My Grinnell College Years

Grinnell College          Residence Halls

I was financially able to attend Grinnell College, 1957-1961, because of its awarding me a full-tuition George F. Baker Scholarship.[1]

The first semester of my freshman year at the College was an intimidating experience. I had excellent, demanding professors: Harold Fletcher for “Introduction to Political Science;”  “Freshman English” with Norman Springer; and “Modern European History” with Samuel Baron. To let the freshmen know how we were doing, we all were given mid-term exams and grades. As a 4.0 valedictorian of my small Iowa high school,[2] I was shocked to have a C+ average at the mid-term. I also was surprised when Professor Baron refused to grant me honors for an extra paper in the history course; afterwards I realized he was correct.

Norbert Weiner

I also was stunned that first semester at the College’s Convocation, “American Culture at Mid-Century,” to hear a speech by MIT cyberneticist, Norbert Weiner. He talked about the parallels he saw in the history of mathematics, on the one hand, and of music and art, on the other hand. This was something I had never imagined. Another speaker was Joseph Welch, the Boston lawyer for the Army in the 1954 McCarthy Hearings. Welch, I discovered, was a Grinnell alumnus (1914) from another small town in Iowa, but I was too timid to approach him with questions.[3]

Outside the classroom that first semester I was in awe of classmates from large, metropolitan high schools (New Trier High School in suburban Chicago was one) and from prep schools who had a much more sophisticated preparation for college and who had been overseas. Gradually I came to realize that those advantages did not automatically make for a better college student and that I could successfully compete with them academically.

By the end of the first semester of the freshman year, I studied harder and significantly improved my grades and made the Dean’s List. I maintained this performance through the rest of my time at Grinnell and was elected to Grinnell’s senior men’s honorary society (the Friars) as well as Phi Beta Kappa.

I majored in history with minors in economics and political science, and I especially recall the excellent teaching and passion for their subjects by Historians Al Jones and Richard Westfall in addition to those mentioned elsewhere. I also took advantage of the College’s Program in Practical Politics to have an internship in the summer of 1960 with the Democratic Party of Iowa.[4] At the time, there was a requirement for two years of a foreign language; I took two years of German. There were also requirements for at least two science courses. In all of these courses, I had excellent professors and always was glad to be at a small college where you developed real, positive relationships with your professors.

John Maynard Keynes
John Kenneth Galbraith

The academic highlight of my Grinnell years was the senior-year Seminar in Political Economy.  A group of 10 students joined Professors John Dawson, Robert Voertman and Philip Thomas from the Economics Department, Harold Fletcher from Political Science and Joseph Wall from History. Together we read John Maynard Keynes’ magnum opus, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society and a book by a Polish economist, Oskar Lange, The Economic Theory of Socialism. Another work on our agenda was Economics and Action by Pierre Mendes-France, the former French prime minister and a lecturer at Grinnell that semester.

In December 1960 I was chosen as one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars to go to the University of Oxford the following Fall which I will discuss in a separate posting. Just before this unexpected and thrilling honor, however, I had an embarrassing faux pas at the College’s special Boar’s Head Dinner. Modeled after such a dinner at Oxford’s Queen’s College, it featured a fake boar’s head brought into the dining hall on a silver platter by men dressed in red English garb and by special music from the men’s glee club (The Scarleteers). Before the dinner I had attended a cocktail party. At the dinner I felt the effects of the alcohol and just managed to rush to the kitchen where I vomited into an empty water pitcher. (When I returned to the College after the vacation, I was justly fined by the men’s governing council and chastised by the College President, Howard Bowen.)

My major extracurricular activity for my first three years of college was intercollegiate baseball. I was awarded a freshman numeral and letters for the other two years even though I was at best a mediocre player. When I returned for my 10th reunion, the baseball coach said that on the 1971 team I would be Mickey Mantle. This was a commentary on the poor quality of that year’s team, not my ability.

My sophomore year I was a member of the intercollegiate football squad, but I was not fast enough, tall enough or strong enough to have a real position. They tried me at offensive guard, but that meant I was supposed to block much bigger and stronger defensive tackles, something I could not do. I sat on the bench and played on the kickoff team. My accomplishment was lasting the season.

