Tuesday, July 31, 2007

U-News Updates: Corporatizing Education

July 31, 2007, 6:00 a.m.

Corporatizing Education & Other U-News Updates

Our new UI President Sally Mason formally starts tomorrow, Wednesday, August 1. As Diane Heldt reports, she won't have to wait long for issues to arrive.

Diane Heldt, "Full Plate Awaits New President; Mason Takes Office Wednesday at UI," The Gazette, July 30, 2007, p. A1

One of the most recent big UI issues in the news has been the Wellmark naming controversy. This morning's papers report on revealing e-mails among UI officials and faculty. Mason has not yet tipped her hand, aside from saying she's following the issue and that it warrants a full and respectful discussion.

Erin Jordan, "U of I dean: Wellmark offer 'small;' He called it 'not acceptable,' but officials almost approved proposed gift," Des Moines Register, July 31, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Offer 'Embarrassingly Small;' Dean Says Wellmark Gift Would Have Undervalued College,"
The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. B1

Brian Morelli, "E-mails Shed Light on Debate; Wellmark in the Name, Amount of Gift Discussed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 31, 2007, p. A1

As I've often written here -- and as these stories, and the Snell column, immediately below, support -- it will be a shame if this is perceived as merely the "Wellmark-UI College of Public Health Naming Issue" when it is so much bigger and can more usefully be addressed in the larger context of the corporatization of higher education generally, and at the UI in particular. Whatever President Mason's focus turns out to be, it won't be long before we'll get a sense from her statements and decisions as to just how much further the "University of Iowa, Inc." is going to slide into the for-profit sector during her tenure.

Joel Snell, "For Some Companies, UI is an Attractive 'Brand,'" The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. A4

Barbara Ankenbrand, "Instead of Naming Rights, Wellmark Could Help Poor," The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. A4

Nancy McHugh, "Wellmark's Missing Chace for True Philanthropy," The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. A4

Sam Osborne, "Selling Naming Rights Could be Great Idea," The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. A4

Another issue, which I'm going to do my darnedest to try to keep on the radar, is the partnership between the UI athletic program and the gambling industry. Interim President Fethke -- to the best of my recollection -- indicated that he would announce the UI position with regard to the football program's partnership with the Riverside Gambling Casino, which has been a matter of concern to the NCAA. So far as I know, nothing further was ever said. Now it turns out the athletic program is back in bed with the Iowa Lottery, after supposedly "severing ties" (accomplished, one assumes, by arguing that "Gee, it's not us, it's those awful folks at Iowa State; we can't help it if we play them in football"). And what say you, President Mason?

Rod Boshart, "Lottery to Give Away Hawks-Cyclones Tickets,"
The Gazette, July 30, 2007, p. B7

A couple of other stories, in other than a higher education context, further illustrate the potential hazards along the road to corporatization.

Clark Kauffman, "Agency takes gifts from those it regulates; The Department of Elder Affairs accepts thousands from senior-care companies," Des Moines Register, July 30, 2007

Editorial, "Get to bottom of consultant's sweet deal; Why did state lower bar to award bonus?" Des Moines Register, July 30, 2007 (A consultant, hired to help the State cut costs and become more efficient, was paid substantially in excess of actual savings achieved -- contrary to the consultant's representations -- including bonus payments for its poor performance. Those are legitimate journalistic topics. But my more general question would be, "Why are we hiring a consultant in the first place?" Executives -- whether in the for-profit or non-profit sectors -- are paid the big bucks because of the skills they supposedly bring to the job. What more appropriate, central and essential skill than the ability to master what it is your institution is doing, and then move it in ways that will cut costs while improving outputs?)

Other items include an encouraging report regarding Regents' universities-community college cooperation and coordination. (In this case, a "2 plus 2" program enabling what I've long advocated: that we encourage Iowa's community college system to provide the freshman and sophomore years' education and then ease the students' transition to a junior and senior year at a Regents institution. The advantages to all are obvious.) Brian Morelli has another nice piece about Fethke's tour of duty, and the Register has an editorial regarding open meetings and public records (both State and federal) -- an issue with the UI and its Board of Regents (see, e.g., "Regents Dismissed from Suit," The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. B3).

Editorial, "Community College Degrees Pay Off,"
The Gazette, July 31, 2007, p. A4

Brian Morelli, "Colleagues Say Fethke Didn't Let Office Stagnate; Interim Leader's 14 Months Full of Action, Controversy," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 31, 2007, p. A1

Editorial, "Speed Up Access to Federal Records," Des Moines Register, July 29, 2007 (including sidebar, "In Iowa Shore Up Meetings, Records Laws")

# # #

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where's the Law in "Law & Order"? - Thompson vs. Thompson

July 29, 2007, 7:00 a.m.

A couple of reporters tracked down the former FCC commissioner the other day in their thorough effort as good journalists trying to figure out whether Fred Thompson the actor was going to be playing the role of spoiler in the show starring Fred Thompson the presidential candidate.

I play only a bit part in their reports of this drama, but you might be interested in these links to their stories anyway.

Jill Vejnoska, "Fred Thompson is a TV star. He's also a politician. If he enters the '08 presidential race, his air time on the popular show "Law & Order" would raise a ... Question of visibility,"
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 15, 2007.

Scott Horsley, "'Law & Order' Episodes with Fred Thompson to End,"
NPR's "Morning Edition," July 26, 2007,

To fully explain and document what this is all about would require a law review article rather than an early morning blog entry, but here's a simple walk-through:

In recognition of the political power of the media (after all, where do all those millions of dollars of campaign contributions go anyway but to purchase TV time, right?) for 80 years Congress has required broadcasters to provide an "equal opportunity" (often erroneously called "equal time," which it's not) to all candidates. That is, once they put a given candidate for public office on their station they have to give all of his or her competitors an equivalent shot at the audience.

Of course, that raises a question as to who is, and is not -- or is not yet -- a candidate. There are a number of factors to consider in answering those questions, but within limits if you don't say you're a candidate you may not be one. Notice, for example, that Fred Thompson -- only once a U.S. senator but seemingly always to be in our homes as the star of "Law & Order" -- refuses to say whether he's a Republican candidate for president or not. (It's a tactic I used before entering the Democratic Party primary for Congress. I got radio time as someone just "considering" whether to become a candidate or not.)

Why would someone giving serious thought to running not want to be characterized as a "candidate"? Because broadcast stations don't like the idea of giving a candidate time if it means they'll be required to turn over valuable programming time with high ratings (and therefore high commercial revenue) -- even if for pay -- to a large field of candidates, most of whom are likely to turn off a goodly share of the audience. So while they may be willing to offer a little time interviewing someone "who might become a candidate in the future" they are more reluctant to provide time to a "candidate."

So far so good for Fred Thompson. He's not a "candidate."

And what's the problem if he becomes one? A TV program in which he stars, "Law & Order," is in reruns on cable -- some 20 or more hours a week. If "equal opportunity" applies to those "appearances" of a presidential candidate -- and if the cable channel isn't interested in providing hundreds of hours of time to give the nine current Republican candidates an "equal opportunity" (which would likely be the case) -- Fred Thompson will confront a tough choice. Either he abandons a possible race for president, or he abandons -- for himself, others compensated by the reruns, and the cable channel -- the income those reruns provide.

There are a number of issues.

Does "equal opportunity" apply to appearances in entertainment programming? The answer, so far, is that it does -- in situations, or litigation, involving Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pat Paulsen, and a TV news journalist (Branch). Should it? That's another issue. My view, as Scott Horsley reported, is that Fred Thompson's own case is the best argument why it should.

Name identification is one of the most important assets for a candidate; it's the goal of the early political commercials. However irrational, familiarity builds support. It's one of the reasons Hillary Clinton started off so strong compared to the others. And it's how one can explain that a former U.S. senator, with an undistinguished record virtually no one can recall, who has not declared as a candidate, is suddenly found in polls among the top tier of Republican candidates. TV makes a difference. Indeed, one suspects that it is the character Fred Thompson plays in "Law & Order," not the politician, who is leading the Republican pack.

So, does "equal opportunity" apply to these cable re-runs? The law in which it is found (section 315) deals with "broadcasting," the programming you pick up from an over-the-air TV station (whether with a rabbit-ears antenna, or from your cable company), the "Law & Order" episodes when first broadcast by NBC (or when re-run by over-the-air stations). But cable programming suppliers, whether ESPN, C-SPAN or TNT, aren't "broadcasters."

However, the FCC long ago said that the requirements of section 315, even if not that section itself, do apply to cable companies (that is, your local cable distributor you pay every month) when they are "originating" programming. (Like your local "public access" channels, the cable company may have a "local origination" channel which it programs.) That much is clear.

But it's also not what we're talking about. A cable programming supplier (in this case providing network re-runs to local cable companies) is not a "cable company" engaged in "program origination."

On the other hand, the intention of the Congress, the FCC, and the spirit of the FCC regulation are clear. The reason the FCC regulation was limited to "program origination" is because, at that moment in the history of cable television, that was the only programming not otherwise covered. There was just re-distributed over-the-air stations' programming (which clearly was covered by section 315's "equal opportunity" requirements -- and therefore needed no additional regulation just because it was re-broadcast by a local cable distributor), and there might be programs created by the local cable company -- which would not be covered by section 315. Therefore, the FCC -- recognizing the nation's well- and long-established policy of "equal opportunity" -- extended the requirement to cable company-originated programming as well.

All of this is what leads to my assertion, reported by Scott Horsley, that we are left with ambiguity. But unless Congress is inclined to redefine "appearance" so as to exclude entertainment programming -- which of course it has the constitutional power to do -- in an age when some 70% of the American people are getting their TV programming from a cable, and neither know nor care to distinguish the sources of their various channels' programming, the only fair and rational resolution of that ambiguity is to apply the same standards to all cable programming -- whether it is being relayed from an over-the-air station, created by the local cable company, or comes from a cable programming supplier.

But, then, when was the last time rational analysis won the day in Washington?

