Sunday, January 20, 2008

Secrecy, Presidents' Blogs, Paying for Government

January 20, 2008, 11:00 a.m., 12:45 p.m.
[Sexual Assaults; Hogan's Blog; Paying for Government]

Oct. 14, 2007 Events Still Unresolved, Continue to Fester
UI Holds to Secrecy Regarding Adherence to Process

I have written at great length here, in a number of blog entries, about the University of Iowa's handling of the process surrounding the alleged sexual assault some three months ago on its campus. See Nicholas Johnson, "UI, Sexual Assaults and Secrecy," January 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, 2008 -- along with its links to prior blog entries.

Throughout, I have consistently endeavored to make unambiguously clear a distinction between secrecy regarding

(a) County Attorney and Court actions, evidence, subpoenas, documents or other information that could have an adverse impact on the legitimate privacy interests of the parties, the criminal investigation, and any potential future trial -- as to which I have offered no objection to secrecy -- and

(b) information regarding University administrators' process, communications and actions in following their own procedures that could easily be made available to the media and public (redacted to the extent necessary) with no adverse impact on anything or anyone (except, perhaps, themselves) -- as to which I have seen no legitimate reason for secrecy.
Now it is suggested the reason for the UI's secrecy is that there was a court order preventing them from revealing the existence of, or content of, subpoenas served on the University. Tom Witoskey, "Court Order Keeps a Lid on Alleged U of I Assault," Des Moines Register, January 20, 2008.

1. It is not clear from the story (or those appearing in the Press-Citizen and Gazette) whether the court order (that the subpoenas, and court order forbidding mention of the court order) applied to my category (b), above, or not. Intuitively, I would think it would not have. If that's the case we still have no explanation for the UI's secrecy regarding compliance with its own processes.

2. It may be that the UI, from the moment this court order was issued, tried to get it changed -- to at least permit the University to respond to the public and the media that it was forbidden by court order to comment about the contents of any subpoenas received, the documents or other evidence they produced, or copies of any such documents. But if not, why not?

3. It would seem to me that a simple statement -- "We are bound by court order not to reveal whether we have or have not received subpoenas for documents or evidence regarding this matter, or if there were such subpoenas what they might have contained, or what evidence or documents they might have produced" -- would have saved everyone (parties, County Attorney, University of Iowa, media and the public) a lot of unnecessarily wasted time, effort and stress.

And so the conflict (County Attorney, UI, media; the judge's addition of 60 more days to his 90-day order) goes on from October to November, December, January, and . . ..

Mike Hogan Praised for Blog

The UI's former Provost and Executive Vice President, now President, University of Connecticut, Mike Hogan, is the subject of a Harford Business Journal story tomorrow [Jan. 21] recognizing his leadership among college president bloggers. Sean O'Leary, "College Presidents Slow To Launch Informal Web Format," Hartford Business Journal, January 21, 2008. Of the 31 college presidents with blogs it turns out that there are only four who are presidents of state universities.

The Journal notes that President Hogan and the University of Connecticut have made no effort to hype the blog or make a big public relations deal out of it -- a modesty to which the Journal has contributed by failing to provide a link to the subject of its story. Here, if you're a part of the old "Hogan's Heros" Facebook gang, or otherwise interested, is a link to Mike's blog, the "PresRelease."

“So, how do you want to pay for this?”

The Feds, ignoring what is now roughly $40 trillion in unfunded entitlements, a war the costs of which are already estimated at $2 trillion and climbing (for what Senator John McCain estimates may be another 100 years), a 38% decline in housing values ($12 trillion), and in the value of the dollar (once able to buy a Eurodollar for 95 cents that now costs $1.47) while gold climbs from $200 an ounce to nearly $1000 an ounce, is proposing an "economic stimulus" package involving another $150 billion in debt to be distributed to Americans thought willing to buy stuff from American companies. (Unfortunately, as a "tax rebate" it won't do much for those 45 million Americans who don't earn enough to pay taxes, for seniors on low, fixed incomes, or the unemployed.)

The Iowa Governor is now trying to explain and defend why he doesn't think he has enough money to adequately fund one of Iowa's best hopes for building a skilled workforce, stimulating economic growth, and keeping Iowa's best and brightest young people in Iowa: our community college system. See Nicholas Johnson, "No Time to be Cutting Community Colleges Budgets or Raising Tuition" in "Community Colleges Are Iowa's Answer," January 17, 2008.

