Admirable to Admit a Mistake and Correct It

September, 2020

Lincoln –  Back in the 1950s I knew of a farmer who bought three cows at a local livestock auction and brought them to his farm before he realized they did not have the proper Brucellosis paperwork to show they had been vaccinated.  They looked healthy but actually they had been intended for sale into the Canners and Cutters market, not for sale to another farmer.  

He did the right thing by having them trucked back to the auction barn, took a financial loss, and learned a lesson.  Admitting the mistake was admirable.  

Now is the time for rural voters, many of whom did not properly look into whom they chose for president in 2016, to correct their mistake and save the country from further unravelling, and perhaps from calamity.  There is no shame in owning up to a mistake; it's admirable.

No need to make excuses.  I've heard them:  Donald Trump was supposed to be a great businessman; he couldn't be bought because he was already wealthy; his language was locker-room but he told the truth; he was the friend of rural America, so he said; he was a patriot because he literally hugged the flag.

Then there was his opposition, which you said forced your hand to vote for Trump.  Hillary Clinton had a private email server; she was Secretary of State when an ambassador and three others were killed in Benghazi; the EPA was waiting to take jurisdiction over every mud-puddle in your farmyard; the Clintons had a charitable foundation that must have been a front for something.  Maybe the candidate was a murderer herself, because you saw the allegation on a commercial during a televised football game of your favorite team.  All this was too much for you, so you had to vote for Trump.  Even if he was a draft-dodger, a bankrupt, a philanderer, and had never held any previous elected office, you had to vote for him, because you couldn't leave that part of the ballot unmarked.    

You're thinking of doing it again.  Never mind Trump's appalling record of lying about the coronavirus and causing tens of thousands of deaths, insulting veterans for their military service, cheating at every turn for his own financial benefit, corrupting federal agencies thoroughly, devastating the rural economy with nonsensical tariffs, welcoming foreign interference in our elections, fomenting violence in the cities, belittling science, stoking fear and division across the land, and even turning the remaining few conservative principles of his party completely on their head.    

Which for many rural voters is apparently okay.  After all, if Biden is elected, he might check for Atrazine in mud-puddles. He might advocate a health care system like Switzerland or Denmark (aren't they socialist or communist or something?).  We also need to get to the bottom of why, like Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton had an email server for her private emails, and hold a few trials.  Let's vote for martial law while we're at it, and confiscate ballot boxes in case of voter fraud (can't be too careful).   

Please, rural voters.  Like the farmer who knew he made a mistake when he bought the wrong cows, just do the admirable thing: own up and correct it. 

Or not.  This is an election about the soul of the country.  If you believe the flag is to hug, not stand for something; that if it stands for something, it's for people like us, not for you-know-who; that more weaponized Americans with assault rifles will lead to more security; that international alliances like NATO are passé; that Donald Trump knows more than scientists; that Vladimir Putin is a model for how to run a country; that Jerry Falwell Jr. is your kind of Christian; and that QAnon may be on to something, then vote that way.  But realize it may be the last free and democratic vote you ever cast.    

UNL, OWH, and Race Relations

September, 2020

Lincoln – The Omaha World Herald and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln are embarking on a joint effort to improve race relations within their institutions, according to OWH editor Randy Essex and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green:

"In this joint effort, we will explore the history of race relations in Nebraska, give voice to community leaders and UNL scholars, and engage the public to map a path to understand the past and bring about a more equitable future."

This is a worthy endeavor, if carried out properly.  It will include a historical look at race relations at UNL itself.  I was a student on the UNL campus from 1961-1966 (B.A. '65; M.A. '66) and have many recollections about race relations from the period.

During my freshman and sophomore years I was invited to a few fraternities on campus, which were seeking members.  Before I gave them serious consideration, I asked about their charters, if they had whites-only clauses.  Most did in those days, but recruiters emphasized that other races were free to form their own fraternities, so it wasn't as if they were discriminating, in the way they saw the situation.  Indeed, at least one black fraternity was created and recognized by the University in the early 1960s, so as to provide an alternative to the white fraternities.  

In other words, separate-but-equal was very much alive in Lincoln, even though the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Plessy v. Ferguson almost a decade earlier.   Plessy was the case that had enshrined the concept as enacted in the Second Morrill Act of 1890, which set up a two-tiered land-grant university system.  

