesday, November 21, 2023

What Do We Want?

What Do We Want America to Become?
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, November 21, 2023, p. A5

There are ways to extract ourselves from the Chaos Caucus and its wannabe authoritarian presidential candidate. But extractions are never painless.

As I was growing up, Republican presidents and candidates had names like Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George Bush and John McCain – and Iowa’s Herbert Hoover.

Each was, or became, aware of the essential norms and skills for governing: respect and civility (even friendship), cooperation, negotiation, and compromise.

“Insurrection” was not in their vocabulary. They accepted lost elections and generally wished the winner well.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” I hear you say, in chorus with Speaker Tip O’Neil’s one-time top aide Chris Matthews. (Those were days when the Speaker and President Reagan got along as friends -- “after 6:00 p.m.”)

OK, then. Here’s our companion challenge.

Step one. What do we want our America to be? We’ve been walking backwards through the legislative process, never defining our destination. No wonder we never reach it.

Do we want a country based on Gordon Gekko’s assertion that “greed is good” because “it’s all about the money”? A game in which whoever dies with the most toys wins? Major banks prospering by cheating customers?

Universities that charge students $23,580 for tuition, board and room, and then add 11 mandatory fees (with two for the student union) – plus $150 to watch their fellow “student-athletes” play football? A medical bill for a brief visit with the item, “Miscellaneous $2,000”? We can handle a little extra charge for an auto mechanic’s “rags,” but $2,000 worth of “miscellaneous”?!

What’s greed bought us? America’s ranking is worse than its peer nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, pregnant teens, obesity, heart and lung disease, affordable prescriptions – and happiness.

All of us who are not Native Americans have immigrants among our ancestors. Do we share their dreams today? Share what made my grandfather’s eyes wet up when he sang “God Bless America”?

Share our Declaration of Independence assertion “that all (persons) are created equal, . . . endowed with unalienable rights (of) life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”? Share the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights' inclusion of “the right to . . . food, clothing, housing and medical care”? Share Jesus' command in Matthew 25 that we provide food, water, clothes, health care and shelter to those in need?

The destination choice is step one.
[Photo Source: League of Women Voters. If this photo is copyright and the LWV wants me to take down it, along with reference to the organization, just email mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org .]

Step two is abandoning knee-jerk, discussion-ending labels such as “capitalism” and “socialism.” Address instead, “what are the goods, services and personnel necessary to create what we want America to be?”

Step three doesn’t start with a House appropriations bill. It starts with listing needed resources – and their availability. The economic impact of individuals’ and organizations’ volunteer services are estimated at billions of dollars (exceeding federal programs’ cost to taxpayers). Non-profit organizations. Schools and colleges. Public spirited businesses. Creative cost savings. And, yes, governments’ contributions.

It may not be the total solution to the Chaos Caucus, but it’s three steps closer to a destination we first need to define.

Like Robert Kennedy, Nicholas Johnson “dreams of things that never were, and asks why not?” Contact mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

Chaos Caucus

Example of use: Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, “Newsweek: Why the Republican Chaos Caucus and Its Government Shutdown Should Make You Mad,” Newsweek, Sep. 22, 2023, https://kuster.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5623

Wannabe authoritarian candidate

Examples of use: Michael Gerson, “Trump is an authoritarian wannabe. He must never hold power again,” The Washington Post, Dec. 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-an-authoritarian-wannabe-he-must-never-hold-power-again/2020/12/21/30164bd6-43d0-11eb-975c-d17b8815a66d_story.html

Republican presidents and candidates

“List of United States Republican Party presidential tickets,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Republican_Party_presidential_tickets

Presidential norms and skills

David Montgomery, “The Abnormal Presidency; Trump dramatically changed the presidency. Here’s a list of the 20 most important norms he broke — and how Biden can restore them,” The Washington Post, Nov. 10, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/lifestyle/magazine/trump-presidential-norm-breaking-list/ (“To a remarkable extent, the presidency is shaped by unwritten traditions and expectations that historians and political scientists call “norms” — what political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt call the “soft guardrails” of American democracy.” For examples from the list of 20 norms here are the first three: “1 - Personally profiting from official business;” 2 - Not releasing tax returns;” and “3 - Refusing oversight”)

Steve Rubenzer, " What Makes a Good President? Psychologists assess the personality of every president in American history," American Psychological Association, Aug. 2000, https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/08/presidents

