WELCOME to the debut of “The Truth Is!”, a blog of reporting and commentary that aims to be informative, thoughtful and provocative. At least initially, the blog will have a strong heartland flavor by virtue of the connection of a number of us to Cowles family journalism. I am former editor of the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages. Another contributor, Michael Gartner, is former editor of the paper; he later served as president of NBC News. Another former Register editor who has agreed to contribute, Geneva Overholser, is director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school of journalism. Followers of the blog will have access also to the work of Herbert Strentz of Des Moines, a close Register and other newspaper watcher who once headed Drake University’s journalism school. Bill Leonard, a longtime Register editorial writer, will add insights.

“The Truth Is!” will be supervised by my daughter, Marcia Wolff, a communications lawyer for 20 years with Arnold and Porter (Washington, D.C.). Invaluable technical assistance in assembling and maintaining the blog is provided by my grandsons Julian Cranberg, a college first-year, and Daniel Wolff, a high school senior.

If you detect a whiff of nepotism in this operation, so be it. All of it is strictly a labor of love. —Gil Cranberg

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Say what you will — and we all have — the lead-up to the 2016 election so far is….is….is?

Well, maybe Shakespeare characterized much of the give-and-take among presidential candidates in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Or maybe he caught the spirit of today’s political rhetoric in Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

When it comes to the “sound and fury” of presidential debates, consider a quote attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

And some 270 years ago, Thomas Gray explained why Republican and Democratic candidates ignore obvious and well-founded truths and instead play to the misguided, and even false, beliefs of their base. Gray wrote, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." (So GOP candidates question the worth of vaccines, ignore climate change and defy anyone to mention evolution.)

Linking any one of the Shakespearean or other insights to a specific episode in today’s campaign entertainment is frustrating, however; the flow of charges and counter-charges, slogans and sound bites is halfway around the world before you can sort things out.

Better to focus on something relatively stable in the 2016 campaign — Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” and the other candidates who say our nation is a basket case sorely in need of their quack remedies.

The line “Make America Great Again” scores at least a hat trick by being much ado about nothing, full of sound and fury and appealing to a blissful base. It’s the sort of political and mindless manipulation that George Orwell warned about in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”

“Make America Great Again.” What does that mean? At Fourth of July commemorations three months ago and for at least a century Americans have heard speakers say America IS the greatest nation on earth. That declaration Fourth after Fourth goes unchallenged — at least until it suits today’s candidates to resort to Halloween and horror stories instead of flag waving.

In a few ways we’re better than ever. The Affordable Care Act has extended medical insurance coverage to several million of our fellow citizens. Court decisions have extended human rights to people other than white men. Few of us desire a supposed return to be “great again” if that “again” means subservience to white males with everyone else in the back of the bus.

Besides, an agenda for greatness must look forward, not backward.

Look forward to actions and not just talk about serving the millions of armed forces veterans so long neglected in actions, but well-supported by bumper stickers. Look forward to dealing with our prison incarceration rate, the worst in the world. Look forward to enhancing, not debasing, women’s reproductive rights and health care. Look forward to making college education costs manageable and encouraging, not prohibitive. Look forward not to cutting or raising taxes, but to giving citizens a better return on the taxes they already pay. Those and other steps to greatness are all but ignored in the “Much Ado About Nothing” and “sound and fury” approach.

Further, what does it mean to be a great nation? Is that a goal simply to talk about, after which we can lean back and relax? Or maybe strut about, having achieved greatness? Or is national greatness always more of a starting point, a challenge to continually extend freedom and the fruits of greatness to others in our nation and beyond, rather than building walls?

Sadly, we remain far short of the nation that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others envisioned in their grand experiment. Rather than yearn for a return to a delusional past, however, we should accept the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. That’s what elections are supposed to be about — despite Trump and the debates.


Offered below is an Iowa newspaper's editorial endorsement of Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia for U.S. President. It likely was the first-in-the-nation endorsement for a candidate then known as “Jimmy Who?”

But the endorsement resonates today because of Mr. Carter’s recent diagnosis of cancer and because the qualities ascribed to him in the endorsement differ so markedly from what candidates claim today.

The endorsement was from John McCormally, editor of the Burlington Hawk Eye from 1968 to 1979; before coming to Iowa he was editor of the Hutchinson, Kansas, News, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for news and editorial coverage of the need for legislative reapportionment. John died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 71. A grandson, John McCormally, is an Iowa assistant attorney general.

The Burlington Hawk Eye

Jimmy Carter For President ...

December 20, 1974

By John McCormally

I reserve the right to change my mind several times between now and November 1976, but as of now, I'm for Jimmy Carter for president. And if I had to decide today, I'd round out the ticket by teaming the outgoing governor of Georgia up with the in-coming governor of Connecticut, Ella Grasso, for vice president.

That gives you a ticket nicely balanced, north and south, male and female, with executive experience, the right touches of liberalism without being suicidally radical. Best of all, neither of them has ever given the impression they thought they were God Almighty.

That's why neither of them has impressed you much. They haven't yet been remanufactured by the media and put on sale as the saviors of mankind and leaders of the free world. How faithful I remain to them will depend a lot on how successfully they resist the determination of the icon makers to turn them into plastic persons.

Liberals will consider Carter's first liability his southern address. I shared that bigotry once myself, distrusting anyone from the South. But if recent events have taught us anything, it is that, block for block, there are more rednecks in Boston than there are in Atlanta.