# # #

Note: Yesterday's blog entry ("Health Care, Honors & Sports" now updated with links, including today's Gazette story reviewing Fethke's term.)

# # #

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Health Care, Honors & Sports

July 28, 2007 6:45 a.m.; July 29, 2007, 9:00 a.m.

Today's News:

Press-Citizen wants public back in "public health"
Four speak out on "Sicko"
Pomerantz to get honorary degree from UI
UI buildings on Regents' agenda
"Big Ten Network" in big tough negotiations
Editorial, "It's Time for the State to Help Put the 'Public' Back in 'Public Health,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 28, 2007, p. A14.

Press-Citizen's "Diagnosing Michael Moore's 'Sicko,'" July 28, 2007, p. A15.

Richard Dobyns, "Why Not Socialize Health Care? It Would be Bad for Business"

Loreen Herwaldt, "Fair and Balanced 'Sicko' is Not, But Neither is the U.S. Health Care System"

Chris Atchison, "Moore Describes Challenges Better Than He Does Solutions"

Sam Levey, "Boldness Has Been Sadly Absent Among Our Nation's Leaders"
Kathryn Fiegen, "UI Seeking Honorary Degree for Pomerantz," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 28, 2007, p. A1

Kathryn Fiegen, "Regents' Agenda Released for August; New Projects, Budget and Security Will be Discussed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 28, 2007, p. A3 (not available online); Kathryn Fiegen, "Regents Consider $267 Million in Capital Projects," Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, July 27, 2007

Scott Dochterman, "Tense Waiting Game; What's at Stake for big Ten Network, Cable Companies, Fans,"
The Gazette, July 28,2007, p. A1

Diane Heldt, "Fethke farewell; Impact of interim presidency to continue as he leaves UI post," The Gazette, July 29, 2007, p. A1

# # #

Friday, July 27, 2007

College Naming; Corporate Welfare

July 27, 2007, 6:15 a.m.

Not a lot on the radar screen this morning, but there's plenty in this past week's blog entries to satisfy any reader's need for a blog fix.

Meanwhile, a couple of Des Moines Register letters to the editor deal with the Wellmark College of Public Health and the general subject of corporate welfare. Both (along with the comments on the first) provide more evidence, if such was needed, that folks are watching, and thinking, and full well know what's going on around them. We're not as dumb, uninformed and apathetic as some corporate officials and elected officials seem to think we are.

Palmer Holden, "What's the going rate for a college?"
Des Moines Register, July 27, 2006

If Des Moines businessman Marvin Pomerantz will sell the University of Iowa College of Public Health for $15 million, what would he take to name the university "Wellmark University of Iowa?"

If you are willing to sell your soul for a college, why not a university?


Reader Comment Posted by: 420friendly on Thu Jul 26, 2007 6:34 pm

How many people would like to see the "Microsoft Computing Center"?

or the "Viacom Communications Building"?

or the "HarperCollins English Building"?

or the "DeCoster Agricultural College"?

or the "Clear Channel School Of Music"?

or the "Knapp Properties School Of Business"?

or the "Gannett School Of Journalism"!

Reader Comment Posted by: PeaceMom on Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:35 am

Pomerantz is a bully.

Jeff Clingan, "Give incentives to workers, not companies,"
Des Moines Register, July 26, 2007 ("Regarding the July 14 story, 'Manufacturer Interested in Newton': It's not too difficult to picture this company's executives gleefully rubbing their hands together at the prospect of watching 1,800 out-of-work people fight over 700 low-paying jobs while simultaneously extorting $2 million from Iowa taxpayers. If Chet Culver wants to hand out $2 million, let him give it to the people who will be taking a giant pay cut.")

# # #

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Terrible TIFs

July 26, 2007, 6:30, 7:30, 8:15, 10:30 a.m.

They're Back: The Terrible TIFs

Hieu Pham, "Company seeks tax rebate for expansion; Alpla of Iowa Inc. would create 25 new jobs in return," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 26, 2007, p. A1

Nicholas Johnson, "Taxes: Categories of Inquiry" in "UI Held Hostage Day 490 - Search & Taxes,"
May 26, 2007 (including link to, excerpts from, and discussion of
Peter S. Fisher, "No Tax Relief Until We See TIF Reform," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 26, 2008, p. A11)

Nicholas Johnson, "It's Not About 'Taxes,'"
October 24, 2006

Nicholas Johnson, "More on Corporate Welfare from 'Hat's Off' Winner,"
October 22, 2006

Nicholas Johnson, "Call the Cops: $3.755 Million Robbery in Progress,"
October 18, 2006

Nicholas Johnson, "Understanding TIFs (Revised 10/6/06)," October 5, 2007

Nicholas Johnson, "Why Do They Hate America?" October 4, 2006

I've had it with the Iowa City City Council and TIFs. I'm going to do my best to see to it that anyone running for council who persists in continuing to take Iowa City taxpayers' money and give it to wealthy, supposedly "free private enterprise" for-profit corporations -- while denying it to their competitors, not to mention needed social programs -- is prevented from serving on the City Council.

As the links above indicate, I've been writing about the issues of corporate welfare in this blog for nearly a year.

I'm not going to repeat all the arguments from Iowa's best economists, along with my own. If you're interested, they're laid out clearly in those blog entries.

But I have yet to have any member of the City Council -- or anyone else for that matter -- respond to each of those arguments, rationally, with data, one at a time.

TIFs are worse than the proposed indoor Iowa rain forest project.

While I'm not going to repeat all the arguments and data that demolish the utility and propriety of TIFs -- indeed, I'm not even going to try to summarize them -- I will offer a sampling:

TIFs are not necessary for Iowa City and surrounding communities. We're not exactly going through a depression, with store fronts boarded up, unemployment around 40%, or other justifications for early New Deal-type programs.

Their "opportunity costs" are enormous for local property taxpayers and local governments. County Supervisor Rod Sullivan estimates they are currently taking some $700 million worth of business property off the tax rolls. That means both more taxes for the rest of us and cuts in needed programs.

TIFs tilt the playing field, are unfair to business, and cause imbalance in the free market. Why the business community doesn't rise up in righteous wrath over TIFs has always amazed me. It's tough enough out there in that free market jungle, what with competition from the likes of Wal-Mart and comparably advantaged businesses, government regulations that sometimes seem a wee bit irrational, and the unforeseeable challenges. It just seems so fundamentally unfair that, on top of all that, a business person should have to compete with someone who is handed the kind of competitive advantage represented by a TIF or other government subsidy. Talk about a "level playing field"! TIFs really upset a smoothly working free market -- and to no one's real advantage except for the lucky recipient of the taxpayers' largess.

There's no evidence that Iowa City's economy and development won't continue to expand at a satisfactory rate driven by nothing more than the forces of the marketplace -- entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists, banks and other loaning institutions.

TIFs (and other shifts of taxpayers' money to for-profit enterprises) don't work. Governor Vilsack offered Maytag $100 million in taxpayers' money not to leave Newton. It went to Michigan anyway. Should he have offered $200 million? I don't think so.

Business comes to an area for other reasons than TIFs: available skilled workforce, transportation, communications, and other infrastructure elements -- plus "quality of life" assets such as schools, parks, libraries, theaters, trails, entertainment venues, restaurants, and natural settings such as mountains, beaches, woods, rivers and lakes. (A business that came to an Iowa Mississippi River town recently explained that it didn't choose the location because of state subsidies, it chose the location because it needed access to barge transportation on the river.)

Transferring taxpayers' money to for-profit ventures in the name of "free private enterprise" carries so much hypocrisy that City Councilors who talk that way ought to hide in the shadows with their shame. Where's the ideological purity of these "greed is good," privatization, "let the marketplace do it all" pro-business advocates when they're holding out (or filling) a tin cup? Business proposals that make sense have no trouble getting funding; owners, investors, venture capitalists, and creditors are looking for places to put their money and will respond to well-crafted business plans. Free private enterprise ventures can make sense for a community. So can socialist ventures such as roads, schools, libraries and parks. However, the more they are kept distinct the better it is for both.

If free private enterprise can't fund a project with private sector money, that just might be a sign that it's not a very good place to be putting the public's money either.

How can one possibly judge with accuracy whether, if the TIF were not available, the project would not go ahead? When free public money is available to a for-profit venture the temptation to become a tough negotiator, and to just slightly misrepresent the facts, is overwhelming. And there's virtually no way to test the blackmail.

The TIF-granters' record ain't great. For the most part, the public officials handing out our tax dollars to the wealthy are more professionally skilled at keeping constituents (and campaign contributors) happy, getting re-elected, and moving up to higher office, than they are at evaluating business proposals. There is a long list of TIFed (or otherwise publicly subsidized) private projects that have gone belly up, or failed to meet their promised construction schedules, or goals for new employees at designated pay levels.

Will we lose some businesses if we don't offer TIFs? Maybe. Let other towns give away their taxpayers' money. We don't need to play their game. As one of the top-rated towns in the nation by any one of a number of measures we'll get our share of new businesses without offering TIFs. Have a little self-confidence. Vilsack's $100 million couldn't keep Maytag here. A firm that likes San Diego's climate, or port access to the Pacific Ocean, probably isn't going to come to Iowa City for a TIF. A firm that believes it needs a location giving it rapid access to the O'Hare airport in Chicago (whether for moving persons or cargo) probably can't be talked into using the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids "Eastern Iowa Airport" no matter how big the TIF.

Step up to the plate councilors and business community. If City Council members, or members of the business community, think we need more economic growth and development than the marketplace can provide on its own there's nothing to stop them taking up a collection or offering personal economic incentives to new businesses. Iowa City's banks could offer new businesses, or proposals for business expansion, reduced-rate loans. The business community could create its own venture capital fund to invest in, or loan to, business developments they thought worthy. And I'm sure they'd be more than happy to accept every dollar from a City councilor who would like to help out.
I don't hold out lots of hope for electing a taxpayer-friendly City Council. Not many eligible voters get involved in city council elections regardless of the issue. Of those who do, there's widespread apathy, or lack of focus regarding TIFs. Of those who've followed the issue, many have bought the sales pitch of the TIF beneficiaries and their benefactors.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

"Just Say No to TIFs!"

