Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1998
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Thinking about Japan's future... why the president should be above the law... a hilltop lecture... from welfare to work

Illustration by Kevin O'Malley
Wedding the world of action to ideas

Want to see the inside of a think tank?

Scholars, business leaders, congressional staffers, researchers, and other pivotal players in Washington get together about once a month to debate international policy at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Provocative reports generated via this process are now being posted online via SAIS's home page,, under the Web page's publications heading.

The articles--the first was posted earlier this year--focus on topics born in SAIS's Asia Pacific Policy series, think- tank-styled discussions developed about two years ago. The breakfast talks, attended by 30 to 40 people, have focused on oil and Asia's future, Chinese economic capability, India's foreign policy agenda, and other Asia-related topics. Economic strife, and the impact on security issues, is a central theme.

Discussion participants "come from an eclectic group," says Frederick Z. Brown, associate director of Southeast Asia Studies at SAIS. "We try to be inclusive, not have strictly a U.S. government point of view or an academic point of view. We try to wed the world of action to the world of ideas."

The Web postings are meant to expand the exchange of ideas even further by allowing scholars and the general public to read papers and draw their own conclusions, SAIS directors say.

Among other conclusions of the first report, the paper's writers predict that Japan's current economic problems, which they believe are not being fully acknowledged by the Japanese or foreign governments, will lead to a "dangerous cocktail for the private sector" in Japan.

Overpriced company assets, such as real estate are now dropping in value. Another factor fueling corporate bankruptcies is the excessive debt leverage in public and private sectors (companies there have an average debt-to-equity ratio of 4-to-1). The writers propose a series of solutions, including a government-backed takeover similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation set up during the United States' savings and loan crisis in the early 1990s.

The paper was co-authored by SAIS forum participant David Asher, a former Republican congressional staff specialist on Asian affairs and a Japan expert with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Andrew Smithers, chairman of Smithers & Co. Ltd., an economic consulting group based in London. --JPC

"Attack politics" on Capitol Hill

Bill Clinton's ongoing travails recently prompted Constitutional scholar Joel B. Grossman to muse about some of the more curious aspects of the president's predicament. For example: Were Clinton to be indicted, he could shield himself from federal criminal prosecution by issuing a pardon--for Bill Clinton.

"I think it's unlikely to happen, but the Constitution doesn't prohibit it," notes Grossman, a Hopkins professor of political science. The outcry from Congress and the public would be such that the president would have to pardon himself on his last day in office, says Grossman, and he adds that if Clinton tried to use a self-pardon to shield himself from indictments issued after he leaves office, the Supreme Court might rule that as inconsistent with the Constitution.

While Congress, pundits, judges, and citizens have debated whether the president is above the law, Grossman argues that Clinton has found himself, in effect, "below the law," in a bind that a private citizen would not have to endure. For example, a citizen before a grand jury can invoke Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Clinton, subject to the court of public opinion and possible (at press time) impeachment proceedings that do not have to meet a legal standard of proof, realistically did not have that option, Grossman says. He cites another aspect of Clinton's unique predicament: the president could be forced from office for perjury, yet he hasn't been indicted for perjury. Grossman says attempting to do so would be "a close call. Few people, if any, are charged with perjury for lying in a civil case deposition."

Grossman believes that in some respects, a president does need to be above the law. In allowing the Paula Jones civil suit to proceed, he says, "[The Court] completely misperceived the threat of civil litigation to a president. Every president is now going to be subject to these kinds of attack, and the system doesn't benefit from it. We need a president to govern. We can't saddle him with these burdens."

Says Grossman, "Clinton's behavior was certainly inappropriate. But I would say he provided the occasion for a highly partisan political attack disproportionate to what he did." This was part of what Grossman labels "attack politics, or the criminalization of politics." He says, "The persistence of divided government puts pressure on the party not controlling the White House to use desperate measures, including intrusions on personal privacy."

There are a few ironies to Clinton's situation, Grossman says. For example: the statute authorizing the appointment of special prosecutors like Kenneth Starr was set to lapse in 1994. Among those arguing most forcefully for its renewal was Bill Clinton. (Grossman thinks there's a "strong likelihood" that when the statute expires in 1999, Congress will not renew it.) And in 1974, when Congress began to consider the impeachment of President Nixon, the House appointed a task force to examine the process. Serving on that task force as a staff member was an ambitious young lawyer named Hillary Clinton. --DK

Neighborhood lessons

Geography professor David W. Harvey does not often lecture from a hilltop overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But that's where he was recently, making a point to an attentive circle of students: "You can pick one building's story as a microcosm of what can happen to a neighborhood." The building, in this case, was a controversial residential tower called Harborview, in South Baltimore by the water. Harvey used its brief but complicated history to embody Baltimore's transformation as the city began losing the industrial jobs, that supported its working-class urban neighborhoods.

The students were participating in a class titled Cities Under Stress: Learning From Baltimore, taught by Harvey and five other Hopkins faculty. From Federal Hill's high ground, Harvey noted that the 27-story Harborview tower is on the site of what had been a thriving Bethlehem Steel shipyard. Then competition from Japan and South Korea took away the yard's ship-repair business. In the early 1980s, the shipyard closed.

Enter Richard Swirnow '61. Swirnow bought the Beth Steel property and embarked on an ambitious project to develop several upscale residential towers. Harvey, who had some of his students research the issue a few years later, said, "There was a fierce mobilization in South Baltimore. They didn't object to a project of some kind. The objections were about this project's size and how it cut them off from the water. Most [people] felt it was out of scale."

Nevertheless, the city allowed Swirnow to proceed, and provided tax relief and expensive improvements to the local infrastructure. But Baltimore was glutted with upscale condo developments at the time, and Harborview soon ran into trouble attracting customers. So far, only one of a proposed six towers has been built. Meanwhile, said Harvey, the neighborhood has ended up with nothing comparable to the lost shipyard jobs, new neighbors who don't really live in the neighborhood but in a self-contained tower (Swirnow has been quoted in the paper describing Harborview as "a neighborhood within a neighborhood"), and a building out of scale to its surroundings.

For Harvey, the lesson is to be wary of public investment in these sorts of projects. Too often, he said, the payoff is little more than the opportunity to spend even more money: "Every round of public investment pays off only when you put in another round of public investment." --DK

Illustration by Kevin O'Malley
Help for the job hunt

In an effort to ease the fallout for families being dropped from welfare, instructors at Hopkins's Montgomery County Center are teaching Windows 95, Microsoft Office, and other modern workplace parlance to low-income Marylanders looking for jobs. The Hopkins Center, which offers part-time graduate courses, has teamed up with the county's housing authority to provide a four-day free computer training class to area residents.

Launched last spring and funded through the center's Provost's Office, the class teaches real-world computer skills: how to use word processing and financial spreadsheet software; set up e- mail; and get on the Internet. Hopkins staff also conduct mock job interviews, and show how to get free e-mail and Internet access at public libraries so they can search for jobs or post their resumes on-line.

Recent federal cutbacks in welfare make learning computer skills necessary. Since 1996, about 60 percent of 10,000 people on welfare in the country have moved off welfare rolls, and the goal is to get a few thousand more into the work force in the next year, officials say.

"For some of the unemployed, they can see what it's like to work in an office environment," says Eileen Abbey, resident hiring coordinator for Montgomery County's Housing Opportunities Commission, which provides subsidized housing for low- and middle-income residents and helps them find training and jobs.

"The Hopkins course is very academic," she says. "The atmosphere and exposure are wonderful. For poor people, vocational training is really mediocre and usually has nothing to do with reality. We like to prepare them for the real world."

So far, about a dozen students have taken the course; another class is planned for October. A few have landed jobs or internships that require their newly acquired computer skills.

"Some leave after four days less fearful that they will hurt the computer, and others go farther," says Larry Fallon, information technology administrator for Hopkins's Montgomery County and Washington centers. "One student really blossomed; she realized she was really quick with this stuff. And she was one who has landed a better job." --JPC

Written by Joanne P. Cavanaugh and Dale Keiger.