Wednesday, March 07, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 410 - March 7

March 7, 2007, 11:30 a.m., 2:20 p.m. (links and modest editing)

More items today involving: UI's ties to the gambling industries, Mary Gilchrist, and Optiva -- plus an insightful column from Peter Fisher on organized labor and "fair share."

UI Loves Gambling

There are a number of issues here.

(1) The Iowa Lottery commercial. Essentially everyone has come to agreement -- after they were caught, and the media was all over it -- that the specific commercial involving the Iowa Lottery and the Iowa Fight Song was a mistake. (The fact that the owner's lawyer pointed out to the litigation-shy University that the commercial was also a copyright violation contributed to reason's ultimate triumph with this one.)

(2) UI-Lottery Ties. However, beyond the commercial, views shift. The Interim President and Athletic Director think there's nothing wrong with gambling that sufficient UI revenues won't cure. But yesterday the University's Faculty Council unanimously voted its disagreement. See Diane Heldt's story this morning, linked below.
(As Heldt reports, AD Barta thinks "the relationship with the lottery should continue.")

(3) And the Gambling Casino? As I've repeatedly observed, and The Gazette headlined as one of its "Gomers" Monday, the Iowa Lottery is not the only "devil's bargain" -- as Professor Michael O'Hara characterized a UI-gambling partnership at the meeting yesterday. There's also the Athletic Department's partnership with the Riverside Gambling Casino. Why would the Faculty Council be so upset over the Lottery and fail even to mention the Gambling Casino contract?

(4) Money Uber Alles. In some ways most disturbing is the observation, reported in the morning's Press-Citizen brief comment that some "note that UI athletics will be entirely self-funded next year and say the revenue is needed."

This is the rationale for keeping highly sugared soft drinks in high school vending machines -- notwithstanding their contribution to obesity, diabetes and what dentists refer to as "Mountain Dew mouth." "The revenue is needed."

It's the rationale politicians use for accepting large bribes from special interest pleaders. "The revenue is needed."

After public broadcasting was specifically established as a "non-commercial" broadcasting service, that was its rationale for taking the commercials that now clutter their "non-commercial" airwaves. "The revenue is needed."

Of course, the politicians call them "campaign contributions" and the public broadcasting stations call commercials "underwriting." But no one is fooled.

If "revenue is needed" is the standard, why not a line of cigarettes, or handguns, with Herky emblazoned on them?

Why not change the rules and sell alcohol throughout the football stands (rather than just in the skyboxes)? Better yet, why not have coeds dressed like Hooters waitresses making the sales?

Why just take pocket change from the Lottery and Casino; why not set up our own little gambling casino outside Kinnick and have folks place their bets on the game right there? After all, "revenue is needed."

It may be that arguments can be found justifying a university's ties to the gambling industries -- why those associations contribute in positive ways other than financial to a university's mission -- though none immediately occurs to me. Offer such reasons if you can. All I'm saying is that I don't think "revenue is needed" is a morally sound argument with which to support a university's partnerships with the gambling industry.

Once "revenue is needed" is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole.

Mary Gilchrist

The Scientist magazine has a nice story about Gilchrist in its March 6 issue, linked below.

As evidence of who this woman is, whom the University decided it could better do without, Gilchrist is currently in Cairo, having been asked by the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine to inspect influenza surveillance sites in Cairo, Bangkok, and Kathmandu.

Only $4 million separated the University from what she believed was necessary for Iowans' public health in the event of a pandemic or terrorist germ warfare attack -- moreover, a $4 million difference she was willing to make up by postponing the acquisition of other budgeted items.

Meanwhile, the Press-Citizen reports this morning that the University either has under construction, or soon will, between $378 and $393 million in new buildings and renovations -- including about $100 million for athletic and recreation center expenditures. (Brian Morelli's story online does not have the graphic itemizing these costs that is in the hard copy version of the paper.)

God save us all if we someday discover that Mary Gilchrist was right and Interim President Fethke was wrong in this dispute over Iowans' public health needs during emergencies.


