Sunday, September 30, 2012

Clean Streets and Creative Consumption

September 30, 2012, 1:30 p.m.

Alcohol: Friend or Enema? At last, Less Drinking

I've never seen the neighborhood so spotless during a Hawkeyes' football game as it was yesterday.

And from Tennessee, historically an innovator in the manufacture of alcohol, comes now some truly innovative ways to consume it.

Together, those topics make up my morning's verbal meandering.

This blog is nothing if not an equal opportunity offender. I figure a democracy requires a little challenge to complacency, "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable," and all that. On the other hand, when I think someone else is piling on a little unfairly, I'm quite prepared to come to the defense of my hometown, or anything, or anyone, else. See, e.g., "'We're Number One!' What's Your City's Ranking?".

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Recently I've been a little tough on the football fans, University, City, and athletic program for the mess that's left behind in the residential neighborhoods following Hawkeye football games. "Football Trash Talk; Iowa City: Where Great Minds Drink Alike," Sept. 11; "Anheuser-Busch, UI & Hawks a Win-Win-Win", Sept. 17.

This is not to say that the amount of trash has become insignificant. Following one game 13,280 pounds of trash was collected; and of course that does not count what is outside the area from which it's collected, the cans picked up for their 5-cent value when recycled by unsupervised volunteers, or what the neighbors dispose of. Tara Bannow, "Keeping gameday trash out of the landfill; Volunteers clean and sort trash at Kinnick on Sundays," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 29, 2012, p. A3 ("At the Sept. 8 game against Iowa State University, the team [of recyclers] collected 4,700 pounds of recyclable materials, 620 pounds of food waste for compost and 7,960 pounds of trash.") And of course there's less incentive to stand outside when it's cold, and try to get falling down drunk by 10:30 in the morning when the game's at 11:00, than when there's balmy warm weather prior to a late afternoon and evening game.

But compare this picture with the one above. As far down the street as you can see, the lawns are cleaned of trash. Such trash as there was is now bagged, tied, neatly piled, and ready to be collected. Some of this is due to more respectful fans. But the fact remains that real efforts have gone into organizing volunteers, and those modestly paid, to distribute trash containers prior to the game and pick them up afterwards, to pick up the trash, and as an added societal benefit, to sort and recycle, and compost, that which can be used. Stacey Murray, "Iowa City Sees Spike in Gameday Trash," The Daily Iowan, September 26, 2012 ("Outside Kinnick Stadium, Melrose Avenue is taking a hit. With four-consecutive home games this month, the Extend the Dream Foundation noticed a 15 percent increase in trash levels on Melrose Avenue and Melrose Court. . . . [Foundation Director Tom] Walz’s foundation works in cooperation with the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability, Iowa City, and the Hawkeye Athletics Department in a partnership to clean up Melrose Avenue during and after each home game.").

So give credit where it is due, I say. Many thanks to UI President Sally Mason, Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta, Extend the Dream Foundation Director Tom Walz, and their casts of thousands (along with whoever else has contributed), that have recognized a problem, thought it through to a potential solution, and then implemented it. It is an example of common sense, responsibility and civil collaboration that is not often seen from administrators.

Alcohol: Friend or Enema? At last, less drinking

We've had a little problem with alcohol-related abuses at a UI fraternity. "Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Assault, or 'Fine Public Service'?" Sept. 26 ("Police began investigating an alleged sexual assault at a UI fraternity . . .. Residents had been charged with alcohol-related offenses earlier this summer. . . . [T]he fraternity's national headquarters suspended the group and expelled its current members, citing "hazing . . .." That day the UI mentioned 'illegal alcohol consumption' . . ..").

In fairness, students' alcohol abuse is a problem in a great many colleges around the country (and the world). It's not limited to Iowa City. Actually, the University of Iowa's numbers have been improving in some ways, although students still binge drink at something like twice the national average. See, e.g.,: "UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads," August 30, 2012; "'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks," August 21, 2012; "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012. The Daily Iowan's Monday morning [Oct. 1] "Police Blotter" reported 50 arrests -- a decline from prior weeks. (Most, but not all, are of college-age individuals for alcohol-related offenses.) On the other hand, arrests and sexual assaults are up: "The report shows arrests and judicial referrals for liquor-law violations fluctuated between 2009 and 2011, with a total of 127 arrests and 537 judicial referrals in 2009 . . . and 497 arrests and 777 referrals in 2011 — an overall increase in both arrests and referrals. . . . The report also showed a rise in the number of forcible sex offenses on campus, with 11 total offenses in 2011, compared to the 7 total offenses reported in 2010." Matt Starns, "Clery Report shows rise in alcohol-related crime, sex offenses at UI," The Daily Iowan, October 2.

But the news out of Tennessee is especially noteworthy.

For some reason I'm reminded of the story -- whether true or apocryphal is irrelevant for this purpose -- of a father's reaction to his teenage son's drunk driving, and an accident in which one passenger was killed and two were severely injured. When informed that his son had tested over the legal limit, the father responded, "Well, thank God he's not using drugs."

Alcohol IS a hard drug. Indeed, based on the amount of alcohol-related harm it does, alcohol is by any measure our nation's number one hard drug. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence reports that 23 million Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs; problems that touch 24% of American families. "Overview," National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence." Add the workplace or student colleagues, neighbors, more distant family, and others and we're talking about tens of millions more Americans than those affected by other drugs.

"Out of millions who hold full time employment in the United States, close to fifteen million are heavy drinkers of alcohol, exacting a high cost on work organizations . . . , premature death/fatal accidents, injuries/accident rates, absenteeism/extra sick leave, loss of production, tardiness/sleeping on the job, theft, poor decision making, loss of efficiency, lower morale of co-workers, increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers . . ., higher turnover, training of new employees, [and] disciplinary procedures." "Alcohol and the Workplace," National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence." This adverse economic impact runs into the billions of dollars.

Alcohol's grossly disproportionate impact (compared with other drugs) is seen throughout our society. Look it up; I'm not going to provide all the links here. Alcohol is involved in roughly half, give or take, of all crimes, and its related involvement as a challenge for roughly half of the prison population. It's adverse, irreversible physical and health effects are greater than those for heroin.

The impact on students includes everything from the consequences of physical violence, drunk driving, unwanted pregnancies, hospital admissions for near toxic levels of alcohol, through dropouts, to death (some 1800 alcohol-related deaths of college students each year).

Notwithstanding these risks and consequences, there are students who continue to drink alcohol, not one (or two) glasses of beer or wine over a meal, but to get drunk, up to and beyond passing out -- "binge drinking." This behavior clearly relates to using alcohol as a drug rather than socializing.

As you may know, there has been an uptick in national awareness of our need for greater emphasis on "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math" -- which goes by the acronym, "STEM."

And it now appears this student interest in scientific research, this intellectual curiosity, has penetrated the minds of the residents of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Tennessee.

And that's not all it's penetrated.

Serious students don't mind an occasional party, but they have to have good time management skills as well. Long social evenings with alcohol, in benefit-cost terms, take entirely too much time away from the studying students would prefer to be doing.

Binge drinking, by contrast, is much more efficient. "The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks, and when women consume 4 or more drinks, in about 2 hours." "Alcohol and Public Health Fact Sheets," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cutting the time consumed by a non-studying activity from six or eight hours down to two is obviously appealing.

But as these young people are discovering, science is constantly evolving and expanding. I recently calculated that the terabyte external hard drive I just bought cost me, in dollars per unit of storage space, roughly 1/10,000 the cost of the first one I purchased over 30 years ago.

How might students cut down on the time consumed by binge drinking? That was the challenge confronted by this Tennessee fraternity's members.