Campus Crowd Control? Hey, How About More Guns?

Editorial, "Armed Campus Cops Would Make UI Safer,"
The Daily Iowan, July 26, 2007.

The Daily Iowan is absolutely right that guns can help in controlling student "misbehavior" -- as it is viewed by the government, or university administrators. But it doesn't necessarily follow that more guns on campus would necessarily "Make UI Safer."

Read a little history:

The Kent State shootings, also known as the May 4 massacre or Kent State massacre, occurred at Kent State University in the city of Kent, Ohio, and involved the shooting of students by members of the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970. Four students were killed and nine others wounded, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.[1]

Some of the students who were shot were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia which President Richard Nixon announced in a television address on April 30. However, other students who were shot were merely walking nearby or observing the protest at a distance. [2][3]

There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, high schools, and even middle schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of eight million students, and the event further divided the country along political lines.
"Kent State Shootings," Wikipedia.

So you see, you're right: on that occasion the deaths did slow down "student misbehavior" on one campus for one day. You're right about that. And except for the students who were shot or rendered paralyzed the guns on campus did make the campus safer following the slaughter. But then the campus was pretty safe before the slaughter, too. And as it turned out, shooting students didn't really end up doing much to reduce the nation-wide protests of Nixon's war policies in the long run either -- it just increased them.

Maybe this is just another example of another line from that Southeast Asian war: "We had to burn down the village to save it." Maybe it will take a few dead students to "Make UI Safer." If that's the price we have to pay for safety I guess it's worth it.

UIHC Inspection

The Gazette broke this story yesterday; see prior day's blog entry. Stories today include:

Brian Morelli, "Discharge Flap Puts UIHC Under Scrutiny," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 26, 2007, p. A1

Clara Hogan, "UIHC Undergoes Inspection," The Daily Iowan, July 26, 2007

# # #

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Wellmark Seeks Fraud Protection & Updates

July 25, 2007, 6:00, 7:00 a.m.

Wellmark Lobbies to Prevent Policy Holders' Protection from Fraud

The Register's four-day series on insurance abuses winds down today with another four stories and editorials -- one of which notes that, thanks to lobbying by Wellmark (along with others), Iowa remains the only state in the nation that forbids individual consumers to bring lawsuits under the Consumer Fraud Act. Check the Register's Online edition for all four.

Just in case you needed more persuasion than what's provided in the movie "Sicko" as to why America needs to get the overreaching, health-care-denying, profit-maximizing insurance industry out of health care so we can join the rest of the world with a universal, single-payer system -- well, here it is.

Johnson wouldn't think twice about taking on Zieser's case and others like it if Iowa had what's called a "private right of action."

Iowa doesn't.

It's the only state in the country that doesn't allow individual consumers to hire private attorneys and sue under the Consumer Fraud Act.

. . .

This anomaly in state law affects Iowans in a host of situations - if they believe they have been victimized by a door-to-door salesman, by a roofer who didn't complete the job, or, in the case of the Zieser family, by a long-term-care insurance company.

For seven years, the Iowa Attorney General's Office has proposed legislation to create a private right of action for certain consumer-fraud violations. Then Iowans would have the same legal recourse as residents in every other state. Last legislative session, Senate File 520 looked as if it might finally pass.

It didn't.

One only has to look at the "Lobbyist Declarations" on the legislation to see why. Powerful interests, including health insurer Wellmark Inc., Allied Insurance, Principal Financial Group and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, registered "against."
Editorial, "Give wronged Iowans more legal punch; Every other state allows individuals to sue for consumer fraud," Des Moines Register, July 25, 2007.

These guys don't even want to take responsibility for the consequences of their own fraudulent practices! And they're willing to pay big money to legislators (not bribes, mind you, these are just "campaign contributions") and lobbyists to see to it that they don't have to. Never mind that in the process they make Iowans the shame, the laughing stock, and the least well protected consumers in the nation.

Hey, it's the great American way. Privatization, the marketplace, profit maximization -- "greed is good" is our mantra. So what's a little fraud along the way? Probably just a "bad apple" -- it's certainly not endemic to the system.

And if we can get our name associated with a prestigious College of Public Health, so much the better.

In other University-related news . . .

Cindy Hadish, "University Hospitals: Botched Discharge Probed; Patient Never Made it Back to Nursing Home," The Gazette, July 25, 2007, p. B1 ("State inspectors are reviewing procedures at University Hospitals . . .. [Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals] spokesperson David Werning said inspectors were asked to conduct the 'full-blown' survey at the request of the [federal] Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services . . .. A worst-case scenario, both Werning and hospital officials said, would be the hospital losing its Medicare certification.")

Although neither University administrators nor City Council members see enough wrong with the very profitable bar industry in Iowa City -- and its very impressive record of ever-increasing the community's national reputation for college students' binge drinking -- to actually do anything meaningful about it, a UI junior has just won an entrepreneural competition for a profit-making business plan to provide non-alcohol venues. Dave DeWitte, "Bar Alternatives Winner Seeks Financing," The Gazette, July 25, 2007, p. B8 ("I don't know how many times, sitting in a classroom, I've heard, 'If there was something else, I'd do it. But there's not, so I'm going to the bars.'")

Brian Stewart, "UI Police Gun Issue Comes to Fore Again," The Daily Iowan, July 25, 2007

"Regents Seek to Void Part of Union Contract; Board Claims Portion of Agreement Violates Federal Privacy Act," The Gazette, July 25, 2007, p. B3 (The union in question is an organization of graduate students, who work as teaching assistants and in other jobs at the University. For the union to function for a group that is so constantly changing in membership it obviously needs information that only the University has regarding graduate students' employment -- names and rates of pay. The union's contract provides that it's entitled to it. Now the Regents and University would like to renege on this provision. I know no more about this case than what's in the story, and I have not researched the law.)

Lisa Rossi, "Study questions universities' bid for 2-year grads; A sizable number of those with degrees from Iowa community colleges are heading out of state for their bachelor's degrees," Des Moines Register, July 25, 2007 ("Iowa community college enrollment has risen sharply in recent years. The Des Moines Register reported that a record 85,715 students were attending the state's 15 community colleges last fall, up 3 percent from the previous year and up 25 percent from five years ago." Bottom line: (1) Iowa's community colleges are a big, and usually under-reported, story -- 85,715 students! They represent a low cost alternative to providing freshman and sophomore education at high cost research universities. (2) A couple out-of-state schools are treating our community college transfers better than are our Regents' universities. For the system to work we have to get more competitive, integrated and accommodating.)

Brian Morelli, "Mason Following Naming Debate," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 24, 2007, p. A1 (Morelli quotes Mason as saying she wants "what's best for [the University], the College of Public Health and the donors who are so important to our continued success" (emphasis supplied).)

Bob Elliott, "A Black Eye for UI State of Iowa,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 24, 2007, p. A11 ("There are dangers attached to accepting enormous financial contributions from individuals such as Marvin Pomerantz, who may then believe they've earned the right to make suggestions as bizarre as firing a college dean because he embarrassed an insurance company").

Sam Osborne, "Naming Opportunities in the Private Sector," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 24, 2007, p. A11 (an exploration of the possibilities of selling off the surface of his grandfather's tombstone for advertising).

Don Van Hulzen, "Some Questions for the University,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 25, 2007, p. A11.

Huckabee Stories

Christopher Patton, "Huckabee Touts Health Plan; Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Describes His Idea on Preventive Health Care and Tax Reform at a North Liberty Event," The Daily Iowan, July 24, 2007, p. 1 (Patton quotes the Governor as saying, "You can have the best classrooms or teachers, but if kids are sitting there with stomach aches, headaches or toothaches, they can't learn").

Erin Jordan, "Don't mirror national polls, Huckabee urges; The Ames straw poll will lose its value if it becomes too predictable, he says," Des Moines Register, July 24, 2007 (Jordan quotes him as saying, "My time in the church world was the best preparation to later become a governor. There's not a social problem that exists in this country that doesn't have a name and a face").

James Q. Lynch, "Huckabee Encouraged by Commitment of Crowds,"
The Gazette, July 24, 2007, p. B2

# # #

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's Huckabee

July 24, 2007, 6:00, 6:45 a.m.

My Republican Pick: Governor Mike Huckabee

"What's a Unitarian and Democrat like you doing at an evangelical Christian rally for a Republican presidential candidate like Huckabee?" a friend asked yesterday.

I explained, "Some partisans want to do all they can to see to it that the opposing party picks the absolutely worst candidate possible -- so they'll be easier to beat. That's never been my approach. One of these parties' candidates is going to end up being president. Given the Democrats' finely honed skill at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even though 2008 should be the Democrats' year we could just end up with another Republican president. If that happens I'd like it to be someone the country can live with."

Don't get me wrong. I'll be voting for the Democrat. There may be some scenario in which I would end up voting for a Republican president in November 2008 -- it's just never happened before and I'm incapable of imagining what it might be. But that doesn't mean I don't care who their nominee turns out to be.

I don't pretend to have thoroughly studied the records of all the Republican presidential candidates, but based on what I do know my favorite of the lot is Mike Huckabee. So I decided to go out to North Liberty to listen to him yesterday, this former governor who's lost 100 pounds, and runs marathons, and yet insists on holding his gatherings with voters in franchised outlets of the "Pizza Ranch."

My pictures of the Huckabee event are here

I don't remember what the TV interview was, but I do remember the first time Huckabee got my attention. Because the impression he made then has been borne out over the intervening months up to any including yesterday.

He was asked if he was "pro-life." He responded something along these lines: Of course, I believe in right to life. I just don't think the right to life stops at the end of the birth canal. I think a right to life has to include a right to nutrition, housing, health care and education.

