Category Archives: Freedom

Debating Guns on the Margins


We have a Second Amendment in this country that guarantees the right to bear arms.

But it’s not a right to bear military assault rifles. Control of the kinds of weapons citizens may keep, as long as those regulations fulfill reasonable public ends and are not too broad, would be constitutional. The right to bear arms is not absolute; the Second Amendment itself is the one right in the Bill of Rights that is qualified—it mentions “a well-regulated militia” and the need to defend the United States.

The First Amendment, in contrast, simply says “Congress shall make no law” that abridges freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly and the power of the people to petition government.

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First Amendment text, Philadelphia, from Wikimedia Commons by Zakarie Faibis.

Yet, even the apparently unqualified rights of the First Amendment sometimes have to be balanced against other rights. For example, speech that is used to commit fraud, to extract money from victims under false pretenses, is not legal expression even under our Constitution.

This weekend saw horrific mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio. Right now, I’m watching a pretty good MSNBC two-hour special on these shootings. Inevitably, it raises the question of gun control, and equally inevitably, it will take time before anything is done.

Well, we saw today a sharp contrast between presidents. Teleprompter Trump showed up to give one of his carefully correct, robotic speeches. Once during the speech, he said the nation must condemn white supremacy (note that he didn’t personally condemn it, he left that work to the nation). But he didn’t acknowledge that his own anti-immigrant language clearly seemed to be embedded in the motives of the El Paso shooter.

And he blew some regular Republican smoke, blaming:

• Violent video games. I’m no fan of violent media, and don’t like glorification of violence in games, movies or any entertainment. It feels like we humans have not learned much since bear baiting in medieval times, or the gladiator contests of ancient Rome. But the link between media violence and violence in life is not that clear. We’ve had years of social science on this point. Violent shooters do indeed seem to like violent video games, but the reverse is not true. Most gamers who play first-person shooter games are not violent people at all. As children in the 20th century, we were not corrupted by Road Runner cartoons, and today most gamers can distinguish between fantasy and real life. So no, Mr. President. Awful presidential racist language may contribute to violence, but not fantasy video games. I don’t want to let them off the hook—I am perfectly comfortable attacking violence or misogyny in games—I just don’t think trying to pin El Paso on that scapegoat works.

• Mental health. Just, no. Granted, a mentally ill personal may be violent—but that’s like saying sharks are dangerous. They are, but shark attacks are not a great threat—they are quite rare. A mentally ill person snapping and going on a rampage is a false cultural fear. There is a sickness of the soul that may lead to violence, but sickness of the mind is not so associated with it. Stop stigmatizing mental illness—and besides, if you are so concerned about this false link, how about better mental healthcare in general? I can agree that would be a good thing, even if I think it’s not really part of this particular public policy debate.

Besides those tired old smokescreens, on Twitter, President Trump found a new cause of mass shootings. It was done by the “Fake News.” I don’t know how that link is supposed to work. Like so many of Trump’s random tweets, it means nothing.

Contrast Trump’s lame statement with former President Obama’s statement today:

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The former president is a writer who can use words powerfully. The current president barely can read a teleprompter script and makes things worse whenever he goes off script.

Another point about these mass shootings: Where was the good guy with the gun who would stop it? It’s a fantasy. The good guys with guns who stopped the Dayton shooting (after too many had died) were trained police, who can’t be everywhere all the time. Amateurs with pistols are not a solution, and in fact can be part of the problem because too many gun deaths in this sick society are by suicide.

So, what is to be done?

First, let’s quit blaming the scapegoats. Let’s get the CDC to research gun violence as a public health problem. Let’s ban assault rifles, without taking lawful guns from citizens. In the long run, we can have a debate about the Second Amendment, but for now, nobody should pry anything but weapons of mass killings form anybody’s fingers. For now, lets Make American Great Again by putting back in place reasonable gun regulations that were repealed, and let’s go further. Universal background checks are something I would think most gun owners could endorse.