After considerable lab and library research they settled upon an hypothesis involving rates of absorption. They had already amassed significant quantities of anecdotal evidence that eating before drinking reduced the sensation of drunkenness -- as well as the desired onset of the lack of any sensation whatsoever.

"How else might alcohol be injected into the human body?" they asked. They considered the use of a syringe, injecting alcohol directly into the blood, but decided the risks of sharing needles -- almost compulsory among blood brothers -- outweighed the possible advantages of this approach.

Probing for other orifices into which alcohol might be injected they ultimately came to the realization they had been sitting on it all along. And so was born the "alcohol enema hypothesis."

The results were staggering -- but also frightening. Erik Schelzig, "Univ. of Tennessee fraternity's alcohol enema has deadly risk," Associated Press/Decatur Daily [Knoxville, Tennessee], September 29, 2012. As Mr. Schelzig explains:
Before an unruly Tennessee party ended with a student hospitalized for a dangerously high blood alcohol level, most people had probably never heard of alcohol enemas.

Thanks to the drunken exploits of a fraternity at the University of Tennessee, the bizarre way of getting drunk is giving parents, administrators and health care workers a new fear.

When Alexander "Xander" Broughton, 20, was delivered to the hospital after midnight on Sept. 22, his blood alcohol level was measured at 0.448 percent — nearly six times the intoxication that defines drunken driving in the state. Injuries to his rectum led hospital officials to fear he had been sodomized. . . .

Police documents show that when an officer interviewed a fellow fraternity member about what happened, the student said the injuries had been caused by an alcohol enema. . . .

Broughton . . . denied having an alcohol enema. Police concluded otherwise from evidence they found at the frat house, including boxes of Franzia Sunset Blush wine.

"He also had no recollection of losing control of his bowels and defecating on himself," according to a university police report that includes photos of the mess left behind in the fraternity house after the party. . . .

Alcohol enemas have been the punch lines of YouTube videos . . .. But Corey Slovis, chairman of department of emergency medicine and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said actually going through with the deed can have severe consequences.

"It's something that offers no advantages, while at the same time risking someone's life," he said.

The procedure bypasses the stomach, accelerating the absorption rate, Slovis said. Pouring the alcohol through a funnel can increase the amount of alcohol consumed because it's hard to gauge how much is going in. . . .

The effects have been fatal in at least one case. An autopsy performed after the death of a . . . Texas man in 2004 showed he had been given an enema with enough sherry to have a blood alcohol level of 0.47 percent. . . .

Gordon Ray, a senior from Morristown, said the details of the case caught him off guard, but not the fact that fraternity members would be overdoing it with alcohol.

"It is definitely over the top," said Ray. "But it doesn't surprise me, I don't guess." . . .

James E. Lange, who coordinates alcohol and drug abuse prevention strategies at San Diego State University, said alcohol enemas aren't a common occurrence on campuses, though normal consumption still contributes to hundreds of student deaths annually. . . .

And many of those can be attributed to reckless attitudes about the consequences of heavy drinking, he said.

"It's not unusual to hear that students are drinking to get drunk," he said. . . .
All I can say is, "Thank goodness those Tennessee boys weren't drinking."

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UI Greek Frat Behavior 'Aberrant'?!

September 26, 2012, 9:20 a.m. (now with Sept. 27 and 28 updates); and for one school's alternative to fraternity boys drinking, see "Clean Streets and Creative Consumption; At Last, Less Drinking," Sept. 30.

Alcohol Abuse and Sexual Assault, or "Fine Public Service"?

On September 11 Iowa City Police began investigating an alleged sexual assault at a UI fraternity that occurred September 8. Residents had been charged with alcohol-related offenses earlier this summer. On September 24 the fraternity's national headquarters suspended the group and expelled its current members, citing "hazing and the chapter's failure to comply with our standards . . .." That day the UI mentioned "illegal alcohol consumption" at the fraternity house.

And how has the University responded?

With a defense of the Greek system. As a top administrator put it, “I believe that it is an aberrant incident that does not accurately represent life at the University of Iowa. To the contrary, . . . members of the Greek system . . .provide a great deal of fine public service." Josh O'Leary, "Police investigate sex assault at SAE; Incident was reported earlier this month, before fraternity was closed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2012, p. A1.

That UI assertion was challenged in the first version of this blog entry, September 26. It concluded with, "The problems are endemic. They are not aberrations. They deserve and require proactive approaches." A couple anonymous fraternity advocates responded strongly to that assertion (which engendered a rejoinder from another anonymous blog reader; all are at the bottom of this blog entry).

This morning's [Sept. 28] Gazette, relying on the University's own data, confirms what was admittedly only an assumption on my part two days ago. Diane Heldt, "UI frat’s members had high arrest, citation rate; Sigma Alpha Epsilon was closed by national headquarters this week," The Gazette, September 28, 2012, p. A2. The arrest records, largely alcohol-related, for fraternity and sorority members are substantially above those for other student groups (details below).

As it happens, the arrest record is held by the very fraternity involved in this week's news, SAE. Arrest records for members of Greek houses generally are nothing to brag about, given averages above those for other student populations. But among them, SAE had the highest percentage of members arrested, at 27 percent.

This raises a number of issues.

(1) When the University's own data shows that with regard to Greek houses "the problems are endemic" and "not aberrations," why would a top UI administrator describe SAE's offenses as "an aberrant incident that does not accurately represent" Greek life?

(2) Given SAE's excessively high arrest record, why was there no intervention from the University -- which professes to monitor, and care about this very problem -- before now?

Diane Heldt's story, linked above, reports, "'the figures [on arrests of Greek house members] have generated numerous conversations, particularly between the university administrators and student representatives in the Greek community,' Tom Baker, associate dean of students, said via email Thursday. . . . 'One of the things we’re working on is trying to reduce the [arrest] rates in our fraternity and sorority chapters,' he said."

Let's take UI's administrators at their word: they are "trying to reduce the rates" of arrests of members of Greek houses. But if that is truly the case, wouldn't you think they would have done something -- whether increased security and monitoring, or merely educational programs -- within the house with the single highest arrest record of any Greek house on campus, a house that has been visited by police 28 times in five years -- something more, that is, than merely "numerous conversations"?

The hard copy Gazette contains the reproduction of much of the University's data. Unfortunately, the paper does not appear to have made this valuable information available online. So here are some excerpts:

For 2010-11 the University's data reveals that the percentage of undergraduate males' with arrests was 6%, whereas the rate for fraternity members was 15.1%. Fraternity members may provide "fine public service," but they also provided that year nearly three times the percentage of arrests of male undergraduates generally.

It was not that much better for females. They had lower rates than males, overall, but the sorority sisters were arrested at roughly two times the arrest record for undergraduate females generally: 7.4% vs. 3.8%.

Yes, the rates go up (from 2009-10 to 2010-11) and down (from 2010-11 to 2011-12). But the contrast between the undergraduate population generally, and the arrest records for members of Greek houses persists.

So much for the "aberration."

With regard to the charges of hazing, and the practice of hazing among Greeks nationally, see Jordyn Reiland, "Experts respond to UI Sigma Alpha Epsilon controversy," Daily Iowan, September 26, 2012 ("In 2008 and 2009, ΣΑΕ . . . faced complaints of hazing, in which sanctions were imposed").

