Under-reported Surveillance Issues

December, 2013

Berlin -- German press coverage of NSA surveillance issues differs from U.S. press coverage in two ways that deserve more attention.

One issue is the disgust of the German government about not only the NSA's spying on its top leaders, but the failure to keep it secret. German regard for the competence of the NSA is low. This will surely affect future bilateral relations where trust and cooperation are necessary.

The other issue is U.S. spying that is related to trade, not terrorism. The upcoming trade talks, according to the German press, are threatened by the U.S. government's deployment of its vast counter-terrorism spying network in the service of dubious American corporate trade advantages.

A prime example is the all-out U.S. push -- including surveillance of foreign trade offices -- to break the resistance of European governments to deal in genetically modified crops. This comes at a time when enthusiasm for GMOs is in retreat in many scientific quarters. Experience is showing that GMOs have been oversold; evolution is overcoming gene modifications; many farmers are now using more toxins for pest control than before; neonicotinoids produced by GMOs are threatening crop pollinators and thus the viability of the whole food chain.

These two issues -- much under-reported in the U.S. press -- are driving otherwise strong trans-Atlantic allies apart. The U.S. government will have to deal with both of them.

Time to Come Out of the Shadows

December, 2013

Berlin -- A few days ago I lunched in Berlin with several Americans who have long lived in this city. Forty years ago, some of them were under illegal surveillance by U.S. military intelligence. I briefly described the circumstances in a post last summer; since that time, Ann Wertheimer (assisted by several of her colleagues) has written a documented account of the surveillance, the whistleblowers who revealed it, and the successful court case that followed.

This effort has brought many fascinating facts to light and raises even more questions. Among the remaining unknowns is the identity of the whistleblower within U.S. military intelligence who contacted Senator Lowell Weicker about the illegal spying on Americans in Berlin.

Last month I talked to Bill Wickens, whom the senator dispatched to Germany in 1973, about his clandestine meeting with the whistleblower to gather evidence. He said the meeting did not take place in Berlin, but many miles outside of Bremen, in a car; the two used code names (the whistleblower's was Mr. "John Adams"). The whistleblower was an Army officer but Wickens said he destroyed all papers with his true identity, as the officer wanted absolute confidentiality.

We don't know if the Army officer ever learned what happened to the documents he provided. The papers themselves were first delivered into Senator Weicker's possession at his Virginia home. The day the senator was to take them to the Senate, according to Wickens, he accidently left them atop his car and they started to blow off as he crossed Memorial Bridge. The senator stopped and ran after them, but only after some had been run over by a truck, which left tire tracks on many of the papers.

Happily, the Army whistleblower's actions eventually led to an important settlement in 1980 in which the U.S. government agreed to limit its surveillance of Americans to instances where illegal activities are suspected. This raises the obvious question, in this day and age, of just when this agreement was overturned, or whether it should still be in effect.

Like the Americans in Berlin who stood up for their rights and were vindicated, the unknown military intelligence officer should be recognized. He is the rare -- perhaps unique -- example of a national security whistleblower who effected major change without breaking any laws. Does he even know the consequences of his actions? If he is still alive, it is long since time for him to come out of the shadows and be honored for what he did in the cause of protecting Americans' civil liberties. (I would welcome anyone with further information about this case to contact me, confidentiality assured if requested.)

As to the lunch group that met a few days ago, were we under surveillance? It seems so, as surveillance is now ubiquitous and threatens our freedoms under the Bill of Rights. People in Berlin are particularly sensitive to surveillance excesses. It's time to look back to the 1980 settlement as a guide to what is allowed and what isn't.

Troubled Colleges: Become an Experimental Site

December, 2013

Washington -- Many colleges are discovering that the high tuition, high (merit) aid, high student-debt model of enrollment management may have run its course. In a previous post, I suggested colleges that want to move away from this model should contact the U.S. Department of Education with an alternative, to be tested under the so-called "experimental sites" authority of the Secretary.

Since that post, the Department has published an invitation in the federal register for colleges to make applications to be designated experimental sites.

Colleges often complain about the high cost of regulatory compliance. A good application might also provide a way for colleges to explore, with the Department's cooperation, regulatory relief as a trade-off for serving more of the students the Department is supposedly assisting through its programs.

Perhaps a college or university already has an enrollment management model that complements the goals of the Department's programs (rather than contradicts them) and has reason to believe it would be scalable, as a model for more institutions. The Department should be eager to approve such a model as an experimental site.

Compromising the Extension Service

November, 2013

Lincoln -- As a former 4-H Club member, I've always been a supporter of cooperative extension programs in agriculture. Informing farmers and consumers about the latest agricultural research, the programs have worked successfully for decades, not least because of their unusual funding structure: part federal, part state, part local.

Each level of government has a stake and a say; no level has to bear the entire burden. This is a model ("cooperative federalism") that could be used more throughout government.

But my confidence in ag research and extension programs has been shaken by the intrusion of other interests into the equation.

This fall I visited a local Lincoln nursery to buy trees for our prairie property. I was surprised to see trees (e.g., ashes and elms) with known susceptibilities to certain insects offered for sale. The problems were dismissed by the nursery: just drench the roots annually with Bayer Advanced insecticide, which contains a neonicotinoid (imidacloprid) to kill the insects, I was advised.

But we raise bees and we try to provide a safe environment for pollinators of all types. Our country's food security is facing a serious challenge because of the precipitous loss of pollinators in recent years. We would not want to use any products that contain imidacloprid, which is toxic to bees.

I consulted an extension service webpage on the matter. It did not mention that imidacloprid is harmful to bees. I asked the nursery how many of their trees were already drenched with Bayer Advanced. Many species, it turns out. The nursery thought the more, the better, it was clear, as if this were a selling point.

The extension service is disseminating information on imidacloprid through the filter of Bayer Crop Science. Bayer is aggressively fighting bans of its products both in this country and abroad. Some localities in the USA prohibit imidacloprid; France, Germany, and Italy do not permit its use because of its toxicity to bees. Bayer claims its products pose a negligible risk to bees.

The Bayer tail is wagging the extension dog. As a taxpayer, I want the tax dollars I pay at the federal, state, and local levels devoted to research and extension uncompromised by fourth parties with agendas that may well be dangerous to the overall public interest: namely our food chain.

"George Norris, Going Home"

November, 2013

Lincoln -- Gene Budig and Don Walton have finally published a book they started over fifty years ago: George Norris, Going Home. They began it with interviews of Norris's widow, Ellie, that ran in the Lincoln Star at the beginning of their careers; they finished it decades later after Gene's wife found their abandoned book-version manuscript in an attic.

The slim volume is full of references to Norris's life, such as where he and his family lived in Washington when Congress was in session. It was at the Dodge Hotel, now the site of the Hall of the States on North Capitol Avenue, a few blocks from the Senate near Union Station.

My favorite passage is the description of Norris's appearance in the Nebraska Unicameral chamber at noon on March 10, 1943. It was his first visit to the unique institution he had campaigned for, against all odds, nine years earlier. That was also the same day I made my first appearance in this life, across town a few hours earlier at Bryan Memorial Hospital.

My least favorite passage (which appears twice) is where the authors pull their punches regarding the shameful treatment given George Norris by two U.S. senators in the mid 1950s, over a decade after his death. (The episode is recounted in the official history of the Senate). The authors, inexplicably, do not name the names of those behind the political pettiness.

Norris had been the top choice of 160 scholars for recognition of the U.S. Senate's five historically greatest members. But he was vetoed for inclusion by Senators Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska, who threatened extended debate against the man who had been their home-state political rival. So the "famous five" turned out to be Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Taft, and LaFollette, but not Norris.

Did this dimish the lasting memory of Norris, and the importance of the state he represented? I think it did. When I was working in the U.S. Senate in the early 1980s, Senator J. James Exon sent a letter to President Ronald Reagan alerting him to a celebration of Norris's accomplishments. The President sent back a letter regretting that he could not attend, but asked Senator Exon to extend his regards to Senator Norris.

Philippine Relief

November, 2013

Washington -- It is so difficult to imagine the calamity that has struck the Philippines; UNICEF appeals to me daily with descriptions of the suffering. I hope many Americans are helping with relief and hope. It is the least we can do for a country and a people who are so closely linked to ourselves and to our own history.

The first entry I wrote in this series dealt with the Philippines. I remember so well the day in 1967 when the USS Rainier (AE-5) made landfall in the San Bernadino Straits after a three-week ocean crossing. Cooking smoke curled up from forest villages in the mountains; the aroma of sampaguita (the Philippine national flower) blew across the narrow channels we navigated.

Many Americans can never get their Philippine experiences out of their minds. In the summer of 1990, former Concordia University president Dr. Ralph Reinke and his wife visited me in Berlin. We went into East Germany together. One of our topics of conversation was Ralph's recent trip back to the Philippines, where he had once served in the U.S. military. He had to visit Subic Bay again.

