James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘policy

Doubling down on a stupid policy.

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My column is up at the Press-Citizen.  Here it is:

Doubling down on a stupid policy

Let’s be honest.

The state law that prohibits alcohol for 18-year-olds is stupid.

The federal law that promotes such a policy is not only stupid, but an obscene abuse of federal power.

These laws really do not require sophisticated criticism. The only thing that is difficult to understand about the laws is how they have managed to remain in existence for so long.

Iowa City policy that bars 18-year-olds from establishments that serve alcohol are really just doubling down on a stupid policy.

The prohibition of alcohol for those younger than 21 already creates a rich market in false identification and identity theft. But that market is promoted principally among those who want to exercise the right to purchase alcohol directly. People who want to exercise those rights through the acts of others have little incentive to obtain a false identity.

Current Iowa City policy raises the bar. Now those who merely want to share a social environment with people who are in a drinking establishment must obtain false identification. This sort of identity fraud is bad in itself, but it also creates wider channels for a wide variety of identity fraud-related scams and crimes.

That is a fairly unique problem promoted by the 21-only policy, but the shift in alcohol consumption caused by this policy is troubling on many levels. Of course, some may argue that total consumption goes down because of the policy, but that seems rather unlikely given that most high school students can fairly readily obtain alcohol. College students have many more options.

Bars have incentives to protect their customers that house and apartment dwellers do not have. Bars enrich the nightlife of Iowa City in a way that house parties do not. Bars do not have readily available areas where men can easily rape women; houses do. Bars can be openly patrolled by police without a warrant; houses cannot. Commercial districts are better suited than residential neighborhoods to the heavy traffic and noise that goes with drunken revelry. Where do we want people to drink?

However, none of this addresses the core problem. That is, 18-year-olds suddenly free of parental constraint, 21 year-olds experiencing nominal “freedom,” and a variety of others indulge irresponsibly in their alcohol consumption and cause many problems.

Whether they drink at bars or houses, this core problem remains.

A better solution requires that we, as citizens, as a city, and as a state petition our elected federal representatives to repeal the insane federal laws that promote a 21-year-old drinking age. The best solution, in the long run, might even be to abolish the drinking age entirely or reduce it to, perhaps, 14.

Let’s imagine a 14-year-old drinking age. The first opportunity for a person to drink legally would happen when they are under their parents’ care, without the financial means to buy much alcohol, unable to drive, and generally incapable of creating an environment conducive to irresponsible drinking. The novelty of drinking openly once a person arrived at college would be substantially reduced. The aggressive binge drinking that is the rite of many 21-year-olds would be non-existent.

More personally and locally, I suspect Curtis Fry would not have gotten obscenely drunk on his 21st birthday. He would not have brutally beaten my friend, Patrick McEwen, to death at Patrick’s apartment on South Van Buren Street.

Fry’s parents seem like good people. Had Fry been able to legally drink as a 14 year-old, they would have raised him in a way that prevented him from killing someone.

He would not be in prison today.

For me, imagining an alternate reality where a young man is not a killer and an old man is not brutally killed is compelling enough.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Losing Iowa

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The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

Schooling 1040 WHO’s Jan Mickelson on gay rights.

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1040 WHOI had the chance to talk to Jan Mickelson on 1040 WHO yesterday and lecture him on gay rights.  My call begins at 58:40.  You can listen to it at this link.

Written by JamesEJ

Friday, August 20, 2010 at 8:10 pm

My column in the Press-Citizen: No valid objection to Park 51

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My column on the Park 51 project (the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”) is in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen.  Here is the opening:

The so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” is not planned for anywhere on the 16-acre World Trade Center site in Manhattan. It is in the Financial District, but it is at least two blocks from WTC 7 — the nearest part of the massive WTC site.

via No valid objection to Park 51 | press-citizen.com | Iowa City Press Citizen.

Read the whole thing.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Bill Clinton was a great President.

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At the time  of his presidency, I was not a fan of Bill Clinton.  But, times have changed and my mind has changed along with it.  It is my reflection on Clinton’s tenure that have forced me to reconsider how I label myself.  I am comfortable with the term “liberal” largely because of what it meant then, even as talk radio was flushing it down the toilet.

Here’s Matt Welch over at Reason:

[A]s the Bush-Obama era of bailout economics and Keynesian rehabilitation settles into something like cruising speed, perhaps the most fantastic fact to swallow will be that once upon a time the United States had a president who restrained government spending, balanced the budget, argued forcefully for the benefits of free trade, and declared that “the era of big government is over.” And he was a Democrat.

via The Death of Neoliberalism – Reason Magazine.

The whole piece is worth reading.

Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 10:00 pm

City needs narrower option

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My column in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen:

City needs narrower option
James Eaves-Johnson
Writers’ Group
SEPTEMBER 19, 2009

The police officer pulled up to the curb and asked, “What are you kids up to?”

Most of my friends had made a bee-line to the nearest apartment building. Sure, it was three o’clock in the morning, and none of us was older than 15, but we were just a bunch of restless nerds.

