A Dinner Party Conversation, All Too Real

August, 2019

Washington -- Time: July, 2019.  Place: Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  Occasion: Small dinner party with home-grown organic food from a garden.  Voices: Guests and hosts, paraphrased as recalled.  Topic: A Trump second term.

   "He's going to be re-elected."
   "The Democrats just can't seem to get it together."
   "That's for sure.  They're hurting themselves with this debate format.  It's keeping some of the better candidates out."
   "And their bi-coastal strategy, they're going to repeat the mistakes of 2016. The numbers don't add up."
   "If he's re-elected, there will be violence."
   "Violence? Of what sort?"
   "Along class lines, because of inequality, and along race lines."
   "Why do you think that? Who's going to fight?  Liberals don't arm themselves with guns."
   "It will be violence like in the 60s and 70s."
   "You mean Kent State."
   "Yes, and the Vietnam protests."
   "What did that accomplish, other than an authoritarian crackdown?  Violence is a non-starter; it's no solution to anything."
   "Right, it first causes a crackdown and then it becomes an excuse for creating dictatorial powers.  No one should be talking about violence as some sort of remedy or solution, it's the opposite."
   "We should be looking realistically at what a full-blown authoritarian government looks like if Trump is given a second term."
   "Or if he calls the election for himself and refuses to leave."
   "There are authoritarian governments that are world powers — China, Russia.  Maybe that is our future."
   "It's possible we could slip into it without much protest — a Trump election victory, a couple more Supreme Court appointments that would rubber-stamp his powers."
   "We've already seen the Court enhance Trump's powers to an extent many of us never thought possible."
   "What do you mean?"
   "Undermining Congress's power of the purse in the border wall matter, for one.  On top of refusing to recognize political gerrymandering for what it is, key to one-party control."
   "Maybe more states will reform themselves?"
   "Yes, here's hoping."
   "I see the possibility that some states will resist an authoritarian federal government and that they will become enclaves that will hold out.  States have sovereign powers they can exercise."
   "In spite of the federal supremacy clause?"
   "In some areas."
   "You mean like California's own emission standards?"
   "Yes, but that's not what I was thinking about.  I was thinking more of governors' powers over their own militias, their state guards, in cases where their state supreme courts might differ with the federal courts."
   "What kinds of cases?"
   "State constitutions contain bills of rights, sometimes worded identically to those in the federal constitution.*  What if a governor said a president's action was a violation of his state's bill of rights?"
   "Jerry Brown refused to let his state troops participate in some of Trump's border actions."
   "And got by with it?"
   "I don't think it's hard to imagine a scenario in which a Trump-appointed Supreme Court majority would give the federal government powers over searches and seizures, like China's government has."
   "You mean face recognition and all those surveillance cameras?"
   "Yes, which leads essentially to a police state. Or that a Trump court would condone what many people consider cruel and unusual punishments."
   "Such as?"
   "Family separations.  I could see a state court drawing the lines differently from a Trump court on that and many other rights, including due process, too."
   "Lots of people are already upset at family separations, even on the right."
   "And governors would use their troops to block federal action?"
   "With popular support, yes, especially if safety and health and basic rights of everyone are endangered.  What if the EPA allows a Koch factory to dump poison into drinking water?  Environmental abuses are rampant in authoritarian countries."
  "I don't see it.  Democrats have always put their faith in a strong national government, and can't even begin to think that 'states rights' might save democracy."
   "You may be right."
   "I think a good question for governors running in 2020 would be how he or she would defend rights guaranteed under that state's constitution, should they be threatened by the federal government."
   "That's a scary question."
   "Right now I see Trump winning a second term in large part because he gets to appoint Supreme Court justices."
   "People will overlook anything for that, even his bad behavior."
   "Which is why someone should challenge the idea that Trump's court appointments are a political talking point in his favor."
   "That's key for the anti-abortion people."
   "But they're a distinct minority."
   "Still, a lot of voters are under the impression that his appointments are of traditional legal conservatives who follow precedent, not activist judges."
   "How can people look at Heller and Citizen's United and think these are not activist judges?"
   "Heller, that's a good one.  Speaking of state militias.  Just wait for a governor to put a militia to use as the Constitution allowed."
   "Never happen."
   "Just wait.  When the consequences of a second Trump term start to sink in, people will be looking to states as enclaves of democracy where their rights and lives are protected.  We may even see a migration of people."
   "I'm looking at another country to relocate."
   "Don't give up on our own just yet."