I'm glad the USS George Washington, with its huge evaporators producing drinkable water and its cavernous storerooms filled with food, is on the scene providing relief. During our years of service, many of us in the Navy welcomed chances to provide humanitarian help whenever possible. My Rainier division's sailors and I once helped build and paint a school on the edge of the Bataan peninsula, a day's bus ride over the mountains from where Americans once battled Filipinos, decades before, in an ill-conceived war that was started, most unfortunately, by Nebraskans.

Americans saved the Philippines from a brutal military regime in World War II but it is time to help the Philippines again, as the country struggles to recover from a year of natural disasters.

The Nebraska Climate Change Study

November, 2013

Lincoln -- The State of Nebraska has embarrassed itself nationally over legislation to study the potential effects of climate change on the state. The Nebraska legislature authorized and funded such a study but before it could get underway, a state senator (who is running for governor) announced that his last minute amendment to the legislation before it passed was intended to prevent those doing the study from looking at any man-made influences on climate.

A State Department of Agriculture official said that the study could therefore look only at "cyclical" climate change, as opposed to anthropogenic effects. Whereupon some University of Nebraska scientists concluded that they could not participate in the study if the politics of climate change limited their freedom of inquiry.

National television news channels pounced on the contretemps.

Happily, the Vice Chancellor at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources has stepped up to say the University could do an independent study; he provided a modest budget and suggested a graduate student could pull together existing studies free of ideological baggage.

This might be easier said than done, given the passions and the rhetorical excesses from all sides.

Any such author would do well to start with the history of climate change in Nebraska and the previous controversies that surrounded the subject. The University has often been in the thick of the controversies. An early professor, Dr. Samuel Aughey, told 19th century settlers inaccurately that "rain follows the plow," resulting in over-settlement of many rural areas and an inevitable de-population that is still in progress over a century later. During the First World War and the decade that followed, University agronomists and extension agents urged farmers to put prairie land into production with newly mechanized farming techniques. But conservation measures were not in place, so the winds blew the soil and exacerbated (if not caused) the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

One heroic professor stands athwart these unhappy eras, as he witnessed them firsthand, studied them, learned from them, and remediated their environmental consequences.

Dr. Frederic Clements, Lincoln-born and NU-educated professor of botany and ecology, established (with his wife, Dr. Edith Clements) a laboratory in the Rocky Mountains where he could study the effects of climate on plants. Scores of Nebraskans and others trained at their Alpine Laboratory from 1900 to 1940, first supported by the University of Nebraska, then Minnesota, and finally the Carnegie Institution. As the devastating consequences of the Dust Bowl became apparent, the U.S. government turned to the Doctors Clements for remedies. The husband-wife team traveled the country (Edith driving), visiting the conservation experiments of those they had trained at their lab. They recommended to the nation such new conservation measures as small shelterbelts, contour farming, minimum tillage, and cover crops, along with the establishment of citizen-controlled Soil Conservation Districts.

When drought once again raised fears of another dust bowl in the early 1950s, much of the land had been restored and protected with these conservation techniques. Scientists and conservationists of the time credited these man-made countermeasures.

The Clementses were not political; they believed that the climate disasters they had witnessed were both cyclical and man-made. Frederic Clements joined with the founder of the science of dendrochronolgy, A.E. Douglass, to examine the effect of solar activity on climate. He likewise was a severe critic of the kinds of farming techniques that destroyed the prairies and caused them to blow.

Nebraska -- its state university in particular -- has every reason to conduct an independent study on the potential effects of 21st century climate change. A good place to start would be to review the lives and times of Frederic and Edith Clements.

"Enrollment Management" is Out of Control

November, 2013

Washington -- If ever there was compelling evidence demonstrating the need for the Secretary of Education to enforce the Student Right to Know Act*, it has presented itself in recent days:

• George Washington University has admitted to its student newspaper that it takes students' ability to pay tuition into account in its final admissions decisions. GWU had previously misled students by claiming admissions were need blind.

• College clients of a student net-price calculator company have requested that the company block student access to another such company's net price calculator, inhibiting students from comparing college costs.

• Some colleges are using federally-collected FAFSA information to deny students admission or to cut their financial aid.

This is just the most recent evidence that the "enrollment management" industry is out of control. The integrity of many colleges has long-since been compromised; federal funds in the billions annually have been wasted and abused through unethical financial aid packaging procedures; even the nation's economy has been damaged by plunging students into levels of debt that can hobble them for life.

Colleges and the enrollment management industry have been able to obfuscate and misinform students, families, and taxpayers by insisting -- without challenge from the U.S. Department of Education -- that their procedures and practices constitute proprietary information and are not subject to disclosure. This is demonstrably false. The Student Right to Know Act already provides that colleges must disclose to students the details of how amounts of financial aid are calculated and the methods used by the colleges to determine those amounts. "Methods" means nothing if not the disgusting practices of the enrollment management industry.

What is the Secretary of Education waiting for? With one letter to the higher education community, the Secretary of Education could beam disinfecting sunshine into the shady world of student admissions and financial aid. Such action would be welcomed by the remaining colleges and financial aid administrators who believe colleges must not just teach ethics (and transparency) but practice them as well.
* The Student Right to Know Act, as used here, includes financial assistance information as currently codified in 20 USC 1092; the implementing regulations are at 34 CFR 668.42. These provisions also deal with graduation rates, campus crime, and a variety of other matters setting forth the obligations of colleges to inform students. The codification includes legislation passed with various titles over several decades.

Prairie Autumn

November, 2013

Lincoln -- The trees and grasses on my home prairie, in the Oak Creek valley northwest of Lincoln, have never been more colorful. Warm September days followed by cool October nights (but with no hard freezes) have made each day more spectacular than the day before.

Bees in the hives are still active; deer and wild turkeys are plentiful; quail uprisings startle hikers on the trails.

A coyote who lives in the riparian wetlands looks fat and happy. A trail camera catches skunks, racoons, and opossums making nightly courses through their grass highways. A fox checks out what's happening around the barn.

A great horned owl hoots before midnight and again at dawn. Old growth cottonwoods, bright yellow against deep blue skies, preside over the season.

How to Break the House Impasse

Washington -- To break the current impasse over the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution to fund the government, House Republicans who would vote to end the crisis need to assert themselves. To do this, they should caucus as "Independent Conservatives" whose platform would be to negotiate a grand bargain with President Obama, after the government has been reopened with a bipartisan vote and the full faith and credit of the United States restored.

The President should agree to negotiate with these Independent Conservatives, giving them the first invitation among Republicans to set the agenda for such talks. This would strengthen their hand and provide a way out of the crisis.

The great stateman George Norris of Nebraska led such a group of House Republicans in 1910. Norris and his followers broke the power of Speaker "Boss" Cannon to hold legislation hostage. Latter day Republicans who want to reopen the government are said to fear primary challenges if they don't toe the line of Speaker Boehner. But not only was Norris re-elected after overthrowing Speaker Cannon, he went on to serve in Congress another thirty-three years.

As for primary challenges, such Independent Conservatives should (1) put their country ahead of their own careers and (2) be ready to take yes for an answer if President Obama agrees (as he has before) to put entitlements on the table in the negotiations. They would then have a record of conservative accomplishment to show voters, as opposed to the nihilism that has currently captured the Republican party and threatens America's international credibility.

Comparisons Across Capitals

October, 2013

Lincoln -- Trying to keep track of developments in three capitals provides a perspective to make comparisons.

Berlin is dealing collegially with the results of last month's elections, putting together a coaliton of its leading political parties. A CDU/SPD grand coalition, which ruled from 2005-2009, is again a possibility.

Washington is at an impasse, the government shut down for several days and counting. The credibility of Washington at home and especially abroad has taken an enormous beating. No foreign enemy or terrorist organization could do the damage that Washington is doing to itself.

The choices Washington faces are fundamentally ethical: is it ethical for a minority (of either party) to shut down the government to try to get its way on an issue for which it does not have the votes? Is it ethical to give in to such tactics? Should the Speaker of the House continue to have the power to prevent an up-or-down vote of the entire House to re-open the government? Is it ethical that national security should be put at such risk?

In Nebraska, has anyone thought to ask the state's congressional delegation if they remember what George Norris, a Nebraska Republican congressman, did in 1910 in the face of a similar dilemma? Norris led a group of fellow Republicans to challenge the power of Speaker Joseph Cannon to dictate what legislation could be voted on. Norris prevailed; Boss Cannon was stripped of such power.

George Norris went on to be re-elected to the House and later elected to the Senate, serving until 1943. He is a political legend in Nebraska and in Washington, profiled in JFK's Profiles in Courage. He was among the first elected to Nebraska's Hall of Fame.

German friends note with sadness that America has fallen so far, and with irony that it was primarily America, after WWII, that set up their own government, which continues to function comparatively smoothly. In Germany, conservatives have accommodated liberals, and vice versa, to create a country where the economy is robust, where the gap between rich and poor is narrow, where health care is effective and affordable, and where education and opportunity abound.

Historic Opportunity, No Legislation Required

October, 2013

Washington -- Many college admission directors and business officers across the country are worried about the sustainability of their enrollment models, strategic plans, and the future of the institutions themselves. Old enrollment management schemes, like "merit aid" discounts based on the high-tuition-high-aid model, may have run their course. Overall, higher education enrollment is down this year and, at several colleges, seriously down.

