Varieties of Anarchists

Berlin -- It is three days before May Day in Berlin. Near my place in Berlin-Kreuzberg, I am having lunch in a small cafe a short walk across what used to be the Berlin Wall. To the sound of Turkish music, I see a headline in the Berliner Morgenpost stating that the "Linksautonomen" will be allowed to march here in the big celebration on May Day without obtaining a permit.

This is news, as leftist anarchists have often provoked May Day violence in the past. The responsible Berlin city official explains that "the police are the guarantor of the right of free assembly in our country." But the article goes on to say that the police will be reinforced by uniformed officers brought in from Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Nordrhein-Westfallen, Hessen, Rhineland-Pfalz, and the federal police.

Toward evening, on the big plaza in front of the Bethanien Arts Center, I see young men and women lined up with revolutionary flags and banners practicing for May Day. They are in a military formation and are being instructed on what to do in case of clashes, presumably with right-wing trouble-makers or with police. On command, the leaders challenge them to a shoving scrum. A few fall to the ground. They back off and do it again. This looks like more than free assembly.

Meanwhile, in an ironic coincidence, America's right-wing economic anarchists have been planning their attack on federal revenues at none other than the Cafe Berlin on Capitol Hill, according to the Washington Post. Larry Kudlow, Steve Forbes, Arthur Laffer, and Stephen Moore gathered there last week to sketch out new tax legislation over dinner and were joined by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. Laffer, we should all remember, does his economics on napkins, which is apparently the reason they are meeting at the Cafe Berlin rather than at the Treasury Department. Make no mistake; this group is about starving the government, ballooning the federal deficit, and endangering national security. Tax cuts do not pay for themselves and everyone knows it.

Both of these varieties of anarchists, from the left and the right, are dangerous. May they both fail.

The Eat Crow Tour

Lincoln -- One of the best things the national Democratic Party could do for itself, and for the country, is to take an Eat Crow Tour through regions where it did so poorly in the 2016 elections. The tour should make stops especially in the rust belt and the farm belt, in counties where Democrats once did well. The theme of the tour would not be how Democrats were cheated by Putin, or Comey, or McConnell; it would be a sincere apology for running a national campaign that did not offer, in the minds of too many, a credible alternative to the Republican ticket.

The 2016 election should have been easy. The top of the Republican ticket was headed by a man with such flaws even many die-hard Republicans had trouble accepting him. But Democrats were so tone-deaf to many regions it didn't matter. Instead of listening to the people in abandoned areas, and offering policies that related to their concerns, it offered a national campaign based on identity politics, demographics, and ridiculing the opposition. It was not a winning strategy, as some of us pointed out well in advance.

Before launching such a tour, Democrats should read Nobel-laureate Paul Krugman's insightful analyses about how they must not only offer credible policies to these populations, but how they must understand the regions' cultures. People will vote against their own interests, policy-wise, if they do not have a cultural fit with the party asking for their votes. Policy is important, but culture often supersedes policy.

In 2016, Democrats actually offered little by way of either public policy or cultural identification to huge swaths of the nation. Consider the Upper Midwest, where the agricultural economy is in big trouble, but Democrats' and Republicans' farm policy platforms were hardly distinguishable, if they existed at all. In terms of culture, Democrats failed to take advantage of the rich heritage of agrarian populism, allowing the mantle to be claimed by a Republican tied closely to big, eastern banks. Do national Democrats even know of the Cross of Gold speech, or Fighting Bob? It's time to learn, or face even more election debacles.

The goal of the Eat Crow Tour would be to get back in touch with voters who are not happy with the electoral choices they were offered in 2016, to admit responsibility more than cast blame, to listen carefully to concerns of voters, to remember cultural heritage, and to commit to better efforts in the future. This would go a long way toward being competitive again, especially with voters who were mortified about having to vote for Trump but felt there was no alternative.

Soil Health as Infrastructure, Redux

Lincoln -- Last December, I posted "Topsoil as Infrastructure," which suggested that soil health should be considered a key component of our nation's infrastructure, to be included in any Congressional legislation to rebuild the country.

In the Lincoln newspaper today, "Make Our Soil Great Again" expresses many of the same thoughts. The author, a professor at the University of Washington, writes, "...degraded agricultural soils is one of humanity’s most pressing and under-recognized natural infrastructure projects..."

It would be good to see this cause taken up by the University of Nebraska, and by Nebraska's congressional delegation. When I sent my post in December to my two senators and one representative, I got back one reply but nothing from the two others, which was disappointing. Clearly they are not thinking along these lines. This should be a bipartisan effort if there ever was one.