The other thing that disenchants the kingmakers is that Carter just doesn't look like king making material; it is safe to say that most people still have never heard of him. He doesn't give any assurance of "generations of peace" or that his administration will produce the greatest events since creation.

Which is all in his favor. If there's anything we don't need, it's another superman. We need to start out with the premise - which we abandoned with Coolidge - that all we need for president is someone capable of managing one of the three branches of government for four years, with the generally accepted minimum of honesty and ability that is expected of all of us on our jobs. If we luck out and do better than that, it's a welcome bonus. In fact, the less we expect of the president, the more attention we will pay to the performance of the congress and judiciary and the state governments and the business conglomerates that own the country, all of which affect our daily lives far more than any president.

Still, we want a president who sets an acceptable tone. If he is too obviously a charlatan, like Johnson, too obviously a crook, like Nixon, or too obviously a dodo, like Ford, he detracts from the overall performance.…

Carter's an appealing fellow. There's an air of decency, a disarming simplicity, about him that's long been lacking in Washington. He has a varied background: Annapolis graduate, practicing scientist, peanut farmer, and politician.

He still needs to be measured against whoever else, in either party, comes on, but for now, I think he's the man to beat.

And for the benefit of the female chauvinist piglets, I wouldn't care if the ticket were reversed.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


The recent death of an American hero, Dr. Frances Kelsey, like the deaths of most real heroes, is cause for both joy and lament. Joy because such heroes reflect our society at its best; lament because of the contrast between their heroics and the shortcomings of others that too often haunt us.

Dr. Kelsey was one of those folks routinely damned by those who want to be the next U.S. president. She was a bureaucrat — you know, a government employee who gets in the way of the marketplace and free enterprise and creating jobs.

Sure enough, Dr. Kelsey cost drug manufacturer Richardson-Merrell millions of dollars and cost the U.S. countless jobs. In the early 1960s she had questions about a drug introduced in Germany in1957 and then available in 46 nations around the world; that was Merrell’s Kevadon, whose generic name was thalidomide.

Despite pressure from the pharmaceutical industry and free-market ideologues, she blocked thalidomide from a hasty entrance into the U.S. market. After griping about obstructionist government regulators, in 1962 Merrell withdrew its application for marketing Kevadon in the U.S. Evidence of the birth defects it caused was overwhelming — not in the way of tests in government labs, but in the way of children born with flipper-like limbs and other birth defects. It’s estimated that at least 10,000 babies, whose mothers had taken the drug, were born with deformities. 17 such births were recorded in the U.S. by mothers who apparently got the drug in Canada. Most of the estimated 100,000 women who took the drug to combat morning sickness suffered miscarriages. Estimates are that 5,000 to 6,000 thalidomide victims survive today. (In recent years, thalidomide has been found to be helpful in treating some forms of cancer and leprosy.)

Dr. Kelsey was new to her drug-approval post in the Food and Drug Administration in 1960 when assigned to review and expected by many to routinely approve thalidomide. Fortunately, however, for some 30 years she had already been a researcher dealing with related drugs and their effects. (She got her first research job — before government regulators would introduce equal employment opportunities for women — because the fellow who hired her assumed Frances was a man.)

At the FDA, she saw some red flags about thalidomide as did some of her colleagues. Her experience and her courage served us well — even though the likes of her are fodder for politicians who draw laughs when they amuse their supporters with the line “I’m from the government; I’m here to help you.”

Dr. Kelsey worked in government into her 90s and died at 101, on Aug. 7. Some commentaries about her noted that at the same time that Dr. Kelsey was blocking thalidomide, another person, a former federal employee in the U.S. Fish and WildLife Service, was about to publish a book, “Silent Spring”, which led to the banning of DDT. She, of course, was Rachel Carson, who died in 1962 at 57.

So, the work of Kelsey and Carson merits praise — Kelsey-and-Carson or Carson-and-Kelsey has a nice ring to it as a name for a public-interest firm, doesn’t it? But KC Inc. is cause for lament, too. After all, they were scientists, the kind of people whose work is scorned nowadays by deniers of climate change, foes of vaccination, opponents of the teaching of evolution or those, like Iowa’s governor and the Farm Bureau, who ignore calls for sound public policy to combat pollution of Iowa waterways.

Curious choice, isn’t it? Rely on government regulators, or let private interests and political game playing drive public policy?

Sounds clear cut. But often enough the marketplace and sound public policy find something in common. When it comes to climate change, for example, the marketplace may recognize that scoffing at scientific findings is simply bad business. At least we can hope such awareness will ultimately drive government decision making.

When push comes to shove, however, as it does with water pollution in Iowa, folks like Carson and Kelsey are cause for joy, and the governor and Farm Bureau cause for lament. (Even if my “American” hero Dr. Kelsey was born in Canada and got dual citizenship in 1950 so she could continue to practice medicine here!)

Friday, August 7, 2015


If you have suffered an election for more than four years, cease all electoral activity and seek help immediately. You may be suffering from Electile Dysfunction, a malady that afflicts large numbers of people and creates havoc for marital relations because of what it does for intercourse about anything other than presidential candidates. Electile Dysfunction is exacerbated by election analysts in urgent need of treatment for overactive blather.

Treatment of Electile Dysfunction is difficult given that the best treatment is abstention from ALL political stimuli, which is nearly impossible given the presence of election analysts and consultants.

Americans need to declare an end to the electoral madness! Enough already! Who needs more of Donald Trump and his drivel?