Otherwise I was a quiet, reserved student who was not well known on campus for the first two years. I still saw myself as an outsider.

I spent the next semester (the first of my junior year) on the Washington Semester Program at American University.[5] Enjoying life in a big city and spending time with students from other colleges from across the country boosted my confidence in my abilities to handle new and challenging situations.

Thus, when I returned to Grinnell for the second semester of my junior year, I decided to run for president of student government on a platform of our becoming involved in state and national policies and decisions affecting higher education. Foremost was going on record as opposed to the loyalty disclaimer affidavit for federal scholarships and loans and then advocating nationally for its repeal. I also suggested the student government should be concerned with the College’s admission policy and curriculum as well as changes in dormitory arrangements and adopting a student honor court and system. I won the election, 323 to 300. I then embarked upon one of the most rewarding experiences of my college days.

In the Fall of 1960, I welcomed the opportunity as president of student government to address the incoming freshmen class to let them know that they were an important part of this community going forward. I titled the speech “The Year of the Student.” After reviewing recent student protests around the world and the work of Grinnell’s student government, I challenged them. “Know thyself. Know, value, and honor freedom . . . . Accept others for what they are, accept non-conformists. Meet and get to know students from other lands. Forget exclusive thoughts of personal security and extend your horizons to include the international community of students and the whole world. Ask questions and seek answers. Do all that you can to make your and our education at Grinnell better and thus adopt your part of the burden in our national purpose, the pursuit of excellence.”

In my year as president, the student council adopted a resolution opposing the loyalty oath, and this action and the College’s refusal of funds under the National Defense Education Act of 1958 were recognized with an award from the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. We then advocated for repeal of the oath through letters to government officials, newspapers and other student governments and obtained a similar resolution from a meeting of the Midwest Conference student body presidents. Other important achievements were the following:

  • We formed a National Affairs Committee to coordinate various campus social-political action groups, to bring national issues before the student body and to take stands on such issues. This included study of our students’ interest in the Point-Four Youth Corps (later known as the Peace Corps).
  • We formed a Race Relations Committee to investigate problems encountered by American students taking part in “sit-down” strikes in the South; two members of that committee attended a national student conference on the “Sit-Down Movement.” We sponsored a rally to raise money for the Movement.
  •  We organized a new Faculty-Student Encampment to discuss issues at the College and make recommendations that resulted in the College’s purchase of a bus for student activities and the expansion of the recreation program and consideration of having a one-month reading period in the academic year.
  • We held a constitutional convention that, subject to approval by the College President and Trustees, substantially changed the structure of student government. During the convention, one of the speakers referred to me as “the passive voice” behind many of the suggested changes.

At the end of my year in office an editorial in the campus newspaper commended my “enthusiasm and true leadership qualities” and “the Krohnke spirit.” A columnist for the newspaper said, “A new spirit has entered Grinnell: a spirit of honest evaluation, constructive criticism, open-minded discussion, awareness of our good and bad points as Grinnellians and as people, and interest in the world beyond.” She attributed this new spirit, in part, to “an articulate and clear-thinking Student council president.”

The election of the next student council president started with a convention to select two candidates to run for the office. We had a time limit on nominating speeches. When one speaker had reached the limit, I said as the convention chair, “Just one more sentence.” The speaker was quick on the uptake; he kept talking with the repeated insertion of an emphatic “and” between what were clearly separate sentences. I had to chuckle in the background. Near the end of the convention, as the College annual for 1961 reported, one of the delegates stood and said that I had “done much for Grinnell by filling his office and filling it well.” The report continued, “A convention in standing ovation to our past president; here’s hoping we choose as wisely this time.”

On an October Saturday evening of 1958, after returning to the campus from an out-of-town football game, I went to the college union. I saw a group of freshmen women standing by the jukebox. I went over and asked one of them, a very attractive young woman, to dance. She accepted. Thus started my courtship of Mary Alyce. We dated for the rest of my time at the College. After her graduation in 1962, she came to England and found a research lab job in an Oxford hospital and an apartment with the fiancée of a Canadian Rhodes Scholar. In June 1963 after I finished my examinations, we were married at Oxford’s Manchester College Chapel.


[1] Post: Selecting a College (Aug. 10, 2011).

[2] Post: Growing Up in a Small Iowa Town (Aug. 23, 2011).

[3] Post: Adventures of a History Detective (April 5, 2011).

[4] Post: Encounters with Candidates JFK and LBJ (April 26, 2011).

[5] Post: The Washington Semester (July 11, 2011).

Growing Up in a Small Iowa Town

In 1949 my parents and I moved to my Dad’s home town of Perry, Iowa– 6,000 population only 40 miles northwest of Des Moines. My Dad bought an interest in the Perry Granite Works. My Mother soon thereafter started working as an assistant librarian at the town’s Carnegie Library and later became its Head Librarian.

I finished my last two years of elementary school in Perry followed by six years of junior and senior high school. Although there were not many optional courses in the schools, I did have math through trigonometry, physics, chemistry, speech, American and English literature, world history and social studies. I also took typing and at least one shop class. (The only foreign language was Latin, which I did not take because I was confident I would go to nearby Iowa State University to become an engineer and have no need for the language and because I was scared of Latin.) I had some excellent teachers; the ones I especially recall are Emma Hepker, Charles Bennett, Elsa Hay, Gayle Junkin, David Evans and Leonard Rossman.

I always did well in school and finished as the 4.00 valedictorian of my high school class of 62 members and as a member of the National Honor Society. I was a finalist for a National Merit Scholarship and National Honorary Society Scholarship. (Close, but no cigar.) The local Elks Club named my best friend and me “The Most Valuable Students” of our class, and he and I were the town’s representative at Hawkeye Boys State where I was elected Secretary of the mock Iowa Senate.

I was active in the Speech Club and served as its president my senior year. I won top honors in state contests in radio speaking and extemporaneous speaking. (There was no debate program.)

I lettered in football my junior and senior years. I played offensive and defensive end even though I was not very big (155 lbs.), tall (5’10”), fast or strong. One of my favorite football stories is about tackling the star running back on the team from Winterset (John Wayne’s hometown); I did not tackle low like you are supposed to do; instead I tackled him straight up; he was carried him off the field on a stretcher while I put my helmet back on and continued playing. The captain of the team my senior year was my best friend, who played center at 135 pounds. (A medical problem prevented my playing my freshman and sophomore years.)

I also lettered in track as a member of relay teams, and in the summer I played shortstop or second base on a local town baseball team. The “Perry Wildcats” we were called. After finishing high school, I managed the team one summer.

Another extracurricular activity was concert and marching band. I played the alto saxophone and occasionally was a soloist in concerts and state music contest.

Playing the tenor saxophone with me in the band was Norman Lewiston, who was a year ahead of me and a tall, socially awkward, farm boy. He, however, excelled in the sciences and was the valedictorian of his class. Later he became a respected physician and Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. After he died in 1991, each of his three wives discovered the existence of the other two. This real-life drama was made into a movie–The Man with Three Wives–starring Beau Bridges as Norman. The concluding scene in the movie has one of the wives returning to the farm just east of Perry and throwing Norman’s ashes to the wind.[1]

 

Perry Methodist Church

The local Methodist Church was another center of activity. I was in the Youth Choir and a member of Methodist Youth Fellowship, and its president my senior year. I fondly remember when our church was visited by five college students on what they called a Youth Caravan to assist the MYF programming. The senior pastor was Rev. Arlie Krussell, who was reserved in what seemed like an English manner; he urged me to go into the ministry.

In junior high, I had a newspaper route for The Des Moines Register. Later for several summers I detasseled seed corn in the area. I also worked as a sales clerk at a local men’s clothing store and did all sorts of jobs at my Father’s monument store. After I had a driver’s license, I drove the Perry Granite Works truck to local cemeteries to deliver and often install the monuments. I also learned how to sandblast the names and dates of birth and death of the deceased into the granite stones.