A close friend of mine in a fraternity informed me that national black organizations were trying to test and break the whites-only clauses at UNL by recruiting high-achieving black students with excellent social skills to participate in annual fraternity and sorority "rush" weeks.  He said it was hard for his fraternity to turn down one applicant, because he was obviously so well qualified, but they did so in order to preserve what he called the overall good.     

I declined fraternity invitations, saying I would not join any whites-only system, and expressed the hope things would someday change. 

As an upperclassman and graduate student, I helped organize efforts to integrate Lincoln restaurants and taverns near the campus.  This simply involved a mixed party of four or five students entering an establishment, expecting to be served.  Most Lincoln establishments were not overtly whites-only, but some had other customers who would tell parties such as ours that we were not welcome, and ask us to leave.  Sometimes sparks flew; we never left, anywhere.  Places like The Happy Hour on 13th Street and Duffy's on O Street were soon integrated.  

During the summer of 1965, I was employed by the University to welcome prospective students and their parents to the campus, give them group tours of the campus, and tell them what to expect from college life.  The University showed them a film promoting fraternities and sororities, which I always sat through as well.  One summer evening, while leading a tour group that had just watched the film, I said that not all of us bought into the idea of such organizations with their membership restrictions.  

That quickly got back to my University employers, apparently from a parent.  I was taken aside the next day by a University administrator and advised not to say such things.  My response was that they could let me go if they wanted to, but I would speak about campus life as I was employed to do.  Nothing further came of it, from my standpoint.  I suspect University officials got back to the person offended with a message that they had spoken to the offender, but I have no direct knowledge of it.   

As a graduate student I watched the University expand northward, building not only dormitories along 17th Street, but also three new houses on University property for sororities, at least one of which had a whites-only membership clause.  This was in a neighborhood that a few years earlier, when I was a freshman, was populated by the black community of Lincoln.  I pointed out to those in University administration with whom I still had contact (G. Robert Ross, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, if memory serves) that this was a problem that could be resolved by requiring the sororities to drop their whites-only requirements.  To my knowledge, that did not happen, even after University officials noted the irony of displacing black residents with houses for whites-only, acting through the power of the state to issue revenue bonds for the buildings. 

University dorms, however, were integrated throughout my years on campus. One year I lived in Selleck Quadrangle, where my neighbors downstairs were roommates Benny Nelson (later governor and senator) and Thunder Thornton (a notable athlete), white and black.  They had requested the pairing as an expression of racial progress.  There were several other examples.  

Classrooms were always integrated and, as I recall, the general tenor on campus was that we students were of a generation that would put Jim Crow practices and racial discrimination behind us.  I would not say we were woke, as the saying now goes.  Many of us had simply been raised to believe that racial discrimination was wrong and we would not be a part of it, regardless of the University leadership's indulgence of it.  

What now?  

As noted above, this joint effort is a worthy endeavor if something comes of it beyond its public relations value.  I'm not in favor of taking down the campus statue of former chancellor Clifford Hardin, who tolerated the separate-but-equal atmosphere of the time, or that of Clayton Yeutter, whose fraternity cooperated in enforcing that system.  Nor do they and others of their era need asterisks by their records, although it would be good for UNL historians to explore in much greater depth the nature of race relations on campus in the period immediately before and after the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.*  Perhaps more names of courageous individuals would emerge.  

Rather than doubling down one more time on diversity officers, multicultural centers, sensitivity training, and other measures based on identity politics (to which exercises like these often lead), I'd like to see UNL take initiatives nationally in areas that might make longer lasting contributions in matters of racial equality.  

One such place might be nutrition studies, where the University's Food for Health initiative holds great promise for addressing diseases that disproportionately affect the non-white population.  We need to look no further than the coronavirus pandemic to see the effects of the nutrition variable.  Another area that badly needs national leadership is the deteriorating condition of postsecondary student finance.  It has become increasingly clear that the nation's student loan and enrollment management systems are creating ever-greater divisions by race.  The situation cries out for leadership from major institutions like UNL, which is not doing a bad job itself in this area and would be in a position to rally others to national reforms.  

I'll be interested in seeing the role the OWH carves out for itself in this project.  May it succeed beyond expectations.  Frank Partsch, former reporter and editorial page editor of the OWH, was a good friend of mine at UNL, where he was also editor of the Daily Nebraskan.  John Gottschalk, former OWH publisher and I shared a class in freshman English.  They should be able to make outstanding contributions to this effort.

