Monday, April 25, 2011

Brother, Can You Spare a TIF?

April 25, 2011, 6:30 a.m.

[This morning's [April 25] blog entry is a reproduction of my op ed column in this morning's Press-Citizen, plus the paper's editorial endorsing the TIF, some other related material, commentary and links. On May 6, Bob Elliott's Press-Citizen op ed column and my response were added at the bottom of this blog entry, along with the paper's May 3 story about the Council's approval of the TIF, and my online comment.

After this op ed column was written, submitted, and published I happened to read the comments entered by Press-Citizen readers to the online version of the paper's story announcing this TIF. What is noteworthy is not only the number of comments, and near-unanimous opposition they reveal, but the consistency between what they presented and what I came up with in trying to think through these issues. It's always reassuring to see one's initial, uninformed, instinctive analysis confirmed by the arguments of others, whether experts in a field or ordinary citizens like oneself. If you'd like to examine the almost-unanimous opposition to this TIF by dozens of Iowa City Press-Citizen readers, see "Readers TIF Comments".

If you're too young to catch the reference in the blog headline ("Brother, Can You Spare a TIF?") -- that is to say, if you're under the age of 70 or so -- see the lyrics for "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," a song from the depths of the Depression, written in 1931.]


TIF Helps the Rich Get Richer
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
April 25, 2011, p. A7

Public officials love to transfer taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

It costs the politicians nothing. It's a way to thank campaign contributors. The gifts are hidden in earmarks or tax breaks. If they come to light, they can be characterized as "jobs programs" rather than welfare for the wealthy.

The practice is not limited to Washington. In Washington, the billions of dollars soon total trillions. In Iowa, the thousands of dollars only total millions.

In Iowa City, we call them TIFs. Another one is about to cost local taxpayers $250,000. Mark Moen wants to transform Vito's restaurant into offices. "Leaders Defend Ped Mall Project," April 19, 2011 [reproduced at the bottom of this blog entry].

Backers offer fancy math to convince taxpayers this is a good deal. But if they've persuaded you, you're just lucky you never got an offer from Bernie Madoff.

Mark Moen is an Iowa City asset, an exceptional businessman with a social conscience and creative vision. Matt Hayek is the brightest, ablest mayor of any city in Iowa; City Manager Tom Markus a lucky find. Nor am I alleging campaign contributions produced this TIF.

I just don't share their economic ideology.

Capitalism excels at what it does best. It doesn't do well with taxpayers' dollars. What governments do well are among our best bargains, such as police, parks, public schools, libraries and roads. But government has a lousy record when picking businesses.

Corporatism (technically fascism) intertwines the worst features of both government and business with predictable results -- whether in Iowa City or Washington. TIFs, like corporate subsidies, are an example. "Tax break" is just another form of subsidy. When GE earns $14 billion, pays no tax, and gets $3.2 billion from the IRS, our taxes go up -- as they will for this TIF.

Capitalism offers the possibility of great financial rewards -- along with risks of losses, even bankruptcy. Pure capitalism's accomplishments have been impressive. Letting it fatten into fascism at the public trough only weakens its inherent strength.

Capitalists are eager for investments backed by business plans documenting cash flow and high returns. There's no shortage of money for those projects. They don't need taxpayers' money. The money comes from the entrepreneur, her family and friends, other investors or stockholders, bank loan officers, and venture capitalists.

In fact, if those sources aren't adequate, if this TIF project will fail without a mere $250,000 from taxpayers, that's a good sign it's not a wise investment. And if it doesn't make sense for capitalists it darn sure doesn't make sense for taxpayers.

Moreover, "build it and they will come" only works in the movies, as the UI's Laser Center demonstrated. Vito's may require some work. Might it make more sense to lock in the occupant before, rather than after, major remodeling the occupant may want to change?

The point is, questions like that are for investors to answer. It's their expertise, and money, that needs to be invested. Not mine, and not that of city administrators.
__________
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains the website www.nicholasjohnson.org.

# # #

You hadn't caught that bit of news about GE's "tax burden"? Here's Jon Stewart's explanation on March 28, from a series called "I Give Up":

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Give Up - Pay Anything...
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook


# # #

The Press-Citizen ran the following editorial this morning on the same page as the op ed column. In fairness, its argument favoring the TIF is set forth in full, followed by some comments.

Vito's Renovation Good Investment of City Money
Editorial
Iowa City Press-Citizen
April 25, 2011, p. A7

There is much to like in Marc Moen's proposal to renovate the building at 118 E. College St. and transform the former site of Vito's, which closed earlier this year, from a big-box bar into retail and "class A" office spaces.

We can understand why the city's Economic Development Committee voted unanimously last week to have the city chip in $250,000 through tax increment financing toward the $1 million renovation. (The proposal will come before the full Iowa City Council on May 3.)

As an Editorial Board, we've never viewed TIFs as the automatic four-letter word of economic development. We've always asserted that TIFs can be a good tool when used effectively -- as with the improvements to the Sycamore Mall, the former Plamor Lanes and Moen's own Plaza Towers.

And like those projects, Moen's current proposal is tied to a larger vision for revitalizing a neighborhood and providing a "substantial renovation" to otherwise undesirable or underused property.

"We would like to see some of the large bar spaces converted to retail and offices. We think it is better for downtown," said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City director of planning and community development. "The bottom line is, the only tool the state allows us to foster economic development is tax increment financing, and we feel in Iowa City we use it responsibly."

The question is whether the proposal passes what should be the first question for determining whether a project deserved a TIF: "Can the project succeed without public financing?"

Although the project is far more likely with the use of public money, some city residents have a hard time imagining that the city's contribution is absolutely essential for a project by someone, such as Moen, who already owns a large portion of downtown and near-downtown property. (Moen, for example, owns the building at 123 N. Linn St. where the Press-Citizen rents its office space.)

Yet Moen says the proposed building use is riskier than if he were just to rent to another bar or renovate for apartments. And because the project has "higher risk, higher cost and lower reward," banks are less willing to provide funding.

We've opined repeatedly that the decision on whether to grant a TIF needs to be based on much more than a bottom-line explanation on how it offers a win-win arrangement for both the city and the business. Otherwise the city risks granting businesses massive tax breaks for doing simply what their corporate officers and the current market would have them do anyway.

But in this case, we think the city is right to invest in a downtown project of this nature.