Gilbert Cranberg: JAPAN’S STUPIDITY

I went to war with Japan during WWII and am prepared to do it again given the move it is making to become once more a military power. Japan surrendered, unconditionally, in 1945 after being shown the error of its ways. Now, the Japanese once more want to introduce Japanese troops into foreign combat. That is pure unadulterated stupidity. Japanese people need only look at Nagasaki and Hiroshima to realize the folly of war and of their own past militarism.

I can still hear the thwack of Japanese machine gun bullets inches from my head. Never again do I want to hear that sound. The sound I prefer is the satisfying thwack of a Japanese car door closing.


For a moment, on July 5, I longed for Nov. 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election. Then we’d be rid of insidious campaign ads, overblown rhetoric and questionable press coverage. But it dawned on me (1) at my age I should savor each day and not wish time would go faster and (2) on Nov. 9, 2016, the press and political parties will focus on who leads the polls as a 2020 challenger to our new president.

The nonsense is unending.

Speaking of which, did you catch the Des Moines Register’s July 5th two-page spread on the candidates? It featured responses to the question “Which is your favorite color? Red, White or Blue?”

Okay, the real question was “How in your life have you best demonstrated PATRIOTISM?”

For a person concerned with questions, language and patriotism, however, there’s not much difference if a question is infantile or ill-conceived.

After all, patriotism — like love — is a matter of living day in and day out and it should defy being linked to a single “best” act. Further, some responses dealt with nationalism, not patriotism, and there is a difference. Beyond that, each candidate was limited to 100 words — the print version of the scorned sound bites of the electronic media or the absurd 140 characters of Twitter.

Futility, silliness and irrelevance, however, are no barriers to today’s political commentary and coverage.

If you want substance, consider how George Orwell (1903-1950) distinguished between nationalism and patriotism in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism:”

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best…but has no wish to force on other people... Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Orwell’s distinction is useful because, for one thing, patriots come in all stripes and often disagree about the course to be taken by the nation they all love; nationalists, on the other hand, don’t tolerate any opposition to their flag-waving. Maybe in Congress today, we don’t have so much a lack of civility as a lack of patriotism.

19 GOP and Democratic candidates responded to the Register invitation; George Pataki and Bernie Sanders did not.

Following the maxim “When given a lemon, make lemonade,” what might be gleaned from the Red, White or Blue query?

Given the word limit and the predictable responses, eight candidates focused solely or primarily on those serving in the military. (Jim Webb, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Donald Trump.) Santorum and Trump stood out because Trump “best demonstrated patriotism” by funding a veterans parade with $1 million; Santorum “best demonstrated patriotism” because his son joined the US. Air Force and “I cannot give more to my country than one of my own” — without adding, “as long as I didn’t serve.”

Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, sons of immigrants, “best demonstrated patriotism” by living the American dream.

Service to others, including the most vulnerable, was the theme of Hillary Clinton, Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Dr. Rand Paul. John Kasich focused on meeting responsibilities as an elected official. Clinton’s and Carson’s comments seemed the most moving, with hers focused on 9/11 responders and Carson saying the Founding Fathers were his “touchstones.”

The two who embraced a patriotism closest to Orwell’s concept were Lincoln Chafee and Martin O’Malley, both longshots for the Democratic nomination.

Oh, when youngsters, Scott Walker and his brother collected money in a mayonnaise jar for an Iowa state flag at the Plainfield, IA, city hall. Relatively speaking, the Walker boys gave the widow’s mite.

But, on balance, the “Red, White or Blue?” approach doesn’t bode well for us.

Monday, June 29, 2015


On June 11, 2015 the New York Times devoted a big chunk of its front page and additional space on inside pages to the shortcomings of the bail system. What took so long? 

In 1966 then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy convened a National Conference on bail reform. The conference sparked a relatively brief spurt of interest in bail reform and the enactment of federal bail reform legislation. A number of local judges initiated steps to release criminal suspects on their recognizance rather than require money bail. These judges relied on information they required about the ties of the accused to their communities. 

The interest in bail reform sparked by the 1966 conference proved short-lived. In many cases the reforms were administered by functionaries not particularly motivated to promote pretrial release and the local courts soon reverted to the bad habits that prevailed prior to the national bail conference. It helped to reverse the tide of bail reform that professional bail bondsmen rallied to protect their turf.

The incarceration epidemic that is currently flooding the nation’s jails and prisons has given fresh impetus to bail reform. All too many people in jails are not serving their sentences but are simply awaiting trial for lack of money to pay for bail. This is not only wasteful but makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence. Too many in this country are guilty without a trial for lack of funds.

The space devoted by the New York Times to the inequities of the bail system is a much overdue antidote. The Times should have done this kind of reporting years ago. The press generally has been negligent in reporting on the early stages of criminal proceedings. Usually the most inexperienced reporters are assigned to arraignments where bail is set and attorneys are appointed. These early stages are critical to the judicial system and it’s past time for the press to emphasize them. 

If the press had done its job the short-comings of the bail system would not have languished so long. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gilbert Cranberg: MONEY AND SPEECH

Some things are true but false. A major example is the often cited statement by the Supreme Court equating money with speech. Of course, you can buy an issue ad with money and that is unquestionably an exercise in free speech. But money also buys access to the political system and that is much less clearly an exercise in free speech.

No one has ever been corrupted by reading an ad in a newspaper, but political candidates excessively influenced by big money have corrupted the political process. The political landscape is littered with examples of politicians using their influence for corrupt purposes.