On Saturday nights my friends and I frequently would “shoot the drag,” i.e., drive in one of our cars up and down the few main streets of the town. We also had pork tenderloin sandwiches at “Sam and Chuck’s” restaurant at the east end of town or a “Maid-Rite” sloppy-joe hamburger at the town’s only franchise operation. (We had no pizza restaurant. One had to drive to Des Moines to get this delicacy.)

There were many aspects to life in this small town that were enjoyable. I seized the many opportunities it offered.

I was interested in politics back then. For example, The Des Moines Register reported that a high school teacher in northern Iowa had been fired for assigning certain books to his students. My letter to the editor protesting his dismissal was published in the same newspaper. Soon thereafter I started receiving letters and materials from the Young Communist League in the U.S.S.R.

I was growing up during the presidencies of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In the Fall of my senior year of high school I moderated a school assembly about the 1956 presidential election between Eisenhower/Nixon and Stevenson/Kefauver. As was true in Iowa and the U.S. as a whole, the Republican candidates won by a large margin in our mock election.

The Cold War overshadowed my high school years. The Korean Conflict ended in 1953 after “Ike” Eisenhower had pledged in his first campaign to go to Korea to end the war. Just before I entered high school, Joseph Stalin died, and Nikita Krushchev became the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for transmitting U.S. atomic secrets to the U.S.S.R. J. Robert Oppenheimer was charged with possible treason. There was open-air testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The Soviets crushed revolts in Poland and Hungary. The first nuclear-powered submarine and the first satellite–Sputnik–were launched.

In the U.S. civil rights issues were prominent. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1956 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then 27 years old, organized a boycott of public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama while in Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus challenged the Federal Government over school desegregation in Little Rock.

It is perhaps difficult to appreciate now that television was new in these years. I remember when my parents bought our first small, black-and-white TV set. The first World Series I watched was the 1950 Yankees-Phillies match with Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Whitey Ford of the Bronx Bombers and Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts and Jim Konstanty of the Phillies. I also recall watching news of the Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954 when the Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, punctured McCarthy’s big ego.

Elvis Presley burst onto the national stage with such hits as “Love Me Tender,” “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I remember watching Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, when the TV cameras were not allowed to focus on his shaking pelvis. Little did we know at the time that we were witnessing the start of an American cultural phenomenon.

In this and other ways, television was just starting to break down the sense of social isolation I felt growing up as an only child in a small town in Iowa, far away from where things were really happening–Washington, D.C. and New York City. Europe and the rest of the world were even farther away, places that I never thought I would visit some day. Iowa, of course, was (and still is) primarily an agricultural state, which did not have much status in the larger world. Nor did my Dad’s business. I did not want to be trapped into taking over this business although this was never mentioned as something expected of me. All of this produced in me a sense of being an outsider. This sense of isolation also helped motivate me to work hard at school as my way to escape this small town and its life.[2]


[1] Paddock, Doctor Led Three Lives with Three Wives: Polygamy: Stanford Professor never divorced and kept households with each of the women. Truth emerged after his death in August, L.A. Times (Oct. 14, 1991); The Man With Three Wives, http://www.fandango.com/themanwiththreewives_v467704/plotsummary.

[2] I already have mentioned my visits to eastern universities in the summer before my senior year of high school to explore the possibility of going there for college before I decided to go to Grinnell College. (Post: Selecting a College (Aug. 10, 2011).)

U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”

 

The U.S. designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” already has been shown to be ridiculous.[1]

Now the U.S. has done it again in the State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2010.[2] The following is the complete text of the U.S. “rationale” for so designating Cuba:

  • “Overview: Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982, the Government of Cuba maintained a public stance against terrorism and terrorist financing in 2010, but there was no evidence that it had severed ties with elements from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and recent media reports indicate some current and former members of the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba. Available information suggested that the Cuban government maintained limited contact with FARC members, but there was no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support. In March, the Cuban government allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members.
  • Cuba continued to denounce U.S. counterterrorism efforts throughout the world, portraying them as a pretext to extend U.S. influence and power.
  • Cuba has been used as a transit point by third-country nationals looking to enter illegally into the United State. The Government of Cuba is aware of the border integrity and transnational security concerns posed by such transit and investigated third country migrant smuggling and related criminal activities. In November, the government allowed representatives of the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a series of airport security visits throughout the island.
  • Legislation and Law Enforcement: Cuba did not pass new counterterrorism legislation in 2010. The Cuban government continued to aggressively pursue persons suspected of terrorist acts in Cuba. In July, Venezuela extradited Salvadoran national Francisco Antonio Chavez Abarca to Cuba for his alleged role in a number of hotel and tourist location bombings in the mid to late 1990s. In December, a Cuban court convicted Chavez Abarca on terrorism charges and sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Also in December, the Cuban Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of two Salvadorans, René Cruz León and Otto René Rodríguez Llerena, who had been convicted of terrorism, and sentenced them both to 30 years.
  • Regional and International Cooperation: Cuba did not sponsor counterterrorism initiatives or participate in regional or global operations against terrorists in 2010.”

One of the implicit factual predicates for the most recent designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” is true: FARC and ETA have been designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” by the State Department, and such designations presumably are well founded. But what has Cuba done with respect to these two organizations? This report itself indicates that Cuba has done practically nothing with or for the FARC or ETA. The report states, “the Cuban government maintained limited contact with FARC members” and “there was no evidence of direct financial or ongoing material support.” (Emphasis added.) In addition, the report says, “the Cuban government allowed Spanish Police to travel to Cuba to confirm the presence of suspected ETA members.”

The most recent report states “some current and former members of . . . (ETA) continue to reside in Cuba.” But the report does not say how many. Nor does it state the particulars of their residence in Cuba. Moreover, in last year’s report, the State Department conceded that some of these FARC and ETA members were in Cuba to participate in peace negotiations with the governments of Columbia and Spain.

Other qualifications to this basis for the “state sponsor of terrorism” designation were made in a prior  State Department  annual antiterrorism report, which said that “on July 6, 2008, former Cuban President Fidel Castro called on the FARC to release the hostages they were holding [in Colombia] without preconditions.”  Fidel “also had condemned the FARC’s mistreatment of captives and of their abduction of civilian politicians [in Colombia] who had no role in the armed conflict.”[3]

Furthermore, former President Jimmy Carter while visiting Cuba in March 2011 had a meeting with the Spanish and Colombian Ambassadors to Cuba. The two Ambassadors said “they were not concerned about the presence of members of FARC, ETA, and ELN [another Colombian rebel group] in Cuba. Indeed, they maintained that this enhances their ability to deal more effectively with these groups. In fact, ETA members are there at the request of the Spanish government.”[4]

The second basis for the most recent designation is “Cuba continued to denounce U.S. counterterrorism efforts throughout the world, portraying them as a pretext to extend U.S. influence and power.” From my following Cuba news over the last year, this is a fair assessment, in my opinion, of the Cuban government’s public statements about U.S. foreign policy. But Cuba is a sovereign nation. It has a right to express its views of U.S. policies and actions. This does not amount to Cuba or any other country’s  being a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

The third basis for the most recent designation is Cuba’s allegedly being “used as a transit point by third-country nationals looking to enter illegally into the United States.” I do not know if this is true, but even if it is, Cuba is hardly unique in the Western Hemisphere for this phenomenon. And the U.S. report admits that this last year Cuba “allowed representatives of the [TSA] . . .  to conduct a series of airport security visits throughout the island.”

The fourth basis for the most recent designation is Cuba’s not adopting new counterterrorism legislation in 2010 and not sponsoring counterterrorism initiatives or participating in regional or global operations against terrorists in 2010. Again, I do not know if this is true, but even if it is, it does not justify the designation. Moreover, the report undermines this purported basis for the designation with its admission that the “Cuban government continued to aggressively pursue persons suspected of terrorist acts in Cuba.”

In short, the U.S. has no legitimate basis for designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[5]


[1] See Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011).

[2] U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010 (Aug. 19, 2011), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2010/index.htm; DeYoung, Terorrism report arrives with a whimper, Wash. Post (Aug. 19, 2011). The Cuban government immediately denounced this report, saying Cuba had an “unblemished” record of fighting terrorism. (Assoc. Press, Cuba Rejects Continued Inclusion on US Terror List, N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2011).)