A Little Good News in Higher Education

Washington -- Finally, there's good news in higher education. The Maryland Legislature has passed legislation prohibiting egregious practices of scholarship displacement in student financial aid packaging in Maryland. In February of 2016 I wrote about the issue in a blog entitled Switcheroo Algorithms.

Hats are off to Central Scholarship of Maryland and to several Maryland legislators for shepherding the prohibition through the House and Senate. It will help low-income students pay for college more with grants as opposed to loans. It strikes a blow for honesty and transparency in financial aid packaging.

Here's hoping other states follow suit. Is it too much to ask that the U.S. Department of Education also crack down on scholarship displacement? It would make federal grant money go much further than it does.

Will the Senate Stand Up for Itself?

Washington -- There is a reason for Senate Democrats and even Republicans to vote against the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. It is not based on:

• his judicial philosophy
• his unwillingness to answer questions at his confirmation hearing
• his being out of the mainstream (witness his opinion on services to handicapped children being overturned 8-0 by the Supreme Court during his hearing)
• payback for shabby treatment of Judge Garland the previous year
• partisanship

Rather, it is based on separation of powers and the system of checks and balances provided by the Constitution. When one branch overreaches, the others have remedies at their disposal. In this case, the overreach was the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, in which an activist court majority overturned Congressional legislation on campaign finance. Whereupon political organizations created "dark money" operations that have funded advertising campaigns to pressure Senators to confirm Judge Gorsuch. The result of this effort would require the Senate to change its own rules and diminish the body as an institution that protects minority rights and encourages compromise.

The remedy is for the Senate to vote no on the dark money nominee, as provided in the Constitution.

Recall a similar challenge to Congress posed by Richard Nixon when he aggressively impounded funds appropriated by Congress for programs he did not support. Had Nixon's actions not been met with resistance, Congress's power of the purse, granted by the Constitution, would have been severely undermined. Congress responded with the Budget Impoundment and Control Act of 1974, putting the executive branch back in its constitutional place, not just for the programs at issue but for the principle of separation of powers.

The Senate should do likewise on this occasion, to act on constitutional principle rather than on the merits or lack thereof of the particular nominee at issue. This is a test of the Senate as an institution and fundamentally an issue of our system of checks and balances.

Real Man March for Washington

Lincoln -- What Washington needs is a Real Man March. Thousands of Real Men could gather in view of the White House so as to provide role models for the current occupant who, try as he might, comes up short.

If you have any of the ten following attributes--even one--you qualify as a badly needed Real Man role model:

1. Veteran
2. Good Samaritan to the unfortunate
3. Not a braggart
4. Selfless in charity
5. Never stiffed contractors
6. Truth teller
7. Never filed for bankruptcy
8. Friend and protector of nature
9. Never divorced
10. Respectful and decent to all

Of course many women would also qualify as Real Men. So much the better. When do we march?

Nebraska Notables

Lincoln -- For the occasion of Nebraska's 150th statehood anniversary, the Lincoln Journal-Star put together a list of 150 "notable" Nebraskans. It was offered as a conversation starter.

Without challenging anyone who made the list, I'd observe with regret that not more scientists at the University of Nebraska are considered notable. To be sure, several of the list's notables studied at the University and made their marks in science elsewhere, but other than Charles Bessey, who was NU chancellor, scientists from the NU faculty are conspicuously absent.

Rachel Lloyd, Frederic and Edith Clements, E.F. Barbour, Ruth Leverton, and John Weaver all left their marks on the world but Nebraskans seem not to know who they were or what they did. It's too bad they and others like them have largely been forgotten. It's especially unfortunate because three on my short list are women; all six would be good role models for students who wish to become scientists.




What Would Roscoe Pound Do?

Washington and Lincoln -- The president's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries has been overturned in one fashion or another by federal courts, but likely the order will be re-issued in somewhat different form and will again come before the judiciary. There is much speculation about how courts will eventually rule, as the issue pits fundamental civil rights against the national security powers of the president.

How might Roscoe Pound have approached the question? Pound is venerated in Nebraska, a member of the state's Hall of Fame. A century ago, Pound changed American law forever with his writings on "sociological jurisprudence." He argued that the law cannot be blind to social reality. Perhaps the most famous decision employing sociological jurisprudence is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down school segregation by concluding that although the law on its face provided separate but equal education, it was a sociological fact that segregated schools were not equal.