*The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote:  "[T]he point I want to stress here is that state courts cannot rest when they have afforded their citizens the full protections of the federal Constitution. State constitutions, too, are a font of individual liberties, their protections often extending beyond those required by the Supreme Court's interpretation of federal law. The legal revolution which has brought federal law to the fore must not be allowed to inhibit the independent protective force of state law–for without it, the full realization of our liberties cannot be guaranteed." https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Brennan-90_HVLR_489.pdf

Tale of Two Senators, Warren and Bennet

August, 2019

Washington -- To make it clear at the outset:  I do not have a preference for Senator Warren over Senator Bennet, or vice versa.  They are both credible candidates for president.

But I can share my experiences with both on their approach to student loans.

Elizabeth Warren is a fighter and will go to great lengths to see that the government does right by its student loan borrowers.  A recent article details how she took on President Obama and the Treasury Department so as to prevail over them on behalf of student loan borrowers defrauded by a shoddy for-profit college.  She escalated the effort by threatening to hold up an Obama appointment.   During the effort and thereafter, she got to know some of the borrowers individually and worked with them in their common efforts to provide cancellation of the fraudulent loans in question.   

This is the Elizabeth Warren I know from having worked in the student loan area myself, so the article is no surprise.

My work also brought me into contact with the office of Senator Bennet.  A constituent of his was having difficulty getting a loan cancelled, despite having a letter from a loan servicer that the loan was falsely certified and therefore should be discharged.   The Colorado resident had found me in retirement and asked for my advice as to what steps she should take to get the matter resolved.  In my career, I had resolved many such situations and agreed to try to help get resolution one way or another, whoever was right about the details of the case.

I suggested she take the letter up with her congressional delegation, which in turn would take it up with the U.S. Department of Education.  She said she had already contacted Senator Bennet, who told her that the department had told him there was nothing it could do.   I was familiar with this routine, which was too often just a paper-shuffling exercise with no actual review of the situation to see if the loan should be cancelled or not.

So I asked the constituent for permission to call Senator Bennet's office on her behalf, and did so.  I was connected to a caseworker in his Colorado office who was familiar with the correspondence and asked what further steps the Senator might be prepared to take.   None, was the answer.  I said in my experience, issues like these need to be raised to a higher level to show that the elected official cannot be brushed off.  The caseworker asked what that might entail.  I said it would likely require someone higher up in the office, and perhaps the Senator himself, to insist on a thorough review on behalf of the constituent, sending a message that the issue would not go away until he got a reply that would include a full explanation.   The caseworker said that would be too much, and declined.  To my knowledge, the constituent's issue has never been resolved. 

Meanwhile, student loan servicing generally has become a public policy crisis, with three House committees working jointly to investigate it in preparation for a hearing on September 10th before the House Financial Services Committee.

The purpose of this post is not to favor one candidate over the other, but to illustrate how problems can either be solved or allowed to fester.  I admire Senator Bennet's work in other areas and consider him an excellent candidate with extensive experience both as an executive and as a legislator.  But Senator Warren's work in student loans is remarkable and should not go unnoticed. 

Gun Safety

August, 2019

Lincoln --  On our farm in the 40s and 50s, my father owned a shotgun and a rifle.  Virtually every farmer did.  I remember him using the rifle to kill a steer we were about to butcher, and a rabid dog.  With the shotgun, he walked a field line with others to flush out pheasants, as I did as well.  The guns were treated carefully, as the deadly weapons they were.