This means many institutions have excess capacity and could handle more students at low marginal costs per student. The institutions should be happy to enroll students who bring in revenue that covers marginal costs, namely those bringing federal aid, like Pell students and veterans. These students, if more aggressively recruited, could keep up necessary enrollments where the alternative might be a downward spiral of slashing programs and faculty until the institution is faced with demise.

This is where the Secretary of Education could be helpful, not only in pushing for more affordable access for Pell recipients and veterans, but also in reversing the exhausted merit aid model. He could offer colleges a carrot for opening up access to the lower income in ways that do not burden them with loans.

Under current law, the Secretary has wide discretion to establish "experimental sites"; he could invite several willing colleges starting next year to rework their strategic plans and models away from futile chases after rankings and prestige, toward affordable access for populations that are now being squeezed out financially or poorly served by exploitative, proprietary institutions that sink students into unconscionable levels of debt. The reward could be a substantial relaxation or waiving of regulations for a college, as an experimental site.

This could be done under current law with no additional appropriations. The Department could put an invitation in the Federal Register for proposals. The current situation of excess capacity, exhausted tuition gimmickry schemes, fearsome student debt burdens, and a widening lower-income access gap presents a historic opportunity for action.

Time to Act, Mr. Secretary

September, 2013

Washington -- In the previous post, I described new research on how colleges move around billions of dollars in students' financial aid packages, to the great disadvantage of the financially needy. With these practices, colleges thwart the purpose of federal and private charitable grant aid, balloon student debt, exacerbate the growing gap between our society's rich and poor, and drag down our nation's economic recovery.

Many college administrators admit to the practices but are afraid to break away from the pack, fearful of what it might do to their own individual institutions. Likely as not, many of these colleges have strategic plans to increase ranking and prestige, using sophisticated enrollment management models to convert supposedly restricted federal and private grant aid to unrestricted use. With such unrestricted revenues, the institutions embark on merit aid and campus amenity programs that impress those who value rankings and prestige. This is being done on the backs of low income students who must take out loans and at the expense of federal taxpayers, whose elected representatives have exhibited an astonishing lack of oversight.

The Secretary of Education could take two steps immediately to end these abusive (and unethical) practices.

1. Send Department of Education "program reviewers" to a few representative colleges. Upon finding abusive practices, put the colleges on notice that their continued participation in federal Title IV financial aid programs will be handled as appropriate by existing Limitation, Suspension, and Termination (LS&T) powers of the Secretary.

2. Announce that the existing Student Right to Know Act (SRTK) requires Title IV participating institutions to advise students about how all financial aid funds are packaged. Colleges (and their enrollment management contractors) have long maintained that this is proprietary information. Sunshine is a powerful disinfectant and will help enable students, their families, charitable donors, federal taxpayers, and others with an interest in financial aid packaging to make sure that grants given to financial needy students are indeed used to reduce their work and loan burdens, rather than being manipulated by the colleges for their own purposes.

If the Secretary would take these two actions, a shockwave would go through the higher education community immediately. Enrollment managers would have to eliminate abuse of the low income as a tool in strategic planning. Private charities would have a new tool to ensure that the students they want to help will actually benefit (which will also serve to assure prospective donors that their contributions are being put to good use). Colleges themselves will not have so much reason to raise tuition in order to have sufficient institutional aid funds to mingle and manipulate in financial aid packages. Ethical voices in colleges and universities will be heard. Student financial aid administrators, many of whom chose a career in what they hoped would be a helping profession, would potentially be freed from the oppression of admissions directors and enrollment managers whose only goal is an institutional ranking uptick that looks good on their resume.

And federal taxpayers will have a sense that the President and the Secretary actually care about making sure federal programs work as intended.

Research In, Opinion Shifting

September, 2013

Washington -- Last month, the National Bureau of Economic Research published an important paper demonstrating how colleges and universities "game" federal student financial aid, essentially taking it away from financially needy students. This gaming is prevalent in private, non-profit institutions but is also taking over public four-year institutions.

It is a prime cause of the the trillion-dollar student debt crisis, which not only threatens individuals and their families, but is a significant drag on the nation's economic recovery.

The NBER paper corroborates the 2012 work of Lesley Turner, who estimated that billions of Pell grant dollars are lost annually to these gaming practices. It is likewise good to see the Congressional Budget Office take note of the Turner study. These studies confirm the findings and warnings of many of us over the years.

Some college administrators are facing up to the situation. Catharine B. Hill of Vassar, who is also a higher education economist, has written cogent op-eds about how the federal government must provide the correct incentives to eliminate gaming. (She is still too much the college apologist, however, in ascribing the problem to the widening societal gap between the rich and the poor, disingenuously failing to acknowledge that colleges themselves widen the gap when they move billions of dollars of federal funds, intended for the needy, to the non-needy.)

Henry E. Riggs of Stanford and Harvey Mudd is more forthright in acknowledging what is going on and what should be done about it:

Any sweetening of (a) Pell Grants or (b) other state- or federal-government financial-aid awards serves to offset institutional funds. To the extent these offset funds are used for merit scholarships, the Pell Grant program's objectives are being thwarted: Some or all of the funds may in fact be going to non-needy students. This is certainly not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Governments should restrict their granting of need-based scholarships to those colleges that do not "buy" students by granting merit scholarships.

Riggs continues with a prescription for private charities as well:

When generous donors restrict their gifts to the support of need-based student financial aid, they are really making "unrestricted" gifts. That is, their gifts replace the institution's own financial-aid funds, and those funds can then be used for any—that is, unrestricted—purposes. Donors of student-aid funds, then, would be wise to insist that their funds add to the total of need-based aid and are not used for merit scholarships, either directly or by substitution.

Last week I was guest speaker for a meeting of a charity dedicated to aiding low income students. The charity is concerned that the funds they raise are being gamed in the same way Pell grants are gamed, and they are right. They want to know what can be done.

That will be the subject of the next "Three Capitals."

Assembling to Remember Great Scientists and Remarkable Nebraskans

August, 2013

Lincoln -- On August 9th, in perfect weather, a dozen of us assembled in Wyuka Cemetery to recall an event a hundred years earlier to the day, the International Phytogeographic Excursion's visit to Lincoln. Leading scientists of the time traveled from several different countries to observe Nebraska prairies and to learn from their Nebraska botany and ecology colleagues.* Several of the planners and participants of the 1913 event are buried at the cemetery (Charles Bessey, Samuel Avery, Frederic Clements, Frank Shoemaker, Jack Miller and William Hardy). The south fence of the cemetery is the same fence that surrounded the University of Nebraska until the early 1920s.

A walk through the cemetery took us by the grave markers of many other notable Nebraskans (the Pound sisters, the Eager brothers, Marjorie Barstow, Leta and Harry Hollingworth, Edgar Burnett, Erwin Barbour, Carl Hartley, Lawrence Bruner). In our party was a student of the Philippine American War who was particularly interested in Frank Eager and his important role in it; another in our group was a writer who has recounted Erwin Barbour's paleontological work around the state.

Several in our party quickly noticed an inverse relationship in some cases between size of gravestone and greatness. It was first remarked at the almost unnoticable marker of Louise Pound; the notion was reinforced at the modest stone of Erwin Barbour and highlighted even more at the plot of Frederic Clements, who had no marker whatsoever until recently. Robert Wolcott and Frank Shoemaker remain unmarked (although a conservation area north of Lincoln is named for Shoemaker).

The relationship is due at least in some instances to extraordinary commitment. University scholars and leaders in the early days gave their all, including their own financial resources, to their discipline and their institution. When Charles Bessey died, the state legislature created a fund for his widow; a Bessey successor put up his own resources to match an outside university grant. The academic and administrative life back then was often one of financial sacrifice. But such epitomizes greatness.

Accounts of the 1913 excursion suggest that the visiting international scientists did not spend as much time exploring prairies around Lincoln as they wanted. Commercial interests in Lincoln apparently saw the 1913 visitors as potential international boosters and took up much of their time with promotions and speeches. Some of the visitors escaped to look at prairies north and west of the city, however briefly, before their train departed the old Burlington station in the early evening of August 9, 1913.

Our small party, however, lunched not in the city with business boosters but on a prairie a few miles northwest owned in 1913 by the Eager** family, near the site of Nine Mile Prairie, a tallgrass prairie now on the National Register of Historic Places. Research on these prairies and on others nearby led to the establishment of what is known as the Grasslands or Nebraska school of ecology. This approach to ecology reached its apogee in 1929 with the publication of Frederic Clements' and John Weaver's Plant Ecology, a text that would be used throughout the world for generations.

* The University of Nebraska had established itself as one of the leading universities in the nation (admitted to the Association of American Universities in 1909) based largely on the reputation of its natural sciences faculty.

** In the 1970s, George Eager, son of Frank Eager, raised bison on the original Eager homestead north of Lincoln near Davey.