"Insurrection" - January 6, 2021 - 14th Amendment

“The Constitution: Amendments 11-27,” America’s Founding Documents, National Archives,” Amendment XIV, Section 3, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27 (“Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”)

“January 6 United States Capitol Attack,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_6_United_States_Capitol_attack (“January 6 United States Capitol Attack,” “Methods: Demonstration; Right-wing terrorism; Civil disorder: rioting, vandalism, looting, assault, attempted bombing; Political subversion: propaganda (big lie),[10] conspiracy,[11][12] intimidation,[13] Incitement of insurrection, obstruction of official proceedings,[14] attacking a legislature”)

Acceptance of lost elections

Amy McKeever, “No modern presidential candidate has refused to concede. Here’s why that matters; The formal concession speech has played a vital role in even the most divisive U.S. elections, from the Civil War to Bush v. Gore,” History & Culture/News, National Geographic, Nov. 8, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/no-modern-presidential-candidate-refused-to-concede-heres-why-that-matters (“As Democrat Joe Biden led in the vote count, Trump indicated that he wouldn't concede defeat in the 2020 presidential election.” “Even though Joe Biden has secured enough votes to become president-elect of the United States, President Donald Trump has given every indication that he won’t accept the result as fair. Trump also has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

Both moves would be historical firsts if Trump refuses to concede even after all legal challenges are resolved. U.S. history has seen a handful of bitterly contested elections, most recently in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore called Republican George W. Bush to concede in the early hours after election night—only to call back and retract his concession when the race unexpectedly tightened up. While their first conversation was congenial, the second was tense, with Gore famously telling Bush, “You don’t have to get snippy about this.”

No presidential candidate has ever refused to concede defeat once all the votes were counted and legal challenges resolved.”)

Speaker Tip O'Neil

“Tip O’Neil,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tip_O%27Neill (“[O’Neil] was an American Democratic Party politician from Massachusetts who served as the 47th speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987, the third-longest tenure in history and the longest uninterrupted tenure. He represented northern Boston in the House from 1953 to 1987.

Chris Matthews

“Chris Matthews,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Matthews (“Matthews hosted his weeknight hour-long talk show, Hardball with Chris Matthews, on America's Talking and later on MSNBC, from 1997 until March 2, 2020. . . . Matthews was a presidential speechwriter during the Carter Administration, and later worked for six years as Chief of Staff to longtime Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O'Neill, playing a direct role in many key political battles with the Reagan Administration.”)

O'Neil-Reagan relationship

“Tip O’Neil,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tip_O%27Neill (“Privately, O'Neill and Reagan were always on cordial terms, or, as Reagan wrote in his memoirs, they were friends "after 6 p.m.". In that same memoir, when questioned by Reagan regarding a personal attack against the president that had made the paper, O'Neill explained that "before 6 p.m. it's all politics".[20])

Gordon Gekko - "Greed is good"

“American Rhetoric: Movie Speech; ‘Wall Street’ (1987),” American Rhetoric Movie Speeches, https://www.americanrhetoric.com/MovieSpeeches/moviespeechwallstreet.html (“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, 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. And greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”)

“Wall Street (1987 film), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_Street_(1987_film) (“The film tells the story of Bud Fox (C. Sheen), a young stockbroker who becomes involved with Gordon Gekko (Douglas), a wealthy, unscrupulous corporate raider. . . . The film was well received among major film critics. Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and the film has come to be seen as the archetypal portrayal of 1980s excess, with Douglas' character declaring that "greed, for lack of a better word, is good."”)

It's all about the money

I thought this was just an expression I used from time to time when institutions or individuals made decisions that seemed, from the outside, to ignore morality and caring, and accepting “enough” as enough; instead, putting additional profit as a goal above all others.

When I searched Google with the phrase, just on the off chance, I discovered there is actually a song with those words and my meaning. Here are the first lines.

Meja, “All ‘Bout the Money,” Genius, https://genius.com/Meja-all-bout-the-money-lyrics (“Sometimes I find another world Inside my mind When I realize The crazy things we do It makes me feel ashamed to be alive It makes me wanna run away and hide

It's all 'bout the money It's all 'bout the dum dum da da dum dum I don't think It's funny To see us fade away It's all 'bout the money It's all 'bout the dum dum da da dum dum And I think we got it all wrong anyway”)

Dies with the most toys

“The Most Toys,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Most_Toys (“The Most Toys" is the 22nd episode of the third season of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the 70th episode of the series overall. . . . The episode's title comes from a popular saying found on bumper stickers and T-shirts in the 1980s which read, "He who dies with the most toys wins."[2] The quote was originally attributed to flamboyant millionaire Malcolm Forbes.”)

