Friday, June 30, 2006

More on Academic Executives' Compensation

[A truncated version of the "Academic Executives' Compensation" was published today, June 30, as a letter in The Daily Iowan.]

When Too Much is Not Enough
[Daily Iowan: Is Too Much Enough?]

Nicholas Johnson

The Daily Iowan

June 30, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Daily Iowan.]

How much is enough?

Regent President pro tem Teresa Wahlert said, "'You get what you pay for. You don't get an extremely qualified academic and entice him to stay' with a lower salary," ("Board eyes more $ for prez," June 22).

Perhaps. Certainly, once hired, raises reflect respect.

You get what you pay for? Consumer Reports has spent 70 years disproving that canard.

And it's also possible that those initially attracted primarily because of the pay will be less enticed to stay.

Individual values differ. Some "know the price of everything (including themselves) and the value of nothing (including non-monetary 'income')." There are some whose self-esteem, motivation, and very lives are centered on, and measured only in, dollars. Wouldn't such individuals be less likely to be enticed to stay when the next, even higher, salary is dangled before them?

Perhaps someone who could earn much more, but takes the job anyway (because of the challenge, opportunity for growth, sense of contribution, or affection for the institution), is the president who would be most likely to be "enticed to stay."
Nicholas Johnson
visiting professor, College of Law

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"The Road to Tyranny"?

Alex Jones' film, "911 The Road to Tyranny," March 15, 2006 (2:21:55), is now available for viewing on the Internet,
. It's thesis, as the title suggests, is that "they" (e.g., the Administration, power elite, Council on Foreign Relations, United Nations), bent on producing a totalitarian state inside the U.S., brought on numerous terrorist attacks (e.g., including the Oklahoma City bombing) up to and including 9/11, in order to assist in winning the support of the American people for repressive measures (i.e., "tyranny") that might otherwise have been rejected.

Having devoted the time to watching this film (at another's request) here are some reactions.

(1) (a) There's a big difference between saying: (a) following 911 the Administration's response went over the top in some ways, including the adoption of some policies/techniques similar to those used by Hitler in Nazi Germany, and (b) this Administration so wanted to adopt the techniques of tyranny that it caused 911 to occur, following which it adopted the repressive laws and policies it had wanted all along. Of course, the "evidence" provided by this film would support either assertion.

Obviously, none of us can "know" what the facts are in this regard -- facts that would have to include the unspoken thoughts and desires of Administration members. We really have no option other than agnostic on this if asked to swear to the absolute truth of the matter. So we have to go on instinct and intuition. And mine lead me to (a) rather than (b).

I have no doubt there are some (hopefully very, very few) individuals in America who are either certifiably paranoid, or very convinced they are right and others (who can't be trusted) are wrong, or are just captivated by the notion of power over others -- sufficiently so that they would welcome, and do what they can to bring about, a totalitarian society. Most, thankfully, are not in government; but might there be one or two who are a part of this (or any past or future) Administration? Probably.

(b) Jones expresses concern about the use of military in domestic law enforcement operations, and the existence of military training exercises regarding control of civilian riots, or responses to natural, or terrorist-executed, disasters.
Similarly to the analysis above, one might propose such training exercises because it's only sensible to be prepared (rather than the Katrina response) -- or because one is gearing up for a military takeover and suppression of the country in preparation for the suspension of the national elections in 2008. Once again, my intuition would be the former rather than the latter. But again, as my mother used to say with regard to the benefit she was receiving from her meds, "How would I know?"

(2) Clearly Jones is positioning himself (like any campaigning politician or marketing consultant) to have something in his presentation to appeal to all -- from gun owners to "liberals."

(3) He uses in some way virtually all the subterranean soup that bubbles up on the all night talk shows: black helicopters, contrails from planes, Council on Foreign Relations, United Nations takeover of the U.S., etc. In doing so, I think he weakens his case.

(4) Moreover, to the extent he uses "facts" one gets the impression he is playing a little fast and loose with them. Literally so: most of the pictures of documents are not on the screen long enough to be read.

(5) Has this Republican Administration, and Party generally, used (and successfully, I'd say) the mantra of "war on terrorism" to establish and retain political power? Absolutely. Has that involved an erosion of our civil liberties? Of course; who could deny it. Are these matters that ought to concern us, put us on our guard, get us more politically involved? Damn right.

But when Alex Jones puts forth assertions and theories that will seem so radically counter intuitive to most Americans, and are seldom fully factually backed up, he just makes it easier to throw out the legitimately frightening baby along with the dirty bathwater.