So, is the use of money purely an exercise of speech or is it something more? The American Civil Liberties Union is seriously split over the question. Long-time members disagree with the organization’s objections to restrictions on campaign advocacy and spending. Absolutists in the organization see any government restraint on spending as a violation of the first amendment. The ACLU is the nation’s pre-eminent advocate on free speech issues. So when members disagree as vehemently as they do now the rift is a serious one.

It’s much too simplistic to declare that speech is synonymous with spending. Too much corruption has been evident in the way access to candidates has been abused. It is obvious that the high court must revisit the question of money and speech. When it does it has to recognize that equating money with speech is unrealistic. The corrupting influence of excessive access to the powerful in society is too obvious to ignore. It is that access that makes a mockery of the court’s insistence that spending is simply an exercise of free speech.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


For all the red-white-and-blue hurrahs and chest thumping so dear to the hearts of those who promote the Iowa caucuses, it is sobering — even depressing — to consider how the GOP caucuses don’t much care about the wisdom of the U.S Constitution in general or the spirit of Article VI of the Constitution in particular.

Sadly, the last 20 words of Article VI not only are ignored by the Iowa caucuses but are kind of a sick joke when it comes to the race for the GOP presidential nomination. Those words from the hallowed Constitution: “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

No religious test? What a hoot! Those sympathetic to James Madison and his founding friends need not apply for a booth at the Iowa Straw Poll.

No religious test? Tell that to “Cary Gordon, a Christian conservative pastor at a Sioux City church,” as he is identified and invoked from time to time when the Des Moines Register wants to report whether a potential GOP candidate passes muster in a Christian “born again” litmus test.

No religious test? Tell that to Gov. Terry Branstad and the press who make it clear to prospective candidates that, when it comes to the caucuses, the folks who really must be impressed are the likes of Charles Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Center and Robert Vander Plaats of the equally evangelical The Family Leader.

Yes, the Constitution does set restrictions on government and not on citizens. So, a private company can punish an employee for expression that the First Amendment will protect when it comes to limiting government. Likewise, while legislators — at least so far — cannot declare the U.S. to be a Christian nation, millions of voters can take that notion to the polls, as many clergymen urge them to do every election. And now we have candidates for the GOP nomination campaigning along the same religious lines regardless of the spirit or advice of the Constitution. (And while the Constitution focuses on what government can and cannot do, the document does not prohibit citizens from following its spirit!)

James Madison and his 18th century colleagues feared the likes of an Iowa caucus and its de facto endorsement of a religious test for candidates. As legal scholar Burt Neuborne writes in his new book, Madison’s Music: “The Founders knew from personal experience that true believers often use the state to impose their beliefs on others and to persecute, harass, and even annihilate non believers…That’s why, even before there was a Bill of Rights, Article VI…forbade the political majority from imposing religious tests for public office, one of the few protections of civil liberties in the text of the 1787 Constitution.”

Article VI is fightin’ words to the Iowa GOP and caucus promoters. Perhaps that is to be expected, given the penchant of true believers to shove their ideologies down everyone else’s throat.

So for the past 20 or 30 years, the Iowa GOP has raced to the religious right in its party platforms and what it sees as Gospel-driven demands on public policy — from a war against science to anti-gay fervor and pro-gun policies that stop just short of mandating that everyone must be armed to better end violence in our society.

It’s bizarre, and so is the fact that the news media are just about oblivious to such trends — for a longtime ignoring the Iowa GOP platforms as irrelevant, while compromise and common sense are the real irrelevancies in today’s Iowa GOP.

Perhaps in time, the Iowa caucuses as currently configured will become irrelevant, too. One can only hope because, after all, “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

I read that somewhere.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Federal District Court  Judge Jed S. Rakoff (Southern District of New York) recently singled out Iowa Federal Judge Mark Bennett for praise calling him “a brave federal district court judge”. Bennett is one of the few federal judges to speak out against the unspeakable use of mandatory minimum penalties even for first time offenders of minor crimes. 

Lives are thoughtlessly ruined by long prison terms. Judge Rakoff is critical of the federal judiciary for not speaking forcefully about this outrage. When he singled out Mark Bennett he listed him among several courageous federal district court judges: Paul Friedman of the District of Columbia and Michael Ponsor of Massachusettes. Judges can be convinced beyond doubt that justice would be better served by probation or a short term of incarceration but their hands are tied by laws that mandate imprisonment. Judges know firsthand the manifest injustice of this policy but all too often carry it out in silence. Mark Bennett and the other members of the judiciary who speak up about it are to be commended beyond measure.

Among other things, mandatory minimums are thought to exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.  Judge Rakoff's praise for judges who speak up is welcome but that in itself is a half-measure. No candidate for the bench should be considered qualified without evidence of a demonstrated commitment to equal justice.

That means at the bare minimum that no judge can tolerate the use of mandatory minimum sentences.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


The Iowa dream of homespun democracy now seems like more of a nightmare of electoral folly.

The notion of grassroots selection of presidential candidates — thanks to the Iowa caucuses — is pretty much bankrupt. It has given way to billionaires with more money than they know what to do with and to ideologues with more bizarre agenda items than political party platforms dare address — for fear of documenting the lunacy even more.

And the press? The press thinks this is all just wonderful, “a media circus” — as it is often called.

The only redeeming grace is that surely —SURELY, one would hope — some of the candidates have to be better than what we have heard so far.