With regard to what triggered the most recent investigation, see Jordyn Reiland, "Sigma Alpha Epsilon frat removed from UI campus following 'hazing and violations,'" Daily Iowan, September 25, 2012 ("A current member of the fraternity . . . said he believes an incident that occurred four weeks ago sparked the investigation, which eventually found hazing and violations. According to the member, the fraternity hosted a party during which attendees consumed alcohol. At the party, members found a female lying unconscious on the ground outside the house. The student said members brought the female to the hospital.") For an update on the allegations of sexual assault, see "SAE headquarters says it decided to close UI chapter before learning of investigation," Iowa City Press-Citizen online, September 26, 2012, 4:44 p.m. [hardcopy: Josh O'Leary, "Report: Alleged Victim Sustained Injuries; SAE: Decision Made Before it Knew of Police Probe," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 27, 2012, p. A1.] And see, Vanessa Miller, "Iowa City police called to now-closed fraternity 28 times in five years," The Gazette, September 27, 2012, p. A5 ("Iowa City police since 2007 have received 28 calls for service to . . . the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house that was closed earlier this week following hazing allegations and is at the center of a sexual assault investigation.").

For the current housing status of the former fraternity members living in the house, see Stacey Murray, "SAE members have chance for appeal," The Daily Iowan, September 27, 2012.

[Photo credit: Benjamin Roberts / Iowa City Press-Citizen /.] Now don't get me wrong. I'm willing to believe that there are a good many members of fraternities who've chosen the Greek life because they wanted a quiet place to study, and a circle of friends who understand the hazards of binge drinking. And there probably are many a sorority sister who could be said to "be an angel who spends all winter, bringin' the homeless blankets and dinner, a regular Nobel peace prize winner." (From Lee Ann Womack's, "I'll Think of a Reason Later.") See Editorial, "Greeks can lead UI to better reputation," Daily Iowan, September 4, 2012.

But as for the characterization of the punished behavior as an "aberration," it's worthwhile to reproduce Josh O'Leary's recitation of prior Greek troubles on this campus.

The closure of the SAE chapter, which was founded in 1905, is the latest in a long line of UI fraternities that have faced periods of imposed dormancy because of violations in recent years:

• In January 2008, Delta Upsilon International Fraternity closed its 82-year-old UI chapter after four of its members were arrested for allegedly dealing drugs. UI had suspended the chapter the previous month during an investigation.

• International leaders of Phi Gamma Delta suspended its UI chapter and closed its Iowa City house in August 2005 following a party involving alcohol. The fraternity had already been on probation for more than three years, originally stemming from hazing and followed by problems with alcohol.

• Alcohol use and hazing at UI’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity prompted school officials to suspend the local chapter in November 2004 for five years. UI said fraternity members provided alcohol to pledges at the chapter house and that some of the eight pledges had performed calisthenics, such as push-ups or jumping jacks, as part of a pledge test, which UI considers hazing.

• UI revoked the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s recognition in January 2002 after investigating a former fraternity member’s complaint that he and other new members were forced to drink fifths of various hard liquors in a 20-minute stretch. The fraternity admitted alcohol violations but disputed its members engaged in hazing, and UI eventually dropped the hazing charge. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered UI pay the fraternity $73,000 in damages.

• In 2000, Pi Kappa Alpha was suspended for one year for having alcohol at its chapter house. Fraternity members were ordered to vacate at that time, as well, because the house was labeled “unfit and unsafe for human habitation.”

• In April 1999, the Delta Tau Delta fraternity vacated its house after its national headquarters suspended the UI chapter for a minimum of four years for violating alcohol and drug policies. The fraternity had been affiliated with UI for 119 years.

• In September 1995, Lambda Chi Alpha pledge Matthew Garafalo, 19, was found dead at the Clinton Street fraternity house. Doctors later determined his blood-alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit when he died from choking on his own vomit. The fraternity was suspended for five years.
SAE an aberration? I think not.

The problems associated with the Greek culture are similar to those surrounding the campus alcohol consumption culture, and the externalities, conflicts of interest, and resulting culture that are created when we embed in the academy what amounts to farm clubs for the NFL and NBA.

The problems are endemic. They are not aberrations. They deserve and require proactive approaches. Otherwise Josh O'Leary's list is destined to merely increase over time, as each hazing revelation, death, sexual assault, and alcohol-related arrest comes to light, receives media attention to the detriment of the University, and is dismissed as just another "aberration."

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Abandoning Romney

September 22, 2012, 2:40 p.m.

Foreign Relations Disqualification, Now Domestic, Too

Last March I wrote a favorable blog entry about Mitt Romney. "Why Mitt Romney? Better than 'Least Worst' Republican," March 22, 2012. Today I need to provide a significant addendum to those remarks.
Why Romney?

The March blog entry explained how I got to Romney: "This [every-four-years] round, my first Republican favorite was Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (See, and Mitch Daniels, Once Daniels made it clear he was not running, I switched to Jon Huntsman (see "And the winner is . . . Jon Huntsman; Jon Huntsman . . . Better than 'Least Worst Republican,'" June 26, 2011; and "Jon Huntsman, Jr.,""

My addendum today is that I should have stuck with those choices rather than compulsively moving on to the third in line because of an irrational felt need to list somebody.

For what I realize today is that Romney has now demonstrated, during the ensuing months, a lack of the ability to be an acceptable president -- first with regard to foreign affairs, and now domestic as well.

Why would I, a Democrat -- albeit one who wishes we'd promptly enact instant-runoff voting so that I could vote in elections with both my heart and my head -- bother to write anything favorable about a Republican challenger to a Democratic president seeking re-election? As I wrote in March, after the November election "the president is virtually guaranteed to be either a Democrat or Republican -- whether chosen by the voters or the Supreme Court justices. . . . I'm not interested in encouraging the nomination of the Republican candidate least likely to win. I want the Republican candidate who, if she or he wins, will do the best job."

As I was quick to make clear, "That doesn't mean I'll be sending them money, going door-to-door on their behalf, or voting for them. . . . I've said nothing so far about his [Romney's] likely positions on the issues, were he to become president. He would probably seldom come up with the solutions that I would."

But I was willing to grant, "As I've learned more about Romney, I've become increasingly impressed with his smarts, education, experience, accomplishments, commitment to public service, and obvious managerial ability in running a presidential campaign. . . . What I see . . . is a bright, well informed, analytical, hard working, focused, pragmatic, problem-solving manager. A little touch of 'Elvis' would be comforting, but it doesn't trump the other qualities." I considered his Mormon religion a plus. ("I think it useful for individuals . . . to carry a moral compass that they check for directions from time to time.")

His lack of "Elvis" appeared almost endearing at that time; a man with six homes, one of which had elevators for his automobiles, making the efforts of a somewhat sheltered, shy, very wealthy guy trying, and failing, to reach out to working- and middle-class Americans: "Nor do I find his seeming inability to speak the language of ordinary Americans disqualifying -- that his tie to NASCAR fans is that he knows a number of folks who own race teams, his appeal to UAW members is that his wife has two Cadillac cars, that his income from lecture fees is only a modest $300,000-plus. I find such unscripted comments almost charming in an odd sort of way."

His Foreign Relations Lack Sensitivity, Knowledge, Common Sense

The first evidence of Romney's lack of foreign relations finesse came, one, two, three, during his London-Israel-Poland trip. "Romney as Ambassador-in-Chief; When Experience and Common Sense Matter," July 31, 2012.

Another shocking revelation came during his ill-fated remarks at the fund raising event in Boca Raton on May 17: "And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, . . . and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way. . . . [I]t's going to remain an unsolved problem." "Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video," Mother Jones, September 19, 2012. Other comments of his on this, and other, occasions reveal an almost total reliance on an ever-increasing military budget (without specifying how it would be spent), and absence of his awareness of the role of diplomacy, intelligence gathering, police (as distinguished from military) presence, Peace Corps and student and other exchanges of citizens, and foreign aid -- as at least a part of an integrated approach to dealing with the world's problems and our best national interests.