[More from me on "terrorism" generally can be found at*%20Politics.]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Campaign Finance: The Gain in Maine is Very, Very Sane

The Supreme Court, addressing Vermont's strict limitations on campaign contributions, has -- with a number of differing opinions -- stuck with the proposition that campaign contributions are a form of "free speech."

Is there any hope?

Maine has been operating with a voluntary system of public financing of campaigns since 1996 -- a system very popular with Maine's voters and candidates alike. It can be done. See

FCC: Conflicts of Interest Serve the Public Interest

And speaking of "FromDC2Iowa" . . . The FCC has reportedly gone out of its way to not only renew the challenged license of KWWL-TV in Waterloo, but to use the opportunity to further reduce the responsibilities of broadcast licensees generally, making a mockery of the standards applicable to broadcasters still required by law to serve "the public interest."

The decision is reminiscent of the Commission's "deregulation" efforts when it ruled that fraud was no longer a violation of the public interest standard.

The report in the trade magazine, Broadcasting & Cable, follows -- to which some more commentary is added.

FCC Denies Challenge, Renews KWWL License

John Eggerton

Broadcasting & Cable

June 26, 2006 1:24:00 PM

[Note: This material is copyright by Broadcasting & Cable, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for
non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of Broadcasting & Cable.]

The FCC has dismissed a challenge to the license of Raycom's KWWL(TV) Waterloo, Iowa, and granted the station a new seven-year lease on life.

The license had been challenged over two station editorials that the petitioner said were motivated by undisclosed financial interest in the issues, and in one cast, was delivered without sufficient time for reply. The FCC concluded that it had little power to interfere with news decision-making, that private and public interests were not mutually exclusive, and that there was insufficient evidence that granting the license would, on its face, be inconsistent with the public interest.

One editorial was called "The Digital Age of Television" and advocated maintaining the 2009 hard date for the digital switch. The other opposed a ballot initiative creating a local telecommunications utility commission.

Raycom, said petitioner Richard C. Young, did not disclose that it had a financial interest in not extending the time during which it would have to simulcast analog and digital, and did not disclose that it had a financial relationship with a cable provider who would be directly affected by the creation of the utility commission.

In addition, Young said, the editorial on the utility commission came the night before the election, not providing the other side sufficient time for rebuttal.

The FCC pointed out that, since it had scrapped the fairness doctrine--almost 20 years ago--there was no guaranteed right of reply, so the station was not required to make any time available for rebuttal.

The FCC also said that news was the core programming protected by the First Amendment and that the Commission "has very little authority to interfere with a licensee's selection and presentation of...editorial programming. Station KWWL(TV) exercised its good faith discretion in determining that the two editorials were relevant and important to the community it served."

As to the financial interest, Raycom said that was not its motivation, and the FCC said it didn't matter whether it was or not. The FCC's Media Bureau said that while "the public interest is paramount to the private interests of a commercial broadcast licensee," the FCC doesn't generally intervene if the private and public interests are not incompatible. "The private interest in airing the two editorials, to the extent there existed one, did not pose a risk of harm to viewers," the FCC said.

# # #

Put aside the decision to grant the license renewal, as such. If the story is accurate, the license renewal challenge was based on but two complaints regarding a couple of editorials. Whether two such failings during a seven-year license term should be grounds for loss of license for a multi-million-dollar property is, at a minimum, subject to reasonable disagreement.

But focus on what the petitioners complained of, and the irrational and irrelevant response of the Commission.

It's fairly clear that, on these two occasions, the station owners were using their grant of public property for private use to serve the limited, selfish interests of their own corporate profit rather than "the public interest."

As I read the story, petitioners were not even complaining about that. They had but two complaints: (1) that the station had not revealed its conflict of interest, and (2) that one of the editorials dealt with an election issue so close to the election that no response was possible.

The FCC's "analysis" -- "
that it had little power to interfere with news decision-making, that private and public interests were not mutually exclusive" and its reference to KWWL's judgment that the two stories were "important and relevant to the community" -- is simply not responsive. To require stations to comply, as a matter of "public interest," with what professional journalists would do in their stories as a matter of course -- reveal conflicts of interest -- is neither an interference in news decision-making (i.e., what stories to report and how to report them) or a declaration that private and public interests are mutually exclusive, or a challenge to a station's judgment that a story is "important," or a finding that to have a private interest in a story "poses a risk of harm to viewers." It simply says -- as with payola, plugola and video news releases from commercial sources presented as the station's news -- when there is a risk of deception, when what is being presented (both subject and treatment) as independent news judgment at least impacts upon, if not actually a result of, undisclosed commercial interests of the station owner, those interests should be revealed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rain Forest Monday Updates

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

It is found at: (Scroll down about one screen below the "Executive Summary" and click on "June 26.)