How Not To Do Higher Education Budgeting (Part III: Federal Budgeting)

Washington -- President Obama shook up the higher education community with some suggested reforms to how the federal government goes about supporting America's diverse higher education system. The proposals announced in Buffalo were long overdue. They might even work, although reformers must be careful not to replace one set of bad incentives with another. This is a real danger.

Many of the President's reforms require legislation, most likely through the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. As a veteran of several reauthorizations, however, I can attest that this process is unlikely to be a good reform vehicle. A reauthorization is an exercise in strangulation by lobbyists, campaign donors, narrow interests, and favor seekers.

The President and his Secretary of Education should not wait to begin their reforms. Much legislation is already on the books giving the Secretary powers he has seldom if ever used.

• If student confusion over prices and financial aid is a problem (and it is), the Secretary can enforce the Student Right to Know Act to prevent colleges from manipulating aid behind closed doors.

• If state and institutional disinvestment in lower income students is a problem (and it is), the President can immediately instruct his Secretary and OMB to prepare their next federal budget proposal to emphasize existing federal programs that require state and institutional commitment.

• If student loan borrowers are abused and misinformed as to their repayment options (and they are), the Secretary can crack down on the servicers and collectors with Limitation, Suspension, or Termination (LS&T) orders.

• If colleges countervail the purposes of federal aid by using the aid in a plan to adopt a high-tuition-high-merit-aid model of institutional finance (and hundreds of colleges do), the Secretary can send out program review teams to determine the extent of waste, fraud, or abuse of federal funds.

• If false and misleading advertising lure students into bad choices that result in dropping out and being burdened with overwhelming debt (as is too often the case), the President and the Secretary can use the bully pulpit, including public service announcements, to advise prospective students as to where they and their families can get reliable information.

• If college ranking organizations (U.S. News for example) create incentives for colleges to cheat and to reward colleges for countervailing federal programs (and they do), the Secretary can work with alternative rankings organizations that do not; he can make grants to responsible ranking organizations to identify issues in preparation for the Department's own proposed rating system.

• If the old, moribund higher education establishment in Washington will not constuctively cooperate in ending abuses and reforming federal incentives (and most likely it won't), the Secretary can encourage and start working with the many college presidents and faculty around the country who will. Many colleges are rightly concerned that the status quo will lead them to extinction. The President, the Secretary of Education, and the Attorney General must assure college administrators that they will not be investigated for anti-trust activities when cooperating in needed higher education reforms.

From time to time I discuss policy questions with my former colleagues in state and federal government and in the institutions; on occasion I am invited to consult on the Hill. My advice for several years has been for the Secretary to get a stiffer backbone and take action using the powers he already has. I'm pleased to see that the Department of Education will now be contacting borrowers directly to tell them about their repayment options, an action I have long advocated.

Colleges, states, loan servicers and all connected to the huge higher education enterprise react to incentives. For years, many federal incentives have been wrong; the President and the Secretary have until now turned a clouded eye to how the federal government itself has contributed, by its actions and inactions, to the current sorry state of affairs. Here's hoping the Buffalo speech represents a watershed event.

How Not to Do Higher Education Budgeting (Part II)

Washington -- The relationship between state tax support and tuition charges at public universities is a complex one and should be treated as such. There is an unfortunate new tendency to treat them as having a fixed, inverse relationship. This is wrong and can lead to bad decisions on both tax support and tuition levels.

Sometimes the two should increase together; for example, when an academic program is to be improved. Students agree to pay more if taxpayers also kick in their share.

Sometimes the two should decrease together; tough economic times might require trimming expenditures and passing the savings back both to students and to taxpayers.

Sometimes, of course, the two should move inversely; for example, when either revenue source starts to carry too much of the expenditure burden. What is too much? That's for each state and institution to decide. The work of the Carnegie Commission in the 1970s, especially its publication Who Pays? Who Benefits? Who Should Pay? is still relevant and helpful in answering these questions.

But lately states and, especially, public institutions have been acting as if the relationship is fixed inversely. Institutions under fire for raising tuition are quick to blame states for inadequate tax support. Sometimes this is justified, sometimes not. The situation is almost one of blackmail: "Give our institution more tax support or we'll raise tuition."

Governors and state legislators can also play this game: "We're giving you more tax support so don't you dare raise tuition." Or both sides play the same game and reach agreement that in exchange for a certain level of tax support, tuition will not increase. This is done amid much self-congratulation.

Lost in the rush to treat tax support and tuition as yin and yang are the situations and questions raised above. What about expenditure levels? What about institutional missions and priorities? What about changing emphasis back to affordability rather than the pursuit of prestige rankings? What about the possibility that the baseline levels were wrong in the first place, and that both institutions and states have been increasingly burdening a generation of students and families with excessive student loan debt and this debt is a troubling overhang to our nation's economic recovery? That is an emerging, albeit painful, national realization.

Good higher education budgeting is important to our nation's future. A healthy skepticism is the right reaction to any chancellor, governor, or state legislator who is cavalier about the relationship between state tax support and tuition.

How Not To Do Higher Education Budgeting (Part I)

August, 2013

Washington -- The University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University recently demonstrated bad practices in higher education budgeting; both are paying for it with bad press and public distrust.

Officials at UW failed to disclose that they had built up a cash reserve of hundreds of millions of dollars all the while raising tuition and asking the state legislature for more tax support. The university's financial reports obfuscated the size of the surplus; UW officials tried to explain it away by saying much of it was obligated and attributed the rest to fiscal prudence. State legislators were not amused by what they considered hoarding and an astonishing lack of transparency in a public institution; they reduced a planned tax support increase.

Iowa State earmarked a percentage of tuition increases for financial aid to the low income. Some Iowans jumped to the conclusion that better-off students were therefore paying for the education of the poor. State legislators waded in with a bill to stop the practice and earmarked tax dollars for need-based financial aid; the governor signed the legislation. Moody's took a dim view of it all and said the legislation would hurt ISU's financial ratings because of all the unusual earmarking.

What few seemed to have considered at ISU is that all its students receive tax-subsidized tuition: some more, some less. And that tax support and tuition, under generally accepted accounting principles, both go into a university's unrestricted general fund operating budget; it was quite unnecessary to do any earmarking in the first place.

So at ISU, it all seems to have been a big misunderstanding that could have been avoided. Unfortunately, the national attention devoted to the ISU dust-up took attention away from many universities' policies to aid the better off at the expense of the low income, not through earmarking but through misguided enrollment management practices that put institutional prestige rankings above basic student affordabilty and access. Ironically, ISU seems to have been trying to do the right thing, but went about it the wrong way.

The Wisconsin example of bad budgeting that hurt UW reminds me of a similar situation many years ago in Nebraska. The University of Nebraska tried to build cash reserves by underestimating tuition revenue for an ensuing year, persuading the state legislature to give it more tax support to maintain the same or growing levels of expenditures. The following year, NU would put the higher actual tuition revenue on its books and, like UW, say it was obligated or necessary for cash flow. The gimmick didn't work any better in Nebraska that it did in Wisconsin. The NU president, Woody Varner, soon resigned, saying he had lost the confidence of the people in the statehouse. He was right.

The governor of Nebraska at the time, Jim Exon, took a dim view of gimmickry in higher education funding. He proposed instead a tax support level at least at the average per-capita higher education spending of surrounding states. Institutional governing boards and administrators would then be free to manage; there would be no gamesmanship among funds, hidden or not. The university could coordinate cash flow needs with the state itself, he volunteered. It never happened.

These three examples serve as reminders that budget gimmickry, misadventures in fund accounting, and a lack of transparency can come back to hurt an institution and dimish trust in its leadership.

The Ultimate Senate Gang

August, 2013

Washington -- As Congress sinks even lower in its inability to measure up to the nation's challenges, one of the few bright spots is the emergence of Senate "gangs" to deal in a bipartisan manner with otherwise intractable problems. These gangs have been ad hoc groupings tied to specific issues, such as judicial confirmations and immigration.

It is time to think beyond these gangs and for the Senate Republicans who have participated in them to consider the formation of the ultimate gang, a temporary -- through the 2014 elections -- Independent Conservative party.

This temporary party, which would need about 8-10 Senate members, would position itself in the middle of the two existing parties and wield effective control over the filibuster, the procedural tool that now hamstrings the Senate. Its members would either threaten to bolt the Republicans and caucus with the Democrats, or actually do it in exchange for some major concessions from the Democrats. Those concessions might involve bringing entitlement reform to the floor, or revenue-neutral tax overhaul, or both.

Yes, the Republican caucus might try to strip these new Independent Conservatives from their committee assignments and positions. But the answer to such a threat would be a question: "Do you want me back in the Republican caucus in 2015? If so, leave my committee assignments (and the staffs and budgets that go with them) alone."

In parliamentary systems it is common for parties positioned in the middle to exercise a great deal of influence. In Germany, the FDP for decades has joined with either the SPD or the CDU to govern the country; its influence far exceeds its power at the polls. Being in the middle is an enviable position.