We did not especially look forward to hunting seasons, when town-people would come out to the countryside, shoot up road signs, spook cattle, and leave beer cans in the ditches.  Many a mower sickle I repaired when a section was knocked out by a beer can.  It's a lot of work:  take the sickle bar out, use a hammer and cold chisel to remove the section rivets, replace the section, hammer down new rivets on an anvil, and thread the sickle bar back in place through the mower guards.  All to indulge too many so-called hunters, who weren't hunters at all but played at it.

I served in the armed forces, where, as on the farm, guns were treated carefully, as deadly weapons.  I carried a Navy ID card for 44 years, either on active duty, in training, or in various reserve roles.  I was accustomed to using weapons cautiously and to care for them properly.  As custodian of classified codes, I carried a sidearm transporting the materials to and from my ship, including in foreign ports where I might have to take a taxi or a rickshaw to get the codes from a secure distribution point.  Weapons training sessions were conducted routinely aboard ship.

When it came time to raise my own family,  I continued to view guns as deadly weapons and chose to keep them out of the home.  I knew statistically that the chance of guns victimizing loved ones was much higher than protecting them.

But in terms of public policy, private citizens have a right to own guns lawfully if they so choose.  For over two centuries, this was viewed as a right under state jurisdiction.  The U.S. Constitution's second amendment, the right to bear arms, was, like several other amendments, a limitation on federal, not state, government.  That changed with Heller, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that the second amendment was incorporated through the fourteenth amendment to apply to states as well, despite decades of jurisprudence to the contrary.  Heller also severed the first part of the amendment, positing a need for arms to defend a free state, from the second part, a right to bear arms.  This was also a departure from long-standing precedent.

So Heller has come to mean that there is an individual right to bear arms over which federal, not state, government has ultimate control.  But the decision nevertheless takes pains to point out that the right is subject to reasonable regulation, including by states, either giving meaning back to the first part of the one-sentence amendment, with its deliberate and unavoidable reference to "well-regulated," or recognizing that no rights are absolute, or both.

Which leaves the matter of limitations on the right to bear arms to both state and federal governments.  To what extent is not clear.

For my part, I think it is fully consistent with Heller to require background checks, red-flag removals, waiting periods, and limitations on human assault weapons whose use is outside a well-regulated military.  As for small arms, robust training and licensing should be required, and perhaps insurance, too.  For existing weapons outside these limitations, buy-backs are a good way to reduce the supply for those who would use them illegally.  It goes without saying that academic study of gun violence is appropriate, not to exclude mental health issues.

What about those whose hobby is target practice with assault weapons of war, as argued recently by Nebraska congressman Don Bacon, because it gives the hobbyist enjoyment?  I can think of a lot of hobbies that bring enjoyment that are illegal, for good reason, and I venture the congressman can too, if he thinks about it. 

There was a time when guns were more respected for their necessary and appropriate functions, not treated as hobbies, political statements, status symbols, and playthings.  We should get back to that.  I am a rural Nebraskan, a veteran.  Many of my friends and neighbors would agree.

A mistake many Democratic party strategists make is to view rural people, especially on second amendment issues, as unworthy of an effort to seek their opinions and their votes for well-regulated arms consistent with Heller.  That too is counterproductive to gun safety, as it leads to legislative gridlock, and must end.

Navy Air and Amphibious Cruise, 1963

August, 2019

Lincoln -- Another memoir.

In the Summer of '63, I was given orders, as a member of the NROTC unit at the University of Nebraska, to report to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi for orientation and training.  My classmates and I, along with those from other universities, spent three weeks there doing physical training (obstacle courses, swimming tests) and learning to fly the T-34 trainer.  My trainer is pictured in the upper photo, below.

Our T-34 goals were achieved when, usually after four sessions with a flight instructor in the rear seat, we were able to take off, fly a prescribed pattern, and land without guidance or intervention from the instructor.  If we liked to fly and wanted to become Navy pilots, that option would be open to us upon getting our commissions two years later.