Almost giddy about the folly and the circus, network TV news celebrates that we have some 80 weeks to go before the November 2016 elections; just think, all that time to endure the sinister TV ads that used to haunt us for only a few months before election day. Witness the attack of the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America upon announced GOP candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky. He dared to speak sense about talking to Iran instead of bombing it out of existence. (The Foundation’s implied logic: If we bomb enough countries, America will be secure and prosperous and, of course, exceptional.)

Yes, there are voices of reason, but they are not necessarily comforting. Consider two speakers hosted by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.

Pretty much ignored by the local press, political analyst Charlie Cook spoke at Drake University in Des Moines last November and Darrell West of the Brookings Institution spoke in early March. Each on his own characterized our current electoral process as “the Wild West” — a lawless, unprincipled and ungovernable time and place.

Our electoral “Wild West,” each said, is because (1) In practice, we have no spending regulations on political campaigns and (2) We have no real semblance of political party discipline or influence. It’s every candidate for himself or herself, every mob to its own pitchforks and torches.

The inept and the bizarre rule the day:

• The Iowa legislature puts hundreds of school districts and thousands of school employees through a figurative financial hell, because the legislature ignores its own deadlines in setting spending for public education. Not to fear: At least four GOP presidential contenders told a Christian conference the government should focus not on public education, but more on taxpayer support for home schooling or private home-indoctrination as some practice it.

• While the GOP routinely decries any government help for the needy, the Iowa Straw Poll will be held in August at an exposition center in Boone that exists thanks to millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

• We wait for another shoe to drop as former State Sen. Kent Sorenson faces federal sentencing or plea-bargaining after his conviction for taking money to support first the Michele Bachmann candidacy in the 2011 Straw Poll and then getting thousands more to switch support to another GOP candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Who else was on the take that time around?

We endure all this despite foregone conclusions. The GOP caucus winner will be whoever grovels the most before the religious right; the Democrats will endorse Hillary Clinton. The press will follow their script for a Clinton-Jeb Bush election and punish would-be voters with a review of every political misdeed, gaffe and supposed scandal of Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations from 1988 to 2008.

It’s all a nightmare that echoes the fears of George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

And for the life of me: How can we do anything in the way of self governance and progress on domestic and international fronts during the next 80 weeks, given the quagmire of Straw Poll and Caucus nonsense we’re already knee-deep into?

But, at least, it’s not as though the fate of the nation or anything like that is at stake.


The Iowa GOP needs to update its party platform to welcome what Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas sees as his Christ-driven presidential candidacy and to endorse the mission of David Lane and the American Family Association to make the U.S. once again a Christian culture as God intended.

The 2014 party platform was toned down a bit from several of its predecessors that essentially called for the elimination of the federal government, the arming of all citizens to support any insurrection against any vestiges of that federal demon, and other more provocative proposals. In fact, the platforms had so many oddball proposals that a few even awakened the watch-dog press which was pretty much unaware that the evangelical religious right had seized control of the GOP.

But with the Cruz candidacy and the upcoming Iowa Straw Poll and caucuses, we’re pretty much going back to the fun-and-games-and-hate provisions of previous party platforms.

To square with the re-evangelizing of the Iowa GOP and the Cruz candidacy, here are some likely GOP planks that might be considered for 2016.

REINSTATE GOD’S COVENANT WITH NOAH: Eliminate all government flood-control programs and flood responses offered under FEMA: We must be mindful of Genesis 9:13, in which God promised Noah that He would not again destroy the world by flood. As part of the Judeo-Christian culture preached by Lane, the slogan will be “If it’s good enough for Noah, it’s enough for me.”

REMIND PEOPLE OF HOW THINGS REALLY STARTED: All national and state parks that have signage noting that the canyons and mountains impressing tourists are billions of years old, must carry additional wording that this is “Merely a geological opinion. Signs must also alert citizens that based on holy scripture Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland (1581-1656) proved that the first day of creation was Sunday Oct. 23, 4004 BC, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday Nov. 10 4004 BC, and that Noah’s ark — see above —touched down on Mt Ararat on Wednesday, May 5, 2348 BC. Consideration should be given to making those dates national holidays.

LOWER THE MINUM WAGE: The minimum wage shall never exceed $1 an hour, thus being in accord with the statement attributed to Jesus Christ in Matthew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you.”

ELIMINATE FEDERALLY MANDATED WARNING LABELS FROM BOTTLES, CANS AND OTHER CONTAINERS: There is no need for such paternalism and supposed government wisdom because, after all, in Mark 16: 16-17, we read “those who believe…when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all…” As for the non-believers, they’ll get what they deserve!

At least those are some of the planks that come to mind with the Cruz candidacy and the doctrinaire approaches that will soon afflict the electorate and be treated as Gospel by the press.

Other scriptural references like beating swords into plowshares, Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3; loving your neighbor as yourself, Mark 12:33; blessing the peacemakers, the merciful and the other bleeding hearts, Matthew 5:3-12, will require further study and perhaps are the sole responsibility of the private sector.

It gets a bit complicated, particularly when the likes of Cruz and Lane, and their supporters, consider themselves to be “the light of the world,” Matthew 5:14.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Succumbing to the temptation that one usually knows what is better for others, may I suggest that instead of giving up chocolate, gin or cursing for Lent, we’d be a lot better off if people would give up ignorance. Give it a try. Forsake ignorance, if only just for what’s left of the 40 days of Lent.