Yesterday he expressed the same thought in another context: national security. National security, he said, requires a nation's ability to provide its citizens food and fuel, a better educational system and health care for all Americans. It was reminiscent of one of Dennis Kucinich' chants about "weapons of mass destruction": "poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," "lack of health care is a weapon of mass destruction." At worst it demonstrates a comprehension of how social programs have to be packaged to be sold; at best it provides a clue as to what he'd really like to see government do.

He thinks our striving for "energy independence" should be a 10-year, not a 20-year goal. He pointed to our successful undertaking to get "a man on the moon" as evidence of our ability to accomplish the difficult -- while noting something like, "although I suspect there are a good many of you here who still think that moon walk was faked somewhere on a stage set in Arizona."

He's not an isolationist, saying that we need both a global perspective and a focus on our internal needs, using the analogy of the way he inspects a plane before he boards: I'm not just interested in the left wing or the right wing, I'd kind of like for both of them to be there.

My sense is (again, I need to study his record more closely) that during his 10 years as governor he really did make some progress with education, the environment, roads, more efficiently administered state government -- and health care for Arkansas citizens, especially an additional 200,000 children. While he cut welfare, he didn't dump on the recipients. He said something to the effect that he'd never met anyone who really wanted to be on welfare; they want to succeed on their own.

In another TV interview I watched he was asked if he was a "conservative." He responded something like this: Sure I'm a conservative; I'm just not angry about it.

As for being "a uniter not a divider" (Bush's phase, not Huckabee's) bear in mind that Arkansas is over 80% Democratic registration. To be elected, and re-elected as a Republican governor in the State of Arkansas says something, without more, about that person's non-partisan ability to work with everyone.

Look, Huckabee's not trying to fool anyone and neither am I. He is a conservative. He used to be a Baptist preacher. He probably really would put restrictions on abortion -- if that was something a president could do. He favors raising all federal revenue from a sales tax rather than an income tax -- thereby permitting the dissolution of the Internal Revenue Service. (This so-called "fair tax" would shift an enormous tax burden from the wealthy to the poor -- I think. It might possibly bring on stag-flation as consumers confronted the sticker shock of significantly increased prices. I need to study it.) He may even really believe that's a good idea -- though I would hope it, too, would be politically impossible to pull off. He may even have been one of those who raised his hand at the Republican debate when the candidates were asked for a show of hands if they did not believe in evolution.

Huckabee's a Republican. He has to appeal to the Party's evangelical, conservative base. Didn't you ever read What's the Matter with Kansas? That's the way the Republicans obtained, and retained, power. They give the evangelical base the hot button rhetoric about God, guns and gays -- and doing away with IRS -- but then never do anything, or at least not very much, about delivering on the rhetoric. Meanwhile, they take the money, and return the benefits, to business interests and the wealthy. But before you get to feeling all smug and superior just remember that when it comes to raising millions from, and returning billions to, big business the inside-the-beltway Democrats have proven every bit as adept as Republicans.

It's kind of like my feelings about the last Pope. He was Catholic. I was not. We disagreed about a number of issues -- including the role of women in the church, contraception, the propriety of governmentally mandated laws about abortion, and so forth. But he was just about the only world leader speaking out on issues of war, peace and poverty. It seemed to me you had to give him credit for that.

There's a soft side to Huckabee. He meets people easily -- admittedly easier to do when there are only 40 there. But he comes across as friendly, comfortable, relaxed and genuine -- as well as often genuinely funny. He doesn't shout at you when he speaks. He's probably given the talk thousands of times -- which makes it easier to do without notes -- but you don't get the sense it's been written by media advisors, focus group tested, and overly rehearsed.

He acknowledged that he had once been a pastor, and that it might trouble some people, but that it had the effect of putting a human face on every social problem our society confronts: couples in debt, the elderly, and a variety of social pathologies are, he said, very concrete to him. He told of being asked if he was "one of those narrow minded Baptists who thinks only Baptists are going to heaven." He replied, "No. I'm even more narrow minded than that. I even know a good many Baptists who aren't going to heaven."

Jesus' name never came up during the hour-and-a-half meeting to the best of my recollection. Huckabee did not lead the group (most of whom came from a local evangelical congregation) in prayer. If God had told him anything in the last few days worth repeating Huckabee was willing to plagiarize it and use it without attributing the source. I'm not even sure he even asked God to bless them before he left. Maybe he did. It's hard not to if you want to run for any office in America. Now that I think about it, he didn't have anything to say about guns and gays either -- just the IRS.

Many candidates will tell you they were the first in their family to attend college. Huckabee goes 'em one better: he's the first in his family line ever to graduate from high school. He's experienced poverty first hand.

He's an optimist ("America's greatest generation has not yet been born") without being saccharine. (Remember Robert Kennedy's line: "Some see things as they are and ask 'why'? I dream of things that never were and ask 'why not'?")

He can use self-deprecating humor: "I'm leading in New Hampshire. The biggest percentage favors 'None of the above.' And that's me; I'm 'none of the above.'" At another point he referred to feeling like "a fireplug in a neighborhood of dogs" -- though, alas, I can't now remember the context.

Finally, he makes the point, as would I, that he has actually run a government. Americans are not irrational in selecting former governors as candidates for president and then electing them to office. That doesn't mean they all become great presidents or that everyone agrees with their programs. Some have even been disasters.

But a governorship is really about the only training ground we have for the presidency -- administering, managing something that requires making decisions and taking responsibility for them while working with the individuals and institutions necessary to build the consensus that makes progress possible. It creates an actual record of governing that can be judged -- for good or for ill. In any event, that's very different from making speeches on the Senate floor, or even working with a personal staff, all of whom are supposedly loyal to you.

Adlai Stevenson had been governor of Illinois (Democratic candidate 1952, 1956). Spiro Agnew was Vice President and had been governor of Maryland. Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 and had been governor of Georgia. Ronald Reagan had been governor of California, and served two terms as president. Michael Dukakis, who was the Democratic candidate in 1988, had been governor of Massachusetts. President Clinton was elected in 1992 and 1996 and, like Huckabee, had been governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush was elected in 2000 and 2004 and was formerly governor of Texas.

Based on that list, clearly experience as governor is not the only criterion one would look for in a president. But it's at least one factor that can be evaluated.

This year we have two governors running: Bill Richardson and Mike Huckabee -- at least one of whom may, as governors before them have done, end up being the pick of their party, even if not, ultimately, the American people.

# # #

Monday, July 23, 2007

Health-Denying Companies, Sicko, Naming, Gambling

July 23, 2007, 6:00, 6:25, 7:40 a.m.

Health-denying insurance companies; "Sicko;" Wellmark naming; Gazette's Gambling Gomer

Health-Denying Insurance Companies

The Des Moines Register continues its four-day series on so-called "health insurance" and the companies that provide the non-coverage. This morning it has seven more pieces on the subject. (I may or may not identify, and add links to, each of them later. Meanwhile, just check the online Register site. You'll find them -- and yesterday's.)

Meanwhile, the anonymous blog commentator "John Barleykorn" has just kindly emailed me a link to a story in Washington's conservative paper, The Washington Times, regarding the Canadian system. Gregory Lopes, "In Reversal, Canada Dabbles with Health Care Privatization," July 22, 2007. While it must necessarily point out the disadvantages of the Canadian system, and the advantages of the "marketplace" for all purposes, given the source it is a remarkably balanced piece.

Bottom line: No one can question the advantages of the universal, single-payer systems available to all the citizens of the world living in civilized, industrialized nations. It's irrefutably in the numbers. (1) Canadians, for example, enjoy better health than we do, measured by such things as infant mortality and life expectancy. The U.S. ranks well down the list. (2) Every single person is provided this free service; health care is considered a citizen's right (like K-12 education is here) not just one more profit-maximizing corporate corner of the economy. Some 45 million American's don't have the necessary ticket for access to health care: health insurance; and of those who do, for many it only covers them a part of the year, or they discover the condition for which they need health care is the condition their insurance company won't pay for. (3) The total cost of these systems -- even though they cover everyone and our system only covers some lucky few -- are dramatically below the cost of ours.

There are undoubtedly horrible stories of delays and malpractice that can be told by individuals in any nation's health care system -- ours included. (As a kid, with regular U.S. medical care, I often had to wait entire days beyond my scheduled appointment to see a doctor.) There are some problems in our system that don't exist in other countries; some in other countries that don't exist here. There are ways other countries' systems try to hold costs to reasonable levels (the Times story points out that dental is not covered in Canada), and ways our insurance companies do here.

But individuals' anecdotal stories aside, the bottom line remains: other countries provide health care to all as a right, as a result of which their people are healthier and live longer, and it costs them less than what our system costs for providing care to fewer individuals.

And see, below, the anonymous comment from "North Liberty" regarding the possible benefits of a properly structured multiple system (which is, in fact, a variation of what many of the "universal, single payer" systems have in reality).


The Daily Iowan has a balanced movie review of "Sicko" this morning (Paul Sorenson, "The U.S. Sick System") that tends to focus on the film (as a "movie review" should, of course) more than the public policy questions.

Wellmark Naming

The Gazette awards a Gomer to Marvin Pomerantz for his "childish" my-way-or-the-highway, I'm-taking-my-marbles fit ("Bratish Behavior," p. A4), and the Press-Citizen has another letter to the editor this morning opposing corporate naming of University colleges and buildings (Charles Laudie, "Wrong to Sell Public Education Names") -- in addition to those yesterday.

And don't miss, from "Anonymous'" comment, below, the possibilities of selling off naming righs to athletic teams: "I want Frank Perdue to have naming rights to the football team. We could be the Perdue-Iowa Chicken-Hawkeyes." That one might seriously go for a lot of money, especially with a tie-in monopoly right to sell fried chicken pieces in the stands. Only problem: When the "Perdue-Iowa Chicken-Hawkeyes" play the "Purdue Broiler-makers." You know, "which comes first, the chicken or the broiler?"

Gambling's Gomer

The Gazette awards another of its "prestigious" Gomers this morning to the gambling industry ("Side Effect," p. A4) that, along with increasing its gross revenues in Iowa is increasing the number of gambling addicts and problem gamblers seeking help -- with all the social and economic costs gambling imposes on any people who believe they can gamble their way to a state's economic development.

# # #

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Abuses: Wellmark, Insurance, Athletics, Media

July 22, 2007, 7:40, 8:00, 9:20 a.m.

Wellmark Naming, Insurance Abuses, Sicko, Grassley on Athletics Tax Abuses, Media

Wellmark Naming
(As always, the Press-Citizen's skilled graphic artist and editorial cartoonist, Bob Patton, is able to tell the story with a few strokes of his pen. This from the July 21 Press Citizen.)

Letters to the editor of Iowa's papers are now rolling in on the Wellmark naming controversy -- virtually all of them ridiculing the proposal and praising those who are resisting selling off the University's integrity.

Even the Register has turned around; having formerly given the College of Public Health faculty a "thistle" for turning down the money this morning it took some tweezers and removed that thistle and stuck it in Pomerantz instead.

Here are the Register's letters to the editor this morning, July 22:

Keith McKinley, "If they start naming colleges after corporations, what's next, the great Wells Fargo State Capitol?"

Paul J. Kaufmann, "Corporate Sponsorships Endanger Credible Research"

Stu Bassman, "No good deed goes unpunished"

Mike Burkart/Maria Houser Conzemius, "Register thistle aimed at U of I a poke in the eye of integrity"

David Brewbaker, "Wellmark could put its $15 million to better use"

Insurance Industry Abuses

The Register is doing a four-day series of stories and opinion pieces about the inadequacies, and outright abuses, from the "health-claim-denying," profit-maximizing insurance industry. Here are some editorial pieces from today (July 22, 2007):

"Help "Iowans resolve insurance headaches; State funds $300K program, with part sales pitch included"

"Questions and Answers About Long-Term-Care Insurance"

Andie Dominick (editorial), "Diagnosis: Dementia But She Was Denied Coverage"

"'It's Not Giving Us the Help We Thought We Would Get'"

"Consumer's guide to long-term-care insurance; ASSURANCE DENIED: Troubles with long-term-care insurance"

(There are more in the Press-Citizen and Gazette.


Looked in for awhile on a theater-full of folks watching "Sicko" last night. Based on their reactions, I'd say they clearly "got it." The political question, of course, is whether the sadness and laughter Michael Moore evokes in his audiences will get translated into citizen demand for the health care accorded those who live in civilized countries -- and, if so, whether it can ever be enough to overcome the millions of dollars from big pharma and the insurance industry that is currently dictating our candidates' "health care" proposals.

Grassley on Athletic Programs' Tax Cheats

Senator Grassley (Senate Finance Committee) isn't letting go of his concern regarding the propriety of funding lavish college coaches' salaries and other expenses with wealthy donors' tax deductions. Scott Dochterman, "Give and Take; College Sports Have Come to Depend on Tax-Exempt Donations; Has This Mutually Beneficial Arrangement Spun Out of Control?; Grassley Questions Whether Exemptions, Education Mix," The Gazette, July 22, 2007, p. A1 (also by Docterman, "Change in Tax Status Deemed Unlikely" and "Grassley Aims to Protect Incentives for Giving and Keep Donors Honest," p. A13).

Some numbers:

"Tax exempt donations have helped increase the University of Iowa's athletics department budget by 42 percent" from $43.5 to $61.5 million

It is now self-sustaining, and during the last two years generated a $21 million surplus; Iowa State's athletic budget jumped 31%, from $28 to $36.8 million, including $3 million in state support, hopes are it can add $5.6 million in contributions (since it had to drop swimming and baseball to help pay for a $19.5 million refurbishing of Jack Trice Stadium)

Tax exempt donations help "pay football coach Kirk Ferentz nearly $3 million annually"

Ohio State's athletic budget will exceed $100 million this year

80% of what's paid for a skybox at Kinnick is considered a charitable, tax exempt contribution

NCAA teams brought in and spent $7.8 billion in 2005 -- of which $275 million is corporate sponsorships, and $845 million is "donations and contributions"

T. Boone Pickens gave $165 million to the University of Oklahoma athletic program

Iowa spent $90 million refurbishing the Kinnick Stadium -- and for what? Six games will be played there this year. Most games run about 3-1/2 hours (and include, I'm told, a total of about 7 to 12 minutes of actual action, with multiples of that time devoted to commercials). At 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year, counting 3-1/2 hours a game, that's 21 hours of use out of 8760 hours a year -- 99.76% of the time sitting empty; 24/100ths of 1% of the time being used. (Even with a 40-hour-a-week, 50-week-a-year (with two weeks vacation) 2000-hour year it's but 1%.)

Grassley's just asking -- not declaring, just asking -- what does this multi-billion-dollar industry have to do with charitable, tax deductible contributions for "educational purposes"? Good question.

How the Media Failed Us

The media -- at least the responsible sectors thereof -- has been going through a mea culpa recently over how it failed the American people by serving as cheerleaders for the Iraq war. Here are a couple more in this morning's Register.

Rekha Basu, "Writer Calls Out Peers, President," Des Moines Register, July 22, 2007 (Helen Thomas)

Richard Doak, "Media's Failure to Challenge Case for War Stains Industry," Des Moines Register, July 22, 2007

# # #

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wellmark, Mason and "The Issue"

July 21, 2007, 11:10 a.m., 1:15 p.m.

What Wellmark Buildings Cost; President Mason's Revelation; Spotting the Issues

Your Health Insurance Dollars at Work

How much is Wellmark willing to pay to have a building on which it can hang its name? The company has already bought a number of parcels of land around Des Moines at prices ranging from $124,000 to $283,000 an acre -- a total of over $11 million for 66 acres. It's now paying architects an undisclosed sum to design buildings on each of four possible locations -- because it can't yet decide which it wants to actually use. (The other parcels will be kept as an "investment." Whaaa?! This profit-maximizing "non-profit" health-coverage-denying insurance company is investing in Des Moines real estate?) It's willing to admit the cost of this building will run at least $100 million. Kind of puts its offer to name the UI College of Public Health after itself for a mere $15 million in perspective, doesn't it? (Note to self: Go watch "Sicko" again.)

S.P. Dinnen, "Wellmark acquires more land in W.D.M.; Insurer has not decided whether to stay in downtown D.M. or move," Des Moines Register, July 21, 2007

I came upon another story, more directly related to the UI college naming controversy, that takes on significance not so much for what it reports -- by now familiar to readers of this blog -- but for where it appears. "University of Iowa Considers Naming Health College After Wellmark," July 18, 2007. Where was the story? In the online version of the Insurance Journal. I wasn't formerly aware of this publication, but intuition tells me it's probably written and read by those in the insurance business. And the remarkable thing was that those (presumably insurance industry executives and employees) who commented about the story were almost as universally aghast at the prospect of naming a health college after a health insurance company as Wellmark's most severe critics on the UI campus.

It was reminiscent of the "Optiva" naming controversy, when I discovered that there is an industry of folks who are paid big bucks to come up with "branding" names for corporations -- and that their own blogs and Web sites were almost universally critical of the UICCU's choice of the "Optiva" name (for which one of their colleagues had been very well paid).

Meanwhile, while editorially endorsing health care for kids -- something I've long advocated as what one would hope would be a politically viable start on health care for Americans -- the Register notes for the program's critics that we already have a goodly number of government health care programs (all told, covering 100 million Americans). It notes, in passing, the desirability of what most would call the "universal, single-payer" coverage that Michael Moore's film "Sicko" leaves one advocating and that Congressman Dennis Kucinich has put into draft legislation (although the Register's editorial doesn't use the phrase or mention Moore or Kucinich by name). (As Kucinich says, "I don't want every American to have health insurance, I want every American to have health care.") Editorial, "Push Ahead for Expanding Health Coverage for Children," Des Moines Register, July 20, 2007.

And see Maria Houser Conzemius, "So It IS Accept Gift or Get Fired," Open Country blog, July 18, 2007

President Sally Mason's Revelation

The Gazette ran the following brief bit in its far left column on page B1 this morning -- here in its entirety:

Incoming UI president monitors Wellmark talks

Incoming University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she will continue to monitor discussion of a possible $15 million naming gift from the Wellmark Foundation to the College of Public Health.

In a statement to reporters Friday, Mason said, "The issue of naming our colleges is a vital one that deserves a full and respectful discussion so that we can determine collectively what’s best for the University of Iowa, the College of Public Health, and the donors who are so important to our continued success."

The public health faculty initially rejected the gift to name the college for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, leading Wellmark to withdraw the offer. But faculty met again this week and voted to consider the gift.
It would be one of the first instances nationally of a college being named for a corporation.
(Why this was not picked up by the Register and Press-Citizen I don't know.) The "revelation"? The first display of something of President Mason's administrative style, to which I referred yesterday as presenting her with a dilemma. (If she weighs in with personal decisions on pending issues she looks like an authoritarian and insensitive elephant in the china shop, showing little respect for stakeholders and past customs. If she passes every issue off to others she looks wimpish or like someone's puppet.)

As I predicted she would, she's demonstrated she's perfectly capable of dealing with the dilemma. Like the response of U.S. presidents, who are "following" and "receiving regular briefings" on some issue, she is "monitoring" the situation. And what's she proposing to do about it? Wisely: "
full and respectful discussion so that we can determine collectively what’s best."

Well done. Home run first time at bat. Watch out Barry Bonds.

Spotting the Issue

Precision in the use of language is crucial in making wise decisions. A corporation has to address, and express precisely, "What business are we really in?" A research scientist knows it's often more difficult to frame the question than to find the answer. In personal life, asking impossibly vague questions such as whether one is "successful" or "popular" or "rich" is more likely to lead to demoralization than answers. Coming up with the most appropriate measures in establishing John Carver's "ends policies" or a management information reporting system is hard work. How a doctor phrases a diagnostic question to a patient may end up being literally a matter of life or death.

In law school we speak of "spotting the issue." No matter how good your legal theory may be, no matter how much of a slam dunk your winning case appears on the surface in your brief, if you fail to "spot the issue" regarding a statute of limitations that has already run you will lose not only the case but a client, your professional reputation, and in some instances your license to practice.

And so it is with what President Mason has called "the issue of naming our colleges."

How we phrase the issue will have everything to do with the answers that emerge from our "full and respectful discussion."

For example, is it the "naming" or is it the money?

Recently the Press-Citizen editorialized that while hanging a corporate name on the UI College of Public Health would be unacceptable, a $15 million genuine "gift" from Wellmark would be OK. Today it acknowledges, as I have argued earlier in this blog, that "The Wellmark gift now should not be accepted under any circumstances . . .." Editorial, "University Should Focus on Its Future," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 21, 2007, p. A16. (This lengthy, historical, factual, helpful and well-written editorial is, not incidentally, well worth reading -- as is Jeff Charis-Carlson's beautiful and brilliant "Bringing Poems from Guantanamo to Iowa.")

As I wrote at the time, it seems to me that the matter of naming -- as offensive as it may be to some -- is but a subsidiary issue to the acceptance of the money. It is the acceptance of corporate money that creates the actual, or appearance of, conflict of interest. This is true whether it is an anonymous gift with no strings, results in the company name being incorporated in the name of the institution or building, or the gift becomes the subject of a year-long national TV advertising campaign by the donor. The naming simply advertises one's embarrassment, one's willingness to trade ethical purity for dollars. What is being advertised, the cause of that embarrassment, is the acceptance of the money.

Consider the matter of bribes to elected officials -- called "campaign contributions." Some critics have proposed requiring candidates to wear corporate logos on their suits, revealing and advertising the sources of their campaign funding, just as NASCAR drivers do with their suits and on their cars. In this context as well, the problem is not with the candidate's wearing -- or not -- the corporate logo, the problem comes from he or she having accepted the money.

Or is the most useful issue more broadly stated?

Matters of major university policy are often triggered by specific cases or events -- campus security by Virginia Tech, or the sale of college names by the Wellmark naming controversy. While that makes one kind of public relations sense (you appear to be "doing something" after an event in the media, and thus in the public consciousness), it is as they say, "one hell of a way to run a railroad."

One of the consequences of a rational governance system (which in my view the Regents and university administrators do not yet have in place) is that such obvious policy issues as campus security and corporate ties are identified and time is invested in addressing them in advance, proactively, rather than wasting time in the fruitless task of locking all the barn doors while watching the rear end of a herd of horses fading into a dust cloud in the distance.

What is the most appropriate and constructive way of phrasing the issue -- or at least, for starters, what are our options?

Most narrowly, it is what to do about the Wellmark money-for-naming-rights offer, if it is still available. Is "The Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield College of Public Health" unacceptable, but "The Wellmark College of Public Health" is OK?

[Speaking of which, when President Mason, Iowa's Regents and other higher education stakeholders get to figuring out what they want their "marketplace" naming policy to be I hope they'll get some data and advice from advertising agency executives.

Whether or not to sell one's soul to the Devil is a a question of one's own sense of ethics, morality and other values. Having decided to put them on eBay, however; once you have decided that, to borrow from George Bernard Shaw, "We have already ascertained what you are, madam," and with the moral issues behind you, it is time to do some hard driving "haggling over price" to get the greatest possible amount of money for the University of Iowa -- or, if that seems offensively extreme, at least a fair market price.

Advertising -- which is what college and building naming really is -- is normally sold by unit time. How many days does your classified ad run? How many commercials over what period of time are you buying? How many weeks or months do you have claim to that billboard space for your message?

A 30-second TV commercial during the Superbowl game costs as much as $1 to 2 million dollars. It lasts 30 seconds. It doesn't flash on your screen every time you turn on your TV set for the rest of your life. After 30 seconds it's gone, forever, poof.

Naming a building for -- how long? The life of he building? The life of the building plus its replacement? -- should be some multiple of what a corporation would pay to hang its ad on the building for a day, a month, or a year. It should, at a minimum, reflect going rates for billboards -- multiplied by the good will value of associating its name with a prestigious university rather than just a billboard advertising firm -- especially when it is the naming of colleges that is being sold.

Moreover, it's not just a billboard. It's a media mention every time the college, or building, is in the news -- graduations, announcements of new faculty appointments, receipt of grants, publications, the presentation of lectures, discoveries from research, conferences held, and so forth. It's on every piece of promotional literature, every letter on college stationery, every degree hanging on an alum's wall. Each of these should also be figured into the price -- because they all have a marketplace value.]
More generally, what should be our college corporate naming policies generally -- Wellmark aside? Beyond that, what about the corporate naming of other things -- buildings, rooms, "chairs" for professors -- or in an auditorium?

Naming, aside, what about the acceptance of corporate funding generally? To the extent there is a concern about a conflict of interest, or the possibility of a perception that research results might be manipulated to favor a donor, is that only a problem when there is a relationship between the donor and the recipient (as with a Wellmark genuine gift to a College of Public Health -- say, without naming rights), or would it be a problem even if there was no such direct relationship so long as there was a university unit somewhere that was related to the donor (say, a Wellmark gift to the College of Engineering -- or such a gift in exchange for naming it "The Wellmark College of Engineering") but no statistically significant relationship between the donor and the recipient university unit?

What about a gift from a corporation with which the University does business, and is therefore in a quasi-adversarial relationship in negotiating payments for goods or services -- such as Wellmark?

What about the granting of monopoly rights to a corporation to the exclusion of its competitors -- such as the UI contract with Coca Cola -- or profiting from relationships with any corporation pushing products to UI students that are not necessarily in their best interest (e.g., foods contributing to obesity, credit cards with onerous terms or student loans providing kick-backs to the University)?

What about providing a service to a given corporation which, while it has some slight societal benefit and research/academic elements, primarily benefits a single corporation's bottom line -- such as clinical trials of copycat pharmaceutical products?

More generally, should our corporate relations policies include an evaluation of the ethics and morality of the firm (and if so by whose standards)? Should the law school refuse to permit law firms to interview in the law school once they have had a given number of sexual harassment claims, or disbarment of partners? Would it be OK to name the College of Public Health the "Wellmark Foundation College of Public Health" but not OK to name the University the "Hustler Magazine Foundation University"? Would it be somehow better to contract with fruit and vegetable juice vending machine companies than sugared soft drink companies? Should the UI's endowment fund investments take into account various measures of corporations' "social responsibility"? Ditto for purchase of clothing with various UI logos? Is there a decisional distinction between accepting advertising from a gambling casino (over the protests of the NCAA) and, say, Adventureland?

Sure, we want to provide community service, we need to interact with and provide measurable benefits to the people of Iowa, but do we want to draw a distinction between that which benefits people generally and that which primarily benefits "economic growth" by increasing the profits of a given company?

Does the college make a difference? For example, are there corporate relationships that would be appropriate for the College of Business that would be inappropriate for the English Department -- or do the ethical issues actually cut the other way? Ditto for, say, the College of Law providing the mandated Continuing Legal Education programs for Iowa's lawyers -- or any UI college providing a training program in response to a given corporation's expressed need for future employees with corporation-specific knowledge and skills (as distinguished from, for example, just more "science and math").

Do we want to continue to operate a "non-commercial" radio station with funding (and program interruptions) from commercials? (After all, the call letters "WSUI" were acquired by the University in the early 1920s when they stood for what was then the "State University of Iowa," or "SUI.")

Maybe we don't want to get into all of these related issues. But we might at least want to consider, before rejecting the idea out of hand, the possible benefits of doing so.

Because the underlying, fundamental issue -- one that is going to continue to arise in hundreds of contexts over the years ahead -- is the extent to which we either want to continue to encourage or to resist, the rapid transition from an academy pursuing knowledge to one pursuing wealth, from a focus on "we" to "me," from a "Great Society" of social programs for all to a privatized and corporatized profit-maximizing marketplace primarily benefiting the wealthy few, from the values of education and culture to those of conspicuous consumption and hedonism, from a nation that mixes corporatized services with socialized schools, libraries, parks, police, fire protection and armies to one in which all is for-profit and for sale, from one in which many decisions are still made on Main Street to one in which all decisions are made on Wall Street.

That is the "full and respectful discussion" I think we first need. Out of that discussion the policies will flow with relative ease -- whatever our preferences may end up dictating they should be.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Regents Confront Bully, Guns on Campus

July 20, 2007, 6:00, 7:40, 8:10 a.m.

Regents Address Bullies, Corporatization Policies, Guns on Campus;
Mason's Dilemma

The Campus Bully -- and Why Wellmark by Any Other Name Would Smell the Same

Brian Morelli, "Regent Accuses Donor of Bullying; Says It Was Improper for Pomerantz to Call for Firing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 20, 2007, p. A1

Erin Jordan, "Fethke Key to Rebound of Wellmark Naming Idea," Des Moines Register, July 20, 2007

Clara Hogan, "Regent Eyes Naming Policy," The Daily Iowan, July 20, 2007

Editorial, "UI could avoid future Wellmark controversies by standardizing rules on corporate donations," The Daily Iowan, July 20, 2007

Yesterday I wrote ("And the beating goes on") regarding the impropriety, and self-defeating quality, of Pomerantz' call for Dean Merchant's resignation. Today Brian Morelli reports the comparable response of the Regents to Pomerantz' behavior:

President Pro Tem David Miles: "I really think it is an improper attempt to dictate internal personal [personnel?] decisions at the regents institutions. He is attempting to bully our incoming president by threatening the loss of significant financial support if his demands are not met quickly. I trust the board will reject this interference. President Mason has my full support in the independent exercise of her authority as a Board of Regents appointee to manage the university and lead it forward. I think it is perfectly appropriate for Pomerantz to disagree vigorously. I think it is inappropriate to step across the line and demand the president fire the dean. Indeed, by its letter, the current policy would allow naming of a college after a commercial product. However, at least from what I have been able to find, it appears that naming a college after a corporate donor would be a first in higher education."