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

This week there are 22 links to more material. One goes to a collection of 23 stories, videos and a photo slideshow about Riverside. Another to the annual report (and additional interpretive news stories and editorials) about the Iowa Values Fund. And of course there's the usual commentary from the Webmaster (me) regarding the current status of the rain forest project.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Academic Executives' Compensation

Iowa's Board of Regents is searching for a new University of Iowa president. Some statements from Regents indicate they believe that multiple-hundred-thousand-dollar salaries are necessary to attract someone capable of the task; that there is a "market" for university presidents not unlike the market for cattle or houses. "'[There are] guidelines as to where the market seems to be,' she [Regent Teresa Wahlert] said. ‘I think the market will pretty much tell us, if you want person "X", this is probably where you’ll have to be with the package.'’’ Diane Heldt, "Regents: UI President Needs Higher Salary," The Gazette, June 23, 2006.

Given the willingness to pay the University of Iowa football coach $3 million a year, $300,000 or more for its president doesn't seem all that much. But is it truly the case that no one can be found who would be willing to take the job for the challenge, opportunity, prestige, responsibility, experience -- and just plain fun -- unless paid well in excess of $300,000 a year -- plus house, car, various expense accounts, deferred compensation and other benefits? (Living expenses in Iowa City are well below those in America's major urban centers, the state's average family income is under $50,000, and the community is often ranked (by a variety of standards) as one of the best places to live in the U.S.)

Are the Regents right?

If this interests you there's an exploration of the issues surrounding compensation in general, and executive compensation in particular, in Nicholas Johnson, "Pricey Presidents' Added Cost," The Daily Iowan, March 7, 2006.

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Murder" in Iraq

[These thoughts were ultimately expanded into a published op ed column which, in this online version comes complete with footnoted sources: "Perspective on Military Murder and the Mission at Hand," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 2, 2006,
More of my published commentary about terrorism in general and the Iraq War in particular can be found at Terrorism and the War in Iraq.]

Can't defend "murder" -- whether in battles of war or breaches of the peace. But does anyone else see how inevitable it is when the "mission" isn't really suitable for military solutions?

It's very difficult to have a "war" in a country where our military will inevitably be viewed as invaders/occupiers, we don't know the culture, can't speak the language, there is no front line, the "enemy" refuses to wear uniforms and can't be distinguished from allies and innocent civilians, the enemy operates out of cells and as individuals with no "headquarters" or discernable "chain of command," the country's population is divided among historically antagonistic ethnic and religious groups -- now warring -- rather than united against an invader, and the fighting must take place in densely populated urban areas' homes, shops, streets and schools. This was a problem in Vietnam and even more so in Iraq -- and one of the reasons the President's father wisely avoided trying to "defeat" Iraq once its military was beaten back out of Kuwait.

Our 21,000 dead and injured American troops are already matched with an estimated 35,000 to 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. It is often the case that innocent civilians are the greatest casualty of war.

This week's news brings the story that 8 U.S. troops now stand accused of "murdering" an Iraqi civilian in his home. I can't justify what they are accused of doing. Nor am I about to charge Bush with being a "murderer."

But it does seem to me that it was fully predictable when the Administration handed our well-trained, brave troops an impossible "mission," inherently not suited for a military solution, that it would inevitably lead, at some point, to an event like that for which 8 of our soldiers will soon be standing trial for "murder."

$180 Million Terrarium

NPR this morning ("Morning Edition," Friday, June 23, 2nd hour) quoted a member of Congress using the "$50 million rain forest in Iowa" as the classic example of earmarks.

If you're interested, I've amassed what I believe to be the most thorough collection of data and commentary on the proposed indoor rain forest for Iowa -- along with links to my own Web commentary and published pieces about it -- at

Go to that site to find the history of the "Iowa Child" rain forest project: originally "The Iowa Child Project" (still the name of its official foundation), then the "Iowa Environmental/Education Project," next the "Iowa Environmental Project" (and occasionally just "The Environmental Project") it has recently been christened "Earthpark."

Its history covers 10 years of unsuccessful efforts to find either money or location -- aside from Senator Chuck Grassley's generous contribution of $50 million of your money and mine.