Even if a TIF is approved, Moen will continue to pay property taxes on the building's current assessment. City documents say the planned renovations are estimated to bring in $31,250 more in property tax revenue per year than the building currently does. Under the proposal, the financing would take eight years to repay -- adding up to the $250,000.

We don't want the city to fork over public cash every time someone shows there's a little profit to be made. But we do want the city to invest public money in projects, such as this one, that enhance the public good.
__________

My commentary:

Although my column and the editorial reach opposite conclusions, I don't find much in the editorial that challenges my analysis.

Although I say these decisions should be left to investors and the marketplace, my instinct is to think that the Editorial Board, Mark Moen, and Jeff Davidson are correct to say that, as Davidson is quoted as saying, "We think it [bar spaces converted to retail and offices] is better for downtown."

But even if they, and my instinct, are correct, that's irrelevant to the issue. The issue is whether taxpayers should be getting into bed with the investor and helping to fund this single project. They say, yes; I say, no. I offer a neutral principle for making such decisions; they do not.

And that I also find troubling.

The Editorial Board's decision making standard for what is a worthy, or unworthy, TIF appears to be in its concluding two lines: "We don't want the city to fork over public cash every time someone shows there's a little profit to be made. But we do want the city to invest public money in projects, such as this one, that enhance the public good."

Has there ever been a politician who would acknowledge that she is encouraging the expenditure of taxpayers' money for projects that clearly do not "enhance the public good"? I doubt it.

Presumably, a project that resonates with the public -- as measured by its profit -- "enhances the public good," at least as measured by the marketplace. But (a) that only supports my point that these judgment calls can be better made by investors (using their own money) than by public officials (with no skin in the game, just passing out taxpayers' money), given government's abysmal record in making these decisions. (b) Those conclusions can only be arrived at after the project's success, not before it is undertaken. (c) With both lack of data in advance, and such a spongy standard for decision, TIF decisions are open to the public suspicion of favoritism, irrationality, and inconsistency. (d) In addition, such an approach is unfair to those with equally worthy projects that might "enhance the public good" that are not chosen -- or worse, now have to compete, with their own money, against a competitor who has been favored by the good old boys who make up the powers that be.

# # #

For the almost-unanimous opposition to this TIF by dozens of Iowa City Press-Citizen readers, see "Readers TIF Comments" entered in the online version of this article.


B.A. Morelli, "Leaders defend ped mall project,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 19, 2011:

Iowa City leaders say using public money to help repurpose a former bar into retail and office spaces is a worthy investment.

The city plans to chip in $250,000 through tax increment financing toward an estimated $1 million conversion of the former Vito's building into a site for a national retail franchise on the first floor and one or more "class A" office units on the second floor.

"We would like to see some of the large bar spaces converted to retail and offices. We think it is better for downtown," said Jeff Davidson, Iowa City director of planning and community development. "The bottom line is, the only tool the state allows us to foster economic development is tax increment financing, and we feel in Iowa City we use it responsibly."

An economic development committee endorsed the project with a 3-0 vote on Tuesday, and the project will come before City Council on May 3.

On Friday, downtown developer Marc Moen closed a $1 million deal to buy the building at 118 E. College St. It housed Vito's until it closed earlier this year in the wake of the controversial 21-only law.

Moen and city leaders say this type of project -- retail and office -- meets city priorities for diversifying downtown. At the same time, they are much riskier than a bar or apartments, and banks are less willing to provide funding, they say.

Moen said the project is "higher risk, higher cost and lower reward."

If approved, the financing would take eight years to repay, and the new building will generate $31,250 more in property tax revenue per year than it currently does, according to city documents.

Moen has his sights set on luring a name-brand retailer to occupy the main floor, but it will take time, he said. His hope is for the store to open in 2012.

The "substantial renovation," which includes gutting the building to its core and restoring the original fa├žade, will begin immediately, Moen said.

City manager Tom Markus said the added retail and office space and upgrading a dated building will be good for the city.

"From that standpoint, I think we're starting the process of rebuilding the downtown. Marc is a known quantity in terms of doing quality work," Markus said.
__________

For the almost-unanimous opposition to this TIF by dozens of Iowa City Press-Citizen readers, see "Readers TIF Comments" entered in the online version of this article.
__________

Bob Elliott, “State Should Limit Use of TIF,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 6, 2011, p. 7A, temporarily available online at

http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20110506/OPINION01/105060318/State-should-limit-use-of-TIF

Let's focus on uses and misuses of tax increment financing as an economic development tool.

TIF enables local governments to invest temporary tax breaks as incentives for long-term greater good. Cities and counties can sign tax break agreements with private firms (contingent on construction or operational terms) over a limited period of time, to gain community improvements and/or increased future tax income.

But there are dangers involved if too much tax income is deferred from funding needs by the county, other cities and towns, and school districts.

Judicious use of TIF is the key to whether it's used or abused. Just as modern science provides us with wonder drugs that can work miracles, misuse or abuse of those drugs can have terrible consequences.

So the debate continues about how much TIF-deferred taxes we can afford to invest in future economic growth. Of course, there are those who oppose the whole concept of TIF. But that's another question.

Misusing TIF: I think Coralville, Oxford and Tiffin are among those misusing TIFs, to the detriment of other governing bodies and taxpayers. Because it's the largest of those cities and involves the most tax dollars, Coralville will be my focus.

I have longtime admiration for Coralville and City Manager Kelly Hayworth. With Hayworth's strong leadership, Coralville has achieved a remarkable record of productive growth and just plain getting things done. I like that. It rocks.

But that doesn't mean Coralville is incapable of mistakes. I think the amount of property Coralville has involved in one or more TIF districts means the otherwise productive economic development tool is being misused.

However, there's been a misunderstanding about TIF's impact on the local area Iowa City and Clear Creek Amana school districts. So I asked for a clarification from Paul Bobek, executive director of administrative services for the Iowa City School District.

He said because of state-imposed "spending authority," even if there were additional tax income, it couldn't be used for such General Fund items as teacher compensation. Increased tax funds would enable lowering district property tax rates, but the state's funding formula controls each district's spending (a form of statewide equity), independent of the district's taxable valuation.

There are more complexities involved, but I'm staying with the most obvious aspects of misusing TIF. For that, I use relevant data provided by Kevin O'Malley, Iowa City finance director.

Though noting he's not a fan of TIF, O'Malley pointed out it's been used productively by Iowa City, Coralville and other communities in the past. From him, I obtained a copy of "Valuation Tiffed in Johnson County: Taxable Values (for FY11 Budgets)" report that reveals the following data.