Regent Bonnie Campbell: "Terminating someone's employment is a very serious matter, and I would approach that skeptically. [Pomerantz] can say whatever he wants; we have a First Amendment. Obviously, it's a strong sentiment, but I don't know on what basis [Merchant] would be terminated."

Regent Bob Downer: "I am not aware of any basis at this point for calling for Dean Merchant's resignation. [Pomerantz] has earned the right to make whatever comment he chooses to make. Marvin Pomerantz is a great Iowan. No one I know has done more for education at all levels than Marvin Pomerantz."
I've written at length in prior blog entries about my view of the naming issue, and won't repeat that here -- except to note that the primary problem lies in taking the money, whatever name is or is not adopted for the college or put on the building, when there are inherent conflicts between the source and the recipient. (Given the ongoing -- and largely adversarial -- business relationships between the University and Wellmark that raises some question as to the propriety of the University accepting substantial grants from Wellmark for any purpose.)

Now that the movie "Sicko" is dramatizing the question of the propriety of insurance company profiteering from the delivery -- or, rather, the withholding -- of health care there is a special irony, as well as an offensive conflict of interest, in a College of Public Health accepting money (let alone naming itself after) a health insurance company at the height of the national debate over the future of Americans' health care and the negative impact of so-called "health" insurance companies.

"Sicko" -- Today's the Day! Today's the Day!

And speaking of "Sicko," yes, today's the day it -- at long last -- finally opens in Iowa City at the Sycamore Mall theater. Rachel Gallegos, "Group to Greet 'Sicko' With Pledge," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 20, 2007, p. A1. If you go today, or this weekend, you'll have a lottery player's chance to win a visit -- at Michael Moore's expense -- to a country that provides free health care to all its citizens. The film also ties in with the SEIU's targeting of Iowa, and its presidential candidate visitors, for health care public policy. Representatives will be present at today's showings. Do see it if you haven't yet -- and then re-think the Wellmark naming issues.

Campus Police: "Believed to be Armed and Dangerous!"

Rod Boshart, "Campus Safety Changes Urged; Review Done in Wake of Virginia Tech Calls for Sirens, Cell Phone Messaging," The Gazette, July 20, 2007, p. A1.

Dan Piller, "Campus firearms issue goes to regents; Gov. Culver won't take a position on police having guns at universities," Des Moines Register, July 20, 2007.

No one wants to touch this one. The Governor says its for the Regents. The Regents say they'll respond to the universities presidents' recommendations.

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

(1) My memory is that the statistics indicate that those who keep a handgun in the house for "protection" are 16 times more likely to have it used in killing or wounding a member of the family or close friend than against a criminal. A similar phenomenon exists with armed campus police. They are much less likely to make tragic mistakes, much less likely to have their guns taken by criminals and then turned on them or other innocents, if they don't have weapons.

(2) Do we want University SWAT teams as well? Units of the National Guard housed on campus -- "just in case?" Hazmat crews? A university fire department? It's bad enough we have our own university bus system in a small community with some six or seven public transportation systems. My point? The Iowa City police headquarters is a couple blocks from the main campus along with one of the City's fire departments. The Johnson County Sheriff's headquarters a couple blocks in another direction. There are lots of resources to be coordinated and drawn upon -- including trained, armed police -- under a variety of foreseeable, and unforeseen, circumstances. We don't need to duplicate them all.

(3) A University loses something the more its campus communicates -- with metal detectors, video surveillance cameras, and armed police -- that everyone is so much at risk of physical harm that these 1984 measures are necessary. Are there risks in fact? Darn right. Although individuals' common sense (such as not wandering around dark streets, dead drunk, at 2:00 a.m.) can do a lot to minimize them. But it's hard to predict, let alone prevent, what those risks will be. Handguns are of little use in providing protection from tornadoes. To the maximum extent prudently possible, the more freedom of movement -- and absence of focus on "security," "terrorist threat levels," and military/police/weapons solutions to society's problems -- the better it is for a community of learning and research.

Regents: Guns, Naming and Governance

Diane Heldt, "Regents to Discuss Naming Rights Policy," The Gazette, July 20, 2007, p. B3.

Regents Miles and Downer are absolutely right to suggest -- as I proposed in a blog entry some time ago -- that the College of Public Health naming controversy needs to become part of an overall policy rather than treated as a single case to be resolved.

Ditto for guns on camps.

The point is, it all goes back to the Regents' lack of a meaningful, integrated, rational theory of governance. Without that they are going to continue to, at best, continue to only address policy issues after the fact as individual cases blow up like IED's along an Iraq road, and at worst not even see them as policy issues, micromanaging that which makes its way into the media and failing to micromanage that which does not.

As John Carver says, most advice for boards only tells them how to do the wrong things better. But they're still doing the wrong things. Figuring out what the right things are is this new Board of Regents' priority number one, in my humble opinion.

See, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007, and Nicholas Johnson, "Regents, Governance, PR Firms, Strategic Planning, Presidential Selection, and June 13" in "UI Held Hostage Day 487 - Governance Regents Number One Priority," May 23, 2007.

President Sally Mason's Dilemma

Ashton Shurson, "Diversity Tops Mason's List," The Daily Iowan, July 19, 2007

If Sally Mason were not a skilled street fighter she never would have become Provost, and a finalist for President, at Purdue -- or selected as the next president for the University of Iowa. So I have no doubt she's going to be able to handle herself just fine once she gets here.

But she is walking into some real challenges at a time when, whatever may be said about the eyes of Texas, the eyes of Iowans are going to be on her every move.

So far as I know, Fethke has yet to express himself on the UI athletic program's ties to the gambling industry (in the form of various partnerships with the Riverside Gambling Casino) over the protests of the NCAA and many on campus. So she'll find that one on her otherwise cleaned out desk when she arrives.

The Governor and Regents are handing her the hot potato -- or gun barrel -- regarding arming the campus police.

The organizational structure of the UIHC and College of Medicine was radically altered ten days before her arrival -- a near billion-dollar-a-year component of the University for which she's ultimately responsible.

Then there's the Wellmark naming controversy -- which Pomerantz wants resolved before she arrives, and for which the Regents and faculty want more time. She's going to have to reassure Jim Merchant that he's not going to have to retire before his previously scheduled retirement next year (or not), and see if it is possible to start the UI relationship with Pomerantz all over again.
But the substance of those issues (and many, many more) is the least of her problem.

The great dilemma will be how best to control and present herself in the first few weeks. There are lots of ways of avoiding taking a stand on issues. She can say she looks to Robillard to run the hospital and College of Medicine and Barta to make decisions about gambling industry partnerships. She can set up committees or task forces to study guns on campus or other issues, and then wait for the issue to go away -- or, when necessary, say she's simply adopting the proposals of those groups. She can say she needs more time to study an issue.

But there's a hazard in over-using those techniques. Ultimately they can leave her open to a perception that she is being weak and not in charge. On the other hand, if she immediately starts proposing new policies, changing directions and making decisions that are clearly hers, for which she takes responsibility, there's a risk that she may get some of them wrong (for want of sufficient networking and input), or be criticized for being too authoritarian and going it alone.

She's undoubtedly already figured this out -- and more. And there's every reason to believe she has the experience, skill and charm to pull it off. But it is going to be interesting to watch.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Self-Defeating Hostility Toward Third Parties

July 19, 2007, 6:30, 7:25, 9:30 a.m.

[Below: Third Parties; Wellmark/Pomerantz; UI Grants; Road to Nowhere]

Opposition to Third Parties and Electoral Reforms

The Third Party “Threat”

While the bickering regarding Wellmark's effort to buy a University of Iowa college continues (see links below), the biggest news this morning involves a baby step away from Iowa's reputation as one of the most third-party-hostile states in the nation. Jason Clayworth, "Iowa Voter Registration Forms to Include Third Party Groups," Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007. Editorial, "Letting Us Register for Small Parties Good for Democracy," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 19, 2007, p. A9. The State had to be sued to finally agree to do the decent thing, but at least the case is now behind us.

Professions of support for "democracy" to the contrary notwithstanding, the two major parties have historically opposed voting -- even for their own candidates -- especially by the poor.

True democracy has almost always been resisted by those in power. Most of those said to be the fathers of our democratic system, those who drafted the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, agreed with John Jay that, “Those who own the country, should run it.”

It is a view still widely held today by those in power.

Recall that at the beginning of our nation women could not vote. African-Americans could not vote. White males who did not own land could not vote. And no one aged 18, 19 or 20 could vote.

When I was going to college in the South in the 1950s voters were taxed. We had to pay to go to the polls. It was called a “poll tax.” Many community and business leaders profited politically and economically by discouraging the poor and working poor from voting.

None of the expansions of the franchise was freely given. Each had to be fought for with grassroots people’s movements – from marching in the streets to, in one case, a civil war. For one description of the price paid by some of the women requesting women's right to vote, see Connie, Schultz, "A Short History Lesson on the Privilege of Voting; And You Think It's a Pain to Vote," Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 19, 2004.

But ultimately these expansions of our democracy were won. We’ve yet to go so far as Australia and other countries to encourage voting by taxing those who don’t vote, but at least we no longer tax those who do.

As a result of this expanding electorate, today’s establishment has to be much more inventive in devising ways of holding on to power, including coming up with innovative ways of discouraging the poor from voting.

There isn’t much one can say in favor of the poll tax except for its almost total absence of hypocrisy. It made clear upon its face that its purpose was to significantly discourage, if not prevent, voting by those for whom the expenditure of a dollar or two was a matter calling for some considerable deliberation. Since poverty was disproportionately the lot of southern African-Americans the racist motives of poll tax enthusiasts was also not hidden from view.