Second, elect Democrats. Enough is enough. As a country, we should be done with the current, fake GOP and done with the influence of the NRA. Not all Democrats are great on this issue, and electing Democrats is not in itself a complete cure—but it’s a key first step. True conservatives are pro law and order, and mass shootings are not lawful and don’t contribute to order. We need the GOP to suffer some horrific defeats to prompt that party to do some much needed soul searching. I look forward to the day when there is an effective Republican Party that deals with reality, doesn’t traduce science and can be a true conservative counterweight to the Democrats. That party does not exist today.

Third, call racism for what it is. Racism is ugly, irrational and deeply embedded in American culture. Mexico is not “sending” anybody. Anti-Hispanic rhetoric has been a feature of Donald Trump’s demagoguery, as well as casual attacks on African Americans. I say enough. In the Depression, to its shame, the U.S. even rounded up American citizens and deported them to Mexico in a racist act of racist times. (I know, I know, Hispanic or Mexican are not “races,” but the attitudes that led to this action was still racist in its nature). Trying to overcome racism is one of the longest arcs of American history. We’re not there yet, and Trump’s racist rhetoric is part of our dark past, not our better future.

Fourth, stop the religious bigotry on both sides. No, putting “God” back in schools, the protestant Christian God who dominated public discourse in the 1950s, is neither desirable nor legally practical—and it’s not an answer to this problem. As a Christian, I resent other Christians who are so bigoted and narrow-minded that they think a particular brand of Christianity should be promoted by government.

No. Freedom of religion is important to religious people of all types. We get to worship as we choose, and that is a right I hold dear. It also allows a person to be free from religion, should they so choose. On this matter of religion, government should have no role.

And, on the other hand, please, there is nothing wrong with “thoughts and prayers.” They can be empty, if they don’t motivate action, but for people of faith they are important, and sometimes in tragedy they are all that can be inadequately offered at first.

I share the frustration with politicians who offer thoughts and prayers and stop there—vote them out. I did pray in the wake of the shootings this weekend. I don’t apologize for that, nor should I have to. If you weren’t motivated to speak with your God, fair enough. If you want politicians to go beyond offering empty thoughts and prayers, I am with you.

But many social movements that have led to change had a strong prayer component. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, among other things, a preacher. So was Bishop Desmond Tutu. Prayer can be a powerful binding force that helps unite people behind needed social change.

Anyway, it has been a depressing weekend and day. Throughout the weekend, I had that horrible “not again” reaction. Today, the president left me feeling cold, as he so often does.

But even if we are discouraged, we cannot be disengaged. The fact that change is not quick and easy is not a reason to avoid acting for change.

Thoughts and prayers for more sane public policy. Plus, please, action and votes.

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My Take: Trump is a Crook, Clearly a Crook


mueller reportI know I’m late to the party—the Mueller Report came out months ago. And I missed Bob Mueller’s public testimony on the report because I was pedaling a bicycle across Iowa.

But, early in the RAGBRAI ride, on Sunday night, I finished it—I am one of those American citizens who has taken the time to read the redacted Mueller Report.

And Trump and his “best” people are dirty—filthy, filthy dirty. They make the dark Clinton camp look like angels.

Consider:

Trump’s associates repeatedly tried to get dirt from Russia in order to beat an American political enemy. They didn’t legally conspire, mostly because they were too clueless to violate American election law, which requires the violator know that they are violating the law.

The report states: “The Office ultimately concluded that, even if the principal legal questions were resolved favorably to the government, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law.”

The other elements of the crime are not difficult to show—but there was technically no crime only because prosecutors could not establish that Jared, Donald, Don Jr., etc., have any clear understanding of federal election law.

In other words, they are protected by the brain bone spurs. They could not have done it because they were too ill-informed to do it.

Let’s not forget that the investigation did result in many guilty please and prison sentences, even if Mueller concluded he could not indict a sitting president.

The real chilling part of volume one of the report, however, is the main point that is not talked about—that Russia launched a well-orchestrated cyber campaign to corrupt the American election. We can argue from here to eternity whether that flipped Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida and gave Trump the presidency—but we know for sure that the Russians are coming. They are already sticking their cyber tentacles into our vast and leaky state-run election systems to influence the next campaign.

And Trump is such a cry baby that he insists he won a great victory on his own, and his party and administration refuse to take action to secure our elections. Democracy is endangered not by whether Trump was aided by Russian disinformation—after all, American idiots are perfectly capable, on both the left and right, of spreading garbage online—but by Russian hacking.

Volume one lays out in excruciating detail that we were attacked by a foreign power in 2016, and we already know it’s underway again in the 2020 campaign. Shouldn’t someone who is upholding our Constitution do something?

America, our democratic republic is on fire, and the firefighters are too busy bullying each other to get organized and do something about it. I would even buy into a grand compromise that put GOP minds at ease over their fake nightmare of voter fraud–tackle both problems. Even if fraud is not real, the appearance that fraud is possible is not acceptable, either.

Volume two is more personal to Trump, and more damning. He is a crook, repeatedly and clearly a crook. He did everything he could to try to obstruct a legal investigation, and still mocks it as a “witch hunt” even as he continues his black-magic verbal gas-lighting.

Trump depends on noise and amnesia. When the investigation was going on, it was a “witch hunt.” When Trump’s toady, Attorney Gen. William Barr, released a slanted summary that seemed to exonerate Trump, suddenly, for about 24 hours, Donald loved Bob.

It was bound not to last, this immature crush. Bob’s not a bloody dictator, and poor Don has a way of picking boyfriends poorly.

It seems clear that the law allows a special prosecutor to investigate obstruction of their own investigation—so labeling the second half of the volume “political” or “illegal” is the Trump team being unable to counter the facts. The president lied, tried to get a long-time Republican respected prosecutor fired and otherwise sought to constantly change testimony by witnesses in his favor.

I don’t know if any of that was clarified by Mueller’s testimony—I suspect not. But he has always said his main points are in the report.

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White House portrait of the crook-in-chief.

I read it. I don’t understand how anybody could read it and think Donald Trump should continue as president. He is manifestly unfit.

But more than that, again, the larger point is that the election of 2020 is already at risk. And Republicans reject the notion that they need to do anything about it, because these fire fighters are fine with fire, as long as they think they are not the ones getting burned.

Trying to fix our fractured politics was hard enough before Donald Trump. It is not getting any easier. Between Trump and Mueller, if you’re trusting Trump, I don’t want you making any hiring decisions for me.

Because you’re backing the crook.

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Candidates Hot to Beat Trump