To entice us, the Blue Angels came to Corpus and gave us a show.  We later socialized with them at the officers' club.   I was not sold on it.

From Corpus Christi we traveled to the Navy amphibious base in San Diego, California, for three weeks of orientation in Navy amphibious operations.  Here we were instructed in the ways of the Marines, learned how to operate small boats (LCVPs, LCMs), and conducted an amphibious landing from an LST onto the beach at Camp Pendleton, up the coast.  At Pendleton, we dug in overnight against a land attack and trained in helicopter assaults.

In the lower photo below, my cruise mates Peterson (looking away) and Moritz (facing), among about six of us, are preparing to land from inside a Marine helicopter.  The weapon is the M-1.  The Marines would not adopt the M-14 for another two years.

This was good training for those who would go on to serve in what was called the "gator navy" and for those who wanted to become Marine officers upon commissioning.  I was not sold on the Marines, although I enjoyed training with them, even being bossed around the clock by a Marine gunnery sergeant.  Challenging, all those runs on the beach in full pack.


A Three-Committee Investigation of Student Loans

August, 2019

Washington -- Three House committees are combining investigative forces to try to get to the bottom of the federal student loan servicing mess, a stupefying demonstration of malfeasance and wrongdoing affecting millions of borrowers nationwide.

I was in successful litigation for thirteen years against student loan lenders and servicers, on behalf of the United States, and before that, a civil service employee of the U.S. Department of Education, so this is not a new subject for me.

The committees are looking especially hard at three problem areas:  the deliberate placement of borrowers into inappropriate repayment programs; the attempt by Secretary DeVos to preeempt state laws protecting borrowers as consumers; and the attempt by DeVos to obstruct law enforcement organizations from investigating borrower complaints.

If the investigation is thorough, what the committees will find is a revolving-door network of individuals who move between industry, the department, and sometimes even the congressional staffs themselves to make and influence decisions for private gain at the expense of vulnerable borrowers and taxpayers. 

The committees will discover that the network has been a formidable force since 2002, when conflict of interest recusals were breached, followed soon thereafter by loan fraud.  The integrity of federal audits was undermined and inspector general's findings were overridden.  Department lawyers who did not go along were circumvented.  False claims against taxpayers were never recovered; millions remain outstanding since 2009 with no action.  When repeated perjury was discovered at a lender, there were no consequences.

When the servicer PHEAA lost its sovereign immunity in the U.S. Supreme Court in January of 2017, opening the way for borrowers – and states on their behalf – to sue PHEAA, the revolving-door network acted through new Trump Administration appointments to try to preempt state lawsuits and state servicer licensing.  (Licensing requirements are a particular problem because a servicer could lose its license to operate in a state if charged with offenses like fraud and perjury.)

Under color of law, Secretary DeVos and the network acted to obstruct law enforcement from protecting borrower rights.  The committees may well look at this as a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law.

Emails are starting to surface, the results of FOIA inquiries, showing communications in the Trump Administration between members of the network within the department and within parts of the industry.  There are many familiar names; these emails are not the first of their kind.  With all the violations of law over the years, it is hard not to view the revolving-door network as a corrupt organization under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO).

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing September 10 on the student loan servicers.  Past hearings have not resulted in solutions; nor has remedial legislation.  What surely is necessary is action to remove network individuals from government, and from government contracting positions, as provided in RICO remedies.

Farm Life and Farm Economics

August, 2019

Lincoln -- Another memoir post, this time about agriculture.

I sometimes write about rural policy, as agriculture has been an important part of my life.  I started out on a farm and am still a farmer.  Our prairie grows hay; we try to take a crop from it every year.  We just applied to participate in the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a program for working farms.