Banks cheating customers

George Morcroft, “Wells Fargo Paying $3.7 Billion For Cheating Clients and Trashing Credit Histories,” Nasdaq, Dec. 21, 2022, https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/wells-fargo-paying-$3.7-billion-for-cheating-clients-and-trashing-credit-histories (“Wells Fargo & Company (US:WFC) and its subsidiary, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., said Tuesday that it agreed to pay $3.7 billion to resolve potential criminal and civil liability for behavior from 2002 to 2016 in which they pressured employees to meet unrealistic sales goals, which led to employees creating false accounts or selling products under false pretenses, often by creating false records or misusing customers' identities. Wells Fargo admitted that it collected millions of dollars in fees and interest to which it was not entitled, harmed the credit ratings of certain customers, and unlawfully misused customers' sensitive personal information, including their means of identification. The settlement includes a three year deferred prosecution agreement that compels Wells to abide by certain conditions, including continuing to cooperate with government investigations and implementing reforms. The settlement also requires Wells Fargo to pay a $500 million civil penalty to the SEC and to reform its business practices.”)

Universities' tuition

“The Office of Student Financial Aid; Undergraduate Cost for 2023-2024,” Iowa, https://financialaid.uiowa.edu/cost/undergraduate ($10,964, resident; $32,927, non-resident; Housing & Food $12,616) -- "Students who are in their first semester at the University of Iowa should add $250 (Records and Documents Fee) to the Tuition & Fees amount.”)

Universities' mandatory fees

“Mandatory Fees,” Office of the Registrar, Iowa, https://registrar.uiowa.edu/mandatory-fees (“Students enrolled at the University of Iowa are assessed . . . mandatory fees that help pay for the facilities and services available to them. Mandatory fees are not based on an individual’s use of facilities or services.” The list includes, “Technology Fee | Student Activity, Student Services, Student Union Fees | Building Fee | Recreation Facility Fee | Arts and Cultural Events Fee | Career Services Fee | Student Health Fee | Mental Health Fee | IMU Facilities Fee (New Fall 2023) | Professional Enhancement Fee |”

“Tuition & Fees Fall 2023,” Iowa, Liberal Arts & Sciences, Undergraduate Resident, Fees per semester,” https://tuition.ais.its.uiowa.edu/rates (12 fees (see above) totaling $5,482.00)

In addition to the “mandatory fees” there is a list of over 100 fees (ranging from $15 to $55,000) charged for individual programs, “2023-24 Common and Program Specific Fees,” Office of the Registrar, University of Iowa, https://registrar.uiowa.edu/2023-24-common-and-program-specific-fees

$150 - students' football fee

“Student Football, Basketball Tickets Now on Sale,” May 4, 2020, https://hawkeyesports.com/news/2020/05/04/student-football-basketball-tickets-now-on-sale (“Student season tickets for University of Iowa 2020 football and 2020-21 men’s basketball will go on sale Tuesday, May 5, at 9 a.m. (CT). University of Iowa students can purchase season tickets for the seven home football games for $150. Men’s basketball season tickets are $75. The men’s basketball schedule will be released this summer. All University of Iowa students currently enrolled for the fall semester can purchase season tickets at Hawkeyesports.com/student tickets.”)

Christina Gough, “Revenue of the NCAA from television broadcast payments and licensing rights from 2012 to 2027,” Statista, March 23, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/219608/ncaa-revenue-from-television-rights-agreement/ (chart shows it going from $666M in 2012 to the 2023 to 2027 contracts producing $873M, (2023), $873, $995, $1,020, and $1,050 in 2027” - $1 Billion!)

Felix Richter, “ U.S. College Sports Are a Billion-Dollar Game,” Statista, July 2, 2021, https://www.statista.com/chart/25236/ncaa-athletic-department-revenue/ (“Universities collectively generate billions of dollars from TV deals, sponsorships and ticket sales with total revenue generated by NCAA athletic departments in 2019 adding up to $18.9 billion.”)