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It was hot Sunday, so I feel like I made a minor sacrifice as part of my civic duty.
I braved the heat to hear a number of Democrats who want to be my president speak. I think the Gazette did a fair and accurate summary of the event in their story.
For me, even the crazy author lady who doesn’t stand a chance would still be a smarter, more qualified president than the current occupant. President Trump, with his recent tweet storm, shows that his instinct is to shout, divide and do damage to democracy, all in the name of drawing attention and firing up the basest instincts of his 40 percent base.
I want him gone, now more than ever. Sure, the Obama recovery is continuing, but at the cost of piling up debt by cutting taxes and boosting arms spending at the same time—an old way of gunning the economy that is not long-term sustainable.
And on any other metric other than economics—international relationships, rule of law, sane immigration policy, the environment, race relations, women’s and minorities’ advancement and rights—this president has not only not made any progress, he has dedicated himself to doing real harm.
He didn’t drain the swamp. He brought in dumber alligators.
So, I showed up on a hot Sunday knowing that I am lucky, as an Iowan, to be able to help weed out this field of candidates. I get to start the process that leads to the nominee who (knock on wood) will crush Trump in fall of 2020.
Say what you will about Tangerine Hitler, besides energizing the basket of deplorables, he’s certainly energized us Democrats. Yet, just as he is not the whole problem in the Republican party, being against him can’t be the whole message for the Democrats.
We know what we don’t want—Trump. What do we want?
Well, of the numerous speakers who appeared Sunday, three stood out to me:
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Amy Klobuchar, senator form Minnesota. “America needs a president who tells the truth,” she said, and I agree. Truth telling is not a long Washington tradition; most politicians, including Democrats, spin. But the current occupant actively and intuitively lies, which is part of the caustic poison of the Trump era.
Klobuchar appeals to me for several reasons. I don’t think being a woman is the key qualifier for office, but I’m inclined to support a woman, if I can. It’s long past time for a madam president.
And Klobuchar is a folksy, talented speaker. She had many resonate lines, including stating that as president she would “stand with our allies and not coddle dictators.”
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Julián Castro, former HUD secretary and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas. My third choice, foreshadowing, is Pete Buttigieg, and Castro reminds me of him. But Castro is a bit older and has more national political experience as a former cabinet member—the biggest reason I hesitate with Buttigieg is my feeling he’s not quite ready for the top job. Castro is a slightly older, more experience former mayor.
Castro is a decent story teller, and that’s an important presidential skill. I liked his short anecdote about the phone call from Barack Obama that lifted Castro on to the national stage: “If you ever get a phone call from a number that says ‘private,’ answer it,” he said. “It might be me (after he is elected president).”
I guess my reasons for picking Castro are also a bit personal and idiosyncratic. He’s from San Antonio, city that gave America one of my daughters-in-law. Hola Nalena! Then again, I’m sure that the fact Amy Klobuchar’s dad was a newspaperman doesn’t hurt her, in my book.
Anyway, Castro scored one of the biggest applause lines of the cattle calls when he set up the scene of him saying goodbye to President Trump, the helicopter in the background at the White House, newly sworn in President Castro shaking Donald Trump’s hand, and his final word to the Don: Adios!
That is what we all want to say to Donald Trump, unless it’s “you’re fired!”
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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. The fresh new face of the party, a clear crowd favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He’s bright, he’s witty and he appears thoughtful.
And he’s the anti-Trump—a soft-spoken, gay, military veteran who is a sharp young contrast to the grumpy old man.
“We may be under reacting to the moment we are in,” Buttigieg said, partly referencing Trump’s infamous Sunday morning rant.
Buttigieg had several political warnings for Democrats. One, that the party does not do well just winning the presidency back. He pledged to help other Democrats.
In Iowa, we need to keep Abby in Congress, send Steve King back to Kiron and get a senate candidate who can knock out Joni Ernst. None of those will be easy—and taking back the House and Senate are important in 2020. Buttigieg was not the only candidate to point that out, but he did it the best.
He also noted that the country does not need a “return to normal.” He said that message won’t beat Trump, and “normal does not work anymore.”
One of his lines particularly resonated with me: “Freedom is not a conservative value; it is an American value.”
I faded a bit as the candidates droned on—it was darn hot. Luckily, I had picked a patch of shade to loiter in, and my only wish would have been a place to sit down.
Still, I enjoyed a New Bo lunch, had a refreshing glass of hard cider and also heard and saw a political party that is fired up.
I’m not ready to declare for any of my three favorites, yet. I’m also interested in some candidate who did not make it to the Sunday event in Cedar Rapids, especially Senator Harris. I’m sure I’ll spend some time on web sites like this one.
But I do know which party I’ll favor in 2020. Democrats, we will be fighting it out over the next few months during the caucus and primary season, and 2020 already is shaping up to be a rough, nasty election. Whatever happens, though, I was heartened on Sunday to see so many qualified women and men who can see themselves as president.
I can only hope one of them is right. We desperately need a new direction after the dumpster fire that was Donald Trump.