In the upper photo below, which dates from 1962, is the farm of my younger days, three miles east of the village of Davey.  Many of the buildings are still intact, although the house burned down a few years ago and has since been replaced.  The corncrib at the end of the driveway was built in 1947 and also served as our garage.  The machine shed behind it was built shortly thereafter.  Two tractors are visible in the shed: the red Farmall M and the orange Allis-Chalmers D-17.  The barn is visible behind the house.  It's where my father and mother milked cows, and where I raised my 4-H beef projects.

In the lower photo below, which also dates from 1962, my father Howard (facing) is directing the milo (grain sorghum) harvest.  His brother Walt has brought his truck to help.  The harvester is a Gleaner-Baldwin combine, operated (if memory serves) by Vernon McMullen, a cousin.

I was not of much help that year, although I came home from college on weekends to work.  Probably I planted the milo with our four-row Allis planter, and may have cultivated it, too, before going off for six weeks that summer for Navy training.  My mind was on my studies when I snapped that picture, as I was taking what I considered tough courses in physics and French as part of a full academic load.

This would have been about the ninth year we raised milo instead of corn.  The prices and yields were nearly the same.  Milo was somewhat easier to grow as it was more drought resistant and its shorter height allowed later cultivation.

My parents left the farm two years later when I was a senior in college and it was clear that I would be going into the Navy rather than returning to the farm.  It would be a few years before my younger brother and sister could help, and our father already had a good job in town, which had been sustaining us more than the farm in any case.  Our mother then finished the last two years of her BA degree.  She had finished two years of college in the 1930s (studying botany and Latin) before becoming a country school teacher.

Farm economics was a part of everyday life for me on the farm of my youth.  We listened every morning to KFAB radio to get corn, wheat, and cattle prices, even those for canners and cutters and, for a couple of years when we raised hogs, barrows and gilts.  The corncrib was a part of the Ever-Normal granary system of the USDA.  We followed the Soil Bank program of Ezra Taft Benson.  We knew the programs of the SCS and the ASCS.  My father served on local farmer committees of the ASCS and FmHA, and on the state Wheat Commission.  We were proud of our awards for soil conservation practices.  One picture of our farm's contour terraces was displayed at the Nebraska State Fair.

All part of farm life.

Grading the Candidates on Food and Ag Policy

August, 2019

Lincoln -- Most presidential candidates have now had ample opportunity to explain their understanding of our country's current food and agriculture situation.  It's time to give them grades on their policy proposals.

I'm fairly tough when it comes to grades, to which many of my former students can attest.  An A is hard to come by.  I don't hesitate to give a C or D when the work just doesn't measure up.  The F is not unknown.  The Incomplete allows a limited time to make amends.

In determining the grades, I will be looking at whether the candidate understands why food is important to health, where rural policy fits into the candidate's priorities, and the specificity and workability of any proposals.

Ryan:  A-.  Ryan is one of the few candidates who prioritizes rural policy, connects it to healthy food production and distribution, and has workable solutions for improving rural economies.

Buttigieg:  B+.  Very close to A territory.  Needs more articulation on why food policy is critical to health policy. 

Biden:  B.  The Biden offering is strong on prioritization and specificity.  It appears as if he had considerable help in doing his homework from agriculture experts who know conventional policy and program issues, which is expected given his experience and contacts as vice president.  To his credit, he notes the seminal work of the St. Louis Fed on regional markets. He is weak on the linkage between food and health, as he does too little to stress that poor nutrition is a cause of poor health.

Warren:  B-.  Warren's plan is well-integrated into her other priorities, such as breaking up monopolies.  She also knows the history of the rural roots of the progressive movement.  She is surprisingly lacking on the role of nutrition in health matters.

Gillibrand: B-.  Gillibrand gets credit for considerable specificity and knowledgeability, which reflects her membership on the Senate Ag Committee.  The grade might be higher with more attention to nutrition.

Klobuchar:  B-.  Klobuchar barely escapes a C.  She sits on the Senate Ag Committee and comes from a key rural state, which raises expectations.  Her offerings suggest that they were talking points left over from the last Farm Bill mark-up session, a bill that is proving to be woefully inadequate.  She is weak on appreciating the role of healthful food in public policy.