As noted before, and again below, the UICCU/Optiva controversy is no longer a major feature of this blog. As items come along they are added to "UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Updates," March 3, 2007. Today two items were added (along with some commentary): a blog entry by a "Greg" in "Hermits Rock," and a letter from Steve Cunningham in the Press-Citizen this morning.

Peter Fisher and "Fair Share"

Peter Fisher (Iowa Policy Project; UI Department of Urban and Regional Planning) had a constructive analysis of the "Fair Share" proposal in a Des Moines Register op ed March 1, linked below.

If anyone needs an argument as to what the University of Iowa contributes to this state, one need look no further than that column. My point? Billions of dollars -- whether in gained or lost profits, or taxes, or income from jobs -- turn on getting the facts and analysis right in the policy decisions of our corporate, non-profit, legislative and labor leaders.

There is so much nonsense that passes for analysis in legislative halls, the public relations handouts of special pleaders, and the journalistic reports and commentary that often has little more than that on which to rely.

Someone who knows what they're talking about, has the experience, training and analytical skills as well as the facts, knows how to do the research, and works with all of the above without an ideological agenda or an eye on their personal profit, is worth their weight in gold to the people of any state. Peter Fisher may not be the only one, but he's certainly one of the most valuable ones.

Me? When I'm blogging (as distinguished from doing serious academic work), like Steve Colbert I go by my gut. I seek to be balanced; I do at least some research; I'm not trying deliberately to mislead myself or anyone else -- and, given that approach, I end up being right (by the standards of the experts) more often than I deserve to be. But I'm no Peter Fisher. As a result, I often end up having to change my mind as others point out the error of my ways, and I like to be the first to acknowledge that when it happens.

What I would add to this column of Fisher's is that the opposition of business, and the legislators they feed, to "fair share" (those who benefit from union representation need not "belong" to the union but should, in simple fairness, pay something for the services), is only the latest in a centuries-old effort by those on top to keep the rest of us down.

The business community fought the abolition of slavery, any restrictions on child labor, limiting the maximum number of hours workers could be on the job, the minimum wage, the ability to organize and join unions, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and so forth. They enlisted the assistance of public officials, calling out the police, state militia and private security forces to literally beat back -- and occasionally shoot or otherwise kill -- those who would try to organize for better pay and working conditions. As a result of the anti-union efforts since President Regan fired the air traffic controllers, the proportion of our work force that belongs to unions has declined from something like 60 percent to something like 13 percent.

It is, of course, impossible for anyone realistically to "bargain" with an employer when there are hundreds standing in line behind him or her, willing to do the same work for even less pay. The employer holds all the cards.

As a result of these attitudes in Iowa we see the irony of officials and business leaders who call corporate welfare (like Vision Iowa) "jobs programs," and bemoan the "loss of our young people outside the state." Because these are the same people who are beating down working people and their unions, and opposing any and everything -- such as fair share -- that could possibily bring Iowans' wages up to levels similar to those in surrounding states.

Nationally, these attitudes are driving us closer to the status of a third world country, with ever-wider gaps between the "wages" of the top 1-to-10% and those of the working poor and working class, the folks who live on the hill in the multi-million-dollar homes inside gated communities, and those who are homeless, sleeping on the streets, holding signs saying they will work for food.

Whatever one may say about these policies as a matter of religious principle, or humanitarianism, it just doesn't make much economic sense for the wealthy business-owning class to so impoverish its workers that these potential customers cannot afford to buy the products and services those businesses are trying to sell.


UICCU and "Optiva"
Unless there is a major breaking story, there will be no more separate blog entries on this topic. The last entry may be revised from time to time and, if so, will indicate the date, time and nature of additions.
See Nicholas Johnson, "UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007 (last entry, with links to prior entries October 2006 through March 2007)

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Peter Fisher, "Arguments Against Fair Share Don't Hold Up," Des Moines Register, March 1, 2007

Diane Heldt, "UI Faculty Leaders Want Lottery Ties Cut," The Gazette, March 7, 2007

Susan Warner, "Former lab head protests termination; Public health expert was fired after complaining about lab cutbacks, judge denies her whistleblower protection," The Scientist, March 6, 2007


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Anonymous said...