“The Economics of College Sports: How Does College Football Make Money?” The Citadel, July 30, 2018, https://today.citadel.edu/economics-college-sports-college-football-make-money/ (“The answer varies depending on the team, but the answer is that the top 24 teams in at Universities in the US can gross their athletic department over $100 million per season. . . . The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) reported that over $1 billion worth of football tickets were sold between September 2016 and August of 2017 alone. . . . the average football ticket to a top Division I game runs between $100 and $450 depending on what game you want to go see. Considering the average NFL ticket runs around $90, it’s easy to see how these universities make millions off of sold-out games alone.”)

"Miscellaneous: $2000"

I can provide the details, if needed (name of hospital, reason for visit, possible dates), and with considerable searching perhaps a copy of the bill, but I would rather not reveal the former and cannot now put my hands on the latter.

America's ranking - health issues

“U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health,” National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK154469/ (“The United States is among the wealthiest nations in the world, but it is far from the healthiest. Although life expectancy and survival rates in the United States have improved dramatically over the past century, Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries.” Includes list of 9 measures.)

America's ranking - prescriptions' costs

“How Much Does the United States Spend on Prescription Drugs Compared to Other Countries?” Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Nov. 7, 2022, https://www.pgpf.org/blog/2022/11/how-much-does-the-united-states-spend-on-prescription-drugs-compared-to-other-countries (“According to a 2021 study by the RAND Corporation, a non-profit global policy think tank, prices of prescription drugs in the U.S. are 2.4 times higher than the average prices of nine other nations (Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom). That higher cost is largely related to brand-name drugs, which are 4.9 times more expensive in the U.S. than in those countries. In fact, brand-name drugs are responsible for 84 percent of total drug costs in the United States despite accounting for only 8 percent of drugs dispensed.”)

America's ranking - happiness index

Gianna Melilo, “US inches up to 15th on list of happiest countries; The United States worked its way up the list as several countries fell in rankings,” Changing America, The Hill, March 20, 2023, . https://thehill.com/changing-america/well-being/mental-health/3908922-us-inches-up-to-15th-on-list-of-happiest-countries/

“Happiest Countries in the World 2023,” World Population Review, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/happiest-countries-in-the-world

Americans' ancestors as immigrants

Michael Ham, Quora, 2018, “What percent of Americans are descended from immigrants, and who exactly counts as immigrants?” https://www.quora.com/What-percent-of-Americans-are-descended-from-immigrants-and-who-exactly-counts-as-immigrants (“All Americans are descended from immigrants, speaking broadly, since Homo sapiens did not arise in the Americas. But if you’re distinguishing Native Americans from others, then a search shows that 98% of Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. 5.4 million is the nation's population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race. They made up about 2 percent of the total population in 2014.”) Both sets of my grandparents were immigrants.

Grandfather and "God Bless America"

My mother’s father, born in 1875, came from Germany alone as a teenager. He was very proud and grateful to be an American citizen and served for many years in the Iowa Legislature. Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” history and lyrics can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Bless_America

Declaration of Independence

“Declaration of Independence: A Transcription,” National Archives, July 4, 1776, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . ..”)

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights (“Article 25 (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” And others. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.”)

Matthew 25

"Matthew 25:35-40," English Standard Version 2016 (ESV), https://www.bible.com/bible/compare/MAT.25.35-40 ("For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

Economic impact of volunteers

“Making volunteer work visible: supplementary measures of work in labor force statistics,” Monthly Labor Review, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2020, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2020/article/making-volunteer-work-visible-supplementary-measures-of-work-in-labor-force-statistics.htm (“The Alzheimer’s Association notes that 18.4 billion hours of care annually, valued at $232 billion, are provided by family and other unpaid caregivers.50 In addition, the American Time Use Survey shows that each year 41.3 million people provide unpaid care to people ages 65 and over.51 According to an estimate prepared for the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report by the United Nations, 70 percent of global volunteer activity occurs through direct person-to-person engagement, while 30 percent takes place formally through organizations.52.”)

Federal program - volunteers' value exceeds budget from taxes

“The Economic Value of Volunteers; Key Results from ACL [Administration for Community Living] Programs,” https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/programs/2021-09/ACL%20Volunteerism%20Study_Infographic%20August%202021.pdf (“The value provided by OAA Title III AAA volunteers exceeded federal funding for the program.” $1.7 billion vs. $1.49 billion)

Decisions Must Come Before Taxes

Nicholas Johnson, “Decisions Must Come Before Taxes,” The Gazette, Jan. 3, 2018, https://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2017/12/taxes-are-last-step-not-first.html

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