The report showed Iowa City with less than 1 percent of its property valuation in TIFs and West Branch had 0 percent. Among those making extensive use of TIF were Coralville at 41.7 percent, Oxford at 52 percent, and Tiffin with a whopping 65.3 percent. Because of the extent of Coralville's property, it has 72.1 percent of all the TIF property valuation in Johnson County.

That represents millions of tax dollars deferred to promote economic development projects in those communities. For instance, Coral Ridge Mall generated about $10 million in gross (before TIF) taxes this year, but the mall's TIF district recently was extended to include Coralville's River Landing Project, deferring significant portions of future taxes for even more years. That extension is along Interstate 80, meeting the letter, if not the spirit of the law.

We need a state law capping at 5 percent, or at the most 10 percent, the amount of property any city or county could involve in TIF districts.

Bob Elliott is a former Press-Citizen sportswriter, a 30-year employee of ACT and a former Iowa City councilor.
__________

I responded with a comment on the Press-Citizen’s online version of the column:

6:33 AM on May 6, 2011

TIFs (or taxpayers’ “Toxic Incredible Fleecing”) are supported by those who receive them, and those who, unapologetically and irrationally, delight in giving taxpayers’ money to the grateful recipients.

What a relief it is to find a TIF supporter who is thoughtful and honest enough to acknowledge that too much of a bad thing can, at some point, become a real problem. (As the late Senator Everett Dirksen is often credited with saying, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money.”)

In short, says Bob Elliott, the level of TIFs that a body politic can survive are like the quantity of other toxics our bodies can survive: radiation from a failed nuclear power plant, cancer-causing elements in our drinking water and the air we breathe, lead in the paint on a child’s toy.

My question: Once we acknowledge the harm that TIFs can do, why keep shooting ourselves in the leg with them just because we can still limp along on our good leg?

Capitalism has its place and accomplishments. So do legitimate governmental functions. Like chemicals that only become explosive or toxic when combined, it’s the intertwining of capitalism and socialism that’s the problem.

See, “Brother, Can You Spare a TIF?”

http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2011/04/brother-can-you-spare-tif.html

__________

Josh O'Leary, "Council OKs TIF for former Vito's; Moen to renovate for retail, possible office space," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 4, 2011,
temporarily available online at

http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20110504/NEWS01/105040322/Council-OKs-TIF-former-Vito-s?odyssey=mod|mostcom

An enthusiastic Iowa City Council on Tuesday signed off on a project by developer Marc Moen that would transform a former bar into retail and possibly office space with the help of city funding.

The council voted 7-0 to authorize an agreement with Moen, who plans to redevelop 118 E. College St., a pedestrian mall building that had been the longtime home to Vito's bar and restaurant before it closed this past winter. The city will pitch in $250,000, or 12.5 percent of the project's price tag, through tax increment financing.

Moen plans to attract a national retailer to the space, which he purchased for $1 million last month. He intends to invest another $1 million in renovations before a targeted opening for the store in 2012.

Planning and Community Development director Jeff Davidson told the council that although the city's initial agreement required retail space on the street level and offices above, it has since been tweaked to allow for retail on the second floor, as well, to accommodate prospects interested in filling two floors.

"I think we're all very excited about this project," council member Regenia Bailey said. "This is exactly what we want to see downtown."

Said council member Susan Mims: "I'm excited by the fact that somebody big enough wants to come in that might want to use both floors."

Vito's had been located in the 112-year-old building -- which features 5,200 square feet on the first floor and 3,800 on the second floor -- since the 1970s, according to the city.

In the agreement with the city, Moen will not be allowed to open a restaurant or bar in the building over the course of the eight-year TIF period.

By city law, the building cannot be turned back into a bar even after the TIF expires because of a provision adopted by the council requiring 500-foot spacing between bars. Existing bars were excluded from the law.

The renovated building will generate $31,250 more in property tax revenue per year than it currently does, according to the city assessor -- an amount that will be used by the city to repay its $250,000 investment over eight years. . . .

__________

To which I added the comment:

7:22 AM on May 4, 2011

Can't say I'm stunned, though I would have welcomed at least one dissenting opinion on behalf of the taxpayers and the virtues of uncontaminated capitalism.

My views, too lengthy for a brief comment here, were laid out in a Press-Citizen op ed column ("TIF Helps the Rich Get Richer"), embedded along with other articles, the PC's editorial, and responsive comments in this blog entry:

"Brother, Can You Spare a TIF?" April 25, 2011,
http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2011/04/brother-can-you-spare-tif.html

Now that the TIF's been formally approved, a blog reader (John Neff's) comment, tacked onto that blog entry, becomes even more urgent:
"TIF districts have been used long enough in Johnson County so that it should be possible to evaluate how well they work."

I think the City councilors and/or manager/staff (along with those from Coralville and other TIF advocates) owe us no less -- not just on the future economic results from this TIF as they become available over the years, but on those that have been used in the past (and that will inevitably, following this one, be increasing taxpayers' burden in the future). Following the raw data (which may be skewed by the providers, given the extent to which subjective judgments enter the equation), we will then need the analysis and commentary of a professional, unbiased group like the Iowa Policy Project.

In other words, to quote the old line: "In God we trust; all others bring data."

How about it, City?

# # #

Monday, April 18, 2011

Newspapers' Zucchini

April 18, 2011, 10:50 a.m.

Gannett Modifies Half-Page Newsprint Ads
But Outraged Readers' Protest Continues

When I was a boy everyone had gardens. What we called "Victory Gardens" were a part of our war effort during World War II.

When we had excess produce we shared it with our neighbors.

And the greatest of these excesses seemed to involve zucchini squash. ["The zucchini . . . is a popularly cultivated summer squash which often grows to nearly a meter in length, but which are usually harvested at half that size or less." "Zucchini," wikipedia.org.]

The proliferation of zucchini gave rise to a story my mother used to tell -- whether true or apocryphal I neither know nor care. (As Mason Williams ended the lyrics to one of his songs, "This is not a true tale, but who needs truth if it's dull." "The Tomato Vendetta.")

An especially generous neighbor, who had grossly overestimated her need for zucchini, regularly delivered a supply to the woman who was her next door neighbor. One day the gardener was met at her neighbor's door by the neighbor's nine-year-old daughter. Offering to take the gift, the young girl said, "Gee, I hope they are the small ones." "Why? Do you like the small ones better?" the gardener asked. "Oh, yes," said the girl, "they go down the disposal ever so much easier."