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Forget Friday the 13th—Thursday the 12th!


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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman and Scarlett O’Hara–two strong feminist icons.

Of course, the superstition is that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, so any comparison to Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, isn’t totally apt. It wasn’t, for me, a particularly unlucky day, although it did wear me out.

I had to give a mid-term exam that afternoon, and it was a bit dicey getting everything ready and printed. I am behind in grading for that class, too—and how I have an exam to add to the pile. After hustling to the exam, I had a newspaper meeting. There may have been cookies.

Anyway, the meeting broke up early because there were three big events that students needed to cover that night. First, at 6 p.m., the MMU Law and Politics Club was sponsoring a visit by Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador to Eritrea. He shared many interesting stories about his career as a U.S. diplomat.

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Ronald K. McMullen, former U.S. ambassador, speaks Oct. 12 at MMU.

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MMU Times reporter covers the ambassador’s visit.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

He also noted that he had wanted to study geology, and admired the many geodes in MMU’s Grotto. The state rock, he said the geode “is rough on the outside, like many Iowans, but inside we are all gems.”

But I had to rush off. At 7, Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, was speaking as part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided we Fall.” Her topic was “Feminism is for Everyone.” The theme was that the feminist movement in this country has often been focused on the needs of affluent white women, to the detriment of others.

Despite the many competing events on this crazy Thursday, Dr. Wales Freedman attracted yet another full house to Flaherty Community Room.

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Dr. Eden Wales Freedman, demonstrating the face we’ve come to call the “Robertson eye roll.”

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Dr. Wales Freedman with Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English. Dr. Ochs coordinates the Fall Faculty Series at MMU.

On the way in, I had been greeted with the thump of Latin music. The Latin Club was doing some Zumba on the plaza. Because, you know, Thursday the 12th.

I noticed my sister and sister-in-law attending, but felt bad I could not linger and chat with them. Because at 8, Jason Sole was visiting to describe his personal journey from prison to earning a PhD.

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Jason Sole speaks in the Chapel of Mercy to the third sizeable crowd drawn to an interesting Thursday night lecture at MMU.

Sole’s speech was compelling, but I didn’t quite make it to the end. I had to finish grading an exam I needed to get back to a Friday class, so about 8:30 I packed it in and headed home. To work until about 11 p.m. or so.

That’s what Thursday was like. MMU is an exciting, vibrant place, and was, especially on this Thursday. To cap it all, right before the 6 p.m. speech I had spotted a pair of hawks hanging out on Warde Hall. Honestly, birds of prey on that high perch are not that unusual, but I’ve not seen two together before.

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Iowa hawks at MMU–on top of Warde Hall, framed by pine trees.

I’m cheating a bit on the hawk image—they were back on Friday and I shot this image that day. But here are links to more images from Thursday: the ambassador’s visit, the feminism speech and the student-organized prison to Phd presentation.

Thursday the 12th—it was a day that we’ll remember for a long time. Honestly, I hope it’s not repeated—I liked all of the events, but may have liked them even more spread out just a bit.

But it was still my best day this week.

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Ben Franklin Is Fake News!


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MMU Times photo by Brooke Woolley. Me and some other dude.

I can relax now. My presentation in the Fall Faculty Series is in my rear-view mirror.

It went well, from my point of view. The Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy University was packed Sept. 7—standing room only. I quickly counted chairs and estimated there were about 100, so I would say the crowd probably numbered between 110 and 120.

Jon, Phil—Facebook ads may be working! Dixie from marketing also notes that the Happenings on the Hill pamphlet went out in the neighborhood and could be an additional factor.

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My pre-talk photo of the crowd. Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, is introducing me.

The title of my talk was “Fake News vs. the Free Press,” and I began with a short review of why the press is free—the “marketplace of ideas” concept that was enshrined by the First Amendment.