Most recently his unfortunate and untimely comments at the time of the uprisings in Libya and Egypt were greeted with disapproval from all quarters -- including thoughtful Republicans with foreign relations experience. See, e.g., Jack Mirkinson, "Mitt Romney Response To Libya, Egypt Attacks Called 'Irresponsible,' 'Craven,' 'Ham-Handed,'" The Huffington Post, September 12, 2012 ("Many members of the media reacted with puzzlement and criticism to Mitt Romney's continuing criticism of the White House response to the deadly attacks in Libya and Egypt. The Romney campaign drew fire on Wednesday morning for issuing a blistering statement condemning the American embassy in Egypt . . ..").

His Ignorance of the American People is Appalling

You've probably already seen this quote. But here are portions of it again, before some comments about its significance.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . .

"These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. . . . And so my job is not to worry about those people — I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
"Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video," Mother Jones, September 19, 2012 (transcriiption by Sydney Brownstone, Maya Dusenbery, Ryan Jacobs, Deanna Pan, and Sarah Zhang).

Where to begin? For starters, his math and assertions are a little confusing and garbled. (1) It's true that something like 47% of the American people pay no "federal income tax." (2) There is a percentage of both Republicans and Democrats that can be counted on to register and vote, and to vote for their parties' candidates. I don't have such numbers, but would doubt that they reach 47% of "the people" for either party. (3) There are undoubtedly some people who come close to Romney's description. Again I have no numbers; they probably don't exist. But whatever they are, they aren't 47% of "the people." (4) Nor is there an overlap between all these 47% -- those who feel they are "entitled," who also don't pay income taxes, who also all will vote for President Obama. (5) In fairness, one tries to turn "my job is not to worry about those people" into a strategic comment about his conduct of a campaign; that he needs to concentrate on those who have not yet made up their minds, rather than those who will vote for Obama no matter what. But when he follows it with "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility" it ends up sounding more judgmental, and dismissive, than strategic politics.

His comments about the payment of taxes are particularly ironic. (1) One who is unemployed, unable to work due to disability or age (either too young or too old), or living in poverty as a member of the working poor, may well have good reason for not paying federal income tax. (2) However, there are very few among those Americans who don't qualify as federal income tax payers who are not "taxpayers." The largest group is paying payroll taxes (now 15% according to Romney). There are the FICA (Social Security) and Medicare payments, state income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, gasoline taxes, and a variety of other payments to the federal and states' governments.

Note, there is no significant difference between (a) someone who owes $10,000 in federal income tax, pays it, but qualifies for a $1000 federal payment of one kind or another, and (b) someone who would owe $10,000 in federal income tax, but doesn't need to pay it, because they qualify for a 10% lower income tax rate. Both end up netting $9000 to the government.

Now consider Mitt Romney's "entitlement." His tax on his just-reported 2011 adjusted gross income of $13.7 million, at even a mere 35%, would have been $4.8 million. Instead, it was only $1.9 million -- that looks to me like nearly $3 million less than what his secretary would have to pay, if he paid her a salary of $13.7 million. A pretty hefty entitlement I'd say. And based on his insistence of even greater tax breaks for the "job creators" it's not unfair to call it the equivalent of the "entitlements" he criticizes in others. Nicholas Confessore and David Kocieniewski, "Romney Reveals He Paid 14% Rate in '11 Tax Return," New York Times, September 22, 2012, p. A1.

Moreover, quoting from the Times, "Mr. Romney’s tax return for last year showed just how sensitive a political matter his wealth and tax rate has become. In a bit of reverse financial engineering, he and his wife, Ann, gave up $1.75 million worth of charitable deductions, raising his tax payments significantly.

"Had he claimed all the deductions to which he was entitled in 2011, his effective rate could have dipped to near 10 percent, contradicting his past assurances that he had never paid below 13 percent.

"But forgoing the full deductions available to him put him at odds with his own past assertions that he had never paid more taxes than he owed and his statement that if he had done so, 'I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president,” as he put it to ABC News in July.'"

(Although well beyond merely cynical, I assume that after the election he could file an amended return and get the full benefit of his unused deductions.)

But so far we've just considered the inconsistencies, miscalculations and ironies in his remarks. Let us turn for a moment to what is most troublesome.

It's fair, I believe, putting aside his erroneous 47%, to conclude that he truly believes there are a significant number of the American people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. . . . [And that he will] never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Unlike last March, when I found "such unscripted comments [demonstrating his detachment from ordinary Americans] almost charming in an odd sort of way," these remarks are no longer charming. In addition to the ignorance they reveal, his distance from, and lack of empathy for, the bulk of the American people, they are also mean spirited in a way I formerly assumed did not exist within Romney. Apparently they do.

Coupled with Romney's demonstrated lack of intuitive competence and common sense with regard to foreign relations, I must with sorrow go back to my original selections of Daniels and Huntsman as the ones the Republicans should have chosen -- albeit too late in the campaign to do the Party any good.
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Monday, September 17, 2012

Anheuser-Busch, UI & Hawks a Win-Win-Win

September 17, 2012, 12:10 p.m.
Advertising Pays

There are numerous stories of the almost miraculous impact of advertising, including these from the 1960s reported in How to Talk Back to Your Television Set: "Alberto Culver relied almost exclusively on television advertising, and pushed its sales from $1.5 million in 1956 to $80 million in 1964. The manufacturer of the bottled liquid cleaner Lestoil undertook a $9 million television advertising program and watched his sales go from 150,000 bottles annually to 100 million in three years--in competition with Procter and Gamble, Lever Brothers, Colgate, and others. The Dreyfus Fund went from assets of $95 million in 1959 to $1.1 billion in 1965 and concluded, 'TV works for us.'" How to Talk Back to Your Television Set (1970), pp. 21-22.

Now it looks like the story of the joint marketing agreement between the University of Iowa and Anheuser-Busch -- designed to increase sales of the company's beer to the University's college students -- is soon to join those historic tales.

Last week's game did not go very well on the field, or in the adjoining neighborhood. "Football Trash Talk; Iowa City: Where Great Minds Drink Alike," September 12, 2012.

Last Saturday's [Sept. 15] game against UNI went better both on and off the field. The Hawks won, 27-16, and there may have been slightly less drunkenness and trash on the neighbors' property -- although as this picture shows, there's still a shortage of students brought up to pick up. And a part of the reason may still be alcohol consumption. Last week I relayed that the Daily Iowan reported 78 arrests; this morning it reported 119. "Police Blotter," Daily Iowan, September 17, 2012.

Some of the arrest records reveal the seriousness of the problem. (Names, although in the public record and media, redacted from this blog entry for reasons of privacy and lack of relevance.) Note that the legal age in Iowa for obtaining or consuming alcohol is 21. You can argue about what it ought to be, but that is what it is. Of the following individuals, one was one day over 21, all others were under the legal age. Thus, not only were they illegally consuming alcohol; someone had illegally provided them that alcohol. Note also that the blood alcohol level that constitutes DWI is 0.08 percent. All whose blood alcohol percentages were mentioned here were over that level. (Another man, over 21, who tried to enter the University Hospital through a plate glass window, had a level of 0.310.) Here's an excerpt from the report: "[Name], 21, of Cedar Rapids, told officers he partied a bit too hard for his 21st birthday. [He] was found vomiting inside Kinnick Stadium and blew a .123 on a preliminary breath test. He was arrested for public intoxication. [Name], 18, of Iowa City; [Name], 19 of Cedar Rapids; and [Name], 19, of Iowa City, all were found passed out in Kinnick Stadium restrooms within 30 minutes of each other. [Name] was vomiting and [Name] had defecated on herself. All three women had blood-alcohol contents between .127 percent and .177 percent. They were arrested for public intoxication. Men pass out inside Kinnick Stadium, too, as proven by . . . [Name], 19, of Iowa City. . . . [He] was found passed out in a bathroom. . . . [Name], 20, of Iowa City, was arrested after he tried to carry prohibited items into the stadium . . .. He refused a breath test but was charged with public intoxication . . .." Lee Hermiston, "Gameday Arrests Down From ISU Game," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2012, p. A1. (Differences in numbers of arrests are due to a "gameday" only count and the Daily Iowan's "Police Blotter" report on Monday from the football weekend -- which showed an increase between the ISU and UNI weekends.)