This was the first time I had been to Coralville. A bunch of friends I had met at nerd camp (what else do you call taking advanced classes at a university over the summer?) decided that we should get together. The majority lived near Iowa City, so a friend and I had bugged our parents until they caved and agreed to shuttle us from Des Moines for a weekend.

“We were just bored and decided to take a walk,” I told the officer, slightly annoyed that my friends thought we had a reason to run.

“You know I could take you to the police station and have your parents pick you up, don’t you?”

Apparently, Coralville had a curfew at the time. I had no idea. I was incredulous.

“Well, I am from Urbandale and he’s from West Des Moines,” I said, pointing to my friend who had traveled with me. “I am not even sure that they would pick up the phone, and it is a two-hour drive from here.”

Of course, if he had wanted to detain us at the police station, he would need to call for backup to make room for us all. The police at the station would need to deal with babysitting us for, probably, several hours. Corralling this nerd herd was going to be more trouble than it was worth.

“OK, well go back to the home where you are staying and don’t let me catch you out again tonight.”

The nerd herd complied.

The police officer had little interest in enforcing the curfew law. Arguably, such a law does not exist to be enforced, but exists merely as a pretext for investigation into other criminal acts. Indeed, if such a law were rigorously enforced, it would unnecessarily consume the time of the police and justice system.

And this pretext is precisely why Iowa City is considering a juvenile curfew law. One area of town has had a recent problem with juvenile hooliganism. There is not a general problem with nocturnal youths. There is a problem with a relatively small group of youths in a single neighborhood. The problem is likely a temporary one.

This law may solve the immediate problem. But it will undoubtedly reach further than intended. Will the Iowa City Council be quick to repeal the law when general lawfulness is restored? It seems doubtful. The law will likely remain on the books until it is finally enforced against a few “good” kids, whose parents raise hell until the law is repealed. Until then, the law will undoubtedly invite profiling of suspects and haphazard harassment of juveniles and younger-looking college students. It will result in unequal application of the law and greater suspicion of police motives.

If the council wants to attack a narrow problem, it should create a narrow solution. To start, it could change the proposed curfew by setting a date for it to sunset.

A better solution might be to delegate limited authority to the mayor and chief of police to declare a temporary neighborhood-specific curfew based on a finding of fact that it was experiencing an acute crime problem. Such a declaration could become effective only upon notification of the council at its next meeting, at which time the council could intervene and nullify the declaration if necessary. Unless the declaration was renewed, it could expire automatically in three months or earlier by revocation.

The council should find a narrower solution. It cannot intend for the currently proposed law to be broadly enforced. One would hope that it does not intend that the law be enforced erratically.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 9:22 am

Posted in liberty

Tagged with , , ,

Reading Iran’s hope, fear

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The situation in Iran in recent weeks has offered both much hope and much fear. Indeed, Iran seems to be on the brink of something not unlike the pivotal events of 1979. Those events triumphantly ended the monarchy in Iran … only to usher in a fascist theocracy.
Fortunately, two books have been released this year that illustrate both the hope and the fear. Both books are by accomplished journalists who have deep roots in Iran and mastery of the Persian language.
‘Honeymoon in Tehran’
Azadeh Moaveni’s “Honeymoon in Tehran” describes her experiences as a journalist in Tehran as she falls in love, marries and has a child with an Iranian man. Because her life is intertwined with the liberal modern culture that dominates northern Tehran, her story breathes rich life into the people we have seen in the news standing up so defiantly to the fascist regime that controls their country.
Moaveni shows that many people in Iran, across a variety of social categories, are not mere “moderates,” as that term is so euphemistically used to describe people in repressive countries who have merely suppressed the urge to murder. The people of Iran are largely liberals of the type we identify with in this country. They do not merely tolerate diversity and treat others politely; they embrace diversity and seek out cultural experiences beyond what the regime allows.
In spite of this hope, Moaveni also describes the creeping fascism that penetrates more severely after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After a time of living in constant fear of arrest, she is compelled to leave Iran so that she can raise her child out from under the thumb of the fascist regime.
‘The Persian Night’
Amir Taheri’s “The Persian Night” more starkly shows the darkness and fear cast by the regime. He goes into great detail describing the repressive organs of the regime. He describes the morality patrols — known in Persian as Gasht-e Ershad — that oppress women who dress too colorfully, allow their hair to show, or converse with men.
Taheri tells about various horrors visited upon Iranians by the Baseej militia and the Revolutionary Guard. He examines how the regime exports its fascist ideology through the various arms of Hizballah that operate worldwide.
Most importantly, Taheri describes the regime’s insane pursuit of nuclear weapons and its lack of concern for the welfare of the Iranian people.
Perhaps the most troubling parts of both books are those that display the disregard the regime has for human life. From AhmadinNejad to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi, the regime’s leaders have expressed the sincere belief that the noblest act one can do for the regime is to die. These men justify the most evil acts with a messianic belief of divine rescue. During Iran’s war with Iraq, the regime most vividly displayed its ideology of death when it sent many thousands of young children to die, running across minefields.
When a fascist regime like this instigates foreign wars and pursues nuclear weapons, it poses a threat unlike any the world has faced. The Soviet Union and the United States were saved from nuclear annihilation because each side loved their children and wanted to see them live. What is the world to do when those controlling the nukes want to see their children die?
As we are forced to deal with this question more imminently in the coming months, Moaveni and Taheri explain that the world must make every effort to show solidarity with the people of Iran.
A small example of how America does this is the president’s Nowruz message to the Persian people. Nowruz is the celebration of Persian New Year that pre-dates the arrival of Islam in Iran. Even as the Iranian people have embraced Islam, Nowruz has remained a major holiday celebrated widely by the Iranian people. Because of its narrow theocratic ideology, the regime has tried to suppress Nowruz and has only failed because of the popular observance of it. When the U.S. president addresses the Iranian people on Nowruz, he sends a strong message that we stand with them against their oppressors.
As the Iranian people pursue regime change through boycotts, strikes, and other disturbances, we must continue to stand with them. Their actions provide an opportunity for us to pressure the regime through targeted policies and diplomacy that can reinforce the Iranian people’s efforts. With an intelligent strategy, we might provide the needed momentum to help the Iranian people change the fascist regime that oppresses them and threatens the world.
Writers’ Group member James Eaves-Johnson blogs often at http://www.press-citizen.com.

