Monday, April 02, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 436 - April 2

April 2, 8:50 a.m., 10:15 ("Affordable Housing Ideas")

. . . with commentary about the UI "Coach of the Day," "Search Committee II's List," "What $26 Million Looks Like -- Paying for Politics With Increased Consumer Prices," "Airlines Dysfunctional, Unfairly Subsidized," and "Affordable Housing Ideas."

Coach of the Day

Today's new basketball coach for Iowa is Kirk Speraw of Central Florida (and one-time player for Lute Olson at Iowa). Scott Dochterman, "Coaches Heap Praise on Speraw; Central Florida Coach Mentioned in Search," The Gazette, April 2, 2007, p. 3C.

What I find amusing, or at least worthy of note, is that the coach search process is supposed to be the secret process and preserve of one man: Iowa's Athletic Director Gary Barta. And yet there's all kinds of informed speculation about the possible candidates, by name, with the pros and cons of their "fit" for Iowa.

Meanwhile, Search Committee II, with its numerous members, efforts at regular reports and general transparency, seems to have produced little, if any, speculation about names of possible presidents of the university. It's even open to having no on-campus visits before the Regents make their final selection.

Why no speculation? Can there be that many eligible university presidents and provosts? More than coaches? Or are we so focused as a nation on basketball, and the final game tonight, that we can't even think about those in the education biz who are paid less than basketball coaches -- like, say, university presidents?

Search Committee II's List

And speaking of Search Committee II, as soon as that Committee was announced I urged that speed in selecting a new president was of the essence. (It got greater every day thereafter, up to today's "UI Held Hostage Day 436." As a wise observer of the scene commented months ago, "The University needs a president.") I noted that "there are . . . among the 165 considered by the search committee [many] who were well thought of. If there are other individuals who have just come on the market during the last month or six weeks, their names can be quickly added." "Regents, don't let 'the great become the enemy of the good,'" par. (f), in Nicholas Johnson, "Duplicate of UI President Search XVI - Dec. 18-20," December 20, 2007.

It just seemed to me only common sense that when a second search is started only one month after the first is called off -- even if speed were not an issue -- one would start with the list, and evaluations, developed by the first committee.

I have tried to be supportive of Search Committee II. It is made up of a quality chair and members who are working hard, meeting weekly, doing as much in open sessions as possible, reporting regularly and otherwise trying to maintain transparency.

But why, oh why, are they only now discovering, as the Press-Citizen reports: Brian Morelli, "Unclear if Evaluations From First Search Still Exist; UI Committee Wants to Review Backgrounds of Candidates," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 31, 2007, p. 1A? Isn't that something you would have thought they would have discovered 90 days ago, when the UI had only been held hostage for 346 days?

What $26 Million Looks Like -- Paying for Politics with Increased Consumer Prices

Want to know what $26 Million looks like?

That's how much money Senator Hillary Clinton raised in the first quarter of this pre-presidential primary year. Anne E. Komblut, "Clinton Shatters Record for Fundraising," Washington Post, April 2, 2007, p. A1. (Edwards: $14 million; Richardson: $6 million; Obama: not reported.) And she's going to let you see what it's purchased tomorrow, April 3, 11:00 a.m., at an intimate little gathering of thousands in the Quality Inn and Suites ballroom, 2525 North Dodge Street, Iowa City. "Hillary Clinton to Visit Iowa City Tuesday," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 31, 2007.

But if you missed CBS' "60 Minutes" last night, you might want to take a look at its segment titled "Under the Influence" before attending the Senator Clinton event. It's the in-depth story of how the pharmaceutical industry pressured Congress to insure that our prescriptions would continue to cost us more than in any other country on earth, by making it illegal for the government to negotiate prices.

It's a classic case study of how Washington works these days. With big pharma's 1,000 lobbyists to work over 535 Senators and Members of Congress, and its $100 million-a-year budget for campaign contributions and lobbying, it (or any other industry) can pretty much write its own legislation and get whatever it wants out of Washington.

Years ago I did a study of a number of industries in the campaign contribution and lobbying business, and concluded that each was receiving something in the range of 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one for its expenditures. (Give $1 million, get back $1 billion in some form of government largesse: tax breaks, government contracts, protective tariffs, access to public lands.) Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996.

Why "$4 or $4000"? Because any way you slice it we have "public financing of campaigns." We either have "public financing" in the usual sense -- picking up the costs from the taxpayers, cutting out the big donors and lobbyists -- or we let the fat cats pay the campaign bills, the political winners give them the 1000-to-one return, and we end up paying in the form of increased drug prices, gasoline prices, earmarks for "bridges to nowhere" and "rainforests in Iowa," military weapons programs the Joint Chiefs don't even want, increased tariffs on steel imports, and so forth.

The difference? Instead of paying a $4 check off on your tax return you end up paying $4000 in increased consumer prices. Which is the better deal?

Watch the CBS "60 Minutes" piece and weep. And then contact your representatives -- in Des Moines as well as Washington -- and tell them you'd rather pay the $4.

Airlines Dysfunctional, Unfairly Subsidized

In case you haven't been flying recently, or listening to the tales of woe from your high flying friends, the latest report from the airlines is that they are now bumping more passengers, losing more luggage, and logging fewer on-time flights than ever before. "Study: Airline Woes Worsen," The Gazette, April 2, 2007, p. 8A.

Under the best of conditions you have the drive to and from the airport on both ends of the flight -- plus the choice of either arriving hours early or risking missing your plane, so you can stand in check-in and security check lines (that require partial undressing and unpacking, re-dressing and re-packing). That, plus sitting on the runway on both ends, making the connections for anything other than a direct flight, and "mechanical delays, often ends up taking as much, or more, time for a relatively short hop than driving the entire distance. (Driving also has the advantage of enabling your departure when you want, leaving directly from home or office without having to pass through an airport, driving directly to your destination, and not having the added delay and hassle of having to rent a car.)