What also was different this last Saturday was that my eye began to focus on the content of the trash, like that of an archeologist digging through the remnants from an ancient civilization. The ratio of Anheuser-Busch beer can containers to those of the company's competitors was grossly disproportionate -- something I'd failed to notice the week before (although I see one of the pictures I displayed in last week's blog entry does show such a container).

In case you missed the news, the University of Iowa and its Athletic Department have entered into a joint marketing agreement with Anheuser-Busch. The company gets to associate itself with UI athletics with its use of the Herky logo, in exchange for which the University gets some cash. For background and commentary on the Anheuser-Busch deal, UI's alcohol programs, and numerous ignored proposals for improvement, see, among many more, e.g.: "UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads," August 30, 2012; "'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks," August 21, 2012; "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012; "Lessons from Lincoln: Reducing Binge Drinking Hazards," May 21, 2010; UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska," December 28, 2009; UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009 (with links to 30 more); "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008.

From the looks of the trash this week, it looks like it's a win-win-win. The Hawks win the game, and Anheuser-Busch's sales of Bud Lite and Busch Lite must be way up.

The other thing to notice in these first two pictures are the empty containers of Anheuser-Busch product that have been dropped within arms reach of trash containers that could easily have held them.

Here are more examples of Anheuser-Busch sales at a variety of other locations.

Advertisers are always looking for tangible evidence that the millions they spend on advertising, with and without logos, is actually having some impact. Anheuser-Busch and the University should be very proud of what, together, they have been able to accomplish. The proof is in the trash.

# # #

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Football Trash Talk

September 12, 2012 10:10 a.m.

Iowa City: Where Great Minds Drink Alike

Football is not pretty. Last Saturday [Sept. 8] it was the Iowa State game. This Saturday it will be the University of Northern Iowa.

Last Saturday may be the worst I've ever seen.

And I'm not even talking about the Hawkeyes' performance inside Kinnick. Nor am I talking about the exploitation of student athletes for what is, in fact, big business -- complete with TV revenues, multi-million-dollar facilities, budgets (and salaries). I'm not talking about current concern over the life-long consequences for players from concussions and other injuries.

I'm talking about one of the consequences from the University of Iowa's alcohol culture -- the effort to mix what the pictured shirt advertises ("Iowa City: Great Minds Drink Alike") as the improbable co-existence of "great minds" and a student binge drinking rate twice the national average.

On Monday the Daily Iowan reported 78 arrests, most of which involved alcohol. "Police Blotter, Daily Iowan, September 10, 2012, p. 2. On Tuesday it reported that, among Iowa's state schools, "the UI ranks highest in total number of incidents reported, total number of charges, and total number of people arrested in both 2011 and the first half of 2012." "New crime stats show UI highest in overall activity", Daily Iowan, September 11, 2012, p. 2. The Press-Citizen and Register reported, Lee Hermiston, "140 alcohol citations given near Kinnick on Saturday," Iowa City Press-Citizen/Des Moines Register, September 11, 2012.

But even with regard to alcohol, I'm not talking about the personal and institutional consequences of this culture -- the self-inflicted injuries, the violence, the unwanted pregnancies, permanent brain damage, the hospital admissions for injuries and near-fatal blood alcohol levels, the drunk driving deaths and injuries to others, the missed classes, absenteeism from work, and the ultimate student drop-out rates. E.g., Robert McCoppin, "Colleges try new tactics in battle against binge drinking; Campuses offer safety training, sponsor dry events and require alcohol assessments, but 'there is no magic bullet,' an NU official says," Chicago Tribune, September 5, 2012 ("[T]he National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, blames binge drinking for more than 1,800 college student deaths a year . . .. Research shows that frequent binge drinkers are more likely to miss classes, get hurt, engage in risky sex and have problems in class."); Rick Nauert, "Binge Drinking Linked to Brain Damage," PsycCentral, June 28, 2011 ("experts now believe binge drinking can cause serious brain damage").

What I'm limiting myself to this morning is the behavior of the fans, its impact on the residential neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, and more specifically what it says about the attitudes of fans and university officials.

It just seemed to me last Saturday that the music was much louder, the language more gross, the drunkenness more obvious, and the urination on private lawns more offensive.

And the trash. Oh, the trash.

Bottles are thrown in the air just for the thrill of watching them fall and shatter. Cans are dropped, rather than put in available trash containers.

Eventually, at least most of it gets picked up within a couple of days -- thanks in large measure to the homeless and others who gather and recycle the cans. Even they are handicapped, however, by what seems to be the new macho sport of can crushing. Crushed cans can't be recycled, so they are left on private property.

It's bad enough that fans just drop their trash wherever they happen to be. What's worse for homeowners, however, is that the students don't just drop it. That would make it easier for others to pick up. Rather, they choose to demonstrate their athletic prowess, having crushed the can, by throwing their trash of all kinds into and under bushes and shrubs. As a result, picking up trash from one's yard requires crawling under the bushes to try to retrieve trash that is visible but well out of reach. This picture illustrates a small portion of what one elderly woman was able to retrieve, and pile up, before carrying it to her own trash container.

What I found especially offensive was the trash deposited in front of the Mormon "Institute of Religion." It is, among other things, a rather ironic choice of location for one's alcohol-related trash, given that UI's Mormon students are the one group that neither consumes alcohol nor has been brought up to drop their trash for others to pick up. I'm not a member of the LDS church, but I like to see respect accorded all religions and their property. It may be those who put it there were simply demonstrating the same general drunken thoughtlessness that was evident throughout the neighborhood and that -- notwithstanding the sign out front -- they were totally unaware of the purpose of one of the neighborhood's finest buildings. At least I hope it was no more than that.

Whatever UI's administrators may say, these pictures reflect what "Responsibility Matters" looks like. (To borrow from the Chicago teachers' picketing chant, "this is what democracy looks like," I can hear the trash protesters pointing and chanting: "Show me what 'responsibility' looks like" -- "This is what 'responsibility' looks like.")

In fairness, it's tough for a university administration to simultaneously try to (1) carry out programs designed to discourage college students from binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse and its consequences, while (2) (a) engaging in a lucrative joint-marketing agreement designed to increase the sale of Anheuser-Busch products, and (b) engaging in a gambling bet between the presidents of Iowa and Iowa State in which the winner gets -- that's right, a bottle of booze. (The UI administration has reassured critics of this last seeming conflict by noting that it advises that hard liquor as well as beer should also be consumed "responsibily.") Iowa State, Iowa university presidents settle up on college football bet," Des Moines Register/Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2012 ("On the line was a bottle of Templeton Rye, a drink sold by an Iowa-based company and billed as 'Prohibition-era whiskey.' . . . [D]oes wagering alcohol while the university works to curb problem drinking send a mixed message? University officials say no.")