Since the repeal of the poll tax, “those who own the country,” to quote John Jay once again, have become somewhat less honest in their efforts to limit the franchise to themselves. They simply oppose any and all proposals that might make it easier for the poor and working class to register and vote: leaving the polls open for 24 hours, in fact any effort to extend the hours for voting; a guaranteed right of leave with pay for purposes of voting, or declaring election day a national holiday; making it possible for any citizen to register new voters and help them to vote absentee; more clerks for shorter voter registration lines; early voting at satellite polls in supermarkets and malls; and registration where drivers licenses are issued (“motor voting”).

Discouraging voters from participating in the affairs of the two major parties is one thing. But it is the prevention of the rise of third parties that is an even more serious matter.

As the 19th Century New York City political Boss William Tweed is credited with having said, “I don’t care who does the electing just so long as I do the nominating.”

So long as there are only two political parties those who control those parties’ purse strings can maintain their control of the nation by continuing to do the nominating.

The opposition to third parties by “those who own the country” is understandable. For it is third parties that have brought the American people most of the political and social progress we enjoy today – much of which has come at the expense of the wealthy. That kind of progress was fought at every turn by those controlling the two major parties, often with the aid of local police and national guard in ways that left demonstrators dead, injured and bleeding.

Ultimately one or the other of the two parties would adopt the proposal of a third party as its own, but only at the eleventh hour when its failure to do so would have seriously harmed the party’s political power and influence.

Third parties are a proud tradition in America -- and, ironically, especially in Iowa's early history.

After the Civil War the Democratic Party came to be controlled by big business and the wealthy. It didn't do much for poor farmers. Disenchanted Democrats organized the People's Party.

By 1912 many Republicans were disgusted with big business control of their party. Those dissidents formed the Progressive Party.

James B. Weaver of Iowa was a third party nominee for president in 1892.

It turns out that most of the progress in this country has been opposed by both of the major parties. It has come about only when third parties have pushed the agenda and picked up enough popular support that they could no longer be ignored.

That's how we got regulation of banks and railroads, a progressive income tax, the eight-hour workday, direct popular election of U.S. senators, workers' compensation, and limitations on child labor. Yes, it is third parties we must thank for the women’s right to vote, antitrust controls over the worst of corporate abuses, the minimum wage, the fact that we’re not all working weekends, safety in the workplace, workers’ right to organize and bargain with employers, safe foods and medicines, social security, civil rights – the list goes on. (See, e.g., the outline notes of Professor Donald R. Shaffer, University of Northern Colorado.)

So you can see why “those who own the country,” and today control both major political parties, would want to do all they can to prevent this kind of agitation and progress.

Opposition to Third Party Electoral Reforms

Both parties, and those who fund them, oppose at every turn any and all reforms that would permit more third party participation. The so-called Presidential Debates Commission is in fact an exclusive club for Democrats and Republicans, who have for the most part successfully prevented the American people from ever seeing third party alternatives to their nominees. They even oppose proposals that would eliminate the threat to them of what they persist in calling “spoilers.”

(Both parties, with their sense of entitlement to exclude all others from the political process, have the chutzpah to characterize anyone with the nerve to think they can also run for public office -- without the major parties’ permission -- as a “spoiler.”)

“Fusion,” “proportional representation,” and “instant runoff” are just some of those proposals for electoral reform.

Fusion is a system that permits a third party to endorse, as its candidate, the nominee of another party, usually one of the two major parties. New York has this system. Without it President Reagan would not have beaten Jimmy Carter in New York. Carter, as a Democrat, had more votes than Reagan got as a Republican. So how did Reagan carry the state? The Conservative Party in New York had also nominated Reagan. And the votes of the Conservative Party members, when added to the votes of the Republicans, gave Reagan New York.

(Why would a third party want to do this? Because in some states in order to retain legal status as a “party,” with a right to appear on election ballots, it is necessary to receive a certain number, or percentage, of votes in the last election. (This is what the morning news reports has been changed in Iowa. Of course it took a long-dragged-out lawsuit against the State of Iowa by the ACLU to get it -- little as it is.) By nominating the major party candidate that comes closest to the positions of the third party’s members it can attract more votes for “its” candidate than by nominating an (often unknown) member of their own party.)

Proportional representation can take many forms in this country and around the world. But, as the name suggests, it gets rid of the “winner takes all” system. It insures that some proportion of, say, the members of a legislative body will represent minority parties.

With instant runoff the Democrats would have carried Florida in 2000.

Assume it is true, as diehard Democrats contend, that all of Ralph Nader’s voters would have, but for his candidacy, voted for Al Gore. Under the present system they had to choose. Given only one choice, their choice was Nader. With instant runoff they could have voted for both; Ralph Nader as their first choice, and Al Gore as their second choice. When their first choice didn’t win their Nader votes would have been recalculated, using their second choice votes. Al Gore would have won.

For more on democratic, innovative, alternative voting systems see, e.g., the resources of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

(In fact, Florida exit polls indicated that 25% of Nader’s supporters were Republicans, and 37% said that, but for his being on the ballot they wouldn’t have voted at all. Over 250,000 Florida Democrats voted for Bush, multiples more than the 37,000 Democrats (38% of 97,000 total Nader votes) who voted for Nader. Had the corporate-oriented Democratic Leadership Council and its candidate appealed to, and been able to hold, its own party members Gore would have won in a walk. These numbers square with CNN’s exit polling that Nader’s voters included 2% of those registered as Democrats, 1% of those registered as Republicans, and 6% of those designating themselves as independents. But I don't rely on these numbers for a description of "instant runoff" because taking the Democrats false assertions as fact makes a stronger case for the procedure. Whichever numbers are used, there is simply no rational reason for the Democratic party to fight these third party proposals since, often as not, they would enable the Party to win elections it would otherwise lose. Notwithstanding that reality, it opposes them anyway -- on principle, I guess.)

So what’s a voter to do? One of the things you can do is to work for innovative, more democratic, voting systems that increase the choices of voters, enable third parties, and often as not help the major parties as well.

Iowa has now -- though it had to be sued to do it -- taken one small baby step in that direction. Hopefully, it is but the beginning of a walk across the state to a third-party-friendly, innovative, approach to politics and elections of which all Iowans could be proud.

# # #

"And the beating goes on . . ."

Erin Jordan, "Oust Dean for Rejection of Gift Pomerantz Says,"
Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007.

It's sad.

Marvin Pomerantz, a former President of the Iowa Board of Regents, influential businessman, and exceedingly generous benefactor of the University of Iowa as well as many other Iowa institutions, is continuing to behave in ways that are eroding the good name he has built up over the years.

* He was a major player in the idea of naming the UI College of Public Health the "Blue Cross Blue Shield Wellmark College of Public Health" in exchange for a take-it-or-leave-it purchase price of $15 million. (Naming colleges for corporations is virtually unprecedented at American universities, and certainly at the University of Iowa.)

* The "wink-and-nod" procedure in which he was involved was so lacking in transparency and participation by the College's -- and University's and Regents' and Iowa's -- stakeholders as to produce a lengthy analysis of its impropriety by the Governor's chief lawyer.

* When the College's faculty wished to discuss alternatives -- even some that would have involved including "Wellmark" in the College's name -- Pomerantz (and Wellmark CEO Forsyth) in a revealing display of petulance and sense of entitlement said "our way or the highway" and insisted the "gift" was withdrawn.

* When negotiations seemed to open up the possibility of reconsideration after the arrival of the new UI President, Sally Mason, some 10 days from now on August 1, Pomerantz said the University couldn't have that much time. As Erin Jordan reports this morning, "Pomerantz said the gift offer may expire before the semester begins. 'I don't think it will be out there until the fall,' he said Wednesday." (I believe he earlier insisted it should be resolved before President Mason arrives.)
Now his most recent petulant outburst involves a series of ad hominem attacks on the College's Dean Jim Merchant:

"We need to pay him off and get him out of there," Pomerantz said of Jim Merchant, . . ..

"I think the new president will take care of the dean. He needs to go," Pomerantz said Wednesday.

. . .

"He's saying all kinds of crazy things," Pomerantz said Wednesday "It simply isn't true."
Not only is Pomerantz' behavior unseemly and unbecoming someone of his stature, in this case he's really picked the wrong guy for an ad hominem attack. Erin Jordan's story continues,
Faculty members said his record as dean of the fledgling college speaks for itself.

"In a few short years, he's taken a department in the College of Medicine and made it into a college," said Charles Lynch, a U of I epidemiology professor and director of the State Health Registry of Iowa. "He's gotten full accreditation, and he's increased the number of faculty."

The College of Public Health's faculty, staff and graduate students generated $39.7 million in grants and contracts in the fiscal year that ended June 30, which is about 10 percent of the U of I's total $382.2 million in external funding.

John Finnegan Jr., dean of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, said Pomerantz's comments about Merchant are "over the top."

"Mr. Pomerantz can disagree with Dr. Merchant all he wants, but trashing Dean Merchant is just ridiculous," Finnegan said Wednesday.

Merchant "is one of the most respected deans of the 40 schools of public health in this country."
Moreover, I wasn't there but based on my past experiences with Jim Merchant it would be my guess that, ironically, he was probably one of the coolest heads caught in the middle of all this, trying to work out something to Pomerantz' satisfaction.

For Marvin Pomerantz' own sake -- not to mention that of the University -- someone close enough to him to "speak truth to power" should let him know the harm he is doing to himself.

# # #

Meanwhile . . .

Erin Jordan, "Grants to U of I, UNI increase from 2006; The USDA's withdrawal of several grant proposals from bills hurt Iowa State," Des Moines Register, July 19, 2007.

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Iowa's "Road to Nowhere"

In an effort to outdo the State of Alaska -- which boasts its "bridge to nowhere" -- the Iowa Transportation Commission has set aside $3 million for an Iowa "road to nowhere" -- namely the indoor rain forest that doesn't exist, in Pella or anywhere else.

So Iowans will be able to drive there, even though "there is no there there" at the nonexistent "Earthpark." (Don't you miss State29? I do. Try to imagine what he would have done with this one.)

Darwin Danielson, "DOT Allocates Money for Roads to 'Earthpark,'"
Radio Iowa, July 18, 2007.

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