Re: Fair Share

he great majority of people living in this country are living at a higher standard than at any time in history. I do not see a lot of "impoverished" people in proportion to the total population. The fact is, most people live with a much higher quality of life than my great grandparents did 100 years ago.

Being a "Generation Xer", I have grown up with the expectation of a free agent nation. I just accept at face value there is no loyalty. It is all about what value you can provide to an employer. You are just not going to have a society with good outcomes for every person. That has been tried and failed on a nation state scale. The paradigm for skills shifted some time ago to an international playing field. National economic policies are only going to matter so much in a global economy. Bring back the Multi-Lateral Agreement on Investment at the OECD and bring some transparency to global capital flows.

Anonymous said...

I think I wouldn't group the Rec Center project in with other athletic projects because of the way it is paid for. It is misleading to use that "athletics" number as if it all came from taxpayer dollars. The Rec Center is being solely funded from student fees delegated specifically to that purpose, and in all fairness to the university, they did their due diligence before imposing those fees in surveying students and making sure a majority supported the project and were willing to pay for it with the fee increase. In my mind the project was wanted by the students, will be paid for the students, and will almost 100% used by students who are not student-athletes (with the exception of the swim team due to the decrepit condition of the pool in the Field House).

Anonymous said...

john barleykorn

you are a free agent in a race to the bottom. I trust that your skillsets will be rewarded as long as they facilitate that. May your 401k make you feel like a global capital pirate.

Anonymous said...

What am I racing to the bottom of? I work a lot less hard physically than my great grandparents did for a higher standard of living.

I dont know why people have this expectation that someone will take care of them. Why the need for a Nanny State?

Pirate? What are you ranting about?

Anonymous said...

dear john

ranting? I was just touched by your concern for global capital flows.

Although there is much evidence that the standard of living for a majority of Americans has not risen significantly in the past 30 years it is fairly obvious that we are better off as a whole than we were 100 years ago. Why? The primary factor was that we periodically benefited from well-regulated and competitive markets that rewarded innovation, efficiency and productivity.
Labor unions used collective bargaining to secure a reasonable share of the wealth that resulted. This was vital to the overall economy because it helped stabilize consumer demand through the business cycle. The result was a stable middle class and a thriving economy from the 50’s through the 70’s.

Capital has more mobility than labor so large companies have the ability to manipulate the labor market to their own advantage. Collective bargaining gives labor some leverage to counter that advantage.

Why have the living standards of the middle class stagnated for the last 30 years? Because transnational corporations moved into a regulatory vacuum of global trade and flipped the labor market. They don’t compete for employees, they make cities and states and countries compete against each other for production facilities and with that leverage they deregulate the market for their own mutual advantage.

It is not a conspiracy, they simply have parallel interests; no unions, no environmental regulations, no anti-trust regulations and passing on the costs of doing business to employees, governments and taxpayers and calling them “externalities”. Trade agreements are made to look like governments are regulating trade when in fact they regulate governments. While trade agreements do establish uniform standards that are necessary for “transparency in global capital flows” the fine print restricts governments from regulating markets.

Transnationals still compete against each other in open and lucrative markets but when they have the opportunity to increase profits by transferring costs to the public commons in unregulated trade they will prefer that to competition every time. That is what corporate flacks and libertarians call “free trade”.

Unions give workers marginal leverage in a global market where capital has become even more mobile. Unions do not guarantee “good outcomes for every person” or a “nanny state”, that is the socialist strawman that is trotted out (along with protectionism and world government) whenever workers try to gain any leverage in the market. and God knows you are not the first generation to compete in a cutthroat labor market.

The choice is not between a free market and socialism, the choice is between an exploitive labor market and a competitive market that is regulated for stability, fairness and efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the worker themselves have responsibility to create their own leverage? I always felt that my success in the job market depended upon my skillset and experience, and to a large extent it has.

Making this bill for public employees only is even more comical. The big bad exploitive counties and cities of Iowa. More chances for this famous line "It's not in my job description."