The UI administration recently bragged that some of the alcohol abuse statistics on campus had actually declined. (Binge drinking rates remain twice the national average.) The leader of the school's "Responsibility Matters" movement concedes, however, that “Culture change takes a long time.” True. But I rather suspect that "culture change" takes longer still at a university that promotes the sale of beer, and whose administrators gamble with bottles of hard liquor. Just saying. Nate Otjen, "Iowa City-UI alcohol partnership touts new statistics," Daily Iowan, September 13, 2012.

For background and commentry on the Anheuser-Busch deal, UI's alcohol programs, and numerous ignored proposals for improvement, see, among many more, e.g.: "UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads," August 30, 2012; "'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks," August 21, 2012; "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012; "Lessons from Lincoln: Reducing Binge Drinking Hazards," May 21, 2010; UI's Alcohol Abuse: Look to Nebraska," December 28, 2009; UI's Alcohol Problem: Many Solutions, Little Will; Alcohol Back in the News? No, Always in the News," December 16, 2009 (with links to 30 more); "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008.

Apparently the Melrose neighborhood was not the only repository for trash. "A mass of volunteers descended upon Kinnick Stadium last weekend. Their task was simple— recycle every piece of waste. . . . Roughly 4,700 pounds of recycling were collected . . .. 'The majority of waste is in the stands after the game,' said . . . the president of Delta Tau Delta." Kelsey L. Johnson, "Recycling Initiatives for Iowa-Iowa State Game Yield Results," Daily Iowan, September 14, 2012. Two thoughts: Over two tons of trash left behind by fans! A multi-million-dollar football program that doesn't pay the players the fans come to see, and then relies on volunteers to pick up the trash their entertainment program produces?!

Ah, but there's more. Apparently downtown Iowa City wasn't very pretty either. "On Sunday morning at 9 a.m., downtown Iowa City wasn’t the fun-filled place to party. It was a place no public relations firm would want to promote. I saw numerous piles of vomit, broken bar glasses and beer bottles, numerous plates of half-eaten food sitting around the outdoor cafés, and trash blowing everywhere." Andrea Rauer, "Use Beer Money to Clean Downtown," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 14, 2012, p. A7.

As for UI's students with alcohol-soaked "great minds," someone, sometime, better tell them that a great mind with a B.A. degree is only one of many, many qualities necessary to progress along the road to whatever they consider "success" -- whether the financial ability to engage in the "conspicuous consumption" of the rich, or a reduced-stress bliss. Along with at least minimal social and time-management skills, and what my parents' generation used to call "the sense God gave geese," it includes things as mundane as the civility to pick up and dispose of one's own trash.

And that's the point of this blog entry. It's not about football or alcohol -- although both are involved. It's about being thoughtful, and sensitive to others. And it's about, as was the case during the recent Penn State discussion, what the NCAA calls "institutional control." "Institutional Control," NCAA Constitution, Art. 6, NCAA 2011-12 Division I Manual, p. 43; and see Michelle Brutlag Hosick, "Presidential Leadership Drives Transformation," NCAA News, June 28, 2012.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Natural Superiority of Women

September 11, 2012, 8:55 a.m.
And Why Men Fail

Over the past 40 years I have become increasingly conscious of the mounting evidence I have encapsulated in the phrase, "the natural superiority of women." Observing my wife, Mary Vasey, has brought more evidence each day over the past twenty-plus years.

Today [September 11] the New York Times' David Brooks has dropped the other shoe in a column titled, "Why Men Fail." David Brooks, "Why Men Fail," New York Times, September 11, 2012, p. A23 ("To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks.").

We have undergone what has been a tectonic shift in what it means to be human in America, our social relationships, gender roles and responsibilities.

Women may have always been superior to men in a variety of ways, but from the 1930s through the 1960s they were not accorded many opportunities to demonstrate that fact. Aside from the early 1940s, World War II's "Rosie the riveter" and all that, "homemaker and mother" was considered the honorable profession it still is ("stand by your man," and "the wind beneath my wings"). The choices available to women wishing to venture outside the home with their college degrees, ended up being in large measure teacher, nurse, secretary or airline stewardess (as they were then called; remember the airline commercial with the line, "Fly me"?).

And a lot of help the media was. TV producers deliberately created what they derisively referred to as "T&A" shows, and the appalling portrayal of women in commercials was no better. (Remember the commercial aimed at doubling the nicotine dealers' market: "Cigarettes are like women; the best ones are thin and rich"?)

The last 40 years have been a different story for a whole variety of reasons that need not be reproduced here, including but by no means limited to Title IX. And it is primarily a story, and society, of which women can accurately say, "We built that."

The disparity between men and women remains. But what David Brooks reports, channeling the work of Hanna Rosin, is that it is not just because of what I've called "the natural superiority of women." It is also because of the reasons why, in increasing numbers, "men fail."

Read it, guys. If you think there's still a "battle of the sexes," forget it. As Warren Buffett said when charged with fomenting "class warfare," "if there’s class warfare, the rich class has won." If there ever was a battle, it's long since over and the women have won. Women never were our "enemy." As Pogo told us long before David Brooks documented the reasons why, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

# # #

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Trickle-Up Economics Serves Both Greedy and Needy

September 9, 2012 3:50 p.m.

No One is 8 Percent Unemployed

Sometimes it is true that "the longest way round is the shortest way home." More often, however, the shortest way home is also the shortest way round.

So it is with "creating jobs."

Republicans' -- and Democrats' -- Trickle Down Programs

There's nothing like a presidential campaign to produce a lot of talk about jobs. The Republicans say jobs will come from further enriching the wealthy, "the job creators," with more and ever-greater tax cuts. The Democrats say the answer lies in "stimulus" -- kind of an above-the-board way of doing the same thing. (That is, the financial impact on corporations and the wealthy of a $100,000 tax cut is precisely the same as a $100,000 "stimulus" payment. The only difference is that the latter shows up as an "appropriation," and the former does not.)

As these photos illustrate (Great Depression food distribution; today's job fairs), there's little to no evidence the Republicans' approach works. We've had recessions when taxes were low (President George W. Bush's years), and impressive growth when they were much higher (post-WW II, with also the Century's lowest unemployment rates; or during President Bill Clinton's years).

The Democrats' "stimulus" has had some impact, but at an enormous cost per job (the President Barack Obama administration). Goodness knows we need infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges and schools, and I'm certainly in favor of employment for those in the trades. But as jobs programs, they do little for the demographic groups with the highest rates of unemployment.

Both approaches are, in effect, grounded in "trickle down" ideology: If only taxpayers will provide enough capital to corporations and the wealthy (whether through tax reductions, cash or contracts), and leave the decisions to them, so the theory goes, unemployment will decline as production of goods and services increase and government construction projects are undertaken.

This ideology is tragically wrong for at least two reasons.

First, those Republicans who are actually running businesses are simply too smart to make it work. When demand for their businesses' goods and services decline, no amount of government incentives will prompt them to build more plant, buy more equipment, and hire more workers. Why would they want or need more production, when their warehouses and showrooms are full of goods that don't move? They're not that stupid and self-destructive. They know that it is demand that provides the rationale for investment, not investment that creates consumer demand. Especially is this true in our economy, in which PCE (personal consumption expenditures) are between 65 and 70 percent of GDP. William R. Emmons, "Don't Expect Consumer Spending To Be the Engine of Economic Growth It Once Was," The Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, January 2012.

Corporate America, reportedly sitting on $2 trillion, doesn't need more cash, or lower interest rates. What it needs is a jump start for the economy.

In short, a capitalist economy, the job-creating sector par excellence during a booming economy, is inherently, by definition, totally incapable of turning around an economy that is stagnant, in recession, or an economic depression -- as we have witnessed since 2007.