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* One topic that should be of interest is the influence their years at UNL had on Hardin and Yeutter, after which each later became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.  During their respective tenures as Secretary, the civil rights of black farmers were routinely violated, resulting in great losses of black land ownership.  See Pigford v. Glickman (1999).  I suspect that the record under Hardin's successor, Earl Butz, was even worse, but nevertheless the subject must be explored.  Eventually, billions of federal taxpayer dollars were paid out in settlements going back to 1981, covering the Yeutter but not the Hardin years. 

The Ultimate in Checks and Balances

September, 2020

Washington – Many election prognosticators are saying that the nation will not know the outcome of the presidential election on November 3, because it will take several days to count the mailed-in ballots.

That may be true, but what the nation will know on November 3, or very soon thereafter, is the strategy candidates will likely be using to try to claim the presidency.   It all depends on the House elections.

If Joe Biden wins the popular vote but if the newly-elected House has more state delegations controlled by Republicans than Democrats, as is currently the case (by three), Donald Trump will almost certainly try to prevent Joe Biden from winning an Electoral College majority, claiming the election was rigged so as to have the election decided by House.  But if Democrats control the new House state delegations and have reason themselves to believe the elections were not free and fair, Joe Biden may try to prevent Donald Trump from winning an Electoral College majority and throw the election into the House, where he will win.  

How hard is it to prevent an Electoral College majority?  Probably not that hard; the Constitution anticipates it.  Trump lawyers are working on litigation toward that end, in anticipation that Trump may lose both the popular and electoral vote, but still be determined to remain in office.  Some of his supporters are recommending even more drastic measures.

I was pleased to see acknowledgement of this scenario (which has been the subject of previous blogs) in Daniel Baer's excellent analysis.  He writes:

According to the Constitution, if no candidate reaches a majority in the Electoral College, then the election of the President falls to the House of Representatives....  But there’s a catch: according to the Constitution, in selecting the President, the House votes not by member, but rather by state, with each state delegation receiving one vote.

How this "catch" provision has escaped so many other election analysts is a mystery.  It's in the Twelfth Amendment, plain as day, and possibly critical in choosing a president.

There's one other catch that needs more attention.  The Constitution (Article I, Section 5) provides that the House is the judge of its own members.  The House, if under Democratic control by number, but not by state, could refuse to seat members elected in gerrymandered districts, mostly Republican.  That could change the state delegation counts for purposes of electing a president. 

That would be the ultimate in checks and balances.  The House would check the Supreme Count for failing to act against gerrymandering while simultaneously checking a president determined to stay in office by any means necessary.  



Gene Budig (1939-2020)

September, 2020

Lincoln – The State of Nebraska, and the nation, has lost a noteworthy leader and, if such things still matter, a most decent gentleman.  

Gene Budig was from McCook, Nebraska, which has produced a remarkable line of public servants:  George Norris, Ralph Brooks, Frank Morrison, and Ben Nelson, among others.  

I first met Gene during my senior year at Waverly High School, 1960-61.  He was a reporter for the Lincoln Star and came out to visit our chemistry class, taught by Mr. Hult.  Why he came to us for a story, I don't know, but perhaps it was because he was just as interested in small towns as in big cities. 

Next thing I knew, Gene the reporter had become administrative assistant to Governor Frank Morrison.  Then he became an NU professor, but no stranger to the statehouse.  One day in the 1970s, he walked in on a big budget meeting of Governor Jim Exon's.  I almost didn't recognize him, as he was in his Nebraska Air Guard uniform.  He and Jim Exon were best of friends from the Morrison Administration.  He took a seat at the table and entered into our discussions.

Gene Budig then went on to lead Southern Illinois University, the University of West Virginia, and the University of Kansas.  He endeared himself to Kansans by hiring Roy Williams to coach basketball. 

Then he became president of baseball's American League.  Jim Exon, a huge baseball fan himself, was envious.  

Gene Budig was a person of unquestioned competence who knew how to get good things done whether in state government, academia, or sports.  What a talent, what a credit to his home state.  All Nebraskans should be proud.    


Labor Day

September, 2020

Washington – Labor has had another bad year.

The wage ratio of CEO compensation to worker compensation, which was 21 to 1 in 1965, was 293 to 1 in 2018 and grew to 320 to 1 in 2019.  The ratio looks to be even worse for 2020.