[3]  U.S. Dep’t of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008, ch. 3 (April 30, 2009), http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2008/122436.htm.

[4]  The Carter Center, Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Cuba, March 28-30, 2011 (April 1, 2011), http://www.cartercenter.org/news/trip_reports/cuba-march2011.html.

[5]  Last year the Council on Foreign Relations basically came to the same conclusion. (Council on Foreign Relations, State Sponsors: Cuba (March 23, 2010), http://www.cfr.org/cuba/state-sponsors-cuba/p9359.)This July the U.S. Congressional Research Service reviewed the arguments, pro and con, for the designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” It did not come to a conclusion as to whether the designation was justified, but it does not rebut my analysis. (See Congressional Research Service, Cuba: Issues for the 112th Congress (July 15, 2011), http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41617.pdf.

 

 

A “Virtual” Constitutional Convention

In 1996 eleven other former Rhodes Scholars and I were “delegates” to a virtual U.S. constitutional convention.[1]

The other delegates were far more accomplished than I: (1) Samuel Beer, a distinguished author and political science professor at Harvard University;[2] (2) John Brademas, former Member of Congress and President of New York University;[3] (3) Jack Justice, a Philadelphia lawyer;[4] (4) Philip Kaiser, a former U.S. diplomat;[5]  (5) Jonathan Kozol, author, educator and activist about children;[6] (6) Jason McManus, a journalist and executive with Time/Life;[7] (7) Larry Sabato, author and professor of government, University of Virginia, and Director of its Center for Politics;[8] (8) Frank Sieverts, a specialist in refugee and relief issues at the State Department for 25 years and later an executive in the Washington office of the International Committee of the Red Cross; [9] (9) Reginald Stanton, a New Jersey lawyer and former state court judge; [10] (10) Lester Thurow, author and professor of management and economics, MIT;[11] and (11) Edwin Yoder, journalist and professor of journalism and humanities, Washington and Lee University .[12]

We first were asked to state in writing what, if any, constitutional changes we would propose in a contemporary constitutional convention. Then we were asked to comment in writing on the others’ suggestions. (This was before the advent of electronic, interactive communications technology with which we are familiar today.)[13]

I made two suggested constitutional changes. One was a federal campaign finance amendment that would assign individual financial contributions to a federal election fund that, in turn, would provide financing to federal election candidates. Such an amendment would overturn the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment as protecting money as speech, an amendment needed even more now after the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The other suggested constitutional amendment was to increase the term of office of members of the House of Representatives from two to four years with their election the same time as the president. This should result, I said in 1996, in less divided and stalemated government.[14] We could have benefited from such an amendment in 2010.

In my rebuttal, I observed that nearly everyone objected to the idea of holding a real constitutional convention in the late 1990’s, that no one had proposed a radically new concept of a constitution and that everyone had offered ideas for incremental change.[15]

Our most important proposals, I thought, all were designed to facilitate the people’s voice being heard through the electoral process. Three others joined me in suggesting campaign finance amendments. No one suggested term limits for members of the House or Senate, and several wanted repeal of the XXII Amendment that imposed a two-term limit on the president. A number of proposals were made to make changes in the electoral college for the election of the president and vice president. Larry Sabato wanted to make voting in the presidential election mandatory. Two other delegates proposed increasing the Representatives’ term to four years as did I. Some noted the increasing anti-majoritarian nature of the U.S. Senate and suggested reallocating Senate seats from smaller to larger states to remedy that problem, and one “delegate” proposed making ex-presidents ex-officio members of the Senate.[16]

In my rebuttal I disagreed with Jonathan Kozol’s desire for children’s rights amendments. His comments, reminded us, however, I said, of the profound need to counter-balance the voting ranks of the retired people. I, therefore, offered for debate the idea of extending the voting franchise to children of all ages. There were obvious administrative problems that would have to be solved to make that possible.[17]

Interestingly in terms of the political debates of 2011, no one suggested there be a balanced budget amendment. Moreover, John Brademas reiterated his public opposition to such an amendment as “dangerous to national security and the nation’s economy.” This idea and others like it, he said, “attempt to decide current political controversies outside the regular give-and-take of the legislative process. The effect of such proposals is to trivialize the Constitution and diminish respect for its central, fundamental place in the American system of governing.”[18]


[1] A “Virtual” Constitutional Convention, American Oxonian, Fall 1996, at 232.

