Dobbs's Slap at Nebraska's History

June, 2022

Lincoln — We celebrate, with good reason, Nebraska's history and tradition in shaping our nation's laws.  The Standing Bear and Meyer v. Nebraska cases are landmarks of civil rights.  Lincolnite Roscoe Pound, as a young University of Nebraska law professor at the beginning of the 20th Century, shook the legal world with his theories of jurisprudence.  His ecological and sociological approach to Constitutional interpretation found its way into countless federal court decisions.  When he retired as the dean of the Harvard Law School, he was among the world's most respected jurists.  Both Standing Bear and Roscoe Pound are in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.  

The Dobbs decision consigns all this to the dustbin of history.  It repeatedly slaps the face of those of us in Nebraska who still treasure our legacy.  In arguing that a civil right is not a right at all if it was not enumerated or understood to be a right at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the Dobbs court suggests Standing Bear is not a man and Meyer has no right to teach a foreign language. 

The dissenting justices in Dobbs are disappointing in that they argue too much legal history and too little that the law has a greater purpose, in a Poundian sense, which is the role of law in creating a civil society.  The dissenters make a mistake in tacitly playing by the rules the Dobbs historicists are trying to impose over Constitutional interpretation.   Rather than picking at historical inconsistencies in the majority opinion, the dissenters should have frontally attacked the whole premise of so-called originalism.  Question: should the Nebraska legislature, if called into session by the governor to respond to Dobbs, exempt the indigenous population, from the moment of conception onward, because of how we viewed Standing Bear in 1868?  Under the Dobbs court's logic, yes.  Standing Bear had no rights in 1868.  

Should we also replace the new Standing Bear statue in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol, and rethink how we are naming state buildings and public schools?  No.  Better to dial back the originalist majority on the court than to live with its bizarre legal decisions.      

If Governor Ricketts calls the Nebraska legislature into session in reaction to Dobbs, the best thing it could do would be to make an appropriation to purchase copies of two books to be placed on the desks of each Supreme Court justice, dissenters included.  One is philosopher Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism.  Popper would not look kindly on the idea that the conditions of 1868 could even be determined, let alone serve as guidance in a changing world. 

The discovery of instances which confirm a theory means very little if we have not tried, and failed, to discover refutations. For if we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmation, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favour of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted.

[T]he historicist ... firmly believes in his favorite trend, and conditions under which it would disappear to him are unthinkable. The poverty of historicism, we might say, is a poverty of imagination.  ― Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

The other book is Roscoe Pound's Introduction to the Philosophy of Law, summarized here.  Pound developed his theory of ecological jurisprudence based on his scientific study of botany and ecology on Nebraska prairies.  He would have given little weight to 1868 thinking, but every consideration to the sociology of the Dobbs decision in 2022.   

In studying his predecessors Pound saw that all the nineteenth century schools were subject to the common criticism of attempting to construct a science of law solely in terms of law and on the basis of law, divorced from all other phenomena of social control and civilization.  For him a legal science, in order to meet the needs of a changing society, must give up its exclusiveness and work in closer association with the other social sciences.... The social purposes of law must be stressed more than the sanctions, for law is to be regarded as a social institution which can be improved by intelligent effort. To discover the best means of directing and furthering efforts to improve the law, the jurist must be concerned with a wide range of studies, and not just of law. This requires a study of the actual effects of legal institutions and doctrines; a study of the means of making legal rules effective; a sociological legal history, which is a study not only of how doctrines have evolved and developed, considered solely as jural materials, but of what social effects the doctrines of law have produced in the past and how they produce them. ... The functional attitude, which is the study not only of what legal materials are and how they came to be, but also of what they aim to effect and how they work, is fundamental in Pound's legal theory. Also, there must necessarily be intensive study of philosophy and psychology; in order for a legal science to be valuable it must be consistent with the best of modem philosophy and psychology.  — Linus J. McManaman, O.S.B.,  The Legal Philosophy of Roscoe Pound [emphasis added]

There is one, and probably only one, point in the majority opinion with which I agree.  It is the observation that the dissenting justices did not cite any scholarly treatise to justify their position on what was in the minds of citizens in 1868.  They should have offered several, including some that challenged the very idea that the such a determination could ever be made, let alone that it could be dispositive.  

Ricketts' Attacks on Nebraskans' Freedoms

"The freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins."  — Old proverb

"The freedom to swing my fist ends where my money and I say it does."  — Paraphrase of the eight-year tenure of Pete Ricketts, Nebraska governor

June, 2022

Lincoln — When it comes to freedoms, Governor Pete Ricketts has bloodied many noses.  His years of mis-rule have rolled back Nebraskans' very freedoms to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Nebraska has lost all resemblance to what we once called The Good Life.   

•  In spreading Covid by refusing to shut down infected packinghouses, then coddling the Typhoid Marys among us over the use of masks, Ricketts endangered Nebraskans' health and welfare.  He refused take the advice of University Medical Center professionals, who had to work around him to try to stop the pandemic.  As many as one-third of Nebraska's Covid deaths were avoidable.  This is the ultimate loss of freedom.

•  In refusing to acknowledge that at least some pregnancies should be terminated for moral, ethical, and medical reasons, a position supported by a wide majority of Nebraskans, Ricketts condemns many families to needless despair.  Government control over such decisions is not countenanced by the Constitution and represents a profound loss of individual freedom, including the freedom to make deeply personal choices in accordance with one's own faith and conscience.    

•  In adopting the mistaken and extreme view that the Second Amendment prohibits the regulation of weapons of war, Ricketts promotes a vision of Nebraska as a fearful, armed camp.  As this view gains currency — it was anathema not long ago, especially among those of us with military experience — it diminishes Nebraskans' freedom from fear. 

•  In aligning himself with those who covet Nebraska's lands and natural resources, Ricketts proposes to curtail landowners' freedom to protect their properties through conservation easements.  While taking away property rights from some, he would use the power of the state to exercise eminent domain over others, including takings for private interests.  

•  In attempting to dictate what can and cannot be taught in the public schools, and what public health measures can and cannot be implemented by county and city health departments, Ricketts limits speech and rolls back the freedoms associated with local self-government in matters of education and health.  

•  By refusing to accept federal funds for needy Nebraskans, Ricketts denies thousands the chance for  freedom from want, in perilous times.  These funds were intended by Congress to help struggling families with rent and food.    

•  By neglecting his duties to administer state agencies in a manner to protect public safety, public welfare, and natural resources, Ricketts has presided over a long and dismal list of procurement scandals (St. Francis), penitentiary mismanagement (all sites), drug-evidence thefts (at the State Patrol), privatization failures (state foster care system), financial audits (rebukes from the State Auditor), and an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions (Alt-En at Mead).  Rather than facing the state's problems squarely, Ricketts has established a pay-to-play approach in state government by accepting political contributions from state contractors and regulated industries.  This was perhaps to be expected from a man who had no previous experience in government or the military. 

•  In making large, unprecedented political contributions himself to candidates for the state legislature, which under Nebraska law is to be nonpartisan and exercise oversight over the executive branch, Ricketts has interfered with the checks and balances that Nebraskans depend on to protect their freedoms.  

Everywhere one looks in Nebraska state government, freedoms are being lost.  It's time to bring back the old proverb and to defend freedoms from those who would swing their fists into our faces. It's time to look again at the Declaration of Independence and to the Four Freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  Palpable loss of freedoms must be a central issue in all upcoming 2022 elections, but especially in the race for Nebraska governor.  





Discovered Deposition Answers Student Loan Questions

June, 2022

Washington — It's been nearly a year since PHEAA announced its departure from federal student loan servicing.  The occasion was summed up well on July 9, 2021, by consumer advocates who celebrated the news but warned of turmoil and difficult challenges ahead for the U.S. Department of Education:

For over a decade, PHEAA made clear that it could not be counted on to deliver borrowers quality servicing or comply with the law. The organization’s exit from federal student loan servicing provides an opportunity for ED to turn the page and enter a new chapter of consumer protection on behalf of millions of student loan borrowers. But doing so will require providing borrowers justice for existing harms, preventing new errors from arising as PHEAA’s loans are passed on to new servicers, demanding transparency at every point in the transition process, and vigilantly watching for mistakes that this transfer reveals or causes. 

All this is sadly true.  To use the authors' words, let's start meeting the challenges with demanding transparency about what happened well over a decade ago as a part of the effort to enter a new chapter of consumer protection.  

The U.S. Department of Education knew as early as 2002 that PHEAA might not be a law-abiding federal contractor when an astute federal employee in Texas, Jerry Wallace, discovered approximately $50 million in what he considered to be questionable federal subsidy claims generated by PHEAA loan servicing software.  After consulting with a colleague in Washington, DC, who concurred, he wrote up a report that the money should be returned.  