The newspapers' advertising supplements are the zucchini of the industry.

But unlike the zucchini, the larger the supplements are, and the more well assembled in a single pack, the easier they are to "put down the disposal" -- or, as we'd say today, "transfer to the recycling bin."

It is the "little zucchini," those half-pages of newsprint pretending to be a newspaper, that create the problems for those few remaining, loyal, hard-copy newspaper subscribers and readers.

I won't repeat here what has been said about this problem in the past, but here are a couple of links: "A Half-Page Newspaper Not Better Than None; Disintegrating Paper Contributing to Disintegrating Industry," September 20, 2010; and "Abusive Advertising; It's Time to Strike Back," April 6, 2011.

As explained in the latter blog entry, it's now "no more mr. nice guy." The refusal of Gannett to take readers' legitimate complaints seriously has caused a shift in strategy. Outraged readers, no longer content to just "protect innocent civilians" by attacking the newspapers, are focusing on "regime change," removing the problem by searching out the Muammar Gaddafis of newspaper advertising: the advertisers themselves.

The latter blog entry lists the advertisers who were found on the half-piece of newsprint on the front of that issue of the Press-Citizen, enabling blog readers to take such action as they might think most appropriate.

In fairness to Gannett, it's latest offense reduces a little the harm of half-page pieces of newsprint. "A little" meaning that it's kind of like a $38 billion reduction (which turned out to be $350 million) in a $3.83 trillion budget, $1.56 trillion of which is deficit spending (and an addition to a $14 trillion debt).

Last Sunday's Des Moines Register had a half-page piece of newsprint on the front and back of both its main section and another section in the back of the paper. Unlike the Press-Citizen's disaster, however, because the Register's continued as a half-page ad on the back of those sections -- rather than, as with the Press-Citizen, as a full page of regular newspaper -- when the half-pages fell to the floor they at least did not take a full page of the newspaper with them.

So here's the continuing, updated list of Gannett's "Abusive Advertisers":

The Abusive Advertisers of the Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register
April 6 and 17, 2011

www.budgetblinds.com

Stanley Steemer

Lenoch & Cilek/Ace

www.lebeda.com

Emma Goldman Clinic


(and, given even advertisers lack of interest in this abuse,)

Press-Citizen Media

(which was left no option but to buy most of the space from itself)

Des Moines Register

HyVee
(front section)

Vision 4 Less (back section)


Let us continue to hope this list will shrink, rather than expand, over time; that our garden zucchini will be the small ones; that our newspapers' zucchini will be easily disposed of; and the news easy to hold and read without disintegration.
# # #

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Debt, Deficit and Deception

April 13, 2011, 11:30 a.m.; 2:48 p.m. (addition of link to text of President's speech); April 14, 2011, 11:15 a.m.

Suggestions for Washington

Here are some early thoughts about federal fiscal responsibility, and suggestions for Washington, prior to the President's address later today. ["Remarks by the President on Fiscal Policy," George Washington University, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, April 13, 2011.]

My April 14 take on that speech: appreciated sentiments with which I agree (e.g., "Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. . . . And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security . . .. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments."), the proposals were neither as detailed nor as bold as I would have liked, but I welcomed his putting all programs (including defense) on the table, along with a seeming willingness to fight for major social programs, eliminate some of the subsidies embedded in the tax code, and raise taxes to pre-President Bush levels.

1. Make sure everyone understands the difference between "deficit" and "debt." The "deficit" is the amount that our expenditures exceed our income for a single budget year; the amount the federal government puts on its credit card with no intention of paying during that year. The "debt" is the total of all past "deficits" that have never been paid off. (The interest on that debt alone is a roughly $300 billion budget item each year, an amount projected to reach $1 trillion annually in a few years.) In other words, we could eliminate the entire "deficit" for every year from now until the next century and we'd still be left with that $14 trillion debt and its mounting interest obligation.

2. Don't hold budgets hostage to policy debates. With $14 trillion of debt (closer to $100 trillion if future, unfunded obligations are included), and a deficit of $1.4 trillion (see, "U.S. National Debt Clock: Real Time"), it was junior high lunacy for our elected representatives to hold up the budget, and threaten closing down government, over $38 billion worth of program cuts.

We should provide that whatever programs (and their budget levels) have been agreed to 60 days before the expiration of the fiscal year will be embedded into the next year's budget along with what's rolled over at the pre-exiting levels. Major program and policy decisions with budget implications will have to be addressed by relevant committees, and the full House and Senate, during that 10-month window. If the decisions are not made by then the funding level remains the same for the following year.

To do this, at least our elected representatives (but really all Americans) need access to data that either does not now exist or is extraordinarily difficult to access. We need a program review, not an agency budget review. The "program" may involve numerous pockets of money scattered throughout a number of agencies. This is not a matter of moving boxes around on organization charts. It requires a micro look at thousands of programs. For each we need to ask: What is this program designed to achieve? Are the reasons it was (or "they were") originally created still applicable today? How do we measure the outputs? In other words, "How would we know if we'd ever been successful?"

Here's but one example, in this instance of a program that had continued beyond its time. As the newly appointed federal Maritime Administrator (1964-65), I tried to inform myself regarding the 100-plus programs of the Maritime Administration (MARAD) by visiting with individual employees. In the last office at the end of a long hallway a fellow was working on a catalog. "Why does MARAD have its own catalog when there is a General Services Administration (GSA) that provides the entire government the equivalent of a catalog listing necessary supplies?" I asked. The need, it seems, originated during World War II when the MARAD catalog had items not needed by other agencies: ships. So why was he still working on the catalog 20 years later? It turned out that I was the first Administrator who had ever wandered down his hall, discussed the matter with him, and told him to stop.

While it's true that most agency heads don't take the time to learn what their employees actually do to that level of detail, neither do I think there are a lot of examples of what's just been described -- only that it takes that micro level of inquiry to figure out what the federal government ought to be doing, and why, how to measure programs' outputs, and what the benefit-cost analyses suggest regarding the programs that need to be revised, eliminated, or created, to better achieve the desired ends.

3. Stop dressing up subsidies as "tax breaks." To the extent possible, get subsidies pretending to be "tax breaks" out of the Internal Revenue Code, and put them on the table as appropriations for subsidies where we can see them. This won't save a dime initially; it's just transparency. But it will ultimately force Congress to construct programs and conduct debates about these giveaways in the bright light of day -- from the "mortgage deduction" to GE's "negative tax" to earmarks.