[2] Samuel Hutchison Beer, Harvard Scholar of British and American Politics, Dies at 97, ces/news/press-releases/beer-04102009.shtml.

[3] Wikipedia, John Brademas, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brademas.

[4] Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1005 at 183.

[5] Wikipedia, Philip Mayer Kaiser, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Mayer_Kaiser.

[6] Wikipedia, Jonathan Kozol, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Kozol; Jonathan Kozol, http://www.learntoquestion.com/seevak/groups/2002/sites/kozol/Seevak02/                                                                          ineedtogoHOMEPAGE/homepage.htm.

[7] Wikipedia, Jason McManus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_McManus.

[8] University of Virginia, Larry J. Sabato, http://www.centerforpolitics.org/staff_sabato.html; Larry Sabato, http://www.larrysabato.com.

[9]  Stout,  Frank A. Sieverts, 70, Specialist In Refugee Issues at State Dept., N.Y. Times (April 7, 2004).

[10] Walker Research, Reginald Stanton, eprofile/R/Reginald__Stanton_400170555.html.

[13]  American Oxonian, Fall 1996, at 232.

[14]  Id. at 235-36.

[15]  Id. at 259-61.

[16]  Id.

[17]  Id.

[18]  Id. at 244-45.

Downgrading the U.S. Credit Rating

On Friday, August 5th, after the close of the U.S. securities markets, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) reduced its rating of the U.S. Government’s debt from S&P’s highest rating of “AAA” to its second highest rating of “AA+.” [1]

S&P’s announcement of this action was headlined: “United States of America Long-Term Rating Lowered To ‘AA+’ Due To Political Risks, Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative.” The key reasons for this downgrade were the following:

  • “The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.”
  • “More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.”
  • “Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.” [2]

In short, this objective outsider concluded, properly I think, that the U.S. “policymaking and political institutions” are not working. As S&P further stated, the U.S. recently has seen “political brinksmanship,” and “the statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.” In addition, S&P noted that “new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options.”[3]

While these observations are appropriately phrased in terms of the “U.S. policymaking and political institutions,” they really are a negative assessment of the political objectives, strategy and tactics of the Tea Party contingent of the Republicans in the House of Representatives and to a lesser extent in the Senate.[4]

Moreover, according to S&P, “the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government’s ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging.”[5] This comment raises the important need for the U.S. to reduce unemployment and achieve higher economic growth, which is made more difficult by the austerity measures promised in the debt ceiling compromise that became law on Tuesday, August 2nd.[6]

If the above were not enough criticism of the U.S. federal government, S&P made the following two ominous statements about its future actions:

  • First, S&P signaled that on Monday, August 8th, it will be downgrading its credit ratings of “the funds, government-related entities, financial institutions, insurance, public finance, and structured finance sectors.”
  • Second, S&P said, “The outlook on the long-term rating [of the U.S.] is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.”[7] This warning stemmed from S&P’s “downward scenario.” There were two key facts for this scenario. The “recent [U.S.] recession was deeper than previously assumed, so the GDP this year is lower than previously thought in both nominal and real terms. Consequently, the debt burden is slightly higher.” The U.S. is experiencing “sub-par path of the current economic recovery when compared with rebounds following previous post-war recessions.”[8]

Although two other independent credit-rating entities did not change their top ratings of the U.S. government, S&P’s downgrade, the rationale for its downgrade and its ominous warnings of further negative assessments of the U.S. undoubtedly will create next week another turbulent period in U.S. and world security markets.


[1] S&P, United States of America Long-Term Debt Rating Lowered to ‘AA+’ Due To Political Risks, Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative (Aug. 5, 2011), http://www.standardandpoors.com.

[2]  Id.

[3]  Id.