What happened next has long been a matter of conjecture, because the money was never returned.  Why not and on whose orders?  Not only was the money never returned, PHEAA and others started to grow the false claims in much larger amounts.

The answers lie in a deposition given under oath by Jerry Wallace in 2010.  I discovered a summary of his deposition among papers released this year by those who conducted it.

According to the deposition, after a year of back-and-forth between Texas and Washington, the Wallace draft was amended to take out any reference that the funds should be returned.  Along the way the language "went from finding, to observation, to note of interest" with "no discussion of growth in the note of interest."  

Wallace testified that this was the only report he had ever seen where this happened.  The potential for "unlimited growth" that "could add up to some real money if all the secondary markets were to start manipulating the system" was not addressed.  Texas-based officials "got no explanation of how it was legal."

As to who was behind quashing the original report, Wallace says "there was discussion between Sally Stroup and Kristie Hanson" in Washington.  Stroup, a former PHEAA employee whose emails show frequent exchanges with PHEAA's lobbyist, Scott Miller, was Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education; Hanson was an appointed official in the office of Federal Student Aid. "Conversation between Hanson and Stroup was conveyed back" to Texas officials to make the changes.

Now we know.  

Dr. Earl Crisp, head of the federal regional office in Texas at the time, always declined to say from whom he was taking orders to withdraw the Wallace findings, and to explain why he did not stand up for the rule of law when pressed to violate it.  Wallace says in his deposition that he wrote the report so Crisp could understand it, and its implications, so he would know what was at stake.    

When I first saw the original Wallace report in 2004, I recognized it as a model of clarity, compelling in its conclusions.  Wallace's work was later validated in subsequent audits of secondary markets by the Inspector General, which became the basis in 2007 for a determination by the Secretary that PHEAA's and others' manipulation of the loan system was, and had always been, illegal.

But PHEAA never suffered any consequences for this at the hands of the Department of Education, which helps explain why it has continued its bad behavior with calamitous outcomes for borrowers as well as taxpayers.  And no Department of Education officials have ever been investigated for their roles in this or similar scandals, to my knowledge, despite overwhelming evidence that they colluded with perpetrators, actively or passively.  

Is it a surprise that PHEAA went on to be a loan servicer that has cheated countless borrowers out of their benefits and, perhaps more than any other servicer, thrown the nation's whole student loan operation into chaos?  No.  The warning signs were apparent for years.  I have reviewed PHEAA loan servicing in the period 2013-2022 and find it likewise full of misrepresentation and deception.  (Which I hope to describe more fully in a future blog post.)

As the Department of Education in 2022 tries to make sense of how to move ahead, it must consider suspensions, debarments, and other actions against those who brought the student loan system to its knees and who continue to do so.   



The Casual Acceptance of Fraud and Deception in Federal Student Loans

May, 2022

Washington — What would you make of the following email exchange if you came across it as a federal official who had taken an oath faithfully to uphold the law?  That question once presented itself to federal investigators who became aware of it in the course of subsequent litigation.   

The exchange starts off as a question from one student loan lender, Tennessee-based EdFinancial, to another, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.  EdFinancial is contemplating moving loans among different trusts to generate more federal taxpayer subsidies for itself.  It asks PHEAA, whose software it uses to make subsidy claims, if such claims would be legal.  PHEAA official Diane Freundel passes along the question to PHEAA's liaison to the federal Education Department, Scott Miller:

"Scott, EdFinancial has asked us some we programmed our system....  Tom Renard made an off-the-record call to Angela Baker at the Dept - she's and we frequently ask her off-the-record questions.  She didn't know the answer....  Since you have the Dept of ED contacts, I said I would run it by you.  Do you know the answers....  If not, would you be willing to run them by [ED] policy as hypothetical questions from one of our clients (EdFinancial doesn't want their name used)? Thanks!"

Miller replied:  "This issue, and some like it, are currently under scrutiny within ED -- they came up in their audit of Iowa's sec. market (which uses our servicing system).  We are currently plotting strategy on this issue....  In the meantime, please don't ask ED for its opinion -- it's likely to be an answer we don't like.  Thanks!"  (emphasis added)

Several obvious red flags should have gone up immediately to subsequent readers of the exchange, which was intended never to be revealed to lawyers and investigators at the Education Department or the Justice Department.  Why didn't the lenders simply ask ED for a determination, or did they have something to hide?  Why is there an established off-the-record system between lenders and ED officials?  Why is strategy being plotted around the subsidy claims?  Is this the way EdFinancial and PHEAA always do business, never to seek answers they "don't like," especially when the higher subsidies in question could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for them?