Speaking of 1965, it was not only the wage ratio that was more favorable for labor back then.  American society as a whole was less inequitable.

Part of that was due to business leaders of the post-WWII era who felt a strong responsibility toward their communities and country.  While they wanted profits, to be sure, they also had a better sense of limits.  Many business leaders, as I recall, prided themselves on their companies' pay structures.  For people at the top to take too much at the expenses of those at the bottom was unseemly, even immoral.

Businesses prided themselves on products and services that benefited people across the board.  They innovated for the greater good, not just for the good of shareholders.

The "greed is good" decade of the 1980s spoiled that.  So did colleges of business that taught a generation how to make quick profits from short-term thinking.  The business community soon came to lionize leaders that could exploit the laboring class through union-busting and moving jobs overseas.  At the top of the heap were business leaders who increasingly made money from financial instruments rather than producing any actual goods or services.

It was a Frenchman, Thomas Piketty, who jolted the world with his 2013 book on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.   He suggested that without reforms, democracy itself is threatened.

Indeed it is.  We are on the verge of losing it in 2020, to those who are trying to install a plutocracy.

I'm among those who favor measures to restore a wage ratio that would reduce inequality.  In an earlier blog I wrote, "Growing economic inequality (the root of many of our problems) can be reversed by applying wage ratio eligibility standards to most, if not all, federal grants, contracts, tax credits, and tax deductions."

We do this for pensions; we should do it for all taxpayer spending.  Taxpayers should not be both sources of revenue and accomplices in dangerously increasing inequality.  Tax policy should be aimed at reducing, not increasing, levels of inequality that threaten democracy.

Happy Labor Day. 

 

 

Food as Medicine

September, 2020

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out." 
–USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to farmers, October, 2019

"When you think about food being health and food being medicine, that’s really exciting to me." 

–Sonny Perdue at a Farm of the Future event, September, 2020

Lincoln – Whoa!  That's quite a turnabout, the Secretary of Agriculture in 2019 repeating the old Earl Butz prescription for agriculture ("Get big or get out"), but in 2020 taking some pages right out of the Democratic playbook for the future of farming. 

Perhaps the Secretary has been reading Congressman Tim Ryan's book The Real Food Revolution, in which he quotes Hippocrates (p. 53) "Let food be thy medicine." 

Ryan and his Congressional colleagues Sherrod Brown, Chellie Pingree, Cory Booker, Rosa DeLauro, Marcia Fudge, Ron Kind, and Marcy Kaptur have been writing and speaking on the role of nutrition in fighting diseases like diabetes and obesity, as well as the need to create more local and regional food markets and processors.  These are exactly the themes of the Farm of the Future event Sonny Perdue attended, to his apparent approbation.  

Must be an election year.  Republicans sense Democrats are onto something big and want to get in on it and claim it as their own.  Because there is no Republican platform on rural America (or on anything else), Secretary Perdue is free to appropriate the works of others, including those of Joe Biden.  Let's hope it's a permanent conversion, not a temporary political stance.  

Whatever the situation, it was gratifying to see the University of Nebraska engaging top level officials in a discussion of how agriculture must move toward healthier food and fewer steps between farm to fork.  The University is doing leading-edge research on food as medicine, as I have noted before in this blog.

In the photo below, left to right: Nebraska agriculture director Steve Wellman, UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Governor Pete Ricketts, and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.  Their dour expressions suggest they have just tasted some needed medicine themselves, prescribed by realities that call for a change of emphasis away from production agriculture toward food for health.  And whose idea was it to have a big public meeting without social distancing and without masks?  It risks a super-spreader event emanating from national and state leaders, as well as sends a "do as I say, not as I do" message to thousands of television viewers. 













Fortenberry Falls Short on Veterans, Military

September, 2020

Lincoln – As a veteran, I've been watching to see how my congressman, Jeff Fortenberry, measures up to supporting the needs of veterans specifically, the military generally, and national security in a global sense.  I don't like what I see; he does not acquit himself well.

Veterans

Veterans education is a big cause of mine, particularly eliminating abuse of GI-Bill recipients.  Predatory for-profit colleges have unfortunately placed targets on the backs of both veterans and active duty personnel, to take advantage of them.  These schools need GI-Bill and Defense Department revenues so as to get at least 10% of their income from sources other than student-aid under the federal Higher Education Act, or lose HEA eligibility to participate.  Many such schools cannot get enough private paying students to enroll to meet the 10% requirement, because their programs are not worth the money.  Consequently, they target veterans to take in GI-Bill revenues.  At the same time, they often load up veterans with high levels of student-loan debt.