Then, I started in on “fake news.” The concept, and even the words, is not new—my first example was Silence Dogood, and I was pleased someone in the audience recognized it as the early pen name of Benjamin Franklin. Today on Facebook, a faculty member who was there noted that a tidbit from the evening was that Ben Franklin being the first Mrs. Doubtfire, to which another faculty member replied that he was also the first catfish.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Anyway, I gave a 10 minute synopsis of the use of the term “fake news” leading up to 2016, and then talked about how the term last year originally referred to the false, real-looking stories that were deliberately placed on social media.

And then along came Donald Trump and his cooping of the term to mean anything that The Don doesn’t like.

I was hoping to highlight the need for us, the larger “us,” to be responsible news consumers and to be able to recognize when news is fake and when it’s not. Hint: If Donald Trump labels it “fake news,” it’s almost always not. I put in a plug for one of my favorite pipe dreams, that due to the economic model that supported news media in this country being broken, we need an American BBC. Forget the wall—build PBS.

I was also speaking against the easy, politically based fussing we do about “media bias.” Whether the media are liberal or conservative only makes sense to ask in the rather odd, narrow way Americans define their politics, and, while worth considering, political bias is not the most consequential form of bias built into our news system.

News, for example, focuses on conflict and human interest—which distorts the picture of the world that it presents. I don’t consider that kind of distortion necessarily terrible, as long as the audience is on to what’s going on, but it is pervasive. Bias is furthermore inherent in who presents the news—that it’s mostly white, college educated Americans.

My plan was to talk for 40 minutes and take questions for 15 or so, but I probably spoke for an hour and five minutes. It was past 8:30 by the time we were done, yet the audience seemed engaged, and I had lots of side conversations at the end of the evening.

Earlier in the day, I had emailed our library about recording the talk, but the library can’t spare the staff right now. However, Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, already had that base covered and arranged to have Bob Najoks, a retired professor of art, do the recording.

For me personally, seeing Bob again, having my sisters attend, chatting with some neighbors and seeing so many faculty—that made it a fun evening. Thanks, guys.

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Bob Najoks.

In addition, Robin Kash of “Neighborhood Network News” recorded the program, and says he plans to post a video of it. I’ll pass along a URL when I get it.

So far, we’ve had two events in this year’s series, and both have been SRO in their respective venues. My communication colleague Dr. David Klope is the next faculty speaker on Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, but the series includes other events. Check it out at the MMU web site.

Fake news! I don’t think that was what we had last night, but then again, I do not claim to be an objective observer. I appreciate that I’ve received some kind notes—the chair of the faculty stated that her husband though it could be a TED Talk, although there aren’t a lot of 90 minute TED Talks—but mostly I appreciate that my presentation was of interest to such a crowd.

It is always nice to speak before a large crowd, but I’ll try not to fixate on crowd size or ratings alone. Doing so would feel too fake.

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Sober Optimists Erected Government Guardrails


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Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science, speaks Aug. 29 at Mount Mercy.

The 2017 Fall Faculty Series is underway! Called “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age,” this year’s Mount Mercy University series started Tuesday night with an introductory presentation by Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science.

Barrett surveyed key points about our democratic republic—including that the founders were fairly sober about what they were doing. They recognized democracy is a fragile form of government, subject to the potential of internal divisions tearing the experiment apart.

So they introduced balanced powers between branches of government, and a complex federal system that balances interests between states.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

It is, Barrett noted, far from perfect. But perfection and the pursuit of the perfect ideal is dangerous in politics, which must be a messy business of give-and-take. So the United States was not so much designed to be the ideal, but rather to avoid the dangers of democracy. In effect, we were designed to be OK when we are divided. The founders aimed to put guardrails on our national political roadway.

“Democracy is fragile,” he noted. “Our government was designed to minimize the chance of bad outcomes.”

Of course, at various time in our history, we’ve come close to a bad outcome. A Civil War that consumed 600,000 lives (in a country of 30 million—imagine a war consuming 6 million lives today to be of the same scale) was one of those times.