In the U.S. Senate there are perhaps a dozen gang-minded or independent Republicans who could feasibly form a temporary political party, because they are not up for re-election in 2014, or they are retiring, or it would not hurt them back home to become an independent for purposes of breaking the Senate gridlock. In the first category are McCain, Murkowski, Coats, Hoeven, Portman, Corker, Grassley, and Burr; retiring are Chambliss and Johanns; Collins would not be hurt by becoming independent in Maine.

This would foil those who want to shut down the government, default on the national debt, or play brinksmanship with national security. It would create a dynamic that would require the White House to engage with the Senate rather than endlessly sending the president on fruitless campaign-like appearances around the country. It would lessen the House's hyper-partisan leverage. Public opinion would likely be with senators who put the national interest ahead of partisanship.

Faculty I Envy

July, 2013

Washington -- It's nice to know one's place and occasionally be put into it. That's the treatment I get from Professor Luciano Penay of American University. Mr. Penay, a retired professor of art, knows I am good for hauling around paintings, prints, and installations in my ten year old van; he knows I am good at following instructions when doing a hang; he knows I am good with a hammer and picture hooks; and at cleaning up.

Mr. Penay is a curator and master of the hang. No one can juxtapose art works, to get the most from them, better than he. But he also has good (and occasionally great) art to work with: the creations of many of his own students. And lest you think these "students" are youngsters, many of them go back decades with him.

Which is why I admire and envy him. What faculty can say they still have a following, over decades, that meets as often as weekly? The followers are known as Group 93.

I am not an artist, just someone who helps, observes, and admires. And who smiles inwardly when some of the students and my fellow helpers (who may in other lives be foreign service officers, diplomats, engineers, or who knows what) are put in their place by Mr. Penay in the process of hanging or taking down a show.

One student is shown a certain deference. She paid for the building in which the group meets, the Katzen Arts Center, a magnificent gallery and museum on Ward Circle. It stretches along Massachusetts Avenue longer than the Kennedy Center stretches along the Potomac. It is a treasure in a city of great galleries such as the Corcoran, the Phillips, and the National Gallery of Art. Myrtle Katzen is a member of Group 93. Her love of painting inspired the building.

Myrtle wears the deference lightly. She welcomes criticism of her works from Mr. Penay and the other Group 93 artists. In group shows, her works are interspersed with others. Sometimes they sell, sometimes not. Collectors at the last Group 93 show, buying works for their quality as much as their name, selected from (among others) Michael Graham, Joan Birnbaum, Claudia Vess, Lucy Blankstein, ...and Myrtle Katzen.

The Washington Post in the past year has finally discovered great art locally, and great stories that go with it. Good for them. The Group 93 story is yet untold, but overdue. And it's not just a local story: this building, this professor, this benefactor, and this group link the local to the global. Some Group 93 artists also show internationally.

When not hanging, Luciano Penay and I have some good conversations about Lincoln, Nebraska. He came from Chile (where he still spends part of each year) to study in Lincoln in the late 1940s. Luciano lived in the YMCA at 14th and P Streets and washed dishes at a Greek cafe to earn tuition money. He loved the autumn weather, until it turned to winter. Then he sought less extreme climes. At AU he is in his element.

When the World Beat a Path to Lincoln, Nebraska

July, 2013

Lincoln -- One hundred years ago, on August 9, 1913, several of the world's greatest scientists came to Lincoln to see Nebraska prairies and to pay tribute to the remarkable Nebraska botanist and education pioneer, Charles Bessey.

According to a Lincoln newspaper of the era, documents from the Library of Congress, and the later written reports of the scientists themselves, they came from England, Scotland, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, and Sweden. They were part of the Second International Phytogeographic Excursion, organized by Professors Henry Cowles of the University of Chicago and Frederic Clements of the University of Minnesota. Cowles and Clements were America's leading botanists and ecologists; they arranged for the stop in Lincoln.

The international party arrived in Lincoln the morning of August 9th by train from Chicago, some dressed in scientific exploration outfits expecting to go immediately to view prairies around Lincoln. University of Nebraska Chancellor Samuel Avery had other plans for them, as he put them in automobiles driven by Lincoln businessmen William Hardy and J.E. "Jack" Miller to show them the city. The closest most of them got to the countryside was a quick visit to the "Rogers' Woods" (presumably the Rogers Tract at 33rd and O Streets).

Temperatures that day were blistering hot: the thermometer would show 108 degrees by afternoon. For lunch, Chancellor Avery hosted the party at the Commercial Club, with Governor Morehead giving remarks on his roadbuilding program. Sir Arthur Tansley of England paid tribute to Professor Bessey but also admonished Nebraskans that too little was being done to appreciate and preserve the prairies.

After lunch, a lantern show was to feature the botanical slides of Nebraska botanist Raymond Pool. Pool was ill, however, and Frank Shoemaker, his assistant, may have helped out. Some of the international visitors insisted on getting out of the city; they visited the salt flats west of Lincoln before their train departed at 6:00 p.m. for Colorado and a ten day stay at Frederic Clements' laboratory on Pikes Peak.

The excursion ended in California.

On August 9, 2013, a few of us will attempt to recreate the Lincoln visit, one hundred years to the day later. We'll meet at 10:00 a.m. at Wyuka Cemetery (not far from Rogers' Woods), where the cemetery's south iron fence is the same fence that surrounded the university's campus from 1891 to 1925. We'll stop at the final resting places of Charles Bessey and several of his remarkable protégés, including Frederic Clements himself, recognized as the founder of the science of ecology.

We'll note the grave markers of the 1913 tour drivers, Hardy and Miller, better known as the founders of the Hardy Furniture Company and the Miller and Paine department store.

We'll exit Lincoln through what remains of the salt flats and have lunch on a prairie northwest of the city that would have been an ideal site for the international party to have visited a hundred years earlier.

More Cold War Stories

July, 2013

Berlin -- Two blocks from my front door, on a Bethaniendamm traffic island behind St. Thomas Church in Kreuzberg, is a small but thriving fruit and vegetable garden with a two story, jerry-built garden house and several arbors that provide seating and shade for two families that tend to the plot. A historical oddity, it is also a much-photographed tourist attraction.

The founder of the garden, Osman Kalin, came from Anatolia to West Berlin six decades ago. In the 1980s, he lived in a nearby apartment building overlooking the Berlin wall, which extended the length of Bethaniendamm. As he looked down on the East German security patrols going back and forth in the death strip, he noticed below him a junk-filled notch of land belonging to East Berlin that the wall by-passed, apparently because enclosing it would have ruined observation lines from the watch towers. On his own initiative, he cleared the plot and started a garden against the wall, technically in East German territory but on the West Berlin side of the daunting structure.

He soon got visits from the East Berlin border police, who suspected the garden might be a ruse for a tunneling effort. Throwing his Turkish passport at their feet, the Anatolian convinced them it was not. They subsequently monitored the height of his sunflowers but the central committee of the SED ruling party decided he was not worth the trouble of continually crossing the border to check on him.

The garden became an accepted part of the neighborhood. Osman Kalin and his wife were befriended by the pastor of the neighboring St. Thomas church, who offered them a reliable water supply. The pastor rescued them one night from a fire that destroyed their hut, whereupon they started coming over to the church (which emphasizes social outreach) for coffee.

The garden thrived. Osman Kalin toted excess vegetables in a wagon over to the Turkish Market on Maybachufer.

But then a neighbor, Mustafa Akyol, took over part of the land Kamil was not using. Disagreements ensued. The two Turkish neighbors ironically put up a dividing fence between them, perpendicular to the dividing wall that separated the Eastern world from the Western.

After the Berlin wall came down, the plot was eventually transferred to the borough of Kreuzberg. The mayor could have evicted the gardeners, but instead gave them a "permit of illegal occupation."

Osman Kalin and Mustafa Akyol have turned the plot over to their descendants; the gardens have never looked better.

A Berlin Cemetery

July, 2013

Berlin -- For an afternoon Berlin excursion, Claudia and I took the 147 bus from Bethaniendamm to Friedrichstadtpalast, a twenty minute trip. She went to the art galleries along Linienstrasse and Augustastrasse; I walked up Chauseestrasse to the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery, where many notables are buried.

The cemetery dates to the 18th century. Schinkel, the architect, is buried here. The philosophers Fichte and Hegel occupy plots nearly adjacent to each other.

Some graves are contemporary. The eighth president of Germany, Johannes Rau, was buried here in 2007.

Major figures of the twentieth century are buried here: Berthold Brecht, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Herbert Marcuse.

So is composer Hanns Eisler, who was hounded out of the United States by Richard Nixon in 1948, despite efforts by Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, Roy Harris, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, and many others. On his departure, he voiced his love for the American people and his contempt for Nixon's HUAC. Soon he would up in East Berlin and wrote the East Germany national anthem. It is familiar to all who watched East German athletes win gold medals at many successive Olympic games, lending unjustified dignity and beauty to a corrupt athletic training regime and country.

Of all the graves on the day of my visit, only Eisler's was decorated in flowers.

Another notable at the cemetery is Ludwig Litfass, the printer who created and gave his name to the ubiquitous Litfasssaeulen (those round advertising columns) all over Europe.