And the Iowa City City Council, believing the representations that we need more police and fire fighters, have yet to answer Mayor Reginia Bailey's question with which I headed this comment, "So, how do you want to pay for this?" See Nicholas Johnson, "'How Many Police Officers and Fire Fighters Does It Take To . . .'" in "Rational Thought About Realistic Needs: Police & Fire," January 15, 2008.

Well, I have a couple of suggestions on how we can deal with these public finance challenges.

Stop the talk about "taxes." It drives me nuts that politicians (including those, primarily Republicans, running for president) try to outdo each other over who has been, or promises to become, the biggest tax cutter. Talk about "programs." Which pay back, in future revenue or savings, many times over what we invest in them? Which are essential if we are to continue to represent ourselves to be a humane, civilized country? Which involve essential needs that can only, or most efficiently and effectively, be provided by public rather than for-profit-private efforts?

Eliminate the "socialism for the rich and free private enterprise for the poor." For an example of my, perhaps dozens of, comments about "corporate welfare" both before and after the following blog entry see, Nicholas Johnson, "Follow-Up: Corporate Welfare," July 21, 2006 -- and of course this blog's index.

In an op ed column, Nicholas Johnson, "Courage, Councilors," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 3, 2007, I laid out some reasons why public funding of for-profit, private projects doesn't ever make sense for any city (plus some additional reasons why it makes even less sense for Iowa City). The column developed the following sub-heads:

The "opportunity costs" are enormous.

They reek of hypocrisy.

Corporate welfare tilts the playing field.

If the market won’t back a project, why should the public?

It doesn’t work.

“Money can’t buy love.”

The subsidy-grantors' record’s not great.

Alternative approaches do work.

Try “seed funds.”

“Need” is impossible to know.

Lack of transparency.
If you want to know more just click on the column's link, above.

But in addition to those always-applicable reasons for rejecting the tin cup appeals of for-profit businesses for taxpayers' money, another becomes relevant in the context of funding shortages at the federal, state and local level.

When citizens are taxed to fund the government's public programs and projects, at a minimum such money as is collected should first go to fund legitimate public programs and projects. If all those needs have been met, and there's money left over, we can then begin the dialog about the appropriateness of giving it to the for-profit private sector and the wealthy (whether in the form of TIFs and other tax breaks or outright subsidies). But there's absolutely no reason to accept the argument that there's not enough for public programs when the reason there's not enough is the money that's been given away to for-profit, private projects before the public programs were adequately funded.

The Feds can begin by eliminating earmarks (such as the Iowa indoor rain forest, and the Alaska "bridge to nowhere"), the 200 or so "corporate welfare" programs, and tax breaks for business. That would free up more than enough billions for their current "economic stimulus" package.

Iowa could do the same with the millions it passes out to businesses under a variety of names. And we could start taxing Wal-Mart and other major firms on their Iowa earnings, rather than letting large corporations pass big chunks of those earnings, tax free, out of state and onto their bottom line.That single effort could provide enough to build one of the strongest community college programs in the nation -- and the economic growth it would feed -- without raising any Iowan's tax rate.

Ditto for Iowa City. The local Chamber of Commerce recent wish list is a string of creative corporate raids on tax money. Local taxpayers, rather than bar owners, are paying to clean up the vomit left by their under-age illegal patrons from the night before. Major businesses get reduced rates on water consumption. And don't get me started on TIFs. If the City Council would insist that business keep its hand out of the cookie jar there's more than enough money available to the City Council to provide the citizenry the police and fire protection they've already paid for.

And I'd like to see a major task force address the University-City budgeting relationships. (See the comment from "cato's apologist" that inspires this thought on Nicholas Johnson, "Getting Real About Alcohol," January 18, 2008.) Obviously, there would need to be representatives from the University and City who understand these budgets, but I'd like to see it perhaps led by the Iowa Policy Project, and include representation from local citizens groups and whoever the Register, Press-Citizen, and Gazette think are their best investigative reporters. It's my understanding that there are some payments from the University to the City, but -- especially considering how much land and real property the University has taken off the property tax rolls in Johnson County -- are they enough? ("Cato's apologist" suggests this marketplace approach to getting the University's attention, and engagement in addressing the costs associated with the University's failure to do anything meaningful about students' binge drinking.)

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Anonymous said...

Inviting reporters to help about what are ways the UI and Iowa City can cooperate on services? You might as well ask three chimps. Well, the one from the Press Citizen would be more like a rock.

Jeffrey Horne said...

There are some public officials who use blogs. I have been doing it for over a year now. I got asked by a grad student in North Carolina to do an interview, and he told me that I was one of 50 or so managers nationwide who blogged.

I think you will see this develop more.