Hickenlooper:  B-.  Good on prioritization but little thought is given to the role of nutrition.

Booker:  B-.  Good on conservation, but lacking elsewhere. 

Delaney:  C+.  More rhetoric than substance.

Sanders:  C.  Sanders' rural policy is too much of an afterthought to his other issues.

O'Rourke:  C-.  Although O'Rourke sometimes speaks knowledgeably about food policy, he is weak on details and wont to raise rural issues only in connection to climate change.

Inslee:  C-.  Inslee is strong on the role of agriculture in climate change, but shows little interest in other aspects of rural policy.

Williamson:  D+.  The candidate at least made a strong first debate statement about the relevance of food to health.

Harris:  D.  Seems not to have thought much about food and agriculture.

Castro:  D.  A former cabinet secretary should have more to say if he expects to compete in rural America.

Gabbard:  D-

Yang:  D-

DeBlasio:  F.   He has made no apparent effort.

Trump:  F.   The President's food and agriculture policies have been disastrous by any measure.

Bennet:  Incomplete.  Bennet is headed for a D if he doesn't raise his game.  Coming from Colorado, rural policy should be one of his strengths.  He gets a temporary reprieve because a hospitalization set his campaign back, but time is running out.

Bullock:  Incomplete.  Bullock got into the race late.  Likely he can get help from his fellow Montanan, Senator Jon Tester, a farmer, but Bullock needs to show more rural policy bona fides

At the Iowa State Fair, candidates had a chance to press their cases on food and agriculture policy.  But according to at least one account, from The Daily Iowan, they didn't rise to the occasion.

Of course, when the media know little about the issues and ask candidates instead about the distractions and affronts du jour, it's hard to raise the bar.  Too bad the Fair crowds had to settle for a few candidates' comments about Trump's misguided China tariffs – for which rural America is suffering – and did not have the benefit of Warren's thoughts on supply management, Gillibrand's call for farm "parity," Buttigieg's plans for carbon sequestration supports, or Biden's ideas for a significant expansion of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Which is not to say there is not some excellent reporting going on.  Helena Bottemiller Evich continues to lead the pack in insightful analyses of food and agriculture policy.  Her latest coverage of troubles at USDA* should be grist for candidates to show what they can do to earn the votes of all Americans who care about such matters.

Which must be all of us.
* The resignation of Dr. Lewis Ziska from USDA's Agricultural Research Service, as much as any other single event, represents the triumph of politics over science in federal agencies.   Thanks to Ms. Evich for covering it.

For Boxed-In Speaker Pelosi, a Way Out

August, 2019

Washington -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is boxed in on two sides by both Republicans and Democrats. For the good of the country, she needs to break out.

On one side, she cannot move ahead on impeachment of the President because of the near certainty that the Senate, in Republican control, will not convict.  Impeachment with no conviction would seem to hand Trump a victory, another claimed exoneration.  Moreover, many Democrats in her own caucus, who won their elections in districts won by Trump in 2016, do not want to vote for impeachment for fear it will hurt their re-election chances.

Some Democrats argue to the contrary: ethics, not politics, must dictate the impeachment decision.  They say the House has a duty to abide by the Constitution in the face of the President's high crimes and misdemeanors, come what may politically.  They say if Democrats don't impeach, that is itself an exoneration argument.  Likewise, some argue that this president is such a danger both domestically and internationally that the sooner an impeachment action is put before the Senate, the better.  He may do something so egregious that even the Senate may decide enough is enough, and convict.

Nevertheless, the forces for slowing down impeachment are currently carrying the day.  Speaker Pelosi understands that any missteps on impeachment could actually cause Democrats to lose the House and hand Trump control over all of the government in 2020.  Her calculus right now is that it's better to make the case against Trump in the election, not through impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi is also boxed in by a faction within the Democratic Party that thinks the 2020 elections can be won with a bi-coastal strategy, essentially abandoning much of the middle of the country to Trump.  The argument is that by taking both coasts, and by increasing Democratic turnout in key cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee, the Democrats can take back the presidency.  This is a risky strategy, given that it counts on unprecedented GOTV efforts and is doubly risky in an age when election tampering, even by foreign adversaries, is something that must be expected.

The bi-coastal faction nevertheless has dominated Democratic strategy to date.  This is due in part to intense pressure within the party not to reach out to Trump voters, even in the face of electoral realities.  A locus for such thinking is located in the House office buildings, amid staff who have gone so far as to criticize elected members on social media if they do not adopt the bi-coastal strategy.

The way Speaker Pelosi can break out of the confining box entirely is to launch a high-profile offensive directly against Trump where he must win, but where he has been weakened by his own foolish deeds, such as his misguided tariffs that have struck hard against the American heartland.  This would not be an anti-Trump offensive, but an all-out effort to win over voters with a positive Democratic message, about what Democrats are FOR, not just against.

But what exactly are Democrats for, in areas where Trump is vulnerable?  Indeed, that is a large part of the Democrats' problem in the toss-up states, where Democrats appeal to urban populations but have been AWOL when it comes to those states' rural issues and needs. 

Speaker Pelosi should remedy this immediately, and very publicly, by appointing a task force to produce an Emergency Rural Policy Initiative, within 60 days.  It would be made up of selected House members who have already given this thought, like Marcia Fudge, Chellie Pingree, Cheri Bustos, and Tim Ryan, plus governors who would volunteer their expertise, like Tim Walz and Steve Bullock. 

Their charge would be to develop a House Democratic Leadership Emergency Rural Policy to announce, boldly, what Democrats are for:

• Enhancing foreign trade by restoring Congressional authority over tariffs and working with allies to set trade rules;
• Mitigating climate change by immediately re-writing the Farm Bill to encourage carbon capture and to protect topsoil;
• Tackling obesity and diabetes epidemics through better production and distribution of fresh, local, healthy food;
• Creating and preserving jobs by strengthening local and regional food markets, expanding high speed Internet, and saving rural hospitals.

The "emergency" aspect of this cannot be over-emphasized.  People are hurting and are looking for alternatives to Trump policies, and soon.  The policies should be translated into legislative language, passed by the House yet this calendar year, and sent to the Senate.  The House must demand Senate action.

Note that on the suggested task force are two Democratic presidential candidates.  The sooner the candidates start talking about what Democrats are for, and can unite around, the better.  This is one area where it is not only feasible, but urgent.

Boxes have four sides.  Speaker Pelosi is boxed in on two sides but going on the offensive would take her out of the box by knocking down a third side.

As to impeachment, there is a fourth side of the box Speaker Pelosi should consider knocking down as well, and that is the use of censure to respond to Trump offenses.  Although his offenses are worthy of impeachment, censure would put the House on record ethically and morally.  An "H. Res." vehicle would accomplish this and stand on its own; an "H. Con. Res." would invite the Senate to join in the censure.  Speaker Pelosi should do both and, as a consequence, move media cameras over to Republican senators' offices, to put them on the spot on the question of censure.

For the good of the country, Madam Speaker, please knock down the walls that box you in.  Go on the offensive exactly where Trump is most vulnerable and lay the groundwork for 2020 election success.  And help save the planet in the process.

Whatever Became of Conservatives in Nebraska?

August, 2019

Lincoln -- In a blog last month I noted how too many Democrats who style themselves as progressives forget (or never knew) the rural roots of the progressive movement.  Democrats ignore progressivism's rural heritage at their own peril.

Now it's time to look at Republicans who fashion themselves as conservatives.  Today's Republicans are anything but.  I look at my Nebraska congressional delegation (all Republicans) and see each of them going along with the opposite of what Nebraska conservatives once said they stood for.   