Is there a social reality that likewise must be addressed in the matter of the travel ban? Yes, according to research that suggests the ban is counterproductive to national security. The argument is that the alienation created by the ban is more of a national security concern than any danger posed by vetted travelers from the selected countries. It is not the same argument that the ban is unconstitutional because it is based on a religious test. While the religious question has been raised in attempts to overturn the travel ban, the social reality question has not.

Hence the reflection on what Roscoe Pound would do. I think he would argue for consideration of the social realities involved in the travel ban, even though on the face of it the executive order creating it purports to enhance national security.

Those of the "originalist" persuasion (what we used to call strict constructionism) likely would argue against recognition of social realities in the travel ban cases. But one of the problems with the originalist position is that it has welcomed into its philosophy of jurisprudence the so-called Law and Economics Movement, which advocates for more recognition of economic realities, such as costs of legal and regulatory compliance. It is inconsistent to embrace one reality but not another.

As the travel ban is further considered by the courts, Nebraskans especially should remember the work of the state's greatest legal scholar, Roscoe Pound.

Our Nation of Refugees

Lincoln -- We are a nation of immigrants, but also of refugees if we care to look closely. Some of my ancestors were refugees twice over.

Henry and Catherine Harper Wimer left the Rhineland-Palatinate in 1771 for America. Their own forebears had previously fled the Bas-Rhin region of France because of war and religious persecution. Finding Germany no more hospitable, Henry, Catherine, and their three sons set out from Rotterdam for Philadelphia.

Henry and Catherine did not make it; they died on the voyage. Their household goods were sold in Philadelphia to pay the ship's captain. Their sons were sold into indentured servitude.

Philip Wimer, age 14, was sold to Ulrich Conrad of Dry Run, Virginia, now West Virginia. After seven years of servitude, he joined the Virginia Militia cavalry, led by Captain Peter Hull* of Augusta County. His militia participated in the Siege of Yorktown, which resulted in the capitulation of Cornwallis in 1781 and American independence.

What a great contribution my fifth great-grandfather, a refugee, made to America. Thank you, Philip Wimer. His descendants remained in West Virginia until they relocated in the 1870s and 1880s, becoming pioneers in Cass, Saunders, and Lancaster counties in Nebraska.

These days, Syrian refugees are dying at sea. A few make it to America, where they are sponsored by charities, to which I contribute in quiet memory of Henry and Catherine Wimer, who never made it to America's shores.

What is the moral of this vignette? Is it that the British should never have allowed Philip Wimer (revolutionary that he turned out to be) to come to America? No. The moral is that when people are oppressed, they seek freedom. We Americans, of all people, should know that and live by it.

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*Captain Hull was the son of Peter Thomas Hull, himself an immigrant from the Palatinate and whose daughter Catherine, Captain Hull's sister, also makes up the lineage of the Wimer-Zickafoose family (including my grandmother Ressie Mae Zickafoose) who came a century later to settle Nebraska.

Remembering Another U.S. Attack on Australia

Washington -- The incident a few days ago, in which an American president without provocation disrespected an Austrialian prime minister in their first conversation, recalls another event forty-nine years ago when U.S. airplanes actually attacked an Australian ship, HMAS Hobart, in the South China Sea.

I served in the U.S. Navy on ships operating in the South China Sea and remember HMAS Hobart well. My first ship, USS Rainier, replenished Hobart at sea in 1967. Hobart assisted in fighting the disastrous fire aboard USS Forrestal that same year, providing fire-fighting equipment and transferring her surgeon to Forrestal to try to save the injured. We on Rainier had been scheduled to replenish Forrestal but instead passed her quietly the night after the fire, as she steamed toward port at Subic Bay.

In June of 1968, aboard USS Arlington, I remember being in the same area as HMAS Hobart and USS Edson, near Tiger Island off the Vietnam DMZ. We were providing communications to so-called Market Time operations along the coast when the nearby ships came under attack around midnight. Arlington was not hit; Hobart was struck by missiles in repeated attacks. When daylight came, missile fragments showed that the source of the attack was friendly fire from the U.S. 7th Air Force. The toll: two dead and many injured aboard HMAS Hobart.

Coincidence: LCDR John McCain narrowly escaped death on Forrestal in 1967; Senator John McCain called the Australian ambassador in 2017 to try to repair the damage caused by insulting language to Australia from an American president.

Australia has been a faithful ally, a fast friend of America through good times and bad, and deserves only expressions of regret from Americans for both entirely avoidable incidents.