That notion occurred as I leafed through the March issue of National Geographic, in which the cover story, THE WAR ON SCIENCE, is a horror story all its own — peppered as it is with graphic lift outs such as “A THIRD of Americans believe humans have existed in their present form since time began” and “LESS THAN HALF of all Americans believe the Earth is warming because humans are burning fossil fuels,” along with lines about people who believe Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were pranksters in a hoax about landing on the moon

Predictably, for me, this led to revisiting a favorite quote from the play, Inherit The Wind, a drama about the so-called 1925 “Monkey Trial” over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee.

On the witness stand, the anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan character asks the courtroom to consider the defense attorney, Clarence Darrow: “Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?"

“Yes!” Darrow replies. “The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ‘Amens!’ ‘Holy Holies!’ and Hosannahs!’ An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than…the parting of waters.”

Those lines still resonate this Lenten season, perhaps even as much as the Sunday Old Testament Lesson or the Epistle or the Gospel for the day. Indeed, the need to give up ignorance for Lent is reinforced everywhere, it seems.

In an op-ed piece for The New York Times — Happy Talk History — Timothy Egan notes that not only are many political leaders in denial about science, as noted in National Geographic, they’re also in denial about history. Because history courses were not sufficiently pro-American and pro-Biblical, Egan wrote, Oklahoma “State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Republican, a Baptist minister and an active promoter of the view that church must meddle more in the affairs of state… got a legislative committee to approve an ‘emergency bill’ to ban A.P. history courses for college credit in Oklahoma high schools.”

The “good news”, Egan writes, is “Fisher has been mocked, mercilessly, in his home state. His legislation seeks to deny high school students access to a voluntary program that offers them college credit — a leg up in life, and a tuition-saver.”

The not so good news is that denial of science and denial of history is in vogue. The National Geographic notes, “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change — faces organized and often furious opposition.” Empowered by their own certainty and reinforced by fellow believers, “doubters have declared war on” well-founded consensus.

Small wonder that satirist Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker should write, “In the hopes of appealing to Republican primary voters, candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination are working around the clock to unlearn everything that they have learned since the third grade, aides to the candidates have confirmed.

“With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, the hopefuls are busy scrubbing their brains of basic facts of math, science, and geography in an attempt to resemble the semi-sentient beings that Republican primary voters prize.”

That seems an invitation to counter fear-driven and fear-driving candidates by giving up ignorance for Lent. And maybe beyond?

Michael Gartner: RICK GREEN

The affable Rick Green is off to Cincinnati, so now there will be yet another publisher of The Des Moines Register.

That is not good news.

It is not easy being publisher of a newspaper. It particularly is not easy these days — when the industry is changing dramatically and no one really knows how the economics will play out. The Register doesn’t make its finances public, but it has been laying off workers regularly in recent years, and its circulation has plunged to the lowest levels in nearly 100 years. So either money isn’t pouring in over the transom or else it is being sent out in indefensible amounts to Gannett headquarters in Virginia. Both of those possibilities are bad.

Uncertainty is the only certainty in the newspaper business today. Indeed, it would be foolish to bet that there will be home delivery of the daily Register in five years. And if there is, it would be foolish to assume that there’s anything in it for readers over 45 — the traditional print readers but the upper end of the newspaper’s target demographic, in this aging state, both in print and on its loopy Web site.

So The Register needs all the help it can get. Time will tell if Rick Green set The Register off in the right direction — or the wrong one. But he had all but one of the skills needed to run the place. He understood news. He understood business. He got involved in the community, at least to a degree. And he was relentlessly upbeat, at least in public. An added benefit was that he truly cared about the First Amendment — in seeming contrast to a few of his predecessors — and spent some of his scarce dollars fighting for openness.

But he lacked one thing: He didn’t know the territory.

That’s a huge liability to overcome. (I know. I spent 15 months as editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, where I felt like I was editing a newspaper with one hand tied behind my back. I didn’t know Mitch McConnell from Willie Shoemaker, though I grew to admire one of them.) An editor and a publisher must have a great knowledge — and a great affection — for their city and state, a knowledge that makes them confident of their facts and an affection that spurs them to comment truthfully about those facts. Good and bad.

It takes a lifetime — a lifetime of insatiable curiosity — to learn at least some of those facts. As for the affection, it’s kind of like falling in love. At some point, it just happens.

Rick Green knew nothing about Iowa when he came here from California to edit the newspaper four years ago; that’s not his fault, it’s the fault of people at corporate headquarters who look at newspaper editors and publishers as fungible goods and move them around like inventory to stock a store whose shelves are bare. But editors are not auto parts, publishers are not bananas. Rick Green is a quick study, and he learned a lot, about as much as you can absorb in four years, and he didn’t commit any awful gaffes.

But the whole time, I suspect, his heart has been in Cincinnati. He was born and raised in Ohio, he graduated from Ohio University, he spent 16 years in the newsroom of the Enquirer — and his eyes sparkle when he talks about his years there. He knows the territory — and he is in love with it. He’ll do a great job in Cincinnati. The paper is lucky the corporate masters didn’t pick someone for Cincinnati who grew up in Vermont, say — or Iowa.

But where does that leave The Register?

Can Gannett find someone who knows what Joy Corning and Jo Ann Zimmerman and Roger Jepsen and Sally Pederson and Terry Branstad have in common? Can it find someone who knows the stories of Jack Trice and Nile Kinnick? Who follows the price of soybeans and knows how many bushels an acre of corn produces in Hamilton County? Who understands the Iowa school-aid formula (well, that’s probably asking too much) and the history of liquor-by-the drink?