If it is true, as reported, that all together these so-called "tax breaks" total some one trillion dollars, their elimination would enable us to simultaneously cut everyone's tax rate and still increase the federal government's revenue.

Better yet, change the system.

What we presently have is a mix of fascism (a governing system that intertwines corporate and governmental power) and oligarchy (power vested in a few, normally very wealthy individuals, such as Wall Street's "masters of the universe"). The result is a transfer of taxpayers' money to the bottom line of for-profit enterprises (the executives of which happen to be very, very generous campaign contributors). It is a system of government that is ever so much more expensive for taxpayers than a little purer form of capitalism would be, one in which investors bear losses as well as take profits -- and do it with their own money instead of ours.

4. Campaign finance reform. And speaking of campaign contributors, without major campaign finance reform it is highly unlikely that anything will come out of Congress that favors the 90% poorest Americans over the 10% richest. My rough rule of thumb is that those who contribute in the $100,000-to-$1,000,000 range get back between 1000-to-one and 2000-to-one on their "investment." (For further explanation of the formula, and detailed examples of the forms in which the payback comes, see Nicholas Johnson, "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines [Iowa] Sunday Register, July 21, 1996, p. C2.) There are numerous, tested reforms of our voting systems that would also help by more accurately reflecting the views of the electorate. For examples, see Fair Vote (the Center for Voting and Democracy).

A major reason for the fiscal problems we have is the political system we have. That pay-to-play, special interest-driven, fundamentally anti-democratic, basically corrupt system created these problems. However awful it may be, however much the participants may occasionally grouse about it, so long as it continues to work for them, as long as it continues to drive them toward ever greater wealth and power, I'm betting they'll let America crash and burn (as they did in 2008 and 2009) rather than provide the basic reforms we need.

Nor does it portend much "change we can believe in" to read that President Obama has lined up 400 "bundlers," each of whom is charged with collecting enough checks from individuals to total $700,000 from each bundler. ("President Obama’s campaign machine is telling its chief money raisers to go all out in the big-dollar political art called bundling [named for the practice of avoiding the receipt of checks from institutions by collecting individual, personal checks from the highest paid employees and then "bundling" them for delivery to the candidate]. The goal is to enlist 400 or more bundlers — specialists in packaging contributions from deep-pocketed supporters — to pledge to raise $700,000 each for the 2012 campaign." Editorial, "Cue the Obama Money Bundlers," New York Times, April 9, 2011, p. A20.

And at that, this will be less than one-third of his $1 billion goal for 2012 (compared with the $745 million he raised for his 2007-08 campaign). John McCormick, "Obama's Money Pump for 2012 Re-Election Bid Primed by Chicago," Bloomberg Businesweek, April 14, 2011. (Needless to say, the Republicans will be doing the same -- and with the added benefit of the Citizens United gift from the Supreme Court.)

5. Start with the big items. As Peter Drucker often pointed out, even businesses can make the mistake of focusing 90% of their executives' time on what's producing 10% of their profit. [E.g., "[A] very small number of events -- 10 percent to 20 percent at most -- account for 90 percent of all results, whereas the great majority of events account for 10 percent or less of the results. . . . The largest group of salesmen (and especially the most effective ones) are usually put on the products that are 'hard to sell,' . . . which managerial vanity desperately is trying to make into 'winners.' . . . And the product that has sensational success -- [which] ought to be pushed all-out -- tends to be slighted. 'It is doing all right without extra effort, after all,' is the common conclusion." Peter Drucker, On the Profession of Management (Harvard, 2003), pp. 67, 69.]

But especially in government does the focus need to be on "cost centers," the big bucks. Imagine if the congressional energy that went into debating over that $38 billion had gone into an evaluation of our "defense" policies and spending which are closer to $1 trillion. (It's not just the $500-700 billion "defense budget;" there's the off-budget cost of three wars (another couple hundred billion a year), the Veterans Administration, and what's projected to be as much as an additional $1 trillion for the lifetime of care wounded military personnel will require. Some of "Homeland Security" might go into that discussion as well; e.g., the cost of commercial airline safety once was, and still ought to be, paid for by the airlines (albeit passed along to passengers, the beneficiaries, as a "user fee") as a routine business expense, not added to the non-flying taxpayers' burdens.

There are plenty of suggestions on how we can turn defense policies and budgets from paying more while getting less into paying less and getting more. See, e.g., "New Letter to Deficit Commission on DOD Budget," November 19, 2010, Straus Military Reform Project, Center for Defense Information (signed by eight individuals, former officers and defense advisors, with a combined 300 years of experience).

6. Make Social Security reform a separate undertaking. Social Security funding is a lot better shape than the major contributors to our growing national debt and imbalance of trade. There is no emergency staring us in the face. Moreover, the fixes are kind of obvious. Future beneficiaries pay 6.2% of their income (4.2% in 2011) into the fund -- but only up to a maximum income of $106,800. Making the rich pay the same percentage as the poor (not a "progressive," higher rate, just the same "flat tax" rate) would pretty much solve any Social Security funding problem. [Although, as the comment from billyzelsnack notes, below, that requires a little focus on their potentially increased benefits as well.]

If that's not enough, the retirement age could be raised a bit in response to today's longer life expectancy.

7. Get agreement on "facts." To have a rational and productive public policy discussion among those with strong differences of opinion, it is especially important to acknowledge, as former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, "You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts." "Daniel Patrick Moynihan," wikiquote.org. For example, are our wealthy taxed excessively, compared with the wealthy in other industrialized nations? Or compared with the income tax rates in the 1950s (a period of economic expansion), or 1990s (when President Clinton created a budget surplus)? What data is there to support the assertion that retaining the Bush tax cuts, or cutting taxes for the wealthy even further, will promote economic growth and generate jobs?

A story, or parable, variously attributed as to occasion and source, involves a group of individuals arguing about the number of teeth horses have. Finally (after 13 days according to one account), someone suggests that perhaps they ought to go find a horse and count them. See, e.g., "Searching for source of 'horse's teeth' parable," answers.google.com.

Or as W. Edwards Deming is credited with saying, "In God we trust; all others must bring data." "W. Edwards Deming," wikipedia.org.

I once heard a professor respond to an especially poor recitation by a law student (thankfully not me): "Young man, you have a capacity for subtracting, rather than adding, to the sum total of human knowledge."

Federal officials have access to the statistics of the Office of Management and Budget, Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service, and Congressional Budget Office, among other agencies. For those officials to be spending time spouting supportive, but grossly inaccurate, "facts" is not just a counterproductive and appalling waste of everyone's time, it is "subtracting, rather than adding, to the sum total of human knowledge."