A stagnant capitalist economy is like a stick shift car with a dead battery and no jumper cables. You have to push it, have the driver put it gear, and then let out the clutch, in order to get the engine to turn over and start. Then it can take off down the road under its own power. The federal government is about the only thing available that can give an economy that push. Otherwise, we're like a crowd of clueless teenagers, standing around and staring at that car, just waiting for it to start on its own.

No One Is 8 Percent Unemployed

Second, both Democrats' and Republicans' analyses are based on the simplistic and fallacious, "8 percent unemployment" thinking. No one is "8 percent unemployed." A worker may be working part time rather than full time, earning 8 percent less, or unemployed 8 percent of the year. But he or she is either employed or unemployed. Ironically, to acquire a statistical understanding of our jobs and economic challenges we need to abandon the general, "average," statistics and look at the individuals -- or at least the demographic groups of which they are a part.

Here's an example of what I mean. There are vast differences in the employment and unemployment numbers that turn on education, race, age and gender. At this point in 2012, the unemployment percentage for those without a high school education is 12.0%; for those with a B.A. or above it's 4.1%. For African Americans it's 14.1%; for Asian Americans 5.9%. For those between 25 and 34 it's 8.3%; for those 55 and above, 5.9%. For males it's 8.3%; for females 7.8%. See, e.g., "Unemployment Demographics", Department of Numbers, August 2012.

And these differences can compound.

The worst possible combination is for someone who is a young, African American male who has dropped out of high school. The numbers differ slightly based on who is reporting, and from what years, but usually indicate unemployment for those in this group is somewhere in the 70% range -- especially if the prison population is included, as it should be. See, e.g., "Data that don’t include inmates show that 41.9 percent of young, black, male dropouts were employed in 2008 [i.e., 58.1% unemployment]. Including inmates we find that close to one quarter, or 26.3 percent, of young, black men without a high school diploma were employed on a given day in 2008 [i.e., 73.7% unemployment]. If you recall incarceration rates I mentioned earlier, that means that more young black men without a high school diploma were incarcerated (37%) than were employed (26.3%)." Rohan Mascarenhas, "Mass Incarceration in America: An Interview with Becky Pettit," Russell Sage Foundation, June 26, 2012.

On the other hand, in 2009 women were 57 percent of undergraduates, 60 percent of graduate students, and over 50 percent of Ph.D. candidates. Unemployment rates for married women were 5.5 percent (and for single mothers 13.6 percent -- if one chooses to ignore the "employment" involved in raising children and running a house). "Jobs and Economic Security for America's Women," National Economic Council, White House, October 2010.

Put these numbers together with those four paragraphs above and they create quite a contrast with those for young, black, male, high school dropouts. I recall reading somewhere -- when I can't recall, and where I can't find, even with Google -- that white women in their forties, with Ph.Ds, had an unemployment rate close to 4 percent. Considering the percentages of unemployment reported above for college degree holders who are white, women, over 55, that seems a reasonable number -- one that would be even lower for Asian American women.

The Fully Employed and the Totally Unemployed

The lowest possible national unemployment rate on any given day is not zero. People are moving to another location (and job), or on vacation, or in the hospital. The lowest unemployment rate recorded for any year since 1948 is about 3 percent. "Unemployment Rates in the U.S. Since 1948," ("The year with the lowest average unemployment rate was 1953 with an average unemployment rate of 2.93%.").

So rather than "8 percent unemployment," what we have in fact is a variation in employment among American demographic groups from near total unemployment (rates in the area of 70 percent) to near full employment (rates between 3 and 5 percent).

So where to begin?

Since Peter Drucker started talking about "profit centers" and "cost centers" in 1945 (and subsequently modified his position on the former), they've been a part of the vernacular of business. They are useful in thinking about unemployment as well.

If unemployment can be most effectively addressed only in terms of the individual demographic groups between which it varies so radically, what demographic group will offer the greatest opportunity for job creation with the fewest number of programs and the lowest cost per job? Which will offer the greatest benefit to cost? Doesn't it make most sense to start with the group in which virtually everyone is unemployed (young, male, dropouts) and save until last those in which almost everyone already has a job (middle-aged, Asian-American, women, with Ph.D.s)?

None of this is said out of an insensitivity to the hurt suffered by any and all who are out of work -- including professionals and former corporate CEO millionaires. Nor is it a proposal to shut down all programs designed to help the unemployed in the more favored demographic groups. It is only to say that a little benefit-cost triage analysis might also make sense.

If you've followed this so far, including the reality that the private sector cannot turn the economy around all by itself, leaving by default the federal government as the employer of last resort, the question is what kind of a program might best work.

We have some former and current models, including President Franklin Roosevelt's WPA (Works Progress Administration; "Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs"), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps; "in nine years 2.5 million young men participated in the CCC"), and National Youth Administration. Today's Forest Service runs a "Youth Conservation Corps" program, and there are many more youth-related programs, such as Job Corps, throughout the federal and state governments.

What Could Henry's Employees A-Ford?

Henry Ford's Model-T Ford workers were paid above scale. His motives for doing so are subject to debate. It is widely believed this was so that his workers could afford to buy those cars. "Fordism," Others say it was to reduce turnover. Tim Worstall, "The Story of Henry Ford's $5 a Day Wages: It's Not What You Think," Forbes, March 4, 2012. For our purposes we need not probe the mind of Ford.

We just need to focus on the benefits of providing jobs to the unemployed -- starting with the demographic that has the highest unemployment numbers (young high school dropout males). Some may feel a moral, ethical, religious or noblesse oblige obligation to do so. Fortunately, for those who do not, those driven by selfishness and greed, the conclusion is the same. Putting aside the direct benefits for those who get the jobs, and income, all social-economic classes benefit -- from the jump-start to the economy that speeds recovery, from what may be an increased personal income from more sales (and profit), and from the enormous savings that will result from youth employment.

Poverty and unemployment aren't free. You can keep the unemployed out of sight and mind, but not out of your pocketbook -- or your home. When someone has "nothing left to lose" is when they're open to breaking and entering, stealing food to feed the kids, selling drugs (or their bodies) to pay the rent, and ultimately participating in the violent protests that occasionally bring property damage and worse to our cities. It's not cheap keeping a third of these youngsters in prison. Jesse Jackson used to point out that it would be cheaper to give them a full-ride scholarship to Harvard -- if only they were eligible -- than to keep them in prison. It's not cheap to provide their basic healthcare in hospitals' expensive emergency rooms. Wouldn't you rather have your taxes going to pay their wages -- with the physical benefits that might provide to your community -- than pay for their unemployment compensation and food stamps (and other costs poverty can bring)?

If we really want to get our economy going again, if we really want to create jobs, the best way to do it is to focus on directly creating jobs, not additional tax breaks for those who don't need them, or even "infrastructure" as such, in the hopes it will trickle down. We need to start with the demographic that needs them the most. That will cost us the least; save us the most; have the greatest impact on the economy; and start to trickle up, further enriching the wealthy as well, while also helping the 99 percent.

Imagine what $1 trillion of bank bailout money in 2009, used instead in a program like this, could have accomplished by now. At even $25,000 a year per youth, that could have created 40 million jobs for one year, or 10 million jobs for four years. As the program would have expanded jobs on up the demographic groups less impacted with unemployment, it's not unreasonable to project that we would all be able to say this fall that, "I really am better off now than I was four years ago."

Moreover, as the program kicked in, more Americans were employed and spending money, demand would increase (along with confidence), sales and profits would increase, production would follow, and at long last the private sector would be in a position to hire more employees -- including those who would by then have some newly developed job skills they could contribute to their new workplace, as they move from public to private payrolls.