As well as someone who can build a rate card and reach those generations who think print is ridiculous and who text each other even when they’re sitting at the same restaurant table? Someone who can wring every dollar out of the budget to make sure the newspaper has the manpower to cover the courts as well as Fifty Shades of Grey and to summarize city council meetings with the same thoroughness it devotes to “Girls” and “The Bachelor?”

And figure out a way to price what editors and publishers increasingly call “the product?”

Good luck in finding that person.

And good luck to Rick Green, who is the right person for Cincinnati.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


There was something surreal about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent performance in Washington. Israel is militarily strong but essentially weak in that its existence is wholly dependent on the United States. Yet there was Netanyahu lecturing this country on how to conduct U.S. foreign policy. Call it chutzpah.

U. S. House Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuked Netanyahu for a speech she describes as condescending and insulting. Not many American politicians are willing to use such strong language in describing the Israeli leadership. Call it a straw in the wind, a willingness to subject the U.S. - Israeli relationship to the same critical standard we apply to all countries. In that sense Netanyahu may have done his country a huge disservice by overplaying his hand and seeming to bully this country into following his country’s lead on Iran.


Lyrics to If I Only Had A Brain (From Wizard of Oz)

(As a GOP theme song)

We could do away with Perrys
With Carsons and with Christies
And with the man from Bain
We could do real soul searchin’
Instead of phony churchin’
If we only had a brain

We’d listen to the people
And not just the creep who’ll
Bankroll our campaign

With the thoughts we’d be thinkin'
We could be the party of Lincoln
If we only had a brain

Oh, we could do so much
To close the income gap
Cope with climate change, take ISIS off the map
And then dysfunction we could zap

We’d wonder ‘bout Giuliani
Our latter-day McCarthy
Good grief! The guy’s a pain
We would do our ‘nash-nul’ duty
Forsakin’ guys like Rudy
If we only had a brain

We would not just be a poutin’
Trumpin’, hatin’ and shoutin’
And just plain raisin’ Cain
We could win the election
Say goodbye to dis-affection
If we only had a brain

Monday, February 16, 2015


Brian Williams, George Bush and Richard Cheney each had the same responsibility to report accurately about Iraq to the American people.  Williams misreported a few things, for which he apologized. Nonetheless his career is in tatters and he has been relieved of his job for months at NBC News.

George Bush’s reports about Iraq were NOT harmless. He massively misrepresented the facts, causing immense grief and loss of life. Neither he nor Richard Cheney, his partner in making war in Iraq, ever apologized. Nor did they correct the many lies they told. They were responsible for orchestrating a campaign of torture in conducting the war that brought the country into worldwide disrepute. Nevertheless, they lived happily ever after, country-clubbing, and living lives of comfort and respect laughing all the way to the bank to deposit their government pensions. Neither man spent a moment publicly regretting the catastrophe they caused Iraq.

The glaring contrast in the reactions to Bush-Cheney and Brian Williams is almost beyond belief. There are two words to describe it. The words are shameful and disgusting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I came within inches of being killed by Japanese machine gun fire. The bullets came so close I can still hear the snap of the grass as the rounds passed just above my head.

I did not ever say that a bullet creased my helmet. Though I could well have, given how close I was to Japanese fire. Moving that fire inches closer, through my helmet, would have been a slight exaggeration but it would make a harrowing story better.

I bring this up now for the way NBC news anchor Brian Williams is being crucified for reporting that he was closer to a helicopter under fire in Iraq than he actually was. Williams did not claim bravery under fire. He simply claimed, falsely it turned out, proximity to the incident. It’s as though I had embellished my account of Japanese machine gun fire to make it appear that it was slightly more dangerous than it actually was.

I was drafted and ordered into combat. Brian Williams went voluntarily to a war zone. He deserves credit for that. We can do with less sanctimony and more understanding about the work of a talented journalist.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gilbert Cranberg: THE MYSTERY OF COPCD

Mitt Romney has taken himself out of the 2016 presidential race, or so it seems. Count me among the skeptics. After all, I’m a follower of Harold Ickes, FDR’s Interior Secretary, who observed, “The desire to be president is a disease cured only by embalming fluid”. Note that Romney’s disavowal of an interest of the ’16 race was equivocal. Others have noted that if he really wanted to quit the contest he would have said so in less uncertain terms. Call it the residual effect of Chronic Obsessive Presidential Candidate Disorder (COPCD), the medical community’s shorthand for the condition.

Signs of the condition are unmistakable: the uncontrollable urge to plunge into crowds to manically shake all hands in sight; the fixed insipid grin; the shameless panhandling; the inability to resist a microphone. Romney had a virulent case of COPCD, which is seldom possible to shake cold turkey, as he attempted to do. So, look for a Romney relapse.

More research is needed into the causes and possible cure for COPCD. The possibility that it is familial should be explored. It can hardly be coincidence that several members of the Bush family are afflicted. But if it is genetic, how to explain that some members of the Bush family escaped being ravaged by the disease and seem to be living normal lives?


Brace yourself: The Iowa Straw Poll, endorsed by the State GOP, will return this summer in its role as a quadrennial horror story. Given how the maligned Poll was brought back to life, perhaps Zombie Burgers will be catered in.

The Iowa Straw Poll, which even Republicans admit gouges presidential wannabes for funds for the State Republican Party, was thought — or at least hoped — to be dead. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and others called for the end of the Straw Poll because it is so costly for Republican candidates, because the likes of Rep. Michelle Bachmann was the Straw Poll winner four years ago, and mostly because the Iowa caucuses had enough credibility problems without the Straw Poll threatening Iowa’s status as a harbinger of presidential election outcomes.