8. Consider the total impact on citizen-taxpayers. The challenge, the impact on citizen-taxpayers, is not limited to "the federal budget." Federal expenditures can be reduced by shifting program responsibilities from the federal government to the states. That doesn't reduce anyone's tax burden. It just means what they used to send to Washington for that program they now have to send to their state capital, in the form of state income, sales, property, or other taxes.

Similarly, shifting tax revenues from Medicare to subsidies for private insurance companies may (or may not) reduce the federal government's payments for "Medicare." But given Medicare's low administrative costs (private insurance companies' costs are multiples more, plus their profits), the "savings" may be more than offset by the increased costs to seniors -- not to mention the additional burdens on doctors' offices in dealing with multiple insurance company forms and procedures, and burdens on seniors who have difficulty understanding their options and costs.
__________

There will be more ideas to come, and possibly some reactions to President Obama's remarks. But this is at least a start.

# # #

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Total Tree, Total Fun

April 12, 2011, 7:30 a.m.

Total Tree Care the Circus Act
Come for the Tree Trim, Stay for the Entertainment

The prior blog entry, a rave review of the latest Janet Schlapkohl stage play, "triangle," began, "Iowa City, designated by the United Nations as one of the Planet's three 'Cities of Literature,' is host to arts resources that are broad and deep and go well beyond "literature." "Go See 'Triangle': April 8-10; Great Entertainment, Important Lessons," April 8, 2011.

So you know about our local writers, theater, music, pottery, graphic arts, and more.

But did you know we also had our own local circus act? Yes, we do. Our own local Flying Wallendas. Here is a video of the Wallendas at work:



And here is a still picture of Total Tree Care's Seth Bihun on his way up a tree.




Along with a couple of his tricks -- climbing two trees at once:














And balancing on the end of a cut limb:




I haven't had such fun since I was a little boy, walking along the tracks at the old Iowa City Rock Island Railroad Station on Clinton Street the day the circus came to town. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

There's a lot of speculation regarding when humans came down out of the trees and started walking on Earth. A BBC program gives the credit to "Lucy," who lived over three million years ago.

But few ever ask how Lucy got up in the trees in the first place. That's what interests me.

I'm reminded of the story we used to tell in Texas to describe some of the fellows in what Molly Ivins used to call "the Lege." We called 'em "post turtles."

And what's a post turtle. Well, when you're driving down a country road and you see a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know he didn't get up there by himself. He can't get down. He can only see in the direction he's been turned. He doesn't belong there; he can't get anything done while he's up there; and you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down.

Unfortunately, post turtles are not an endangered species. There seem to be more of them in Washington and Des Moines every year.

Clearly, Lucy was no post turtle. She knew how to get up the tree, and get down.

So does Seth -- and his band of happy trapeze artists with chain saws -- who serve to remind us both how we got up the trees and how we got back down.

This is one professional troop of tree trimmers. They leave clean cuts on the trees, and -- unlike most young boys who like to climb trees -- clean ground underneath.




Look around. You probably have a tree somewhere that could do with a haircut. Give Seth and April a call. This link will take you to their Website. It may take awhile. With a show like theirs, the future performances are pretty well booked. They'll let you know in advance when they're coming. Then you can sell tickets, invite the neighbors over, sit back away from the action (the Total Tree Care folks are sticklers for safety), and watch the show.

Total Tree Care is providing yet one more reason why Iowa City is a City of the Arts and Creativity. (Want more evidence? See Josh Cramer's IC/CR/eatives.us.)

# # #

Friday, April 08, 2011

Go See 'Triangle': April 8-10

April 8, 2011, 8:15 a.m.

Great Entertainment, Important Lessons

Iowa City, designated by the United Nations as one of the Planet's three "Cities of Literature," is host to arts resources that are broad and deep and go well beyond "literature."

Among Iowa City's many quality manifestations of "the arts" is theater -- the University's MFA program, the community's theater venues, the entrepreneurs who keep them open, the actors, directors, producers, and the audiences that support the effort.

And, oh yes, the playwrights.

And among the playwrights who reside here, or have passed through Iowa City and its University, none is better than our own Janet Schlapkohl, who is, among many other things, the creator and 12-cylinder engine driving Combined Efforts.

The author of last summer's "Love At the County Fair," Ms. Schlapkohl has done it again with "triangle," now playing at University Theatre's Theater B, Thursday through Sunday: April 7, 8, 9 (at 8:00 p.m.), and 10 (at 2:00 p.m.). Tickets at the door. ("University Theatre" is what's known to Iowa City's old timers as "Mabie," down by the River.) Eric Hawkinson, "UI presents play on Triangle Shirtwaist fire," The Daily Iowan, April 7, 2011, p. A2.

The play is well written, acted, and directed, and very much worth attending just as entertainment and high class theater. The story is told from three perspectives: the young immigrant women, a group of Vassar students, and a woman of color -- eight women actors playing 18 roles. This is unique but what adds to the mix is the bonds of friendship that develop both within and between the individuals and groups.

But it is so much more; something every Iowan can learn from -- especially those not old enough to have lived through 20th Century history.

Photo credit: Cornell University (see link, below).

"triangle," as you may have guessed, is shorthand for the "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory" and the fire of March 25, 1911, 100 years ago this year, in which 146 workers died, most of whom were young immigrant women in their teens and twenties.

The workers' efforts to unionize having been beaten back, management, among its many other oppressive practices, kept the doors locked. Because the factory was on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of a Manhattan building, the workers were some three stories above the highest ladders available to the New York fire fighters.

Confronting the prospect of being cremated alive, many chose to leap to their death. Photo credit: Wikipedia; "Bodies of the victims being placed in coffins on the sidewalk."

If you are unfamiliar with the details, there are many sources, including Cornell University's "Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire; 1911 -- 100 Years Later -- 2011," and Wikipedia's "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire."

When the "company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were indicted on charges of first and second degree manslaughter . . . Max Steuer, counsel for the defendants, managed to destroy the credibility of one of the survivors, Kate Alterman, by asking her to repeat her testimony a number of times [and then] argued to the jury that Alterman . . . had memorized [her] statements, and might even have been told what to say by the prosecutors. . . . [T]he two men . . . lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20." Ibid.