Summer Life in Berlin

July, 2013

Berlin -- It is such a pleasure to be in Berlin in mid-summer, when the evening light lasts until nearly 11 p.m., the flowering lindens drench the streets with their aroma, and people dine and relax outside the cafes on about every street corner.

In my neighborhood, one can walk for blocks without encountering a chain-type establishment; the cafes and restaurants are local Berliner Kneipen or Turkish, Italian, French, Persian, Mediterranean, German, or a unique combination. Favorites in my immediate Kiez are Markthalle, Toscana Fraktion, Un ou Deux Chose, Cafe V; over in Kreuzkoelln (where my daughter lives), Silberloeffel; in the Graefekiez, Weinblatt.

All of these are an easy walk. No need for a car in Berlin. Anything beyond the neighborhood is quickly accessible by public transportation. From my door, the Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn is ten minutes away to the south, as is the S-Bahn to the north at Ostbahnhof. Even closer are buses M29, 140, 147, and 265. A 7-day pass for all public transportation is only 28 Euros.

Walking either direction is both a delight and a history lesson. Going toward Ostbahnhof takes one past the monumental St. Thomas church, over the site of the old Berlin Wall, across the Spree River, with its barges and tourist boats, and into the borough of Frederichshain, distinctively still East Berlin, where some of the old wall still exists.

Walking towards Kottbusser Tor, past the double spires of the nineteenth century Bethanien hospital (now an arts center), one is quickly immersed into all things Turkish -- dress, language, newspapers, groceries, cafes, sundry shops, travel agencies, a mosque, and on Tuesdays on the banks of the Landwehr Canal, the huge Turkish market. There is a sense of unease between the German and Turkish cultures, because German immigration policy has treated the Turks as guestworkers who will eventually go home to Turkey. The Turks -- about 200,000 strong -- are now in their fourth generation in the boroughs of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln. Clearly there is great resentment, and it did not help matters for Germany to have opposed entry of Turkey into the European Union. German immigration policy is not one for America to emulate.

If I could change anything, I'd prefer less Hundekot on the sidewalks (Berlin has literally tons of it -- so many dogs!) and less graffiti (some works are murals, senselessly tagged over); but given their history, these neighborhoods have always been a gritty part of Berlin and that is part of their charm. The diverse, free-growing greenery alone is a welcome respite from the unhealthy, sterile, manicured monocultures that are a noise and pesticide plague around my Maryland home. I can easily make the trade-off.

Just staying home in my Berlin neighborhood is no small delight to the senses. The church bells of St. Thomas ring across the street; in my courtyard, magpies, hooded crows, swifts, and songful blackbirds constantly entertain. I grow herbs in my garden. My neighbors are international, young, ambitious, and friendly. We love the neighborhood.

Celebrating our Freedoms on the Fourth of July

July, 2013

Berlin -- Yesterday, on the Fourth of July in Berlin, a hardy band of Americans gathered to celebrate our freedoms, including the Fourth Amendment freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and the First Amendment freedoms of assembly and speech. I was among the celebrants.

Dare I say who gathered and where? These days it's hard to know who might be under surveillance, even by one's own country.

Ridiculous as it may seem, I'll not name the people or where we met. Because it would not be the first time that some of the participants -- American educators, shopkeepers, and professionals living in Berlin -- were wiretapped and their group infiltrated by the U.S. government.

In 1973 and 1974, a group of Americans called "Concerned Americans in Berlin" came under U.S. Army surveillance. Wiretaps were arranged through the compliant host government and American spies were assigned to join the group. Dossiers were built on the individual members; reports were compiled and sent up the Army chain of command.

What did the wiretaps and the spies discover? That this group had supported George McGovern* in the 1972 elections and in the wake of Watergate, had discussed and favored the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In other words, CAIB members were like millions of their fellow citizens back home.

The surveillance was uncovered through the actions of a whistleblower within the U.S. Army. He thought the surveillance was wrong and reported it to Republican Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut. A member of the Senate Watergate Committee, Weicker attacked the White House. CAIB sued, and eventually the individual members settled with awards of about $4,500 each. The settlement contained a promise that the Army would not spy on them again.

Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina quickly introduced the "Freedom from Military Surveillance Act" of 1974. (It subsequently died quietly in committee.)

Yesterday, one of the Americans brought along evidence from forty years ago. It was chilling; one document showed a crude sociogram constructed by the Army; with lines and circles, it linked the CAIB to the KPD, the SEW, and other communist groups in Berlin. It was a total fabrication.

So who was the Army whistleblower and what happened to him? Did the Army retaliate for his leaking? Is he a traitor or a hero? Is he still alive? Anyone who knows more about this matter is invited to contact me at joberg@aol.com, as I would like to see if this episode could be written up as a case study for future generations to analyze and remember. To say the least, it's topical.

* The many layers of irony here are too thick to cut. McGovern himself was an Army man; as a WWII pilot in the Army Air Corps, he flew many missions over Germany to defeat the Nazis. After the war, he earned a doctorate in political science. A college professor at Dakota Wesleyan before he became a senator, he attracted considerable support for his presidential bid from faculties everywhere, including Americans affiliated with the Free University of Berlin and members of CAIB. This university was founded after WWII as an intellectual outpost of freedom in a city surrounded by Soviet oppression. Another American intelligence organization -- the CIA -- had a covert hand in its founding, it is now known. So ironically thirty years after WWII, U.S. Army intelligence wound up spying on Americans affiliated with a university established to preserve freedom, because of their choice to support an Army veteran for president.

Potsdam, Again

July, 2013

Berlin -- Traveling through Potsdam yesterday brought back memories of an exhilarating time.

In the winter of 1989-90, Annette, Verity (age 7) and I went to the edge of West Berlin on a Sunday and walked over the Glieneke Bridge into what was still East Germany. The Berlin Wall had fallen in the sense that people were free to pass through it in some locations. We didn't know if the Glieneke Bridge (the scene of several prisoner and spy exchanges) was one of them. We showed our papers and walked past the East German guards at the end of the bridge and into Potsdam.

We saw no one for several blocks, then encountered a solitary pedestrian. Annette approached him to change money; he motioned to us to go into a back alley where no one could see the transaction. We struck up a conversation. He was a locksmith and lived with his wife and daughter nearby. He invited us for Kaffee und Kuchen. After a half hour in his tiny apartment, during which he explained his being out of favor with the local communist party, he asked if we wanted to see Cecilienhof, the site of the famous Potsdam Conference. Another of his daughters worked there.

We walked for thirty minutes through baroque palace ruins from the time of the Kaisers to the English-style palace where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman met in July of 1945 to decide the fate of Europe for the coming decades. Few westerners had seen the site for many years.

On the way back to his apartment, the locksmith asked me a strange question: he asked permission to touch me, on my shoulder. He explained that he had never before seen an American, let alone touch one.

Airports and Playgrounds

June, 2013

Berlin -- Traveling to Berlin is not easy, as there are no direct flights from Washington to Berlin. When the new Berlin airport at Schönefeld is finished, perhaps there will be.

So now it is a choice of flying over London, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, or even Paris, Zürich, or Vienna. I've ruled out Newark, having tried that once too often.

Arriving at the Berlin Tegel airport is often a pleasure, however. It is wonderfully out of date. The bags are delivered at the arrival gate; passport control (if there is any) is at the gate as you get off the plane. There are no televisions blaring at you, no banging music to rile the nerves.

So it is in the great old (and new) Berlin train stations. One hears only the trains and the buzz of travelers. As a traveler, I want quiet, not constant irritation.

German neighborhood parks are also respites from noise. Their playgrounds are inventive -- no standardized plastic equipment. Most equipment is built from wood and unique to the playground. Some have water pumps; the children play civil engineers, building canals, dikes, and sluices.

Germans are known for their engineering prowess. Perhaps they learn it on the playground. My children played in the Berlin parks growing up. My daughter is creative and operates a Berlin art gallery; my son studied engineering and is now a physicist in Maryland.

Fisher and Deference to Universities

June, 2013

Washington -- The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Fisher was predictable (7-1) because the court is not about to weaken its strict scrutiny standard in matters of race. Giving universities deference does not mean they are on a such a long leash that they can avoid strict scrutiny.

I would be more sympathetic to the Ginsburg dissent if universities had a better record to justify deference toward them in matters of race. My research, and that of many others, suggests that in the past three decades, colleges and universities generally have moved away from giving financial aid to needy minorities in favor of recruiting middle and upper income students who would be going to college anyway. Higher education institutions have saddled the low income of all races and ethnicities with often unmanageable debt while using merit aid to recruit the better off and to make sure they have enough smiling faces of minorities for the campus brochures.

Because low income students are disproportionately black and Hispanic, these groups have actually taken the brunt of the blow. If universities were more sincere about helping these groups, they would be doing something about the student debt crisis and not undermining the Pell grant program. How many colleges that sponsored the New York Times ad supporting racial preferences are simultaneously undermining Pell?

I hope when strict scrutiny is applied to the remanded Fisher case, and to other future cases, that the lower courts will look not only at classroom make-up but also at dropout rates and especially debt burdens in order to determine how much deference universities should be given when it comes to race.