[This is my column in today’s Iowa City Press-Citizen.  It can also be found at http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20090726/OPINION01/907260303/1019]

The situation in Iran in recent weeks has offered both much hope and much fear. Indeed, Iran seems to be on the brink of something not unlike the pivotal events of 1979. Those events triumphantly ended the monarchy in Iran … only to usher in a fascist theocracy.

Fortunately, two books have been released this year that illustrate both the hope and the fear. Both books are by accomplished journalists who have deep roots in Iran and mastery of the Persian language.

‘Honeymoon in Tehran’

Azadeh Moaveni’s “Honeymoon in Tehran” describes her experiences as a journalist in Tehran as she falls in love, marries and has a child with an Iranian man. Because her life is intertwined with the liberal modern culture that dominates northern Tehran, her story breathes rich life into the people we have seen in the news standing up so defiantly to the fascist regime that controls their country.

Moaveni shows that many people in Iran, across a variety of social categories, are not mere “moderates,” as that term is so euphemistically used to describe people in repressive countries who have merely suppressed the urge to murder. The people of Iran are largely liberals of the type we identify with in this country. They do not merely tolerate diversity and treat others politely; they embrace diversity and seek out cultural experiences beyond what the regime allows.

In spite of this hope, Moaveni also describes the creeping fascism that penetrates more severely after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After a time of living in constant fear of arrest, she is compelled to leave Iran so that she can raise her child out from under the thumb of the fascist regime.

‘The Persian Night’

Amir Taheri’s “The Persian Night” more starkly shows the darkness and fear cast by the regime. He goes into great detail describing the repressive organs of the regime. He describes the morality patrols — known in Persian as Gasht-e Ershad — that oppress women who dress too colorfully, allow their hair to show, or converse with men.

Taheri tells about various horrors visited upon Iranians by the Baseej militia and the Revolutionary Guard. He examines how the regime exports its fascist ideology through the various arms of Hizballah that operate worldwide.

Most importantly, Taheri describes the regime’s insane pursuit of nuclear weapons and its lack of concern for the welfare of the Iranian people.

Perhaps the most troubling parts of both books are those that display the disregard the regime has for human life. From AhmadinNejad to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenehi, the regime’s leaders have expressed the sincere belief that the noblest act one can do for the regime is to die. These men justify the most evil acts with a messianic belief of divine rescue. During Iran’s war with Iraq, the regime most vividly displayed its ideology of death when it sent many thousands of young children to die, running across minefields.

When a fascist regime like this instigates foreign wars and pursues nuclear weapons, it poses a threat unlike any the world has faced. The Soviet Union and the United States were saved from nuclear annihilation because each side loved their children and wanted to see them live. What is the world to do when those controlling the nukes want to see their children die?

As we are forced to deal with this question more imminently in the coming months, Moaveni and Taheri explain that the world must make every effort to show solidarity with the people of Iran.

A small example of how America does this is the president’s Nowruz message to the Persian people. Nowruz is the celebration of Persian New Year that pre-dates the arrival of Islam in Iran. Even as the Iranian people have embraced Islam, Nowruz has remained a major holiday celebrated widely by the Iranian people. Because of its narrow theocratic ideology, the regime has tried to suppress Nowruz and has only failed because of the popular observance of it. When the U.S. president addresses the Iranian people on Nowruz, he sends a strong message that we stand with them against their oppressors.

As the Iranian people pursue regime change through boycotts, strikes, and other disturbances, we must continue to stand with them. Their actions provide an opportunity for us to pressure the regime through targeted policies and diplomacy that can reinforce the Iranian people’s efforts. With an intelligent strategy, we might provide the needed momentum to help the Iranian people change the fascist regime that oppresses them and threatens the world.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm