Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gazette Shames Press-Citizen

It's not always fair, accurate or thorough to do a critique of one media outlet's coverage of a story by comparing it with how other media have covered it. They may all be violating some principle of good journalism, or one or the other may have good reasons for the difference. But such comparisons can at least create what we'll call "some evidence."

In that spirit, a comparision between this morning's Gazette and Daily Iowan on the one hand, and Iowa City Press-Citizen on the other, is revealing for what it shows of the papers' choice between unabashed, public relations, all-out promotion of a commercial venture vs. "news" about it.

What does The Gazette have to say about the Riverside casino's formal opening this evening? Bear in mind, one of the Press-Citizen's stories quotes casino owner Dan Kehl as saying that he "expects the majority of the casino's guests to be from the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area" (for which Riverside will be one of its closest casinos). So it's not like this is less of an event in Cedar Rapids than in Iowa City.

It's always possible I missed something, but it looks to me as if both The Daily Iowan and The Gazette have nothing, zilch, nada -- not even in their "80 Hours" and "Weekend" entertainment sections. No special promotional supplement, no front page stories, no embarrassingly gushy quotes about how wonderful gambling is in general and at the Riverside casino in particular.

Moreover, The Gazette it ran a story by Gregg Hennigan on Tuesday (August 29) that balanced the praise of the facility ("more than a dozen people interviewed . . . expressed support for the casino") with less enthusiastic responses (the story's statistics let one calculate that only 27% of the eligible voters voted for the casino).

‘'‘It looks like it may provide a lot of jobs, but are they good jobs?' asked Mike McCandless, 58, of
Washington, Iowa. 'It looks like it’s going to bring a lot of people here, but are they good people?'’’

Washington banker Dale Topey is quoted as saying "I will never be convinced that taking money from people and profiting from it makes sense."

Harold Neuweg said, "I'd hate to see people lose their homes."

Gregg Hennigan, "Washington County Residents Greet New Casino and Resort With Excitement and Caution,"
The Gazette, August 29, 2006.

Meanwhile, as if its eight-page special supplement promoting the casino (Monday, August 28) wasn't enough [see Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen: Promoting Casino Gambling?" August 28, 2006], the Press-Citizen is at it again, with the entire front cover of its "GO" section a picture of cards and chips and the big headline, "Casino Bets on Luxury." The "GO" section is, admittedly, devoted to information about entertainment. Even though The Daily Iowan and The Gazette did not feel the opening worthy of mention, even in their comparable sections, an informational item in "GO" woud be legitimate.

But the cover, center spread and lead story are really over the top. The center spread of "GO" is made up of one full page of posed pictures of happy gamblers with "Blackjack," "Craps Tables" and two seemingly orgasmic teenage girls pointing at "Slot Machines." The other page is devoted to a story headlined, "Live Like a High Roller at Riverside Casino," along with inserts on "Entertainment" (advertising Jay Leno's $120-a-ticket appearance), "Riverside Casino & Golf Resort," "By the Numbers," and the details on times and prices for "Dining." (These are, presumably from the layout, not paid advertising, but presented as "news.")

I would provide quotes from the piece, but since it's virtually all promotional it would lengthen this blog entry too much. If you're curious as to what all was included, better you read the piece. (The one-word lead is, simply, "Luxury." The last line quotes casino CEO Dan Kehl as saying, "Riverside Casino & Golf Resort is all about Iowans investing in Iowa.")

Deanna Truman-Cook, "Live like a high roller at Riverside casino," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 31, 2006.

Not content with this blowout in the "Go" section, and just to make sure everyone knows the good news about the casino's opening, there's a page-one story as well headlined, "Riverside Casino Ready to Roll Today."

It contains the following phrases and comments: "people . . . were impressed," "'It's so awesome for Iowa,'" "'It's a place to come spend an evening. You can come here and find something to do,'" "'It looks like the prices of the restaurants are real reasonable'" [without noting that this was a common ploy of Las Vegas casinos for years as a way of attracting potential gamblers, whose meals became much less "reasonable" if they ever bothered to count up their losses], "free entertainment," "Jay Leno scheduled" [with no mention of the $120 for tickets], "'we're all pretty excited,'" "Joyce Patton . . . said she loves the Riverside Casino . . . [a restaurant there] 'was wonderful. A real treat.' . . . 'I think this place is spectacular.'"

Rachel Gallegos, "Riverside casino ready to roll today," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 31, 2006.

Needless to say, neither story mentioned local opposition to the casino (only 27% of eligible voters voted for it), the seven additional State of Iowa law enforcement officers needed on premises (at Iowa taxpayers' expense), concerns about increased gambling addiction and more calls to 1-800-BETS-OFF, or even the traffic problems on the two-lane road leading to the casino.

Moreover, if a story is going to be headlined, "How to Live Like a High Roller at Riverside Casino," one would think there might have been some inquiry, and then reporting, about Riverside's high rollers. The casino has a "VIP" room, a "High Stakes" slot machine room, and possibly private rooms for higher stakes poker than what is played in the 14-poker-tables room. One would think readers might be interested in knowing the "entrance fee" for the VIP room. How do they define "high roller" at the Riverside casino? What limits are placed on betters -- if any? What's the maximum a gambler can lose in a single evening? Is it possible
that more than Harold Neuweg (quoted by Gregg Hennigan, above) should, "hate to see people lose their homes"?

No local paper has yet followed up on my suggestion they find out where the money came from for this $140 million-plus facility. If there is Nevada money in it, isn't that something Iowans might like to know? If you're going to print, unchallenged, Dan Kehl's assertion that
"Riverside Casino & Golf Resort is all about Iowans investing in Iowa" (rather than "all about Iowans sending their money out of state") it would seem that the source of the money is a question that now cries out for research and reporting.

I could go on with the list of items that could have been mentioned in these stories to give them a little more balance, but this should be enough to make the point. Unfortunately (or it gives me no pleasure to say it), I think it's fair to characterize both of this morning's Iowa City Press-Citizen casino stories as essentially promotional, public relations, puff pieces rather than "journalism."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sam Garchik: "What's he stand for?"

A few days ago I had an entry reproducing an email from Sam Garchik regarding his decision to run for the Iowa City Community School District Board as a write-in candidate. Nicholas Johnson,"Blogger Sam Garchik Write-In IC School Board Candidate," August 24, 2006. In response, I got a comment from "Anonymous" asking "What does he stand for?" I answered, "Let's ask him."

Well, here's his answer. Looks good.


Current Teacher and Parent
Alternative ed. Teacher for the Linn-Mar district
Has 6th grader at Longfellow
Editor, Blog for Iowa


Implement the wellness plan developed by parents and local citizens, not the generic plan developed by outsiders.
This locally developed plan is included as an addendum to the generic policy, which waters down the local plan’s recommendations on PE, Health education, Nutrition, and other school activities.

Allow students to opt into the school directory and military recruitment lists, and not out of them.
Right now, because of the Patriot Act and Now Child Left Behind, military recruiters have access to the school directory—without parents knowledge or consent. Parents deserve to determine who contacts their children and how, particularly during a time when recruiting violations are at an all time high.


Make all available reports relating to the district available on the website.
This district’s greatest resources are parents, who ensure their children are doing the work at home necessary to create a good learning environment at school. We can’t advocate for our children if we don’t know what the district knows. Right now, for example, the wellness plan isn’t available to parents on-line.

Develop a plan for possible tax money that helps parents.
Before they vote on the issue of a local option sales tax, parents and community members should know how the school district proposes to spend the money.

Create a mechanism for greater parental input on major board decisions.
To facilitate communication and planning, the board should create mechanisms for parental and community input that are open, non-partisan and public. Getting input in the early stages of planning will help create a stronger school-community bond and encourage proactive, creative solutions.

Keep qualified teachers by balancing enrollments.
Within the next 20 years, the district will need a third comprehensive high school. Until then, as the current board has mandated, the district needs to use available resources. A plan that balances student enrollment will help guarantee that qualified teachers and support staff will remain in the district.

More on "Open" Political Fundraisers

In Nicholas Johnson, "Hat's Off to Senator Dvorsky," August 29, 2006, I bemoaned politicians' willingness to put a ticket price minimum on events, giving the impression that politics is all about money, limited to the wealthy in a perpetuation of a class system, the extreme extension of the poll tax in the old South, a game in which you must "pay to play" if you want to talk to your elected public officials.

It was the contrast with this practice represented by State Senator Bob Dvorsky's forthcoming event at which "contributions welcome" was the only "minimum," that caused me to give him the first "Hat's Off" Award to a politician.

In my effort to avoid partisanship, I used a forthcoming event featuring Senators Harkin and Obama, at which donors could have their picture taken with the two senators for a $1000 contribution.

Now that it turns out that Senator Grassley, like Senator Dvorsky, is also willing to attend fundraisers with no minimums -- as I'm about to report -- my efforts to be non-partisan will fail unless I also report the contrast between Senator Harkin's price for a photo and the price charged at Congressman Nussle's fundraiser attended by President Bush: $10,000 -- ten times as much! (Se, e.g., Chris Woods, Political Forecast, "IA-Gov: Bush fundraiser and Dems rally/suppers update," April 11, 2006.)

OK, now for the Grassley report.

K.L. Snow, Diary of a Political Madman, kindly noted my "Hat's Off to Senator Dvorsky" entry with a link from his "Access for a Price," August 29, 2006.

Soon thereafter the following comment to his entry appeared, which I will simply reproduce in its entirety:

At 6:49 PM, John Hulsizer said…

"I am writing because I found this very interesting. On Friday I am doing exactly this, having a fundraiser right here in Dubuque. I am however having a FREE greet and meet with Senator Grassley. I grew up as a pastor's son, so I know very well what not having money is like. Most of my close and personal friends do not have the $50 - $100 per person to attend a fundraiser, just as many others in my community. I contacted Senator Grassley and asked if he would come to help me raise money here, I explained my idea of inviting all parties not just Republicans and not having a price to attend. Senator Grassley thought I had a fantastic idea and scheduled Dubuque as one of his very few, fund raising stops. My decision is based on getting the word out to as many people and if they decide to contribute, great and if not that's great too because they didn't have to pay to meet the Senator."

John Hulsizer, Jr., is the Republican candidate for Iowa Legislature, House District 27. His Democratic opponent is Pam Jochum. The "Iowa Prosperity Project" has an interesting service, asking candidates for their positions on various issues. The page for the Hulsizer-Jochum race is here.

Gallegos Wins Casino Preview Coverage Comparison

There is a tradition of "journalism reviews" in this country, from the granddaddy of them all, the Columbia Journalism Review to the city-based journalism reviews that used to exist (and may still) in Chicago, St. Louis, and elsewhere. So far as I know we've never had one in Iowa (but I could easily be wrong about that). (At one time The Gazette had an ombudsman whose responses to readers complaints/comments, along with his own insights, were actually published in the paper. I don't know when that stopped, but it doesn't seem to be there anymore.)

Anyhow, as you may have noticed, this blog -- as others throughout the state -- attempts a little of that from time to time.

And so it is this morning that we compare the coverage of the Riverside casino's sneak preview yesterday (August 29) in this morning's Gazette and Press-Citizen. One of the things we look for is balance -- the cons as well as the pros -- when stories deal with businesses and potential advertisers.

This is a particularly important and sensitive issue with regard to the Riverside casino, given that gambling, with all its negative social side effects, is involved, and that there is a potential risk of possible conflict between the advertising department's desire to pick up what could be a very lucrative new account from this near-$100-million business and the professional commitment of journalists to balanced coverage of the gambling story.

(See, Nicholas Johnson, "Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006 (a reference to the Society for Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, and the old practice of maintaining an Iron Curtain of separation between the news and advertising departments in newspapers, in an analysis of a promotional story, carried by The Gazette as news, regarding a new "Vanilla Frosty" at Wendy's).)

The headline gives the tone of The Gazette's "Iowa Today" page one story and picture regarding yesterday's sneak preview opening of the Riverside casino: "Casino Wows Visitors."

The lead continued in that tone:

"The $140 million Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opened its doors for a public tour Tuesday, and visitors were wowed.

‘‘'It’s fabulous. I’m prepared already,’ said Norma Hartley, 73, of Lone Tree, pulling out a wad of cash from her pants pocket.
. . .

"Special features abound. A fountain above the main bar lights up and shoots water in time with music.
. . .

"Jason Kirk, 31, of Ainsworth . . . said he wasn’t aware of a comparable venue in Iowa. 'We’re not too much of gamblers, but I think because we’re close to the area, we could come here when we wanted to get away without the kids and spend $20 and see what happens,' Kirk said."
. . .

And, as for the uncompleted portions of the facility (spa, pool, pro shop, many hotel rooms) two days before formal opening, not to worry the story suggests in quoting the owner: "'We have some tweaking to do, but it will get done,' Kehl said."

Gregg Hennigan, "Casino wows visitors; Riverside facility opens Thursday night," The Gazette, August 30, 2006.

Personal judgments vary, I'm sure, but the Press-Citizen's coverage struck me as much more straight down the line, good solid journalism. Obviously, any story about the casino brings attention to it (reminding one of the old saw, "I don't care what they write about me, just so long as they spell my name right"). But this one stuck about as close to the facts as a story could, illustrated by its headline: "Residents Get Casino Sneak Preview."

The story describes the tour and what was on display. But the concluding lines give a sense of the balance throughout:

"'I expected it to be nice and it is,' Kathleen Salemink of West Branch said.

"She and her husband, Willard, said they may come back to the resort to eat.

"'We'll see if they've got food that's any good," Willard Salemink said. "We don't gamble, so that's out. We got better things to do with our money than give it away."

Rachel Gallegos, "Residents Get Casino Sneak Preview; Riverside Casino & Golf Resort Opens at 9 p.m. Thursday," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 30, 2006.

Press-Citizen's "Shuffle Up" Stories Available

In Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen Promoting Casino Gambling?" August 28, 2006, I noted that the content of its eight-page special supplement about gambling in general, and the Riverside casino in particular, was seemingly nowhere to be found on the paper's online site.

Now at least 10 of those pieces -- the journalism, not the gambling promotion -- are available. They are linked, for example, as "Related Items" from Rachel Gallegos story this morning about the pre-opening tour last night. Rachel Gallegos, "Residents Get Casino Sneak Preview," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 30, 2006.

If you would like to see all 10 stories in one place, on one Web page, they are also available at "Shuffle Up and Play."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hat's Off to Senator Dvorsky

This is the first "Hat's Off" to be awarded a politician: Iowa State Senator Bob Dvorsky.

Increasingly, over the last 30 years or so, politics has become more and more about money -- more and more money.

It's "pay to play" when it comes to a chance to be heard by your elected officials.

So unambiguously is this so that they actually set what amount to ever-escalating ticket prices for the honor of being in their presence.

To avoid this blog entry taking on a partisan tone, notwithstanding the outrageously delicious examples provided by Republicans, I'll use a Democrat, Senator Tom Harkin, as my example. I consider Senator Harkin a friend, and one of the best of our 100 U.S. Senators, for intelligence, creativity, and commitment to the public interest. So the only reason I'm using him for a contrasting examble to Iowa State Senator Bob Dvorsky is because I happened to get both invitations to their events about the same time.

Senator Tom Harkin holds an annual "Steak Fry" which he modestly characterizes as "one of the most highly anticipated, time-honored traditions in Iowa politics." This year, with an email subject line of "Rub Elbows with Harkin and Obama" -- clearly a draw -- he has put a price tag on "a special reception with Senator Barack Obama in a more personal and intimate setting" -- probably a "must attend" for anyone truly and literally interested in getting close enough to "rub elbows" or anything else.

For a mere $1000 a couple may become a "Sponsor" of this event. Those classified as poor, working poor, or working class -- once the honored base of the Democratic Party -- who find $1000 a little beyond their means can become a "Host" for a mere $300.

Sponsors get an invitation to the "Sponsor Reception . . . special recognition in the printed program, reserved parking, and a photograph of you, me, and Senator Obama." Hosts are permitted to attend a separate, "Host Reception," and get the other benefits as well -- with the exception, of course, of the photograph. (A politician can't afford to be pictured with just anybody; it devalues what can be charged for photographs.)

(Becoming a member of the mob scene, with no parking and no perks, is a mere $25.)

The saddest thing about these prices is how ridiculously low they are compared with the going rates in Washington, D.C.

Enter Iowa State Senator Bob Dvorsky. He holds an annual birthday party. For such events for state officials there is sometimes a "suggested" donation of $25 or so. While more reasonable, the message is the same: "You want to be in my presence? Pay up first, and then we can talk."

The invitation to Dvorsky's event reads as follows:

Senator Bob Dvorksy's
20th Annual
Birthday Fundraiser

With special guest Governor Tom Vilsack!

Friday, September 1st
6-8 pm

Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center
300 East 9th St

All Contributions Welcome!

"All contributions welcome!"

What a wonderful message.

We all know that until America joins the ranks of civilized nations our elected officials have to beg for money in the corrupt political/governmental system we voters continue to tolerate. We know they need our contributions. So we give money, in such amounts as we believe we can afford, to those who share our views and appear to be doing a good job.

But we -- or at least I -- don't like to be told what minimum price has been set for my participation in their events.

I give what I give -- whether they ask me for it or not. When they put a price tag on themselves that's more than I'm willing to pay, a price tag that says "I'm only interested in talking to the wealthy," the net result is that I end up not giving anything.

So a first "Hat's Off" to a politician. "Contributions welcome." Of course they are. And my wife and I will make one. And it will be the same amount as if he'd set a "ticket price" for the event.

See you there.

Casino Offers Research Opportunity

The Riverside casino offers a wonderful, but fleeting, opportunity for social service agencies, law enforcement, public policy centers, psychologists and other counselors, academics, journalists and public officials to substitute some hard data for speculation about the economic development -- and the social costs -- of gambling in general, and the new casino in particular.

There are lots of arguments for and against gambling casinos.

Do they bring tourist dollars to Iowa, or primarily just ship Iowans' dollars out of state? Will the casino's business with the projected million or more gamblers annually actually create increased revenue for Riverside's businesses, or drain dollars from them (and the surrounding counties) into the casino's gambling halls, hotel, restaurants and spa? What is the net impact on taxpayers -- taxes and other fees paid to local governments and non-profits by the casino, and the added costs for local infrastructure, TIFs, and law enforcement?

Will we see an increase in bankruptcies, domestic abuse, drunk driving and accidents along 218, levels of student loans and dropout rates, embezzlement and other theft, alcohol and drug abuse, suicides, and
in calls to "1-800-Bet's Off" and visits to counselors for gambling addiction and other related problems; or are those predictions just scare tactics, and the facts will turn out to be that casino patrons gamble only rarely, well within their means, and just for fun?

The reason I say the opportunity is fleeting is because, for the new data to be meaningful it will need to be compared with the old, with the trend lines over the last few years. That data needs to be pulled together now before it is contaminated with the impact of the casino -- starting this Thursday (August 31) when it opens.

Some of the most interesting, and valid, studies of the impact of television on society have involved this approach -- back in the years when it was possible. Societies that never had television could be studied before and after it was introduced. Clearly, ours is a society that has already felt the impact of gambling. But there is apparently some data indicating that distance does make a difference, that with more easily accessible casinos (i.e., the 15 miles/20 minutes from Iowa City to Riverside vs. Tama or Davenport) there will be an increase in the adverse social effects.

Now is our chance to test this theory. The benefits to all eastern Iowa institutions from this knowledge could be enormous. Hopefully those in the best positions to be putting together our benchmark statistics either already have them, because they are routinely collected, or they are busily putting them together.

Monday, August 28, 2006

State 29's Rain Forest Solution

State 29 kindly notes my entry about David Oman's new math, Nicholas Johnson, "Oman: Taxpayers to Pay for Earthpark's Operation," August 27, 2006, and Oman's suggestion taxpayers pay the operating, as well as the construction, costs of his rain forest. State 29 then goes on to propose a way to solve the operating cost problem that has dogged the rain forest proposal for 10 years:

"Now there's no more pretense of having the rainforest being financially self-sustaining in any way, shape, or form. Oman wants taxpayers to foot the bill for this thing forever, which they would have anyway because over a million people a year ain't goin' to Riverside or Pella unless, you know, they could get free sex."

State 29, "David Oman is Terrible at Math," August 28, 2006.

Now that's the kind of entrepreneural thinking that's made America great and that the rain forest promoters should have been thinking from the beginning.

The Gazette: Promoting Casino Gambling?

The Iowa City Press-Citizen's eight-page supplement today (August 28), "Shuffle Up and Play," has already been the subject of a blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen: Promoting Casino Gambling," August 28, 2006.

In fairness, it should be noted that The Gazette, while not -- yet -- offering an eight-page spread, has done its own bit to encourage Iowans to take their money to Riverside. The paper has devoted roughly a half page to "Ready to Play?" -- with instructions and suggestions under the headings "Blackjack or 21," "Poker," "Roulette," "Slots," and "Craps." It provides links to additional, online, encouragement to gamble, from Las Vegas and elsewhere, including the Riverside casino's Web site.

And I say "not yet" because The Gazette promises "a comprehensive look at gambling in Iowa" in the September 3 "Accent" section of the paper.

And what about your losses? Ah, not to worry The Gazette advises: "[E]ven if the only thing left in your pocket is car keys, learning the games and following some simple strategies -- and the complementary drinks -- will provide hours of entertainment."

I'm going to repeat that:

"Even if the only thing left in your pocket is car keys [gambling] will provide hours of entertainment."

At least the Frosty left us with some pocket change. [See Nicholas Johnson, "Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006.]

The Gazette's "story" can be found at "Ready to Play," The Gazette, August 26, 2006, p. 8c.

Press-Citizen: Promoting Casino Gambling?

There are four categories of comments to be made about today's (August 28) eight-page supplement in the Iowa City Press-Citizen regarding the casino, "Shuffle Up and Play," Iowa City Press-Citizen (special supplement), August 28, 2006.

1. The excessive promotional hype of a commercial venture; indeed, a venture which, until America and Iowa's more recent history, was long considered illegal, and which continues to have a number of adverse social, economic, criminal and poliical impacts upon the state.

2. The specific promotional aspects of the supplement.

3. Concerns that there may be some tie-in, some deferred payment, between this supplement and subsequent casino advertising in the Press-Citizen.

4. The quality of the journalism in the news stories run within the supplement.

5. The editorial.

5. To dispose of the last issues first, the editorial stands apart from the supplement. It is lengthy, factual, thoughtful, balanced and mature. It sets forth the reasons why the paper has opposed the Riverside casino, but realistically concludes, since it is here, let's try to minimize its damage and maximize its potential contribution to the local area's economic development.

4. The journalistic content of the supplement represents something of a tour-de-force by two young, recent journalism school graduates, who have yet to complete their first year with the Press-Citizen: Brian Morelli and Rachel Gallegos. I count nine stories by Ms. Gallegos and six by Mr. Morelli. One can pick at what they've done. But given that the promotion of the supplement, and much of its content (for which I'm guessing they were not responsible) was an unabashed, all-out promotional effort for the casino, one can forgive them (and their editors) for not making the pieces more hard hitting in their criticism of gambling in general and the Riverside casino in particular. In fact, I think they're entitled to credit for bringing as much balance as they have to their writing. One might question a headline like, "Student Addiction Not a Big Worry" (with a story to support the headline), but it is balanced to some degree when one turns the page and finds, "Experts Worry About Addictions."

1. The entire top half of the paper's page one is devoted to a dramatic graphic, complete with red headlines and rolling dice, promoting a special eight-page suplement essentially promoting the casino! "Get ready to place your bets" it screams. "The Press-Citizen has all the information you need before you play your first hand of Texas Hold 'Em" -- which, need it be noted, is already a popular draw for college students, whether online or on campus, and now soon to be (with the Press-Citizen's help) on the tables of the Riverside casino. "Learn to play the games at the casino." "A two-page graphic shows you where everything is at the casino".

It follows the past week's promotion that the supplement was coming. See, in this connection, the blog entry a week ago raising a number of issues regarding this supplement, Nicholas Johnson, "Coming P-C Casino Spread: Another Frosty?" August 22, 2006.

To put the supplement in context, when was the last time the paper devoted an eight-page supplement to a new academic building, its layout, and how to make the best grades in the courses that will be offered there?

2. The cover of the supplement contains a graphic of two, very large dice, along with, in a very large font, the title: "Shuffle Up and Play." The word "Advertisement" is nowhere to be found anywhere in the eight pages. I guess that's because the Press-Citizen is trying to tell us that this supplement represents its best news judgment regarding the casino.

OK. But then why is so much of it a how-to manual that, if anything, glamorizes the casino's gambling offerings? Each page contains instructions on yet another opportunity to win big: "Texas Hold 'Em Poker," "Craps," "Slot Machines," "Roulette" and "Blackjack."

Oh, except for two pages: the two-page spread headlined "Rolling in Riverside," which provides a detailed map and guide to every feature of the 350,000 square foot facility.

3. There's no way to know what money may have changed hands, or is promised for the future, from the casino to the paper. Hopefully none. We'll just have to watch the Press-Citizen's ads as the casino's opening is underway.

# # #

Meanwhile, a real mystery: You may have noticed I have no links to any of the content of this supplement. That's because none of it is even hinted at, let alone linked to, from the Press-Citizen's online site (at least as of 8:00 or so Monday morning, August 28). If and when it ever is, you'll be able to get to it with the links I'll provide. Could it be that the supplement is considered "advertising" within the Press-Citizen's server and thus not something normally reproduced online?

And, speaking of advertising, why, at the bottom of the Press-Citizen's opening online page, do we find paid links to advertising for . . . Las Vegas! Check it out at At the bottom of that page, under "Advertising Links," along with flowers and "true religion jeans" are links to "Las Vegas Bachelorette Party," "Best of Las Vegas," "Discount Las Vegas Hotels," and "Discount Las Vegas Shows." These are not exactly local merchants -- or are they? Could it be that, somewhere within those links, the answer is to be found as to where the mortgage money for this "Iowa casino" has come from?

[Some of this blog entry is taken from this morning's Monday, August 28, update to the rain forest Web site:]

Rain Forest: Monday August 28 Update

The regular weekly rain forest ("Earthpark") Monday update is now (0840 August 28) available at

It includes a rather unusual bit of mathematical evaluation of David Oman's bank balance for the rain forest, and a presentation of the Iowa City Press-Citizen's eight-page special advertis . . . I mean "supplement" promoting the Riverside casino.

[Every Monday since December 2005 there has been a weekly upload to the pre-existing Iowa rain forest Web site I maintain. In all, printed out it would run over 100 single spaced pages; there are, in addition, links to the full text of hundreds of newspaper stories and reports. It is very probably the most complete resource on the topic anywhere on the Web.

It is found at:

Over the past few months the scope of the Web site has expanded from the rain forest project to include material related to the broader range of attractions and economic development generally in which the proposed rain forest exists and by which it must be evaluated.]

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Attendance Down Even at Iowa's Gem

In "Rain Forest Attendance: Trends Are Down," August 15, I reported that the attendance numbers at attractions are down all across America. ("USA Today reports that museums are having a tough time. Judy Keen, "Museums Pinched by Higher Costs, Fewer Visitors," USA Today, August 10, 2006 (updated August 11, 2006).

The numbers don't bode well for rain forest exec David Oman's predictions of upwards of one million visitors a year at his rain forest.

Even Iowa's best run, top edutainment attraction, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aqarium, is reporting declines:

"A 5.3 percent decline in attendance contributed to full-time employee layoffs at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. . . . The facility at the Port of Dubuque drew about 230,000 visitors for the year ending June 30 after drawing more than 242,000 the previous year." Erik Hogstrom, "River museum attendance lags; Officials plan to lay off a few full-time employees after previously cutting some part-time jobs," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, August 24, 2006.

Is this, perhaps, a part of the reason for David Oman's break with the past, and decision to go after taxpayers' money for his rain forest's operations as well as its construction? See the preceeding entry, "Oman: Taxpayers to Pay for Earthpark's Operation," August 27.

Oman: Taxpayers to Pay for Earthpark's Operation

David Oman's explanation of the rain forest's financing. has taxpayers paying for operations as well as construction.

It was reported by RADIO IOWA in a piece dated July 30 that was only just brought to my attention. O. Kay Henderson, "Earthpark Fundraising So Far: $75 million," RADIO IOWA, July 30, 2006.

Referring to it as "a $155 million . . . environmental education center" (rather than the former $180 million project that was still on the Iowa Child Foundation Web site when I last looked), he apparently told RADIO IOWA that he has "raised about two-thirds of the money." The story follows this immediately with an explanation of where "that $75 million comes from."

It's been awhile since I was taught fractions in grade school, but unless I've forgotten more than I think I have, 2/3rds of $155 million would be more like $103 million and change than $75 million.

OK, let's say it's $75 million and that it "comes from two sources." What are they?

"One is a $50 million federal grant."

"A $50 million federal grant"? That $50 million is no longer a "grant." It is a "matching grant" -- and an opportunity that will expire in a little over a year. Until Oman can match it, he doesn't have it. If and when he can match it he will then have $100 million of what he's now calling a $155 million project -- which is 2/3rds.

The other $25 million of this mythical $75 million -- that somehow becomes 2/3rds of $155 million -- comes from Oman's allegation that "both communities [Pella and Riverside have] raised the $25 million 'local match.'" But they haven't. We've seen no numbers from Pella. And the numbers from Riverside don't add up -- certainly not to $25 million. Moreover, much of the Riverside money is pledged over a 10-year period; it's not now, and won't be soon, "in hand."

Oman says "the state might" provide up to $20 million. There's no basis I know of for that statement. Meanwhile, it's hard to put "might" in the bank.

But the real shocker comes in the next couple of sentences:

"Oman's also suggesting taxpayers might not only be asked to bankroll, up-front, much of the construction, but on-going operations of the Earthpark as well because Oman contends this will be a huge attraction to bring tourists into Iowa. 'So there is a rightful role for some public money as well as private money to bring it off,' Oman says."

This is the first time, so far as I know, that Oman has veered from his assertions that tourism will be sufficient to pay all of the operating costs, and that no host city need be concerned about having to assume any of the ongoing operating costs.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blogger Sam Garchik Write-In IC School Board Candidate

Sam Garchik, currently running Blog For Iowa, has entered the Iowa City school board race as a write-in candidate.

"I am running as a write in candidate for school board because I want to make sure that our schools remain the best in the country. To do that, we need to promise our kindergarteners that they will have the same educational opportunities their brothers and sisters in high school have now.

"I am a history teacher for the Linn-Mar School District, at the COMPASS Alternative Center in Marion. I've also worked as a substitute teacher in secondary schools in the Iowa City School District, and my daughter attends Longfellow Elementary. I have seen first-hand the incredible difference that a hard working, realistic and open school board can make in guiding school

"In addition to my classroom experience and passion for education, I have personal strengths that our school board really needs right now. We are in a critical time - facing changing enrollment, the possibility of a tax levy that will bring in $11 million a year for the first five years, and increased pressure on individual schools to perform. The decisions we make now call for long term planning and excellent communication-on the board, in the district and in the community as a whole. These are strengths that I would bring to the table, to protect and enhance the excellent schools that
we are so proud of.

"You won't see my name on the school board ballot. Like you, I thought we were on our way to a contested school board election that would raise some of the issues I care about. When one of the three candidates dropped out, it was too late to officially declare my candidacy, so I am asking for your support as a write-in candidate. Please consider writing in the name Sam Garchik on your ballot on Sept. 12.

"And please help me spread the word. Forward this letter to your friends. I am having an organizational meeting this Sunday, August 27, at 2 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library."

"Corporations Good" Awardee: Musco

My law school colleagues parody my approach to corporate abuses as, simply, "Corporations bad."

In fact, I have (almost) nothing against the corporate form as such; what I find objectionable is the behavior of corporate officers and board members that is at a minimum anti-social and often actually in violation of law. (See my discussion of the movie, "The Corporation," in Nicholas Johnson, "'The Corporation' and the Search for Agreement," October 1, 2004.)

As proof, I today present my first "Corporations Good" Award to the Musco Corporation, manufacturer of outdoor lighting.

I'm indebted to Bradley Franzwa for bringing this morning's (August 24) story in The Gazette to my attention. Associated Press, "Musco Plans $15 Million Expansion; Lighting Company's Employment Could Triple in Oskaloosa," The Gazette, August 24, 2006. Having abandoned any notion that I would include every Iowa economic development story on my rain forest Web site, I must have just skipped over the story, based on that headline.

The good news is that there is at least one corporation in Iowa willing to undertake a major capital expenditure without coming, tin cup in hand, asking for taxpayers' money.

The bad news is that this is so unusual -- sort of a "Man Bites Dog!" headline -- that it is worthy of comment and a "Corporations Good" Award: "American Business Executive Practices Free Private Enterprise," "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

It reminded me of my observation when I felt I was getting a little too much attention, during my own "15 minutes of fame" as an FCC commissioner, for just doing my job: "unfortunately, it’s headline news in Washington that 'Public Official Serves Public Interest!'” (Quoted in, e.g., the Rolling Stone cover story, Howard Junker, "The Greening of Nicholas Johnson," Rolling Stone, April 1, 1971 ("[Johnson] has never called a press conference in Washington").)

The Gazette's story this morning contained the following about Musco Lighting, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and founded 30 years ago by Joe Crookham, President:

‘‘'Now that we’re successful in business we don’t need help, and it seems foolish to me to tax the general public to help us,' he said.

Moreover, "Crookham said his company will donate about $1 million to various organizations in Oskaloosa this year, and it wouldn’t make sense to turn around and ask for money to expand.
The city’s tax dollars will be better spent on things like recreation, schools and streets that make it a better place for his employees to live, he said. ‘It’s part philosophical, philanthropic, in part it’s just plain good business to say we’ll spend our money to do this stuff and you guys spend the community’s money on making it a better community,' he said."

Ironically, not only is Crookham right as a matter of civic responsibility and good corporate citizenship, he's also right as a matter of effective economic development. As many economists, and business persons, point out -- and was underscored by Whirlpool's rejection of Iowa Governor Vilsack's $100 million offer of taxpayers' money to the firm -- business decisions are driven by many more factors than upfront cash. Among them are the quality of the work force, educational system, transportation system (relevant in Siemens' recent decision to locate in Mt. Pleasant), communications networks, cultural and recreational facilities.

The philosophy, and the winning economic development strategy, is summed up in Crookham's approach: "we'll spend our money to do this stuff and you guys spend the community's money on making it a better community."

How refreshing!

And how embarrassing one would hope it would be seen to be, for advocates of the Iowa Values Fund, tax breaks, and other forms of corporate welfare.

The fact is, there are a number of corporate leaders who have set a good example on this, and other matters over the years.

I'm reminded, when I was Maritime Administrator, of Jacob Isbrandtsen's willingness to operate cargo ships without the U.S. government's subsidy payments other ship owners argued were essential to their continued operation; of Donald McGannon's decision to take all cigarette advertising off of the Westinghouse stations, long before Congress legislated their illegality, despite the loss in corporate profits. Or Tom Carter's willingness to sell off his Texas cattle ranches to pay for 13 years of litigation that finally established (in one of the rare majority FCC opinions that I wrote) the right of all of us to use equipment other than that manufactured and owned by AT&T. Carterfone, 13 FCC2d 420 (1968).

So today it's "Hat's Off" to Joe Crookham of Musco Lighting; our first "Corporations Good" Awardee. Hopefully it will prove to be just the first of many.

[Upon reading this, one of my colleagues (who joins those who characterize me as "corporations bad"), suggested I take a look at Cynthia Steuben, "I Just Love Corporations!," Korporation Korner, The Onion, 33*04, February 3, 1998. Cute piece, so I thought I'd add it here for anyone who's read this blog entry of mine this far.]

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Think Locally, Act Locally

The Gazette had a couple of articles this morning that bear reflection under the heading of "economic development -- the rational examples." James Q. Lynch, "E. Iowa's Small Towns Work to Draw Tourists," The Gazette, August 23, 2006, and George C. Ford, "Iowa Ranked No. 4 Nationally in Capital Investment," The Gazette, August 23, 2006.

Both support a theme I discussed in Nicholas Johnson, "Time to Learn From What Works," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 20, 2006.

You've heard the saying, "Think globally, act locally." Now I have nothing against thinking globally. We'd all be better off if there was more of it -- particularly in high places. But we also need to do more thinking locally -- and rationally.

James Lynch's piece reported on the "Downtown Summit," a conference of about 200 representatives from some of Iowa's smaller towns. His story includes the following, "Whatever it is that makes their community special is their 'competitive edge,' said Jim Engle, who grew up in Sigourney and who now heads the Wisconsin Main Street Program. 'Embrace it. Take advantage of your trump card . . ..'"

George Ford reports the happy news that "Iowa is ranked fourth in the nation in terms of capital investment in 2005, according to a report by the accounting firm of Ernst & Young."

Now before Mike Blouin and the Iowa Values Fund folks jump all over that statistic as evidence that giving away the people's money to wealthy individuals and large corporations is working, read on.

Ford tells us, "In Iowa, the state witnessed investments in ethanol plants and wind generation projects. Cedar Rapids was selected as the site of Clipper Windpower’s wind turbine assembly plant." And of course since that Ernst & Young report Siemens has announced it will be manufacturing 11-ton wind generator blades in Iowa.

Note what both these stories have in common. Businesses are thinking locally. Why is this particular capital investment being made in Iowa?

It's like Willie Sutton replied when asked why he robbed banks: "Because that's where the money is." (See FBI History -- Famous Cases -- Willie Sutton.) They came to Iowa to make ethanol because that's where the corn is. They came to Iowa to build wind generation projects because that's where the wind is. They came to Mt. Pleasant to build them because that's where the access to river and rail transportation are (according to Siemens' spokespersons).

In "Time to Learn from What Works" I wrote,

"Logical location. Aquariums do best near oceans; Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va. The Living History Farms, or Dubuque's Mississippi museum on the banks of that great river, gain significance from their location in Iowa. A rain forest does not."

Not every community in America has access to mountains or beaches or other major tourist attractions. "Build it and they will come" only works in the movies. "Tourism" is not the magic formula for most communities. Neither are faux "riverboat" casinos.

Thinking locally -- and rationally -- is.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gambling: Same the Whole World Over

The Register says, of Prairie Meadows, what could be said of the Riverside casino:

"The citizens of Polk County - who own the facility - and the people of Iowa in general have a stake in the integrity of all gambling operations. It does not help when it looks as if a gambling operation is run by and for the benefit of a group of insiders."

Editorial, "Prairie Meadows Has Work to Do in Proving Integrity," Des Moines Register, August 21, 2006.

Coming P-C Casino Spread: Another Frosty?

This morning's (August 22) Iowa City Press-Citizen contains a page-one promotion of its forthcoming promotion of the casino next Monday (August 28).

The bottom-of-page-one promo (along with "New To The Area?" and "Have Football Fever?") is headlined, "Want To Roll The Dice?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 22, 2006, p. 1A. It reads, in its entirety:

"Get ready for the opening of the Riverside Casino with a special eight-page section in the Press-Citizen. Find out how the casino came to be and what effect it will have on the area, what it's like to be a dealer and more. Coming Monday."

There are a number of things to be said, and questions to be asked, about such a promotion. And of course the answers won't be available until the "eight-page section" appears.

1. There are those who believe that gambling, once the province of organized crime, never should have been legalized, let alone taken over by the state as an alternative form of taxation. As discussed here yesterday [Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling's Road to Nowhere," August 21, 2006], its costs, both direct and indirect, are enormous and disproportionately paid by the poor. Not to mention the human misery uncounted by economists.

(In addition to Iowans' $1 billion-plus gambling losses, yesterday's entry noted the "
externalities [that] include such things as a community's 'infrastructure' costs for roads, water and sewer lines, and so forth. The increase in crime requires an increase in law enforcement expenses. There are the programs to assist the gambling addicts and problem gamblers who want treatment. There's the increase in bankruptcies, domestic violence, and divorce." And, to this, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan was quoted as noting the consequences of the reallocation of political power, especially in a small community.)

2. The fact that gambling is legal means that -- unless otherwise prohibited or regulated -- the advertising of gambling (once cause for an FCC inquiry into a licensed radio or television station) is also legal. The broadcast advertising of tobacco was outlawed by Congress. By agreement, hard liquor was not advertised on radio or television.

But pharmaceutical companies are not prohibited from advertising their "illegal drugs." (What conceivable purpose could there be to advertising a product to an audience that is legally prohibited from buying it (that is, prescription medicines not available "over-the-counter") -- except to build pressure from patients on doctors to write prescriptions for drugs they would not otherwise have prescribed? It's like advertising toys to children too young to buy them -- but not too young to whine and pressure their parents into buying them.)

And women's magazines were able to take tobacco company advertising dollars -- while refusing to publish articles pointing out cigarettes relationship to lung cancer -- at the same time lung cancer was overtaking breast cancer as the primary cancer in women.

So, just because all the persuasive powers of the mainstream mass media can be focused on encouraging human behavior known to be harmful -- whether cigarette smoking or gambling -- doesn't make it right. Legal justification is not moral justification.

Why would a newspaper want to devote an almost unprecedented "eight-page section" to a subject, a business, that will almost inevitably result in increased attendance -- from a college community at that -- in an activity that will encourage problem gambling and gambling addiction, and all the other social costs associated with it?

The paper may not be morally obliged to conduct an effective news and editorial campaign against the casino (notwithstanding the number of its readers who would encourage it to do so), but what justifies it directing all of its promotional fire power at increasing gambling's attraction?

3. There is another issue here, specifically addressed in the journalists' Code of Ethics. I wrote about it in
Nicholas Johnson, "Mr Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006. The reference to "this wall" was to the wall of separation between the news and business/advertising sides of a paper. The principle is still embodied in the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, which provides, among other things, that

"A journalist should . . . Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two."

The specific issue at hand in that earlier blog entry was what purported to be a news story in The Gazette, unabashedly advertising a new product at Wendy's,
Casey Laughman, "Vanilla, you saucy tramp; New Frosty steals chocolate's thunder," Associated Press/The Gazette, August 8, 2006, p. 5D.

Similar questions should, and will, be asked about the Press-Citizen's forthcoming special section. Will it be, like the Frosty story, essentially an eight-page ad for the Riverside casino? Or will it be a balanced piece -- albeit the overall effect of which will be to bring the casino forcefully to every reader's attention -- but one that gives equal time to the downside of gambling casinos?

(How will it compare with The Daily Iowan's impressive, lengthy supplement about Riverside in general and the casino in particular? Masters Media Project Students, "The Riverside Project," The Daily Iowan, May 5, 2006.)

Will it, in fact, be an ad literally as well as figuratively? In other words, will the business justification for the section be the fact that it contains enough paid advertising space to more than justify the added costs? Or will it, like a Saturday insert, be nothing but a paid supplement?

It's far too early for answers, let alone passing judgment, on the Press-Citizen's treatment of these issues. No one has yet seen the special casino supplement. But it is not too early, as journalism's Iron Curtain continues its fall, to raise some issues in its place

Monday, August 21, 2006

Rain Forest: Monday August 21 Update

The regular weekly rain forest ("Earthpark") Monday update is now available at

[Every Monday since December 2005 there has been a weekly upload to the pre-existing Iowa rain forest Web site I maintain. In all, printed out it would run over 100 single spaced pages; there are, in addition, links to the full text of hundreds of newspaper stories and reports. It is very probably the most complete resource on the topic anywhere on the Web.

It is found at:

Over the past few months the scope of the Web site has expanded from the rain forest project to include material related to the broader range of attractions and economic development generally in which the proposed rain forest exists and by which it must be evaluated.]

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Gambling's Road to Nowhere

Nobody but the house wins from gambling; seldom do gamblers win, even in the short run and virtually never in the long run. Like a fisherman who will tell you about the big ones he caught, but seldom about the entire days spent in a boat, or on the bank, without so much as a nibble, in my experience gamblers are notoriously poor bookkeepers when it comes to recording losses with the attention to detail they bring to their winnings.

Those are the losses we know about -- and they exceed $1 billion a year for Iowans.

But economists talk about what they call "externalities" -- the costs of any enterprise that are imposed on those outside the transactions, the costs that few tally up, the costs that are seldom assessed against the firm that caused them.

With gambling casinos externalities include such things as a community's "infrastructure" costs for roads, water and sewer lines, and so forth. The increase in crime requires an increase in law enforcement expenses. There are the programs to assist the gambling addicts and problem gamblers who want treatment. There's the increase in bankruptcies, domestic violence, and divorce.

To this well-known list we've now added another. I'll let Johnson County's outstanding Supervisor, Rod Sullivan, tell it in his own words:

"A very unfortunate situation has occurred in far southern Johnson County. A gravel road named Harry¹s Road that used to run between Johnson and Washington Counties has been closed by the City of Riverside. Riverside closed the road so that the new casino¹s golf course could be built at that location.

"Now for the unintended consequences. Three years ago, Johnson County approved a sand plant for River Products Company that accesses Harry¹s Road. The intent of River Products was to extract sand, then send their trucks south (into Washington County) to Highway 22. This made sense to them and to the Board.

"Once Riverside closed the road, River Products was forced to come up with an alternate plan. Now the trucks will have to go north on Harry¹s Road, turn onto Oak Crest Hill Road SE, and proceed north. Farmers in the area face similar hardships.

"Harry¹s Road is narrow, hilly, and curvy. The intersection with Oak Crest Hill is not adequate. Neighbors now have to deal with sand truck traffic trying to pull on and off a 55 mph road, right below the crest of a hill. The situation is unacceptable, but there is little anyone can do.

"River Products has permission to operate ­ period. Johnson County did not account for this road closing in the terms of their conditional use permit. River Products has agreed to improve Harry¹s Road, but they are not willing (nor required) to spend the millions that should be spent to properly
correct the situation. Johnson County does not have money budgeted to correct the situation, either. Needless to say, neither the casino nor the City of Riverside will put in a dime.

"So, who gets the raw deal? Everybody BUT Riverside and their casino. Oak Crest Hill Road SE gets traffic it shouldn¹t have; neighbors get truck traffic they shouldn¹t have; River Products gets added expenses they shouldn¹t have.

"Soon you¹ll be hearing about all the good things the casino brings to our area. Remember that there are plenty of hidden costs."

[This passage is reproduced from "Sullivan's Salvos," August 20, 2006. "Sullivan's Salvos" is available as a public service, an email-distributed free publication from Rod Sullivan:]

There's no way that Iowa can gamble itself into economic development and prosperity. Gambling casinos are just a way of taking money from those Iowans living within an hour or two drive of the casino and handing it off to wealthy casino owners -- at best just moving the money from the many to the few, at worst taking the money out of the Iowa economy and giving it to financial interests in other states.

A few of the costs called "externalities" I've mentioned above. There are more.

But Supervisor Sullivan has now identified another category of costs as well; costs that result from the heavy hand of political power when it moves into a small town. We've already seen it in the form of the casino and rain forest promoters speaking of how they want the supposedly independent Foundation to allocate money intended for the local community into the rain forest instead. Apparently they feel they have an entitlement to redraw the road map of Johnson and Washington counties as well.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Hat's Off to AmesWire

AmesWire's Nicolai is bidding us all goodbye; closing down the blog.

I've only been blogging since June, but I've been impressed with the quality of his comments, and the good energy he's brought to the blogospher in general and me in particular.

Since I've begun blogging the number of hours I spend on the couch with my laptop has increased, so I understand his desire to get up from wherever he blogs and go for a bike ride, or at least something more physical than blogging. (My wife and I also went for a bike ride today. For my early views on biking, see Nicholas Johnson, Test Pattern for Living (New York: Bantam, 1972), click on Chapter 7, "Antidote to Automobiles.")

I, like Nicolai, have many good memories of Ragbrai, which I used to report on for NPR back in the early days of both. There's nothing like riding across the state of Iowa to get the cobwebs out, and start one to thinking about alternative lives. (Although trying to find a farmer who would let me take his phone apart and connect my tape recorder to it with alligator clips to send my story back to DC every day -- back when that was the technology for filing stories -- was not that different from trying to ride and blog at the same time would be today).

So peace and fair winds, ol' AmesWire, and thanks for what you shared with us while you did.

Assigned Reading for Lawyers

There are a couple of paragraphs from Judge Gladys Kessler's opinion that I would hope would provide the basis for at least some discussion during the three years of every law student's training. (See Henri E. Cauvin and Rob Stein, "Big Tobacco Lied to Public, Judge Says," Washington Post, August 18, 2006.)

Speaking of the cigarette company defendants, she wrote:

"Put more colloquially and less legalistically, over the course of more than 50 years, defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as 'replacement smokers,' about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.

"[The cigarette companies] suppressed research, they destroyed documents, they manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction . . . and they abused the legal system in order to achieve their goal -- to make money with little if any regard for individual illness and suffering, soaring health costs, or the integrity of the legal system."

"At every stage, lawyers played an absolutely central role in the creation and perpetuation of the Enterprise and the implementation of its fraudulent schemes. [They] hid the relationship between . . . witnesses and the industry; and they devised and carried out document destruction policies and took shelter behind baseless assertions of the attorney client privilege.

"What a sad and disquieting chapter in the history of an honorable and often courageous profession."

Questions of lawyers' ethical and other responsibilities are not slam dunk simple. Our system is premised on the assumption that even the most dispicable are entitled to legal representation. However, the tactics we can ethically utilize in their defense are circumscribed in ways that at least this one judge clearly thought had been violated in this case.

Business school graduates who apply to work for firms engaged in enterprises of similarly questionable ethical impact, or who continue to work for such firms, don't have that excuse (i.e., that the firms are entitled to representation).

Press-Citizen Disses Rain Forest

The Press-Citizen's Managing Editor Jim Lewers writes this morning (August 19) of the increased energy that comes to Iowa City each fall with the start of K-12 and the arrival of the new UI entering class, Jim Lewers, "Notch It Up to School Speed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 19, p. 15A.

Included with the positive energy are Coralville's Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and the Riversde Casino & Golf Resort. They are positive notwithstanding the observations of some "that the Marriott will siphon customers from businesses already in the area and that there are already way too many casinos on this side of Iowa." So why positive? Because "they will help bring in more tourism businesses" -- even though "it comes with its own set of issues."

OK, I needn't comment more about that.

Anyhow, the paper is sticking to its realistic view of the public-private financing issues when it comes to the rain forest.

"Another project that remains on the table is the former rain forest, now Earthpark. Soon that project is supposed to decide between Riverside and Pella for its site. In the past year or so, the Press-Citizen Editorial Board has consistently said that the project shouldn't go forward without significant private support. I think that remains an important yardstick regardless of tourism projections."

Thank you, Press-Citizen!

But since that issue has been front and center for the past 10 years, (what I've called "the elephant in the rain forest") during which the project has been unable to raise a dime of local (or other) money (aside from Senator Grassley's willingness to dip into the taxpayers' pockets for a $50 million grant -- which now requires a $50 million match), why is it that so many of Iowa's newspapers consistently supported the project editorially? (See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Unfocused and Unfunded, Rain Forest Inspires Mostly Questions," Des Moines Register, June 5, 2005 ("Last year the Register supported the proposed Coralville rain forest because 'Iowa needs more big thinking' ('Listen to Younger Iowans,' March 12, 2004). This year it was because 'it's not as crazy-sounding as it once was' ('Fund the Unexpected,' April 25, 2005). Really?"))

Associated Press Finds Chris Woods

An Associated Press story out of Des Moines reviews the role of Iowa's blogs in state and national politics. Associated Press, "More Blogs Pop Up As Caucuses Draw Closer," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 19, 2006, p. 9A.

The final paragraph reads, "Iowa's political blogs run the spectrum from Republican-leaning sites like [Kevin] Schmidt's newest blog,, to sites that focus on liberal issues, such as, a Web site run by Drake student Chris Woods."

The story, and the cites to sites, is just one more -- of by now many -- examples of the fact that something very profound is changing in a mediasphere in which a few-to-many model has morphed into a many-to-many model. The change would be taking place whether the mainstream media recognized it or not.

It's the product of machine copiers (instead of printing presses), computer graphics that puts manuscript (or brochure) design in the hands of all, relatively cheap video and digital still cameras, and then the multiple distribution systems made possible by the Internet and the Web: Web pages, blogs, sites for display of photos or video, Facebook and MySpace, listservs and groups, even multiple-addressee emails. All of which was preceded by the public access channels on the corporate cable television systems that enabled anyone to distribute his or her own television program to the community.

This decrease in prices, this reduction in what the economists call "barriers to entry," I have dubbed "the 99.9% off sale." [See "Orders of Magnitude and the '99.9%-Off Sale," in Nicholas Johnson, "Law of Electronic Media: Concepts, Perspectives and Goals" (1999).] That is, instead of the 20% to 50% off sales we're used to in January and from time to time throughout the year, these are "orders of magnitude" (10, 100, 1000 or more-fold) reductions. For example, satellite receiving dishes that were once major industrial items at $3 million apiece, dropped in price to $300,000, then $30,000, then $3000, to now $300 or less. Ditto for "printing presses," computers, video cameras, video tape recorders, and so forth.

But the mainstream media has been paying attention to the blogosphere.

I wrote earlier [Nicholas Johnson, "What is 'the press'?" August 9, 2006] of my experience of having a blog entry [Nicholas Johnson, "Caution: Wide Load, Rain Forest Ahead," August 7, 2006] turn into a newspaper's op ed column [Nicholas Johnson, "Caution: Rain Forest Ahead," August 9, 2006], and expanded in the "What is 'the press'?" piece on the many ways in which both the imput of "news," and the critique of that news, now flows both ways.

This morning's Associate Press mention of Chris Woods, Kevin Schmidt, and the Iowa political bloggers generally, is just one more example.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Gazette: "Reputation at Stake"

The Gazette editorialized this morning (August 18) about the actual and potential conflicts of interest between those involved with the Riverside casino, and those who sit on the "independent" Washington County Riverboat Foundation board. Editorial, "Casino Foundation Reputation at Stake," The Gazette, August 18, 2006 (also available here).

In Nicholas Johnson, "Hat's Off to Hennigan," August 13, 2006, I noted that there are more potential conflicts here than spouces serving on the boards of both the casino and the Foundation, or owning stock in the casino, or the chair of the Foundation being the banker for both the casino and the Foundation. The argument was made on behalf of the Foundation board members that a Foundation board member's financial interest in the casino didn't constitute a conflict; the only conflict would be if the Foundation board member had an interest in an organization that was coming to the Foundation for a grant.

But that's exactly what the rain forest is. As I wrote,

The ties between Dan Kehl, David Oman, and Timothy Putney are such -- the relationship between the rain forest's financial success in Riverside and the interest in [its relationship to] Kehl's personal profits (as well as that of all other casino stockholders), the assertions of Kehl and Oman that they are counting $8 million from the Foundation as part of the $25 million [demanded by Oman from Riverside] (before even filing an application, let alone a meeting of the Foundation ) -- that the rain forest is not 'just another grant applicant.'"

Money going from the Foundation to the rain forest is, in effect, money going from the Foundation to the casino; and thus an interest in the casino is an interest in a grant applicant.

So there's a little more here that needs to be pursued to maintain everyone's reputation.

And while they're at it, how about exploring the source of the money to build this casino. Is there a mortgage on this property? Who holds it? Could it possibly be a firm in Nevada or New Jersey? Where are the law firms that represent these interests -- Nevada, California, or are they all in Iowa? I don't know the answers, but The Gazette, rightfully credited as one of the leaders in the public's fight for open meetings and public records, might want to get those answers for us.

The Iowa law provides for Iowa gambling to be in the hands of Iowa non-profit charities, for the use of Iowa employees, and Iowa products. Even if out-of-state interests in casinos are not forbidden by the current Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission members, aren't Iowans entitled to know where the money is coming from -- and, not incidentally, where it is going when they leave it behind at one of the "Iowa" casinos?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hey, We Won One!

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor's 44-page opinion in ACLU v. NSA was released this afternoon (August 17). The judge ruled for the ACLU. Warrantless monitoring of our phone calls by the Bush Administration -- "war on terrorism" or not -- are unconstitutional. See, American Civil Liberties Union v. National Security Agency, ___ F.Supp.3d ___ (E.D. Mich. 2006). Of course, it will be appealed, and could always be overturned as it makes its way to the Supremes, but at least, for now, "it's the law."

I haven't yet finished reading it, but it's highly unlikely the judge addressed the issue I raised earlier about this operation: how easily it could be abused for political purposes (as earlier technologies have been secretly engaged to do). Imagine the advantage it would give the administration in power to be able to monitor all their opponents (members of congress during the mid-term elections, or the opposing party's presidential candidate in presidential election years)! It's what they've made efforts to do in the past; now the technology exists to really do it thoroughly -- and secretly.

That, plus reprogrammable Diebold voting machines with no paper trail, and who would ever need to suspend elections with a declaration of martial law? (See the instructional video, "How to Hack a Diebold Voting Machine," (it starts after the brief ad at the beginning).)

For the details about how it has been done in the past, and could be done in the future, see Nicholas Johnson, "The Politics of Domestic Spying," The Daily Iowan, January 19, 2006.

Word Verification

I'm getting enough spam (disguised advertising) comments that I have to do something.

I sure don't want to discourage comments, or even slow them up by using the "moderate comments" feature that requires me to approve them all.

On the other hand, I don't want the comments larded up with this anonymous spam.

So what I thought would be the least trouble for those posting comments, and for me, would be to use the "word verification" feature. That will add another 5 seconds to the time it takes to post a comment, but at least you'll know that when folks see that a comment has been posted they will know it's for real and will be more inclined to read what you've written.

Email: Senator's A Long Time Healing

A lawyer with what is called a Legal Services Corporation grantee has emailed me about "Senator, Heal Thyself," August 15.

He reminds me that this is not the first time Senator Grassley has come to the aid of those downtrodden corporate CEOs and their wealthy friends who suffer such abuse as a result of the lawsuits filed by the poor and their lawyers.

He writes, "Senator Grassley, in fact, was a plaintiff in a suit (along with several other senators) against LSC [the Legal Services Corporation] in the late 70's or early 80's, concerned that some legal aid lawyers were engaging in lobbying and grassroots organizing prohibited by the LSC Act. Among the defendants were Hillary Rodham, then chair of the LSC board. Judge Vietor threw the case out. See, Grassley v. Legal Services Corp., 535 F.Supp. 818 (S.D. Iowa 1982)."

He continues, "My real concern with this is that people will not distinguish what happens in the LSC offices in D.C. and what happens in the offices of the LSC grantees, where the per diem wouldn't cover dessert in a Washington restaurant."

It's part of the old pattern. It's not enough that they tax the middle class and give tax breaks to the wealthiest; then take the taxes and hand them back to business for "economic development;" eliminating welfare for the poor while increasing corporate welfare. It's not enough that ready access to an elected official comes at the price of a substantial campaign contribution; that legislation is for sale to the highest bidder; that mainstream media can keep off the air even paid messages that might concern corporate advertisers; that the only way the poor can be either seen or heard is with peaceful marching or violent riots. The system is still not adequately rigged. They won't be fully satisfied until they've deprived the poor of any possible opportunity to do anything about their condition. Given their willingness to bust unions, ship jobs overseas, refuse to raise the minimum wage, and permit the employment of immigrants at even lower wages still, if the word "slavery" didn't still carry so much negative baggage from America's history they'd legalize it in a minute.

Coming Over the Wire

AmesWire has an interesting comparative example of the difference between the mainstream media's, and blogs', coverage of the news, if any Law of Electronic Media students or others are interested in more examples. See, "Speaking truth to power: Compare a blog post to establishment media," August 14.

And the Wire also offers us a cute cartoon that diagrams the "Robin Hood in reverse" that passes for government these days, "Chet Take From Workers Give to Business," August 14, as well as a kind comment in "Who is Chuck Grassley Kidding?" August 16, about "Senator, Heal Thyself," August 15.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Coralville's Hotel: "Trust But Verify"

The Gazette has displayed more orgastic enthusiasm for a hotel than I thought possible from anyone, Editorial, "Showcase Day for Coralville, Corridor," The Gazette, August 15, 2006, p. 4A. Here are some quotes:
  • "New visitors -- and the cash they carry -- will head by the thousands each year to the convention center."
  • "Area restaurants, shops, service centers and entertainment venues will see increased traffic when those big conferences are in town."
  • "The overall conventon business in the Corridor is almost certain to increase."
  • "The progressive, creative leadership of this community [Coralville] continues to add to its impressive resume. . . . Coralville's reputation as a growing, prosperous and exciting community."
  • "The Iowa Rver Landing Project . . . will be one of the more fantastic gateways of any Iowa city. . . . [A] first-rate first impression."
  • "It's great to see the Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center open for business."
Lest a whisper of dissent be heard, The Gazette issues this preemptive strike: "Only a very short-sighted view of tourism and community development would have anyone suggesting there's a downside . . .."

Far be it from me to express "a very short-sighted view of tourism and community development." I wish Coralville well with its new hotel. From the photos, I would not characterize it, as the rain forest's exasperated Ted Townsend and David Oman once did, as "another everyday, uninspiring hotel." It appears to me to be a perfectly acceptable commercial hotel, with some nice touches, like the library of Iowa writers' books. I'll probably bike by and take a look at it at some point. And c
learly, no one gains if it fails to produce all that is hoped for it.

But frankly, I think it's far too early to express either the downside -- or the boosters' enthusiasm of The Gazette. I'm reminded of two one-line bits of wisdom: President Ronald Reagan's borrowed line, "Trust, but verify," and, from a sign on a school superintendent's wall, "In God we trust . . . all others bring data."

The Gazette has a well-deserved reputation as a champion of openness in government -- open meetings and public records. What better target for it to focus on than this publicly-funded project?

Let's find out if there's a downside. Let's look at the data. It ought to be public, given that we're paying for this project. This is a real opportunity to address and resolve some of the issues surrounding grants of public money to private profit.

The Des Moines Register has just provided a very useful series of articles on some of the downsides of TIFs. In addition to the ones that never really pay back what is promised, at a minimum there does seem to be a little inequity in making generous grants of public money to some businesses, while denying it to those that compete with them.

Economic development economists note that "new" businesses and jobs are often just the result of moving the chess pieces on the board.

For example, another of Coralville's big, publicly funded projects was the Coralridge Mall. In the early years it was doing $100 million gross annually. But "new business," new dollars to our area? Not quite. Retail sales in surrounding counties declined by almost as much, about $90 million.

The Gazette acknowledges that, "Other Iowa cities, especially Cedar Rapids, will lose a few conventions," but then goes on to assert that "the overall convention business in the Corridor is almost certain to increase." "Increase" like the Coralridge Mall increased retail sales in its market area?

Area-wide numbers are sometimes a little hard to track.

But what should be easy are things like the new hotel's average annual hotel occupancy rates; not "no vacancy" reports from football weekends, but averages from spring, summer, fall and winter combined. It should also be possible to get some comparison between market-wide hotel-motel occupancy trends during the few years prior to the new hotel and afterwards.

Ditto for the 30,000-square-foot conference center.

Today's Press-Citizen reports that "There are five major events planned at the conference center, including the Iowa League of Cities annual convention next month; the Upper Midwest Region Association of College and University Housing later this year; the American Legion state convention in 2007; the Iowa state Association of Counties annual convention in 2008 and 2009; and the National Association of Cancer Center Development Officers annual meeting in 2008." Mike McWilliams, "Coralville Venture Kicks Off," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 16, 2006.

Now don't get me wrong. I think it's great they've already booked two conferences for 2006, one for 2007, two for 2008 and one for 2009. But this should be their big booking season, with the excitement, the publicity given this new "fantastic gateway." And five conferences in four years does not exactly fulfill The Gazette's promise that
"New visitors -- and the cash they carry -- will head by the thousands each year to the convention center."

At the end of a year (including year five, and year ten, as well as year one when it's "the newest" in the area), we need to know: how many days were those convention facilities actually used, and how many days were they nothing but 30,000 square feet of unused additional space, expensive to heat or cool, just sitting vacant? Again, what actually was the impact on regional convention business; how much was lost by convention facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and elsewhere; how much did the regional total of convention attendees vary from past trends?

"In The Gazette we trust" -- but I'd also like to "verify;" I'd like the paper to provide us a little data once it's available.

Only then will we really know if it's "short-sighted" to be concerned about a possible "downside" to this example of public funding of commercial businesses.