Reading the public opinion polls that show wide margins of blacks, Hispanics, and whites all disapprove of racial preferences at universities, I'm inclined to think that today's concept of social justice and opportunity has more to do with college affordability than with race-based admissions.

Food Shopping in Three Capitals

June, 2013

Berlin -- It's always a pleasure to be in Berlin and shop for groceries at Bio Company. Walking distance for me, the store has a good assortment of all-organic foods. My branch is located between Heinrichplatz and Kottbusser Tor, past mom-and-pop stores (Tante Emma Läden), Turkish sidewalk cafes, and hard by a small mosque with a minaret. This is Kreuzberg, after all, where Turkish, German, and English are the languages heard on the streets.

In Lincoln, we shop at Open Harvest at 17th and South Streets. It is the only locally owned organic grocery in Lincoln, carrying produce from nearby organic farms. It's located next to Meadowlark coffee house, an alternative kind of place itself. These spots are an oasis in a desert of Big Ag food domination, which has caused an epidemic of obesity and bad health. This is a most depressing side of Nebraska.

In the Washington suburbs (Rockville), the grocery of choice is My Organic Market, or MOMs. It has a better selection of organic foods than does Whole Foods, which has gone downhill in commitment to healthy foods as it has gone up in price ("Whole Paycheck" it is called in Montgomery County).

Each of these organic grocery stores is about the same size. None is a supermarket. None plays bad music.* Bio Company has no parking lot, as customers come by foot, by bike, or by U-Bahn. Bio Company is best from the standpoint that you get your exercise when you do your shopping.

*Open Harvest comes dangerously close sometimes. Remember, OH, you are an organic grocery, not a night club and certainly not a supermarket, where wailing, crying-in-the-beer music is carefully selected to make the shopper reach for all the carb and sugar-laden so-called comfort foods. Bad for the senses, bad for the pocketbook, bad for one's health.

An "Unspeakably Strange" Investigation

June, 2013

Washington -- "Unspeakably strange" was the way one college president described a recent anti-trust letter from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the college's efforts to bring about student aid reform.

I agree. Although I work with the Justice Department to recover false claims under the Higher Education Act, this DOJ move seems to me hugely counterproductive as it will set back the cause of needed reform for years.

All this particular college, and others like it, wanted to do was discuss with other colleges ways to stop the merit-aid arms race that has resulted in runaway tuition hikes, increased aid to those who don't need it, and saddled the lower-income with unprecedented student loan debt.

And the Justice Department wants to stop discussions of reforms among the colleges that need them? What is DOJ thinking? Is DOJ oblivious to the national crisis brought about by excessive student loan debt?

Actually, there is illegal trust behavior among colleges on student aid, but it's not what DOJ is targeting. Colleges routinely violate the Student Right to Know Act by treating their student aid distribution methods and amounts as confidential and proprietary information. This is expressly prohibited by the SRTK codification at 20 USC 1092. If the amounts and methods (often contracted from enrollment management companies) were open to students and their families, as prescribed by SRTK, the transparency would lead to better informed consumers and the enhanced competition that DOJ presumably is seeking.

If DOJ persists with its investigation, colleges that want reform could turn to Congress and ask for reforms to be enforced upon them. This is not far-fetched, as many colleges have acknowledged that the current arms-race system is so entrenched that no single college or even group of colleges can break away without fearing institutional suicide. Freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government presumably are still beyond the reach of DOJ.

NU and Wyuka Cemetery

June, 2013

Lincoln -- Wyuka Cemetery in the middle of Lincoln is the final resting place of several notable people associated closely with the University of Nebraska.

Their gravesites are worth a visit to remember their contributions to Nebraska, to the country, and to the world.

Nebraska History and the Nebraska Humanities Council provide a walking and driving tour of Wyuka that describes the cemetery and some of the notables in it. The following list supplements that tour by adding others with a strong connection to the state university. The list is presented in numerical order by cemetery section.

• Carl P. Hartley (Sec 5 Lot 133). A botanist inspired by Charles Bessey and trained by Frederic Clements, Hartley explored the Netherlands' East Indies and pursued a career in the U.S. Forest Service. He wrote the first comprehensive study of tree diseases of the Great Plains. He was the son of Lincoln pioneer, school superintendent, and orchardist E. T. Hartley and brother of university student suffragette Faye Hartley.

• Frederic E. Clements (Sec 5 Lot 486). Recognized worldwide as the founder of the discipline of plant ecology, Clements gave his name to what is now called the "Clementsian Paradigm" of ecology. An important (and controversial) figure in the history of science, he has been described as "by far the greatest individual contributor to the science of vegetation." His ashes are buried in the plot but were not not marked for many years. A new marker now commemorates his life and that of his wife, Edith Schwartz Clements, the first woman to receive a Ph.D from the University of Nebraska.

• Frank Shoemaker (Sec 7 Lot 1102). Shoemaker's career as a naturalist and photographer is newly recounted in Nebraska History. His grave is not marked, but his name adorns the Frank Shoemaker Marsh in the unique saline wetlands north of Lincoln.

• Robert H. Wolcott (Sec 7 Lot 1102). A professor of biology, Wolcott was founder, with Lawrence Bruner, of the Nebraska Ornithologists' Union. He also co-founded the Ecological Society of America.

• Lawrence Bruner (Sec 7 Lot 6034). An entomologist who traveled the world for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saving crops from insects, Bruner was once chosen by a governor's committee as "Nebraska's most distinguished citizen."

• Charles E. Bessey (Sec 7 Lot 6026). One of the country's all-time greatest educators, botanist Bessey was both a professor and chancellor. He inspired students and was mentor to an astounding number of famous scientists and academicians. Bessey is in the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

• Don Hollenbeck (Sec-11 Lot 2323). This native of Lincoln began his career as a news reporter at the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska State Journal. At NBC, he covered WWII in Italy; at CBS he was a colleague of Edward R. Murrow, was targeted by McCarthyites and took his own life.

• Frank and Earl Eager (Sec 12 Lot 642). Frank Eager earned a Silver Star and commanded the Nebraska Regiment at the end of the Philippine American War. A populist, he was owner of The Independent, a newspaper that published the views of Thomas Tibbles and his wife Suzette LaFlesche Tibbles. As a Lincoln businessman, Frank Eager developed P Street and opposed relocating the nearby university campus, winning a statewide referendum to keep the main campus downtown. Brother Earl "Dog" Eager was an early football hero who became university athletic director and acquired the land for the current stadium.

• Marjorie Barstow (Sec 13 Lot 116). A protégé of both F.M. and A.R. Alexander after studying at NU, Marjorie Barstow returned to Lincoln and attracted thousands of students from all over the world to her Alexander technique workshops held on the Lincoln campus.

• Erwin H. Barbour (Sec 18 Lot 65). A geologist and palentologist, Barbour was curator of the State Museum. He led the Nebraska expeditions that unearthed the great prehistoric animal collection now on display at Morrill Hall, which Barbour had built for the collection.

• Edgar A. Burnett (Sec 18 Lot 118). Chancellor Burnett led the university through difficult times during the Great Depression. He came to the position after successfully heading the university's agriculture program and its experiment stations.

• Samuel Avery (Sec 22 Lot 107). A chemist, Avery was chancellor during the expansion of the city campus from 1908 to 1927. Early on, he clashed with the Eagers but much of the city campus as it exists today dates from Avery's planning and construction decisions.

• Olin J. Ferguson (Sec 22 Lot 122). Ferguson was Dean of Engineering from 1920-1945. He was know for his care and advocacy of students. He co-administered the university's military college during World War II.

• Herbert Brownell, Sr. (Sec 22 Lot 201). Professor Brownell, who taught science education at the NU Teachers College, was the father of Samuel Brownell, U.S. Commissioner of Education, and Herbert Brownell Jr., U.S. Attorney General. Professor Brownell was a cousin of Susan B(rownell) Anthony.

• Leta Stetter Hollingworth (Sec 23 Lot 47). A psychologist, this NU graduate was a pioneer in the field of gifted education and used IQ test data to establish that intelligence is independent of gender. Her husband was the noted psychologist Harry Hollingworth, a classmate at NU.

• Laura, Louise, and Olivia Pound (Sec 25 Lot 5607). Folklorist and athlete Louise Pound is the only person on this tour who is also on the more official Wyuka tour. Among her important but lesser known accomplishments is her early association with and influence on H. L. Mencken. Her mother Laura and her sister Olivia also studied at the university and were community leaders.

Readers are encouraged to add to this "NU and Wyuka" list by contacting me at joberg@aol.com. Also of interest would be further discovery of the connections among these great Nebraskans. For example, Leta Stetter was a student of Louise Pound; Bessey was Clements' mentor; the Hartleys and Shoemaker were trained in ecology at Clements' Alpine Lab on Pike's Peak; Shoemaker died a pauper and is buried in the Wolcott family plot; Frank Eager and Samuel Avery tangled over the location of the university campus; in the middle of the conflict, Avery fired Earl Eager from his position in the athletic department.