That many veterans have been defrauded is not in question.  Under the law, they are to have their loans cancelled if they were defrauded by the schools.  However, under the current administration, Secretary Betsy DeVos (a protector of predatory schools) has made that process as difficult as she can for veterans and all other similarly situated victims.  Congress, last January, after hearing from dozens of veterans' organizations, disapproved the DeVos procedure on bipartisan, bicameral votes (H. J. Res. 76).  Jeff Fortenberry, however, voted to implement the DeVos rules in spite of united veterans' opposition.  The president then vetoed H. J. Res 76, even after organizations like the American Legion implored him to sign it, whereupon Fortenberry once again voted to disregard veterans' pleas, as he upheld the DeVos rules.  On July 1, the new rules went into effect, to the great dismay and potential financial ruination of many defrauded veterans.

Military Leadership and Discipline  

Proper support of the military is important in Nebraska's First District, especially because Sarpy County is home to a major defense installation, Offut Air Force Base.  Many Nebraska voters care about how the president and their congressional representative view the military.

On my desk, still in my possession from military officer training, is the book Naval Leadership*, which describes what it takes to be a good leader:  "A leader cannot be made from a man who does not sincerely want to become one, or from a man who is unwilling to make the sacrifices required....  To be an outstanding leader requires the hardest kind of work, for which very little material credit will be forthcoming."

I see no such leadership qualities in our current commander-in-chief, who displays the opposite on all the criteria.  Nor do I see in him appreciation of "good order and discipline" in the military services.  Donald Trump has repeatedly undermined the military chain of command and interfered with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), particularly with regard to discipline for war crimes.  He confuses war criminals with heroes.

Nebraskans expect their congressman to stand up for military leaders who know the value of sacrifice, discipline, leadership, and good order.  I look in vain for evidence that Jeff Fortenberry shares such values and expectations.  The record is silent as to any Fortenberry expression of concern to the commander-in-chief, directly or indirectly, about his behavior undermining military leadership and discipline.

A new article in The Atlantic provides more revelations of Trump's dismissive attitude toward military service:  "suckers, losers."  This will be an opportunity for Fortenberry to speak up or, as in the past, excuse the president for his behavior by ignoring it.

National Security and International Alliances

Military discipline and leadership is also a national security issue of the gravest concern for our international alliances.  When U.S. forces are stationed on foreign soil, the host country must have confidence in the American military justice system.  Donald Trump has jeopardized that.  Our alliances themselves, NATO foremost among them, are increasingly at risk under Trump, who is wont to disparage our allies while praising adversarial dictators.  Congressman Fortenberry has been ineffective in seeking to retain the Open Skies Treaty, important to our NATO allies (and partly based at Offut) but about to be killed by Trump

All of this comes on top of the conclusion from Trump's own former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, a former 4-star Marine Corps general, who this summer wrote,

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”

Where is Fortenberry?  He votes to condone the defrauding of veterans by making it difficult for them to get loan cancellations.  He is nowhere to be seen when it comes to supporting our active-duty servicemen and women who are trying to work within a system of good order and discipline.  He is ignored in national security matters.

These issues are too serious to joke about, but it is illustrative of the problem that the White House recently identified Fortenberry as from Louisiana, not Nebraska.  As far as I'm concerned, he might as well be, because he does not represent my views, as a Nebraskan, on veterans and on military affairs.  I carried a Navy ID card of one kind or another for 44 years, and I want better representation. 

___________________________
* Naval Leadership (1949), U.S. Naval Institute, 2nd printing.

   










On Individual Responsibility

August, 2020

Lincoln – I am writing this before any in my circle of family and friends are taken down by the coronavirus pandemic, so it can't be said it is written out of personal anguish or bitterness. 

But it's hard to imagine becoming more disgusted with the situation under any future circumstances, even loss of loved ones.

What has the country come to?  I see little willingness hold anyone accountable for the unfolding disaster, or for people to take individual responsibility for their role in it.   

Nebraska newspapers, which I read daily, show remarkably little public reflection as to what got us into a situation that is destroying lives and livelihoods, or how we can get out of it as quickly as possible.  Typically, the newspapers have several articles bemoaning the loss of football before noting the loss of mere people, usually nameless.