In the past year, both EdFinancial and PHEAA got news they undoubtably did not like.  EdFinancial was required by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to enter into a consent agreement and pay a million dollar fine for lying to borrowers.  EdFinancial put out a statement that it vehemently disputed the federal agency's action and that it settled only so it could devote more of its efforts to helping borrowers.  (Note to EdFinancial:  no one with knowledge of student loan servicing believes that.)  

PHEAA's too-clever strategies have likewise caught up with them, the denouement coming at a 2021 U.S. Senate hearing when their CEO dissembled under oath.  A few weeks later, PHEAA announced it would no longer be a federal student loan servicer.  There is now a massive federal effort underway to clean up the student loan servicing wreckage left behind by PHEAA.  It may take years.

In view of what has happened, another red flag should now go up with more questions:  When did the above email exchange take place, and what did federal officials do when they learned of it?  

It occurred in 2005.  To the best of my knowledge, federal officials who, upon its discovery, should have investigated it further, did nothing.*  The subsidies in question were reiterated by ED in 2007 to be illegal but most lenders never had to pay any of their false claims back. The experience taught the industry the lesson that, in student loans, no bad deeds ever go punished, so to speak.**    

It's been clear for two decades that borrowers and taxpayers have been exploited by unscrupulous people in the student loan arena.  It's still going on.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) last week put out a white paper on needed reforms.  Many of its recommendations are good, but they are heavy on blame of others and light on reining in the exploiters.  This is to be expected, as three of the four "experts" who helped with the white paper are high on the list of people who contributed to the nation's student loan debacle in the first place.  Two of them are former PHEAA officials, including even the aforementioned Scott Miller.  (NASFAA does its own reputation, which has hardly recovered from lender payoff scandals in 2007, no good by giving voice to discredited, long-standing perpetrators of student loan dysfunction.)

It may be too late to take action on scandals that should have been investigated long ago, but not too late to learn lessons from them, particularly that casual acceptance of such dealings often leads to even bigger problems later, as in the sad cases of EdFinancial and PHEAA.  Now is the time for our country to consider major changes in the way we finance higher education, to rid us of the plague of schools, lenders, and loan servicers that have ruined the lives of so many borrowers.  It's time to look at how other countries make higher education affordable without attendant corruption. 

*Other discovered emails at PHEAA showed a scheme, begun in 2002, to claim higher federal subsidies, but not so great as to draw attention to them.  The scheme was known to political appointees at ED who provided PHEAA with inside information as to how to avoid adverse findings by Inspector General audits.  See Dan E. Moldea, Money, Politics, and Corruption in U.S. Higher Education (2020), pp. 128-129.   

**Worth noting: the one lender that had to pay back a significant amount went on to make changes in its board of directors and instituted a code of ethics.  It is now ranked higher as a servicer than entities that were not required to repay any of their false claims.


Don't Overlook These Student Loan Cancellation Basics

May, 2022

Washington — President Biden has signaled that he is considering cancellation of federal student loans for certain borrowers in amounts yet undetermined.  Which has become the subject of many news articles, op-eds, and cartoons, but an understanding of the issues involved (especially costs to taxpayers) has not been a prerequisite for much of the commentary.  

Here are points to keep in mind:

1.  Millions of borrowers have been the victims of unscrupulous loan servicers, which have channeled borrowers into repayment choices that aided their own bottom lines at the expense of the borrowers'.  Cancelling these amounts, which have ballooned borrowers' balances, constitutes a removal of deceptive and improper* charges, not a cost to taxpayers.    

2.  Borrowers' interest rates and origination fees have always been set well above the government's cost of money, to have borrowers themselves pay for the program's administration, including estimated write-offs.  The federal student loan program has actually been making money for the government for many years before the Covid-related repayment pause.    

3.  Many Americans who attended public colleges in the past paid relatively low tuition, heavily subsidized by taxpayers.  In recent decades, taxpayers have benefited as the cost of postsecondary education has been shifted onto students and their parents, most of whom have had to cover the costs with student loans.   If there are taxpayer costs for the President's student loan cancellations above and beyond the considerations identified above, it is tribute toward generational equity.  