Sports Law necessarily includes some references to labor law (indeed, it plays a role in the current conflict between the NFL owners and players). As I was teaching the course this semester, it became obvious to me that the students, most of whom were born in the late 1980s and '90s, knew little of our country's labor history. A show of hands make clear that virtually none of them had ever either belonged to unions or had parents who did. And what they did know, through no fault of their own, had probably been disproportionately shaped by the rhetoric and politics of the last three decades, designed to disparage the value of unions and curtail workers' abilities to organize and enjoy their benefits.

We couldn't spend a lot of time on labor history in a Sports Law class, but we spent enough to give them some sense of the relationship between the union movement and the creation of the middle class, with laws regarding minimum wages, maximum hours, child labor, and workplace safety -- with the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire playing a significant role in the latter.

Sadly, the problems remain. Having essentially decimated unions in the private sector, corporate and government munitions are now aimed at the members of public sector workers' unions.

This is not helping Iowa, Iowans, and our economy; it is hurting all of the above. That's why it is incumbent upon all of us to understand more about the union movement and why it is important to our current efforts at economic recovery today, and continued economic growth tomorrow. It's important for our students and future generations to understand. But it can't be grasped from hard copy books and professorial lectures alone. It has to be felt to be understood. "triangle" can help us achieve that understanding.

Workplace safety has improved in some ways in the years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. But the unavoidable conflict remains for the corporate managers in a capitalist economy: every dollar spent on worker safety is a dollar no longer available for executive bonuses or shareholders' dividends. During the last year we've seen the results in lost lives on BP's offshore drilling rig, and in the depths of Massey's coal mines, among thousands of other workplace deaths.

Sadly, we also had a death of a worker at my law school, as I wrote in the Press-Citizen around Labor Day in an effort to put that death in context:

Honor Workers Every Day

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
September 6, 2010 p. A7

[embedded in blog entry, "Labor Day: Honor Workers Every Day," September 6, 2010.]

On Wednesday, Tom Fosdick died from injuries sustained Monday, when he fell while replacing Boyd Law Building windows.

On Tuesday, President Obama reported to the American people that we are, at last, out of Iraq -- albeit leaving 50,000 troops, uncounted mercenaries and contract employees.

In the course of his speech, he paid honor to the "over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq."

It is appropriate that he do so. Those who put their lives at risk in the streets and sands of Iraq, and made the ultimate sacrifice, certainly are entitled to our respect and honor.

But there are another "over 4,000" American workers who also have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. They, too, are entitled to our respect and honor.

Fosdick has joined their number.

In 2006, there were 5,865 workplace deaths. In 2009, there were 4,340. Apparently a benefit from millions of unemployed is that if they don't have a workplace they're much less likely to be killed in one. Even one year's 4,340 dead workers is the rough equivalent of seven years' dead in Iraq. And 5,865 is more than twice the 2,752 killed on Sept. 11.

Moreover, add in the number of workplace non-fatal injuries and diseases and the number in 2008 was more like 3.7 million.

These are the men and women who build and maintain what our military is defending, and the rest of us take for granted. They are the ones who have done the sometimes literally backbreaking work, who risk injury, disease and death on a daily basis. They built the high-rise office buildings and condos, the highways and bridges, hospitals and schools, the networks of power lines and natural gas pipelines. Three of them died building our Hancher Auditorium. Now another has died refurbishing our law school.

Their ancestors built the canals and railroads that spanned our continent. They now maintain those railroads and subways. They sweat in 100-degree heat in the foundries that produce our tractors.

They construct the wind farms, cell phone towers, and radio and TV towers (and then have to climb them to change the little red light bulb on top) -- including the 11 workers who constructed the 2,063-foot antenna tower in North Dakota for KVLY-TV.

Fortunately, none of those 11 died. The 11 on the BP offshore oil rig did. And so did the 29 coal miners working in an unsafe Massey mine a couple weeks earlier. We've yet to hear the fate of the 13 in last week's Gulf offshore oil rig explosion.

I find it hard to understand those in business and legislatures who sacrifice workplace safety for profits, do everything in their power to beat down unions, OSHA funding, project labor agreements, the right to a livable wage or even an increase in the minimum wage. How can they be mystified as to why Iowa's young folks leave the state for jobs in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois?

As someone who spends his days doing finger exercises on computer keyboards, I am in awe of what these men and women are able to do, and are willing to risk in the process. I stop to speak with them when I go into the law building.

But we don't introduce ourselves and certainly don't exchange business cards. So while I've met and visited with Fosdick's mother and brother, I don't know if Fosdick was ever among the workers with whom I visited, though I like to believe he was.

For me, the memory of Fosdick, the gift of his organs to others, will be something like the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington. Someone for whom I grieve, who symbolizes the others we will never know but should remember to recognize and honor every day.

# # #


Two years earlier I wrote in this blog, "How To (And Not To) Grow Iowa's Economy," January 27, 2008. Here is an excerpt:

. . . So how can we more effectively promote economic growth?

By providing the things that really do attract businesses -- as . . . a Genencor executive [stated as] reasons for coming to Cedar Rapids, "because of its geographic location in the center of the country and its proximity to the fuel ethanol and corn sweetener manufacturing sector."

The Register editorializes this morning, Editorial, "Make Quality of Life Iowa's Edge," Des Moines Register, Des Moines Register, January 27, 2008, p. OP1. Certainly, that's a valid suggestion.


But much of quality of life, and the things that attracted Genencor, are attractions of geography over which we do not have total control.

A far more universal attraction is the well educated workforce that is dependent on things which we can control.

Iowa has well educated community college and university graduates. Unfortunately, because they leave the state after receiving that education, they don't constitute a workforce and therefore aren't much of an attraction for business.
Kyle Carson, "Young Iowans Do the Math on Salaries -- and Leave; Commission Urges Higher-Ed Tax Credit and Help With Repaying Student Loans," Des Moines Register, January 27, 2008, p. OP1; "Commission Members Weigh In On Worker Shortage," Des Moines Register, January 27, 2008, p. OP6.

For a lawyer, Kyle Carson cuts to the core of the answer with an unusual economy of words: "So what should Iowa do? Pay them more."

And just how bad is it? Consider the recent report on "affordable housing":

The report said about 13 percent of people in the study area work in industries with entry-level wages of less than $15,000 annually, and another 40 percent work in industries with entry-level wages between $15,000 and $20,000. Almost 30 percent of all households in the study area have incomes less than $25,000.