In the Nebraska press, broadcast and print, the concept of accountability is rarely approached.  Elections have consequences.  Accountability ultimately would involve a majority of Nebraskans looking in the mirror with appropriate soul-searching.  Although Donald Trump, for whom a majority of Nebraskans voted, did not create the coronavirus, his inept handling of it has made it much worse than it had to be, by a reasonably calculated factor of about three.  Other comparable western democracies have done demonstrably better to meet the challenge.

I want to ask a question now, not over a grave or holding the ashes of a loved one: whatever made you, my fellow Nebraskans, vote for a president who had no experience in government whatsoever, had no military service, was a serial bankrupt, a philanderer, an indecent television buffoon with an obvious tendency toward megalomania?  Why would you risk your country and the fate of us all to such a person?

The other political party gave you a choice.  She was not a criminal or murderer, as ridiculously alleged.  If you did not like the choices presented, for valid reasons as you saw them, there was the option of not voting at the top of the ticket.  No one can say how the Democratic candidate would have performed as president, but it cannot escape notice, in the summer of 2020, that the best responses to the pandemic worldwide have been those of women leaders.  She could hardly have done worse in stemming the largest health and economic catastrophe of our lifetime.

Did you vote as you did because of how your neighbors were voting, because of what you saw on television or social media?  I understand the impulse.  I also understand that the likes of such a campaign have not been seen since that orchestrated by the incredibly effective public opinion manipulator Josef Goebbels.

Granted, much of today's media messaging, in service to the man who would break democracy to his will (and in service to their own bottom lines), sounds persuasive.  It makes lies of truth, and truth of lies, at a level not seen in decades.  Many people are susceptible to the inducements, to peer pressure, to group-think.

But what about individual responsibility, or the lack of it, that favorite fallback of so many to explain the misfortunes of the world?

I look in vain for reports of Nebraskans taking individual responsibility to accept a thoughtful measure of accountability for the wholly unnecessary extent of the pandemic.  Newspaper editorials search for safe topics, to avoid having to offer an opinion concluding that you-reap-what-you-sow.  I've seen no interviews of business people, justifiably distressed by the turn of events, asking how they voted.  When nursing homes are quarantined in counties that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, no reporters ask the residents if they have any regrets about how they voted, although that should be an obvious question.

That assumes, of course, that such residents know America is doing poorly among peer countries.  They may not know.  As Goebbels boasted in 1940, “There are so many lies that truth and swindle can scarcely be distinguished. That is best for us at the moment.”

Personally, I also believe in individual responsibility, insofar as a person is capable of taking it.

So if Covid strikes me, or near me, I'm not likely to accept any condolences from those who bear a share of responsibility, but won't take it.  If anyone should say "I'm sorry for your loss," I will ask, "Are you sorry for your vote?"


Berlin and China, Biden and Trump

August, 2020

Berlin – There are not many occasions these days to write of Berlin, because as an American I can't travel there.  We in the USA have failed to respond adequately to the Covid-19 pandemic to be allowed to travel to such places.  It is a shameful and sobering development.

Sad as I am about it, I am nevertheless grateful to generations of post-WWII Americans and Germans alike who, sweeping away the ashes of fascism, put together a different Germany for our time, with the kind of scientific acumen and political leadership to face down a pandemic.  We may yet need the example of Germany to save our own country.

In the second half of the 1940s, far-sighted Americans like George Marshall, Lucius Clay, and John J. McCloy laid the groundwork for democratic, constitutional government in Germany.  They worked with wise German chancellors who in time formed alliances spanning different German political constituencies to form an enduring social compact.

I've lived and worked in Germany in six of the eight decades since WWII.  Some of that was in the U.S. military and some in various academic institutions.  Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I now appreciate more fully the joint services commendation I received while working at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, for "exceptionally meritorious achievement."  At the time, I thought it was over the top, as I was just doing my work as a naval officer assigned there.  Now I see it as integral to the establishment of the successful and enduring democracy that Germany has become.

We are going to need Germany's help beyond the issues of the pandemic.  Thomas Friedman outlines why in his perceptive analysis, "To Deal with China, Trump Should Learn German." His reasoning:

The Cold War with the Soviet Union was fought and won in Berlin. And the looming Cold War with China — over trade, technology and global influence — will be fought and won in Berlin.