4.  Much student loan debt has been incurred by those who attended schools that should never have been approved by the federal government for participation in federal student loan programs.  The victims of these schools —overwhelmingly low-income — are unlikely ever to be able to repay their debts, so it is best to cancel the loans to relieve an unjust burden from the already  disadvantaged.  A simultaneous purge of low quality schools from continued eligibility must accompany the loan cancellations, for substantial out-year taxpayer savings.** 

5.  For debt that is not cancelled (the President wants to target the relief), borrowers should have bankruptcy protection restored, to treat student loan debt the same as other debt.  Some have argued that student loan borrower benefits, such as income based repayment options, remove the need for bankruptcy protections, but that obviously has not worked out because loan servicers have steered unwitting borrowers away from taking advantage of such benefits.  

The Secretary of Education has broad powers under current statutes to carry out student loan cancellations, remediations, and loan compromises.  It is hard to estimate with precision how much can be done at no net taxpayer cost, but it is much more than is commonly acknowledged by critics of cancellation, many of whom are unaware of the basics of student loan finance.  To the extent any cancellations would begin to cost taxpayers, the expenditures should be considered a bargain if they lead to borrower victims getting back to being productive members of society and an overdue crackdown on substandard schools.  These factors should be scored by CBO and OMB over ten years to determine taxpayer impacts on both revenues and expenditures. 

What is still lacking is more attention to fixing accountability for how we got into the federal student loan mess in the first place, which is necessary so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.  Under law, the Secretary of Education is responsible for "sound management and accountability" in the loan programs.  Better management seems to be in the works; more accountability must follow. 


* Example:  “EdFinancial’s failure to tell the full truth to borrowers, so it could pad its bottom line, highlights a systemic problem with loan servicing,” CFPB Director Rohit Chopra said.... “When student loan companies lie about cancellation and repayment programs for borrowers, they are breaking the law.”

** Unfortuntately for borrowers and taxpayers alike, many of those in Congress who oppose student loan cancellation support federal subsidies for substandard schools.   

Empower Fleeing Russians

April, 2022

Washington — American foreign policy should seek more aggressively to divide the honorable Russian people from Vladimir Putin, weakening him and increasing the chances of his ouster. 

We in the West should embrace and assist the many Russians who have left their country over the war with Ukraine.  Among those fleeing are Russians of many talents and accomplishments who want to help shape a future, non-autocratic government for their homeland, including talented cyber professionals who know how to penetrate Putin's blackout of honest news reporting within Russia.  

It is counterproductive for the West to react to Putin's atrocities by banning all things Russian, which provides the dictator with talking points that the West is out to destroy Russia.  On the contrary, embracing Russians who represent the best of their culture and civilization is essential to ending Putinism. 

But how?  One way is to replace the current Russian government in organizations such as the OSCE with alternate national representation.  Another is to enlist international institutes and organizations to hold conferences at which exiled Russians would be given prominence.  The West could use the opportunities to re-assess its relationship with Russia, providing visions of a post-Putin world that would broadly appeal to Russians now living in an ostracized and collapsing autocracy.  

The West must do more than condemn war crimes and supply weapons for Ukraine's defense.  It must work quickly and purposefully with Russians fleeing their country to end the Putin regime.      


Offer a Post-Putin Foreign Policy Now

April, 2022

Washington — We in the West made regrettable decisions in the immediate post-Cold War years, which have now been laid bare.  Russia should not have been viewed as a defeated great power to be transformed into an image of the West, but as a great civilization newly freed to enrich the world alongside other great civilizations.  

That would have helped to channel Russian nationalism toward cultural expression and exchange, not military competition.  Great power theory, as expounded most notably by Mearsheimer, should not have been the basis of Western foreign policy.  It has led the Kremlin to define itself in military terms and to engage in brutal attempts at conquest, to recover its lost great power status.*  

Great civilization theory is not necessarily preferable, as offered by Huntington, who sees clashes of whole civilizations also in military terms.  But an alternative to Huntington, known as dialogue of civilizations, offers outlets for expression that do not depend on military conquest.  Two decades ago, the United Nations endorsed such an approach as advanced by Köchler, but it did not take root.