And the Civil War is worth noting today, Barrett said, because our level of political division is again almost at that level.

A chilling thought, indeed. But he did offer some hope. The key, he said, is for us to commit to continued communication with those who disagree with us.

And he made, I think, an excellent point. We need people to express disagreement with us—whoever “we” are. Without vigorous opposition, any political viewpoint can become blind dogma whose rationale is forgotten. It is the need to defend our ideas in debate that keeps us in touch with the reasons why we have a particular point of view.

In that spirit, I thought the questions at the end were a highlight of the event. The start, I hope, of an ongoing, engaging conversation.

The series had an interesting start. Betty Cherry Heritage Hall was packed for the session—there were 72 chairs, and a handful of people standing in back, so the crowd was around 80 people. It was encouraging that they were a mix of young and old. I saw a high school senior I know there, along with many university students, faculty members and people from the community. There seemed to be a lot of elderly in the crowd—which, honestly, doesn’t surprise me too much, since I think older members of our citizenry are often the most politically engaged.

Maybe it takes a lifetime to learn that politics matters.

Anyway, I enjoyed the first session—and enjoyed seeing English Professor Dr. Joy Ochs start it off as the new series coordinator.

I hope you can join us for future sessions. I speak next week about “Fake News and the Free Press.” For more information see the MMU web site.

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The Bottom Line? It’s Complicated, but Good


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Dr. Amyan Amer, associate professor of economics at Mount Mercy University, speaking Nov. 15 on the economics of immigration.

So, is immigration a net plus or minus for our economy?

It depends on who you ask and what you’re asking about. There is no single, simple answer.

“It’s complicated,” said Dr. Ayman Amer, associate professor of economics, who spoke Nov. 15, 2016 as part of the Mount Mercy University series on immigration. “You can’t just say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ to what?”

Still, after an extensive analysis of the many winners and losers, both in the U.S.A. and other countries, I think Ayman reached a conclusion about this country.

“GDP is my proof,” he said near the end of the presentation. “Two hundred years of GDP growth.” The U.S.A. has become the richest nation in the world partly due to the dreams, desires, energies and aspirations of her immigrant peoples.

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Two faces in the audience.

And, Ayman said, it makes a big difference where you start and stop your analysis. For example, if you are talking about immigrants themselves, their net economic impact seems to be either a wash or slightly positive. There are many who benefit and many who do not—for example, because of how taxes work and what the different levels of government pay for, the immigration population is a net plus to the federal government, but a drag on the state and local fiscal picture.

That’s the tax question, not net economic impact. As Ayman said, most analysis seem to indicate that immigrants themselves don’t have a huge economic impact one way or another—but that’s ignoring an important reality.

image-of-logo-colorYou also need to consider the next generation. The children of immigrants are parented by driven, motivated people who came across the world to make a new home and a better life—for their children. Those children tend to inherit their parent’s drive to work hard and succeed—and that first American generation is more educated than their parents or the population as whole, less likely to use social services than their parents or the population as a whole.

If you expand the analysis beyond the immigrants themselves to that first American generation raised by immigrations, it’s much harder to argue that America isn’t much richer due to the “teeming masses” that have been welcomed to these shores.

I felt that Ayman gave a very careful, balanced analysis. But he finished with poetic lines that cre carved in the base of the Statue of Liberty and an image of that statue. It was a fitting way to end. The bottom line may be complicated, but I think it’s still accurate to say that the U.S.A. has greatly benefited, and continues to benefit, from immigration. They don’t come here to take our jobs, they come here to build lives, and that life-building process grows our economy, and our culture.

And that’s to our benefit. As we argue over the right balance in our immigration policies, that’s a key point to keep in mind.

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Dr. Amer answers questions–final slide was fitting, showed Statue of Liberty. He noted that immigration is more than an economics question, and is important from an ethical point of view. An immigration from Egypt himself, Dr. Ayman Amer is an example of how this country benefits from immigration.

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