Yes, sometimes the shortest way home really is the shortest way round.

# # #

Friday, September 07, 2012

Legislating, Educating: Obama as Community Organizer

September 7, 2012 11:00 a.m.

Whither the Democrats?

President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak on the University of Iowa Pentacrest today, September 7, 2012.

Five years ago, April 22, 2007, I had the opportunity to put a question to him at a comparable event in Iowa City.

It was a question I had put to a great many presidential candidates since the 1970s, starting with a series of television interviews I hosted, on through the quadrennial parade of candidates through Iowa City attracted by Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

It soon became apparent that most candidates for public office, including presidential candidates, have been asked so many questions, at so many events and interviews, over so many years, that few if any questions come to them as a surprise. The responses are smooth and designed to sooth, rehearsed and delivered as if recorded, played back from a tape cassette implanted in their brain.

The possibility occurred to me of having someone throw them a ball to see if they could catch it, or sneaking up behind them and tipping over their chair, to see how they'd react. Anything to get video of an unrehearsed response would be better than what was happening.

The producer rejected this suggestion.

Ultimately, I came up with "the question." In an Iowa City living room, it would go something like this: "Senator" (for they often were senators), "let's make two assumptions -- one, that you are, as we say, 'right on the issues,' and two, that you get elected. Why are the coal mines going to be safer places for coal miners to work? Why will the Congress stop spending our money for weapons systems the Defense Department doesn't want? Why will shipowners' subsidies be cut?"

It was, in short, a process question. It was not a "what are you going to promise us you will do?" question, but rather a "and how are you going to get it done?" question.

Almost all were totally flummoxed by the question. They had seemingly never thought about it before. Even Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was a friend and very effective senator I greatly admired, responded, "Gee, Nick, that's a great question. We need to talk about that. You come on over to the office and we're going to talk about that."

A couple came up with, "Well, I'm going to appoint good people to office" -- a response that made clear they didn't understand the problem. After all, I had been (as U.S. Maritime Administrator) what I would like to believe was a "good person in office," and had some sense of the limitations. Agencies of that sort tend to be covered by a pro-industry trade press, rather than general media. The congressional committees that determine the agencies' appropriations, legislation, and oversight tend to be made up of elected officials who come from areas impacted by those industries, and whose campaigns are funded by them. The agency's employees are wined and dined by representatives of the industry. (In the case of the agency responsible for monitoring BP prior to the Gulf oil spill, it turned out the employees were literally sleeping with industry representatives.) And although not true in my case, industry representatives often have easier access to the supervising cabinet officers and White House staff than the agency heads themselves.

No, unless "good people in office" are prepared to go along with everything their regulated industry wants them to do, they are going to be very frustrated.

In fact, during the last 40 years there have only been three presidential candidates who have at least grasped the question, the problem, and the possible answers: Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Barack Obama.

Obama's response to me, five years ago was, "Nick, I've been a community organizer."

Like many Americans' responses to many of candidate Obama's statements in 2007-08, I may have gone too far in breathing into that answer what I wanted to hear. I had visited with Saul Alinsky, whom even Bill Buckley recognized as "very close to being an organizational genius." I had gone through training at Heather Booth's Midwest Academy -- familiar to Obama.

I went away from that conversation five years ago with my personal vision of President Barack Obama as America's "community-organizer-in-chief." Yes, yes, I thought. He understands the problem. He has the insight that, as the saying has it, "When the people will lead, their leaders will follow." Or, as President Roosevelt put it to a petitioner, "I agree with you absolutely. We must do what you say. Now you go out there and make me do it." Or, as I have said before, "If you can't legislate, educate."

Obama has had the experience. He knows how to do it. He has already created and utilized the technology to expand the process from a single neighborhood to an entire nation. "Yes, we can."

Like so many hopes for change, it didn't quite work out that way.

Earlier this week I signed on to an open letter to the U.S. Senate and House Democratic Party leadership from 20 Democrats who had, in years past, served in the Senate and House, Executive Branch, administrative agencies, or other positions.

The signers, and their former positions, are: Senators James Abourezk, Fred Harris, Gary Hart; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Joan Claybrook, New York Mayor David Dinkins, Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Peter Edelman, Civil Rights Commission Commissioner Christopher Edley Jr., U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee Executive Director James K. Galbraith, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, New York Consumer Commissioner Mark Green, Texas Railroad Commissioner Jim Hightower, Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, U.S. Ambassador Derek Shearer, Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners President Stanley K. Sheinbaum , New York Governor Eliot Spitzer; Professor and MSNBC commentator Michael Eric Dyson, People for the American Way founder and TV producer Norman Lear, MSNBC commentator Ron Reagan, Rush Communications Chair and CEO Russell Simmons.

The recipients were: Senators Harry Reid, Daniel K. Inouye, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Charles E. Schumer; and House Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, James Clybun, John Larson, and Steve Israel.

You can find the full text of the letter here: "Open Letter From Leading Democrats to Congressional Democratic Leaders: How Democrats Can Get Back on Offense," Protect Democracy, September 3, 2012. Meanwhile, these excerpts will provide the gist:
GOP rhetoric and policies [are] extreme . . ., e.g., climate change is a hoax, voter fraud is a menace justifying voter suppression, regulations only impose costs never benefits . . . and the American President hates America. Given such regressive nonsense, where are the Democrats? The surprising answer — often defensive, defeatist, and reactive. . . .

[W]e urge Democratic Party leaders to show leadership in at least three ways:

Frames: Let’s reframe issues so that platitudes and metaphors don’t pass for analysis. . . .

With Romney-Ryan’s unpopular views on tax cuts for the wealthy and “VoucherCare” for the elderly, now’s the perfect time to frame this election as between John Galt and Modern Family -– the 1% who believe “we’re all in this alone” (Sen. Durbin’s phrase) versus “everyone’s better off when everyone’s better off.” With reactionaries dominating the policy, language and financing of the GOP, the best way Democrats can win is to hit the gas not the brakes.

Record: A weekly RepublicanReignofError could explain what would happen if those running on a right-wing-and-a-prayer actually got their way. Not just facts but stories: . . ..

Ideas: Among the things that make Democrats exceptional is FDR’s axiom that we pursue “bold, persistent experimentation.” Where are the successors to Social Security, GI Bill, the Americans with Disabilities Act? To help Democrats win and govern, what can be our positive mandate?

I suffer no illusions that our letter was anything more than what many Democratic Party strategists have been thinking. But for whatever reasons, many of our sentiments were heard in the speeches of President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and last evening's address by President Obama -- among others. (In Iowa City, Obama acknowledged President Clinton's home run in Charlotte: "'Michelle was amazing. President Clinton made the case in the way only he can,' Obama said. 'Somebody emailed me after his speech they said, you need to appoint him secretary of explaining stuff. That was pretty good. I like that -- the secretary of explaining stuff -- "splanin."'" "After Conventions, More of the Same," Politico ("Reid J. Epstein reported from Iowa City"), September 7, 2012.)

Voting does make a difference, as we discovered in the South after the Voting Rights Act was passed and enforced. Once African-Americans were able to vote, and did so, they discovered a remarkable improvement in the city services provided in their neighborhoods. There are a sufficient number of poor, working poor, working class, and lower middle class people in this country that if all of them would register, vote, and support the candidates who will represent their interests their candidates would win every time.

Organizing remains the key to victory in 2012, as it did in 2008. I suspect the President will have something to say about that this evening on the Pentacrest. How Americans respond will make all the difference.

[President Obama and Cast of 8000; Iowa City, Sept. 7, 2012; Photo Credit: Iowa City Press-Citizen]
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