I recall watching the Sochi Olympics on television in 2014 with a sense of foreboding, which I shared with others then, and often since.  Host country Russia offered an opening ceremony based on the history of its remarkable civilization.  Television commentators cut away for commercials, with the promise of rejoining coverage when the Cold War defeat of the Soviet Union would be presented, to see if Russia would concede its fall as a great power.  Nothing could illustrate better the Western view of seeing the world as great power military contests.  

Russia President Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea soon thereafter.  

It is too late to offer a dialogue of civilizations approach to Putin, a war criminal who, as President Biden suggests, must not remain in power.  But it is not too late to offer a vision of what U.S. - Russia relations could be based upon in a post-Putin era.  Offering a foreign policy based on mutual appreciation of great civilizations, not great power militaries, could speed the day of Putin's departure.  

It would also provide an opportunity for the U.S. to define how we see the uses of this approach worldwide, especially as a non-authoritarian alternative to the increasingly obvious failure of great power theory.   


*Anne Applebaum writes provocatively: "Now wondering if the Russians didn't actually get their narrative from Mearshimer [sic] et al. Moscow needed to say West was responsible for Russian invasions (Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine), and not their own greed and imperialism. American academics provided the narrative."     

Conduct Humanitarian Rescue Exercises Now

March, 2022

Washington — To end the war in Ukraine as quickly as possible and to give hope to those now suffering, an ad hoc coalition of willing nations should mount immediate humanitarian rescue training exercises in adjacent countries.  The exercises would pre-position food, water, shelter, and medicines for delivery into besieged Ukrainian cities along with the military defenses necessary to suppress attacks on the missions.  

The exercises would include training to support the gathering of war crimes evidence by the International Criminal Court.  The exercises would be conducted through multilateral agreements, not under the aegis of the UN or NATO, and would best be located in Poland and Romania.   

These training exercises would signal Russia that large-scale humanitarian rescue efforts are being prepared in earnest, and that if Russia interferes, it will risk battlefield losses by its already under-achieving military.  The self-defense of humanitarian missions to protect civilians is countenanced under international law.  Military readiness to engage any attack on a humanitarian mission would be an integral part of the exercises.  

The nations best suited to the exercises are a combination of both members and non-members of NATO and the ICC, such as Poland, Romania, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the U.S., the Baltic nations, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Turkey.  

The conduct of such exercises would also demonstrate that the opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not limited to economic sanctions and actions only through existing alliances, which adds to the reasons Russia should end the war before its options deteriorate further.   

Kyiv, 1971

March, 2022

Berlin — One ray of hope in the Ukraine war appeared a few days ago:  American and Russian militaries have set up a communications hotline to avoid going to war by accident.  The U.S. European Command in Stuttgart operates one end of it, as that is also the location of the NATO supreme allied commander. 

The Stuttgart site is actually in the suburb of Vaihingen and was once the German Kurmärker Kaserne, built in 1936.  It became an American post in 1952.  I worked there a half century ago. 

And traveled from there, including to Ukraine.  These are photos from an April, 1971, trip to Kyiv.   The red banner, if I'm reading it correctly, says Glory to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  The National Opera House presented Aida. 


Look to the International Criminal Court

March, 2022

Berlin — Although I'm not physically present in Berlin at the moment, my thoughts are there because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Refugees are flooding into the city.

Memories are there, too, such as the time after the Berlin Wall came down and we hosted a young couple from Halle who were eager to travel outside East Germany.  Especially poignant is a memory of visiting the Soviet Army officers' club in Wünsdorf, south of Berlin, as soldiers were departing in 1990 to go back to Russia.  A few Americans and Germans were invited for lunch; I was among them.  We were all hopeful for better relations in the future.  

Now we are at an impasse, with no clear path to stop the killing in Ukraine.  Here is my suggestion:

If the International Criminal Court, which has already started an investigation, would move against Putin for war crimes, that would put an unexpected factor into the mix. If the West then remains solidly united and demands Putin's ouster as a condition of lifting sanctions, which are hurting Russia badly, it could motivate Russian oligarchs and generals to remove him. With Putin out, a ceasefire could be achieved between Russia and Ukraine, leaving the Ukraine government intact.  Sanctions could be lifted.  Territorial disputes could be referred to the International Court of Justice.

This does not require any UN, NATO, or individual country's action.  It limits Putin's nuclear targets because no military actions are involved, against which to retaliate.  It would send a strong message to others who might want to start territorial wars, like China.