It doesn't help that the airlines are not prepared to deal with weather-related delays -- sometimes leaving passengers sitting in planes on the runways for hours, or sleeping in airports for days, while leaving employees unwilling (or unable) to provide accurate information.

"You can't blame the airlines for the weather." Right. But you can blame the U.S. government, and the American people, for building, subsidizing, and relying upon a transportation system that is dependent upon the weather and otherwise dysfunctional on the best flying days.

And speaking of weather, jet planes are among the most efficient contributors to global warming. All industrial plants can do is spew out the stuff here on earth and wait for it to rise. Jet planes are able to emit the ingredients at 35,000 feet. And it's a lot. You know what kind of gas mileage you get in your earth bound vehicle. Imagine if you had to propel it fast enough to keep it in the air.

Of course, we want to be protected from hijackers and terrorists. But our efforts to do so are more effectively directed at what they did last month, or last year, than at what they're most likely to do tomorrow, or next month. Meanwhile, we're all still taking off our shoes.

And all of this is being subsidized by those who don't fly for the benefit of those who do. The aeronautical research is funded by the bloated Defense Department, taxpayer-supported budget -- and then transferred to the civilian versions of the new designs. The airports -- with their miles of paved runways, airports and control towers -- are paid for in substantial measure with federal funds. The air traffic control system is paid for by the FAA. The security forces examining all checked luggage -- but not the cargo -- are a taxpayer expense. And this is all before we even consider the bailouts provided airlines' shareholders by our nation's grateful taxpayers.

Nor is the private plane sector of the industry any better. City's taxpayers -- as in Iowa City -- are paying to maintain a local airport to save those who could and should pay the full cost both the money -- and perhaps 15 minutes per flight over the time it would have taken them -- to use the much more adequate Eastern Iowa Airport some 20 miles up the road.

Imagine the passenger rail system we could have today if we'd taken even a small portion of what we've put into the global warming airline system, and internal combustion automobile and Interstate Highway system, and used it to maintain and expand the railroads already in place. Europe and Asia have done it, but not us. It's just one more example of the proposition that "What's good for General Motors is not necessarily good for America."

Affordable Housing Ideas

The Press-Citizen has a letter this morning pointing up once again Iowa City's need for more affordable housing. Megan Recker, "Make Iowa City More Affordable," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 2, 2007.

It reminded me of a couple proposed solutions I've encountered recently.

You may have caught the "affordable housing" story last week out of Hawaii:

"Until this week, home for Dorie-Ann Kahale and her five children was a homeless shelter. Now, courtesy of a billionaire from a far-away country, the family will be living rent-free for the next 10 years in her own mansion in one of Hawaii's most opulent districts." Rupert Cornwell, "Japanese Billionaire Donates Hawaii Mansions to the Poor," The Independent [London], March 24, 2007.

The Japanese property tycoon, Genshiro Kawamoto, picked up eight luxury homes in the exclusive Kahala neighborhood on Oahu (the island where Honolulu is located), at prices too good to refuse: $2 to $3 million each. (They're now worth at least twice that.) He's decided to make them available to the poor, and has already received 3000 applications.

That's one approach we could try.

The other is much more practical for Iowa City, and was suggested to me by the distinguished Professor Richard Hurtig (whose Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology once again came in with a "Number One in the Nation" recognition from the U.S. News and World Report rankings).

(We ran into him, and his wife, Judith (who makes the Hancher program number one in its own way) at the Riverside Theater performance of Donald Margulies' "Collected Stories," which is very much worth seeing and around through April 15. It's a two-woman show, with one of Jody Hovland's best performances, and young Shamis Beckley, with New York theater credits and theater company of her own, as beautiful in performance as she is in appearance. For those looking for substance as much as art, it will cause you to think about: what makes for good writing and how to teach it, good mentoring, and the legal issues surrounding copyright and "who owns your story?")

Anyhow, Richard pointed out to me that we have some very adequate housing right here in Iowa City that is as vacant as Kawamoto's houses on Oahu -- even if not quite as luxurious or precisely designed as living quarters -- for a good 358 days of the year (including all of the cold winter months).

They are the skyboxes in Kinnick Stadium.

All the skybox owners might not be billionaires, but then their skybox housing isn't as grand as Kawamoto's either. I'd bet they're all at least millionaires, so the principle is the same: the very wealthy helping the very poor.

How about it, skybox owners? Wouldn't that make you feel better about using something that luxurious only six or seven days a year (and actually only three or four hours on those days)? Wouldn't that improve your public relations image? Wouldn't that make us all feel better about the Riverside Gambling Casino's skybox?

Since Kinnick is almost in my own backyard, why didn't I think of that? Because that's the last place we look. As the song has it, "You'll find your happiness lies/Right under your eyes/Back in your own backyard." Al Jolson, Billy Rose and Dave Dreyer, "Back in Your Own Backyard."

Thanks, Richard.

UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

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John Neff said...

I tried to post this earlier and it failed.

One of the largest barriers to affordable housing is the high cost of land in the Iowa City/Coralville area. A second problem is subdivision rules that discriminate against low income families by forbidding smaller houses.

One of the consequences is that low income families have been forced into a few school districts.

Anonymous said...

I wish Nick would take some interest in housing for low income people in Iowa City. That could be very interesting.

Jerry Anthony, UI professor, has a blog on the Press Citizen but he is most interested in "affordable" housing for people employed as teachers, firemen, policemen -- in that range of income. Those workers already have ample housing choices that they can afford.

I think Nick could shed some good sunshine on what is happening regarding housing for our lower paid people.