As Berlin goes, so goes Germany, and as Germany goes, so goes the European Union, the world’s biggest single market. And whichever country — the United States or China — is able to leverage the European Union on its side in the competition for whose technology standards, trade rules and technology will prevail will set the rules for global digital commerce in the 21st century.

“The reason that the United States was on the winning side of the three great conflicts of the 20th century — World War I, World War II and the Cold War,’’ said Michael Mandelbaum, author of “The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth,” “is that we were part of the strongest coalition. The World War I coalition we joined belatedly. The World War II coalition we joined less belatedly. The Cold War coalition to defeat the Soviet Union, we organized. This should have been the model for dealing with China.’’


Relations between Berlin and Washington are now at their lowest ebb in decades.  Germans express pity for the situation into which Americans have placed themselves.  Many Americans, of course, agree and cannot wait for the opportunity to get back to reaping the benefits of decades of investment in having a strong strategic partner in Europe. 

The question I see, as a person with one foot in Berlin and another in the U.S. midwest, is whether American heartland voters — perhaps the key to the upcoming elections — will choose to deal with China through Trump's tariffs and his federal takeover of farmers' livelihoods, or through Biden's approach to deal with China through alliances among partners like Germany.

Just a few years ago, the answer to that would be easy, as both the Republican and Democratic parties believed in free trade and strong international alliances.  Smoot-Hawley tariffs and America First isolationism were failures, by consensus, tried and abandoned.  No more.  Trump's federal checks to farmers, made necessary by his tariffs, are quickly making de facto socialists of many in farm country.  There is irony in this, even as Trump claims Biden is a socialist, despite Biden's record of forty-seven years in public service to the contrary.

We are beyond irony in this election; we are choosing either to embrace our past accomplishments and rise to meet the China challenge, or succumb to China through policies that toss aside what we spent decades to build. 

Omaha and Wichita, Buffett and Koch

August, 2020

Lincoln – Omaha and Warren Buffett come out the clear winners over Wichita and Charles Koch in a matchup to determine which has the better record for creating local prosperity.

The analysis by the LA Times looks mostly at philanthropic leadership in the two cities but also dives into political theory.

Charles Koch is an ideologue with an agenda to cut government spending and regulation at every opportunity at every level. His agenda, built on dubious economic and political theories, is aggressively hostile to governments good, bad, and indifferent.  Koch support was instrumental in electing Sam Brownback governor of Kansas, which the state came to regret for the incredible damage he inflicted on it, especially to public schools ("government schools" to Koch followers).

Warren Buffett stakes out a different position toward government.  He favors higher taxes on people like himself and he supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.  While his investments, unfortunately, often do not show much regard for social consciousness and responsibility,* his pragmatism and philanthropic spirit have rubbed off on many in the Omaha community, and it is much the better for it.

Which is not to say that Koch is without influence in Nebraska.  The Nebraska statehouse has been controlled for many years by Koch-think.  As a result, no one these days would seriously hold up Nebraska state government as a good model of competent administration.  Nebraska's human services and corrections departments are Exhibit A.  The inept handling of the coronavirus pandemic by the governor and his state health director, who are at odds with the medical community and with science itself, are further degrading Nebraska's once-excellent reputation for good government. 

What is striking in Nebraska is the split in the business community between the big-business, civic minded leaders based mostly in Omaha and influenced by Buffett, and the smaller business leaders outside that circle who have spent years in thrall of Koch.

The latter, in my view, have made a huge mistake, which is now becoming obvious.  For years they denigrated government, ridiculed it, cut into it wherever possible to make its shortcomings purposely inevitable.  They did not press for competence in government.** Now, when other countries and localities have the competency to deal with catastrophes like a pandemic, we don't, and we are in big trouble.

Want schools open?  Want Nebraska football back?  Run from Koch-think as fast as you can.

As I write this, Omaha's business and civic leaders are working to combat the spread of the coronavirus by advocating a government mandatory mask requirement.  Ironically, strong evidence of mask effectiveness from Kansas, a state fighting back from years of Koch domination, is pointing the way.

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* Buffet investments push sugary drinks even as we know they are a leading cause of chronic and deadly diseases; his newspaper companies were supported by exploitation of student loan borrowers at predatory for-profit colleges (Kaplan profits kept the Washington Post afloat until it was sold to Jeff Bezos).
** Just to be clear, I'd like to think I take a backseat to no one when it comes to rooting out waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.  This is part of demanding competence.