We should have known better. Those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot that no amount of money is too much to throw away in today’s elections; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead forgot how gullible the press is; those thinking the Straw Poll was dead ignored the clout of the religious right in Iowa politics.

This is consistent with political analyst Charlie Cook’s insights on the 2016 presidential campaign made during a visit to Drake University’s Harkin Institute last fall. Cook said American politics is now the “Wild West” with no real controls over campaign spending and no discipline in political parties.

So give a big Yippie-yi-yo-ki-ay and saddle up for the Straw Poll, partners.

The State GOP will again set up the cash registers and ring in the contributions from candidates who, with good reason, think they can buy their way into the presidential race by winning votes in exchange for contributions to the Iowa GOP.

The gullible press will give the Straw Poll all the coverage it needs to be taken seriously because — as reporters will tell you — “We don’t have anything else to do this summer.”

But even without the wild spending in today’s politics and even without a lapdog press, it should have been obvious that the Straw Poll would be resuscitated.

That’s because of the influence of the religious right in the Iowa Republican Party. The message effectively communicated by the Christian conservative Iowa Family Leader organization was “Go ahead and not have the Straw Poll. We’ll do it for you!”

Surely, if the Iowa GOP decided to distance itself from the Iowa Straw Poll, Iowa Family Leader or a similar constituency would have stepped in to meet the demands of the press and the desires of some candidates, and had a poll of its own. In that case the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming in would be under its control rather than the establishment GOP.

So much for all the GOP efforts to suggest to independent voters and moderates that the party is not driven by the social agenda of the religious right. So much for Iowa efforts to suggest that the Straw Poll welcomes all GOP candidates and not just those who pander to the religious right.

Small wonder that the governing board of the Iowa GOP had little choice but to continue the Straw Poll. There will be cosmetic changes in token response to those who say the Straw Poll is phony and counter- productive when it comes to informing voters about who is deemed qualified to heal the nation and get about the business of governing. But the Straw Poll will again be won by the best panderer to the religious right, the best gun-slinger in Cook’s Wild West.


Thursday, January 29, 2015


In time we’ll likely enjoy the orange pudding, a gift from one of our daughters.

Or maybe we can have it bronzed as a reminder of the terror-filled age we’ve inflicted upon ourselves.

Whether it’s called pudding elsewhere or fruitcake in the U.S., the folks of the Transportation Security Administration, ever vigilant to its pledge — “Your Security is Our Priority ” — opened and sampled our gift labeled “Heston Hidden Christmas Orange Pudding” at an airport in Hawaii.

Perhaps that is all part of what TSA calls its “risk-based strategy.”

The so-called risk, in this case, may have been suggested by the word “Hidden”, or maybe it was in the warning in cooking instructions that “overheating may cause fruit and sugar to ignite.” (Although about anything you pack is ignitable.) Or maybe the TSA focused on the word “frenzy”, as the pudding maker in the United Kingdom referred online to the “…Internet and media frenzy about Heston’s Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding.”

For whatever reason, when we got back home and unpacked, one suitcase had the TSA “Notice of Baggage Inspection… for prohibited items.” That particular piece of luggage had already carried a label indicating it had been searched and cleared by the US Department of Agriculture inspectors who check all baggage leaving Hawaii for the mainland. (Further, the pudding had been purchased by our daughter who lives in Australia and, after a brief stay on the mainland, she brought the gift to the Island of Kauai as part of Christmas gift giving. So it already had cleared security checks, including the TSA, a couple of times.)

Even though the USDA at Lihue Airport spotted the pudding and cleared the little box — about 6 inches square and 4 inches deep — the TSA folks slit open the box, removed the bowl of pudding, unsealed a bit of the lid and, judging from an indentation in the pudding, sampled the stuff. Maybe they restricted themselves to a taste test; maybe folks in HAZMAT suits took it to a lab for a more in-depth analysis.

Having found the pudding to be pudding, the TSA resealed the bowl with crisscrossed duct tape bearing the TSA label but lacking a celebratory “ENJOY!” [See attached photo]

But why mess with an item already previously cleared by the USDA and other TSA workers?

Even our other baggage should have been more suspect, containing as it did bottles of liquid more potent than orange pudding/fruitcake.

But that’s the nutty world we live in today.

We may have moved past the cliché’, “If we don’t do this, the terrorists will win.” But we don’t fully recognize the threat in “Because we do this, the terrorists have won.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Tankers-full of ink were spent describing the protest march in Paris attended by heads of state from all over the world. Unless I missed something, the New York Times managed to cover the event by not expending a drop of ink reporting or explaining the absence of President Obama. While in no way comparable, to this reader the performance of the paper was reminiscent of how it dealt with the deaths of millions of Jews during World War II by pretending it didn’t happen. The paper subsequently made amends for its Holocaust non-coverage by apologizing and in effect vowing never again. Except now again it inexplicably botched a major news event – President Obama’s disappearance act in Paris.

The Obama administration issued a feeble mea culpa a few days after the march admitting it was a mistake not to attend. The Times ran that story January 13 on page 12. Times readers must have been mystified by the administration’s admission of error if all they knew about the march was what they had read in the Times. The paper’s story about the administration’s mea culpa made no mention of how the Times had ignored Obama’s role in the march.

The Times’ sorry handling of the story makes a mockery of its motto, “All the news that’s fit to print”, and everyone responsible for its sophomoric performance should be disciplined.