[4]  See Post: Disgusting U.S. Political Scene (July 23, 2011); Post: The Founder of Modern Conservatism’s Perspective on the Current U.S. Political Turmoil (July 28, 2011); Post: A Message for Speaker Boehner (July 29, 2011); Post: Dysfunctional U.S. Congress Careens Toward U.S. Default (July 30, 2011); Post: Dysfunctional U.S. Congress Averts Default (Aug. 2, 2011); Editorial, Political Roots in U.S. Economic Crisis, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 2011).

[5]  See n.1 supra.

[6]  See n.3 supra.

[7]  See n.1 supra.

[8]  Id.

 

Westminster Town Hall Forum: Fall 2011 Speakers

This coming Fall, the Westminster Town Hall Forum will welcome the following speakers: Norm Ornstein, Jeffrey Sachs, Tom Brokaw and Chris Matthews.[1]

Norm Ornstein
Jeffrey Sachs

Norm Ornstein:”Broken Government: Where Do We Go from Here?” (September 15). Ornstein is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is an election analyst for CBS News and writes a weekly column for Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. He also serves as co-director of the Transition to Governing Project that seeks to create a better climate for governing. A Minnesota native, he earned M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from the University of Michigan.[2]

Jeffrey Sachs: “Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity” (October 20). Sachs is Director of The Earth Institute and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. As a leading economist, he advocates continuing economic development with environmental sustainability and mitigating human-induced climate change. His latest book is The Price of Civilization, a blueprint for America’s economic recovery. He holds B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.[3]

Tom Brokaw
Chris Matthews

Tom Brokaw: “The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise (November 8). Brokaw is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist. He served as anchor and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News from 1983 to 2005 and now is a special correspondent for the network. His latest book is The Time of Our Lives: Past, Present, Promise which examines changes in America’s life since the Great Depression of the 1930’s and a reflection on our future.[4]

Chris Matthews: “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero” (December 8). Matthews is a writer, political commentator and the host of the nightly MSNBC show “Hardball with Chris Matthews”and the weekly NBC panel discussion “The Chris Matthews Show.” Before entering journalism, he was on the staff of four members of Congress and former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and also served as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. His latest book is Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.[5]

The Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. [6] The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian. Forums are free and open to the public. They are held from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.


[1] Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org/ .

[2] AEI, Norman J. Ornstein, http://www.aei.org/scholar/48.

[3] Earth Institute, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Director, http://www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1804.

[5]  Wikipedia, Chris Matthews, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Matthews.

[6] See Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum (July 25, 2011); Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum: Krista Tippett (July 26, 2011); Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum Marcus Borg (July 27, 2011).

Dysfunctional U.S. Congress Averts Default

The good news: the U.S. Congress and the President, at the last moment, were able to come to an agreement on increasing the U.S. Government’s debt limit and thereby avert a default on the government’s securities.

More good news: military spending is specifically included for possible reduction, rather than leaving all the cuts to discretionary spending for the benefits of our citizens.

The bad news: the Congress demonstrated its functionality in reaching this agreement. The rest of the world has looked in disbelief at the congressional spectacle and has less confidence in our political system and leaders.[1]

More bad news: the agreement calls for cuts in discretionary government spending when our economy is sputtering. Keynesian economics suggests the need for the federal government to run deficits during economic recessions.[2]

More bad news: the agreement means that much attention will continue to be spent on deficit reduction, rather than improving our deteriorated infrastructure and frayed social safety net.

The public is disgusted at the recent spectacle in the Congress and eager to blame all who were involved. Democrats, in my opinion, although not blameless, need to focus attention on the destructive role played by the Tea Party in the House of Representatives and to seek their defeat in the 2012 election.[3]


[1] See Post: Disgusting U.S. Political Scene (July 23, 2011); Post: The Founder of Modern Conservatism’s Perspective on the Current U.S. Political Turmoil (July 28, 2011); Post: Dysfunctional U.S. Congress Careens Towards U.S. Default (July 30, 2011).

[2] Krugman, The President Surrenders, N.Y. Times (July 31, 2011).

[3] Krugman, The Centrist Cop-Out, N.Y. Times (July 28, 2011).