The analysis determined that to afford a median-priced home in the area -- $162,000 -- a household income would have to earn about $53,150 and and not have much additional debt. The study said only 389 units were sold in 2006 that were valued at $100,000 or less, equaling about 15 percent of the total transactions that year.
Kathryn Fiegen, "Study warns of housing shortfall; Area prices outpacing incomes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 24, 2008. (The study, prepared by Mullin & Lonergan Associates, Pittsburgh, was described by Fiegen as a "127-page, data-intense report.) That report was the basis for a meeting reported in the paper on Saturday: Rob Daniel, "Summit: Housing policy needed; Lack of affordable housing reaching all area sectors," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 26, 2008, p. A3.

And how can Iowa "pay them more"?

When was the last time you heard a boss say, "I'm feeling guilty about exploiting you guys with these low wages, seeing your kids go hungry, and without health care or new shoes, so starting next Monday everybody gets a 50% wage hike." It's not likely to happen.

A single person, out of work and desperately needing a job, is not in a very strong bargaining position when confronting a potential employer in front of him -- with 700 people standing in line behind that job applicant, all equally anxious to win one of five new job positions.

That's why they invented unions and "collective bargaining." "For the union makes us strong," is the old union song lyric; at least strong enough to get something more than the minimum wage for long hours at backbreaking work in unsafe working conditions.

Without unions professionals wages are driven down to those of skilled trades people; wages for skilled tradespeople that should be at union levels are driven down to those of unskilled labor; unskilled labor get paid what the working poor earn elsewhere -- and those in every pay category leave Iowa.

That being the case, I find it remarkable that neither Kyle Carson nor any other member of the Commission -- nor for that matter the Governor, members of the legislature, media, education leaders -- seem willing to mention, even as an "option," the possibility of Iowa becoming a little more labor union friendly. Nowhere in today's stories does the word "union" even appear.

In researching an op ed four years ago I discovered that Iowa was then 43rd of the 50 U.S. states in wages; that our State's anti-union "right to work" laws put us in a minority of states that included the solid South: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina; that from 1950 until now, anti-union bashing has driven union membership nationally from 35 percent to 13 percent of the workforce, and even less in Iowa.

With corporate campaign contributions going to Democrats and Republicans alike, the disparity between the income of CEOs and hourly workers has gone from 42:1 in 1980 to 531:1 in 2000. Two million workers recently fired for the sake of profits and executive bonuses don’t even have that.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports 70 percent of its investigations involve things management knew, or ought to have known, would cause serious injury or death. Nearly 6000 workers a year are killed, more than 5 million injured.

Even the most minimal efforts to help the working class and working poor are successfully resisted by Iowa businesses and their legislative representatives, most recently the "fair share" proposal (that those who get the benefits of union negotiations, while refusing to join the union, should at least pay their "fair share" of the costs for those union activities from which they personally enjoy increased wages and benefits). I could not get our local school board to support a "project labor agreement" for its new school construction projects. Nicholas Johnson, "Make School Projects Labor-Friendly," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 15, 2003, p. A11 (with an appended list of sources). And see State29, "Viva La Slave Labor, Child Labor," January 26, 2008.

A mere three days later [Jan. 30] and we find the following in The Daily Iowan:

Union membership rates were down in Iowa and 29 other states in 2007, according to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

. . .

[U]nion membership in Iowa is below the national average for a second-consecutive year.

Jennifer Sherer, a labor educator at the UI Labor Center, said . . .
"We're losing higher-paying jobs and gaining lower-paying jobs," . . ..

Sherer also attributed the low rates to employers who make it difficult for new unions to form by using threats and intimidation. The law protecting unionization has not been strongly enforced, she said.

"We need political changes to make it possible for people [to form new unions]," she said.
Ben Travers, "Union Membership Going Down in Iowa; Despite a Report Indicating That Union Membership is Up Across the Nation, the Percentage of Iowan Union Workers Continues to Drop," The Daily Iowan, January 30, 2008, p. A3.

Of course, Iowans and their governments have the political right to continue our anti-labor traditions and reputation. It's just that it's a little self-defeating and hypocritical to continue to do so while simultaneously complaining about the disappearance of the workforce needed to attract the businesses we think we need to promote genuine economic growth.

So while you are reflecting on the significance of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 for the condition of labor in Iowa in 2011, here are a couple more pictures from Columbia University's collection:






_______________

Full disclosure: Although I have no personal financial or other involvement in this script or production, my wife, Mary Vasey, is on the board of Combined Efforts, our son was one of two directors of this play, and Mary and I did have roles in Ms. Schlapkohl's production of "Love at the County Fair."

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Abusive Advertising

April 6, 2011, 7:45 a.m.

It's Time to Strike Back

The newspaper industry depends on advertising as well as subscriptions to cover the costs of operation. Whether you consider newspaper advertising a necessary evil or just necessary, any newspaper's revenue has to come from somewhere. But there's an important distinction between advertising's manipulative abuses and its physical abuses.

It's the latter that bother me. I've written about the problem before, "A Half-Page Newspaper Not Better Than None; Disintegrating Paper Contributing to Disintegrating Industry," September 20, 2010.

So what's the problem? That blog entry began:
It used to be a "half-page ad" in a newspaper meant a full page of newsprint, half of which (usually the bottom half) contained advertising matter.

Today it has become, more literally, a half of a page of newsprint all of which is advertising.

A newspaper that falls apart in your hands is but one more bit of evidence of an industry that is disintegrating as well.
The Press-Citizen's physical abuse of its newspaper and its customers seemed to taper off a bit after that.

But this morning the problem has resumed.

Last September's analysis of the problem and its solutions won't be repeated here this morning. Nor will appeals to the Press-Citizen. That time (and opportunity for the paper) has passed. It's time to focus on those who pay for this journalistic carnage: the advertisers who use these "half-page" ads.

So this morning's blog is the first of a new effort to finger the offensive and abusive advertisers who are buying, and thereby sustaining, this offensive form of advertising. Given that no one has indicated to me anything other than hostility toward the paper and the advertisers who use these half-page, newspaper destructive techniques -- not even neutrality, let alone acceptance -- I can safely leave it to blog readers to decide what they want to do about these advertisers.

The Press-Citizen's Abusive Advertisers
April 6, 2011

www.budgetblinds.com

Stanley Steemer

Lenoch & Cilek/Ace

www.lebeda.com

Emma Goldman Clinic


(and, given even advertisers lack of interest in this abuse,)

Press-Citizen Media

(which was left no option but to buy most of the space from itself)

Let us hope this list will shrink, rather than expand, over time.