They are now all neighbors at Wyuka; some are sadly in danger of being forgotten.

On Whistleblowing

June, 2013

Washington -- I am frequently asked about my experience as a whistleblower; all the more often with the case of Edward Snowden in the news. Because I am still in court, on behalf of the United States, against three student loan lenders who filed false claims against the U.S. government (six have previously settled, paying back approximately $65 million), I customarily refrain from commenting until all the cases are finished.

But now I have been asked by some in the whistleblower community to stand up and make it clear that the current, loose talk about all "whistleblowers" being, by definition, disloyal to their employers, and even traitors to their country, is irresponsible. Such talk sends a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers everywhere; rather, they should be encouraged to report fraud, waste, abuse, and illegality wherever it occurs.

I am happy to do so and let my own case serve as an example of whistleblowing that had nothing to do with disloyalty and everything to do with my oath to uphold the nation's laws and Constitution. Retaliation against me by my government employer was short lived when it became clear that I was simply acting true to my oath. Moreover, Congress quickly recognized the value of my research, as it enacted legislation in 2004 and 2006 to cut off payments of false claims. In 2007, I testified to the Senate in favor of killing the whole bank-based student loan program, citing waste and fraud. After my qui tam lawsuit was made public in 2009, Congress killed the program a few months later and used billions of dollars of savings to increase need-based grants to low income students.

Disloyalty is a loaded term often used inappropriately when discussing whistleblowers. Whistleblowing can be an act of loyalty, with a good outcome. No one points this out better than the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a charitable organization dedicated to educating the public about whistleblowers. Governments and private employers should have policies in place not only to protect whistleblowers, but to use the information they provide to improve their organizations.

The Snowden case must not become an excuse to discourage and vilify whistleblowers.

USS Rainier (AE-5)

June, 2013

Washington -- Recently I had dinner with an old shipmate from the USS Rainier, John Lutz. We had not seen or communicated with each other in about forty-five years. But memories came flooding back quickly.

I told him a story that I'll send on to our ship's reunion association newsletter, The Eruption. It describes how I undeservedly got into our Captain John Smith's good graces. (Yes, that was his name.)

Rainier, an ammunition cargo ship, was tied up at a pier in Subic Bay, The Philippines, in 1967. The pier was far away from the main base, in case any ammunition ship assigned to it blew up. Adjacent to the pier, carved out of the Bataan Peninsula jungle, was a large tarmac surface for loading and unloading ammunition.

Early one morning, Captain Smith, new to his command, had the idea he would get a look at his crew by inviting the officers and enlisted men to come out on the tarmac for calisthenics. He passed the word to his department heads and announced it over the ship's 1MC.

As the communications officer I was in the radio shack that morning, updating my registered publications accounts. In Navy Registered Publication School, we had been told that those who were sloppy with crypto publications wound up on the Navy Prison Softball Team, and a fine team it was, with lots of players.

My department head, Operations Officer Lt. Tom Stuart, stuck his head into the radio shack and suggested I participate in the Captain's calisthenics. I said I had more pressing work. He shot me a glance that wordlessly conveyed my priority that morning should be out on the tarmac.

I disguised my contempt for the idea and joined what was a meager turnout. At least I'll be in shape to play softball, I thought, as I got into the swing of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and push-ups.

Later that day, Captain Smith critiqued his officers and crew. He was sorely disappointed at the showing. He told his thirteen officers, specifically his junior officers, that they should take as their example that fine Lt(jg) Oberg.

I was red-faced, at least inside. It was not my style to get my fellow j.o.'s -- or anyone -- in trouble. I may have muttered to the Captain that credit was due to my operations officer, or maybe not. But I distinctly remember telling Tom Stuart that I really, really, owed him one for getting me off on a good note with the Captain. There were times later that I needed it.

Tom Stuart's own recollected stories are a must read in The Eruption. John Lutz and I savored them along with dinner, especially the one about our near-collision in the fog in San Diego harbor. I hope more of our shipmates weigh in with their own stories; there's a guaranteed readership.

Arnold Heights or Weaver Heights?

June, 2013

Lincoln -- The City of Lincoln should change the name of Arnold Heights to Weaver Heights.

The suburb has long since (almost five decades ago) lost its connection to Lincoln Air Force Base, which named its housing area after General H. H. Arnold. Arnold was a nineteen forties' advocate of strategic bombing warfare and mentor of General Curtis LeMay. LeMay may have had a hand in naming Arnold Heights when he was SAC commander. Originally, the base housing was called Huskerville, and some oldtimers still call it that.

It would not be the first time the name Arnold is dropped. The name was recently removed from an Arnold school for military dependents in Germany, when the Air Force departed a base in Wiesbaden. The school still exists as a dependents' school, but under a different name.

Strategic bombing as an approach to warfare has been discredited in the eyes of many military historians. In World War II, enemy war production actually increased despite widespread strategic bombing. Enemy resistance hardened. Post-war reconciliation was made more difficult because of strategic bombing, which targeted civilians and non-strategic cities. Don't mention the name of British general "Butcher" Harris in Dresden or Potsdam without expecting a hateful reaction. Even Churchill thought the firebombing of Dresden was an atrocity. Arnold's forces participated, as they did in firebombing non-strategic cities in Japan.

Before it was Arnold Heights, and before Huskerville, the area was prairie, dotted by farms. West of Oak Creek the land rises up in hills that overlook the City of Lincoln. It was here that botanist John Ernst Weaver studied the ecology of prairies in the nineteen twenties and named the nearby hills Nine Mile Prairie. Weaver wrote, with Frederic Clements, the book Plant Ecology, which became the bible of plant ecology for generations of botany and ecology students throughout the United States. Weaver was recognized as the country's foremost authority on North American prairies. Nine Mile Prairie is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The suburb of Arnold Heights today comprises more than the old base housing stock. There is a new shopping center and many businesses along Northwest 48th Street, which is soon to be widened and improved. There is a new school and a new public library in the valley below Nine Mile Prairie.

It's time to change the name. Why? If for no other reason, General Arnold appears never to have been on the site and has no connection to it. For better or worse, Arnold is honored in multiple places elsewhere. Weaver spent a career on Nine Mile Prairie and other prairies like it. Nebraska should honor its great but neglected scientists; Weaver is in the first rank of such scientists. He was president of the Ecological Society of America and a legend in his time. Renaming Arnold Heights as Weaver Heights would be a fitting change and signal that Nebraska wants to reclaim its heritage as it moves forward in science and research.

Downside to Settlements

April, 2013

Washington -- As a matter of public policy, too many pre-trial settlements in cases of civil fraud are a bad idea. At least some of the cases should go to trial to let the public see what the alleged perpetrators did and how government enforcement agencies responded.

Widespread financial fraud involving banks, securities dealers, traders, mortgage lenders, and student loan lenders has been afoot throughout the land for a decade or more, but hardly any cases go to trial. The cases are settled with payments among the parties involved, including the U.S. government, and records are sealed or destroyed. The perpetrators are out the money (often only a fraction of the fraud involved); in exchange they have essentially purchased the right to claim that they have not been convicted of wrongdoing. The plaintiffs are seemingly satisfied with the payments and with the public knowledge that the perpetrators really, really, really did not want to go to trial to let the public see the evidence of what they did. In other words, the public should look at the size of a settlement to get an idea of the fraud and which party would have won at trial.

This is a bad bargain for the public interest. The public should not have to guess at what happened based on scanty settlement information. Some judges agree and will not routinely approve such settlements. Federal district judges Jed Rakoff and Sidney Stein in New York are examples of judges who think the public may have more of an interest in seeing the evidence than the settlement parties have in concealing it.

These two judges have held up major financial fraud settlements including those involving the SEC. Good for them! To me, the idea that going to trial would clog up the courts -- a reason some judges use to encourage or force settlements -- must be balanced against the salutary effect an occasional trial would have on would-be fraudsters.

I recently settled a case (with DOJ's assistance) involving financial fraud with the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation. I was the qui tam relator in the case under the False Claims Act. Given my distaste for settlements, I nevertheless agreed to settlement in this case because the several million dollars coming back to the U.S. Treasury is substantial. My share is also significant; and the ability to put a sizeable amount of it immediately to good charitable use to combat financial waste, fraud, and abuse was an important consideration.

Equally important is that this settlement does not include any "gag orders" on either party. The lender may say what it wants about me, and vice versa. Evidence is not under seal or destroyed. There are no restrictions on what I may do with my own share (such odious provisions are contained in many settlements). This case, along with another case I settled in 2010 against Student Loan Finance Corporation of South Dakota (which failed to live up to its settlement agreement), provides a good opportunity for researchers and academics to see behind the usual screens that obscure a clear view of financial fraud. A good study using these two examples would look at clever but illegal financial tricks; how the manipulations could be slipped by the government; how bond counsels, accounting firms, and ratings agencies could be misused, perhaps willingly; and how the government itself responded, sometimes appropriately, but often ineptly.

The wave of settlements without trials over the past decade has been a missed opportunity to combat financial fraud, but with a good case study perhaps the next generation can learn in the classroom what has been missed in the courtroom.