The current Republican Party leadership, holding the Presidency, the Senate, and the Supreme Court (increasingly a political institution) is now leading the country into:

•  unprecedented federal fiscal irresponsibility, with no regard for the national debt;

•  tariff policies the likes of which have not been seen since Smoot-Hawley, and which are especially destructive of Nebraska agriculture;

•  the unravelling of treaties with our allies, the very treaties paid for with the blood of the WWII generation;

• letting down our national defenses by allowing international adversaries to meddle in our democratic elections;

• weakening our constitutional checks and balances by undermining Congressional powers such as the power of the purse and the power to investigate;

• countenancing outright indecency as the norm for the conduct of public affairs.

Have I overstated any of the above?   It's all understated, if anything.  Whatever happened to conservatism in the Republican Party?  What exactly is the platform of the Republican Party on which the Nebraska delegation will run for re-election in 2020?

I am embarrassed for my good Republican friends in Nebraska.  Not all of them, because there were always too many who acted like know-nothing third-graders who wanted to burn down their schools and never outgrew their delight in dirty and racist jokes.  But most of them, who sincerely believed in (and could chide Democrats about) fiscal responsibility, free trade, strong defense, constitutional government, and basic decency.  I don't want to think that this was just a veneer that would warp away when exposed to right-wing heavy weather.  Please, Nebraska Republicans, return to what you formerly said you stood for.  

Navy Cruise, USS Kitty Hawk, 1962

August, 2019

Lincoln -- Time for a memoir entry: a 1962 Navy cruise from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back. At the time, I was a midshipman third-class enrolled in the Naval ROTC training program at the University of Nebraska.

My orders were to report to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), along with third-class (rising sophomore) midshipmen from many other universities, public and private. We spent six weeks aboard ship that summer, basically learning what it was to be a sailor. We stood watches with the enlisted crew, both topside and below decks, night and day. We each had a small green book listing dozens of skills that we were to acquire, called "practical factors." As we learned each one, a member of the regular ship's crew signed off for us.

On the signal bridge, a practical factor might be mastery of flag identification and operation of the ship's flag bag. In the boiler rooms, a practical factor might be tracing steam lines. In "after steering," a compartment deep below and aft, it might be a successful shift of rudder control from the bridge and back, all coordinated by sound-powered telephone.

We observed flight operations close up. Our quarters were directly beneath the flight deck, so we heard landings and take-offs day and night. We heard a pilot come in too low one night and crash, fatally. We assisted in underway replenishments of destroyers and oilers that came alongside, helping with the lines.

In the lower photo below, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Laws (DD 558) is in the process – note the red Bravo flag – of underway fuel replenishment from Kitty Hawk.  USS Laws served in WWII and the Korean War.  The destroyer was a part of Admiral Halsey's rush northward during the Battle of Leyte Gulf to confront a Japanese fleet whose purpose was to draw him and his carrier task force away from the battle.   The Halsey mistake did not prove decisive in the battle, as a Japanese admiral made an even greater mistake by not taking advantage.  Laws was decommissioned two years after this photo.

That summer of 1962 we tied up in Pearl Harbor alongside an oiler, across from Ford Island. From the pier we could see the USS Arizona memorial and the hulks of Oklahoma snd Utah, sunk on the Day of Infamy in 1941, twenty-one years earlier.

Several Nebraska NROTC classmates shared the naval training experience, among them Steve Creal, John Curran, and Gary Dillow. That's Dillow in the upper photo below, on the left, wearing the dungaree uniform issued to us for working at sea. Most of my cruise photos, unfortunately, were lost when I took them to the Miller & Paine photo shop in Lincoln, on 13th Street, later that year. I wanted copies made, but nothing ever came back from the developer. Miller's offered me a free roll of undeveloped film in compensation. Although many photos were lost, much of the training stuck with me and would be useful in later years.

Summer of '62:  John F. Kennedy was president; the Yankees and the Giants would win pennants; the Pacific Ocean was peaceful; the Berlin Wall was one year old and had twenty-seven more years to stand before it fell.