Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Economics of Community Attractions: What Works

February 27, 2008, 9:15 a.m.

Now that the ill-conceived and executed indoor Iowa rain forest is behind us (hopefully forever), see Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa Child/Earthpark," we have no excuse for not having learned "what works" in the economics of community attractions.

We can learn from what hasn't worked (the rain forest project), and from what has, spelled out in Josh Hinkle's report last evening [Feb. 26] during KCRG-TV9's newscast:

"The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is now seeking a new design concept for the expansion project it announced Tuesday. After opening 12 years ago, the museum saw about 16,000 visitors that first year. Now, it sees more than 32,000 annually.

President and CEO Gail Naughton says,"Our attendance has doubled. Our collections have more than doubled, and we're running out of space."

. . .

Officials completed this $2.5-million building with no debt. That’s what Naughton also wants with the expansion. A capital campaign will begin later this year.

. . .

She says breaking ground on the expansion project could still be two years away. There will be a series of conversations with the public, the first of which will take place at the museum at 5:30 on March 18."
Josh Hinkle, "Czech & Slovak Museum Announces Major Expansion," KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids, February 26, 2008 (link to video of Hinkle's piece from this Web page; photo, above, from Web page, credit: KCRG-TV9).

I addressed the general principles in Nicholas Johnson, "Time to Learn from What Works," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 20, 2006, reproduced in Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark's Week-Long Wake," November 26-December 7, 2007.

I won't repeat here all of that analysis and its applicability to the Czech & Slovak Museum expansion project. If you're interested you can read and think about it yourself. But these headings from the categories of qualities of successful ventures that were mentioned in that op ed column will provide some insight: "Focus," "Community-Based," "Logical Location," "Up-Front Financing," "Business Plans," "Cost Overruns," "Revenue Streams," and "Realistic Evaluation."

Clearly the Museum has a "Focus," it's a "bottom up," locally-supported "Community-Based" institution (complete with "a series of conversations with the public"), in the right city ("Logical Location").

Will the Museum be able to raise the money ("Up-Front Financing") and stay debt-free? Is it realistic to plan on the attendance continuing to increase as it has (from 16,000 a year to 32,000; "Business Plans" and "Realistic Evaluation")?

I'm not suggesting for a moment that the Museum's expansion will be a "slam dunk" with guaranteed economic success. What I do suggest is that it is as much of a positive model as the rain forest was a negative model. Both enable us, and the civic boosters in towns and cities all across Iowa (and the country), to come a little closer to knowing "what works" in the design and execution of local attractions that make as much sense economically as they do educationally or as entertainment.

# # #

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hawkeyes' Criminal Record Lengthens

February 25, 2008, 5:30 a.m.; February 27, 2008, 8:00 a.m.

The latest arrests of Hawkeye football players are a stark reminder that the football program's problems with the criminal records of its players doesn't show many signs of going away soon. Kathryn Fiegen, "Ferentz suspends Hawkeyes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 25, 2008, p. A1; Rachel Gallegos, "Hawkeye football players arrested on drug charges," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 23, 2008.

Feb. 27: And see, Editorial, "Football Team's Legal Troubles Need to Stop," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 27, 2008, p. A12; and John Gray, "Maybe we should change football chant," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 27, 2008, p. A12 ("With the two recent additions to the long list of Hawkeye football players arrested, perhaps the football fans should change the 'Go Hawks!' chant to 'Make bail!'")

I've suggested in blog entries here before, but it bears repeating that in addition to whatever else the Athletic Department may be doing to improve its criminal record, it might give a little more attention to who it's recruiting.

And, No, I don't mean that a teenage athlete's single indiscretion should bar his or her entering our program. And I don't mean we should be probing in depth the private lives of potential recruits. And I understand that juvenile court records are not always available. And, Yes, I agree that living in a community like Iowa City, the added maturity of a couple of years, and a strong and positive relationship with the right coach can sometimes turn lives around.

But I do think it might be appropriate to make at least some greater effort to find out, before we bring them here, if those we are recruiting have already established patterns of anti-social and criminal behavior, and a disrespect for law, such that the data indicates the mathematical odds are it is likely to continue.

Shame on us, if a part of the reason they have become that way is because the adults in their lives have contributed to these young men's belief that skilled athletes are entitled to special treatment; a culture and law of their own; second, third, fourth and fifth chances; a wink and a nod from coaches, high school principals, and judges -- so long as they can contribute to winning teams.

That doesn't excuse college athletes' behavior, but it does require us to think about the extent to which it is we who have at least contributed to the creation of the problem we confront
-- from Little League through professional sports -- including right here in Hawkeye land.

We -- the responsible adults in Iowa City -- can't solve it all by ourselves, but perhaps we could give a little closer look at who we're bringing to town.

Meanwhile, here's the Press-Citizen's list of the football team's record so far:

"Hawkeyes' Legal Troubles,"

Iowa City Press-Citizen,
February 25, 2008, p. A4.

A list of Hawkeye football players who have had legal trouble since 2007.

Ryan Bain, DL: The 19-year-old junior-to-be was charged with interference with official acts, public intoxication and disorderly conduct April 15, 2007. Bain transferred to Akron before the 2007 football season because he wanted to improve his chance of starting.

Anthony Bowman, WR: The 19-year-old sophomore was charged with unauthorized use of a credit card, a Class D felony, on Aug. 18, 2007. On Dec. 26, 2007, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of credit card fraud, an aggravated misdemeanor, and was granted deferred judgment. Bowman was suspended for the 2007 season, but he has rejoined the team and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Dana Brown, RB: The 20-year-old sophomore was charged with domestic assault on Oct. 16, 2007. He was dismissed from the football team.

Dominique Douglas, WR: The 19-year-old sophomore was charged with unauthorized use of a credit card, a Class D felony, on Aug. 18, 2007. On Dec. 4, 2007, Douglas pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of credit card fraud, an aggravated misdemeanor, and was granted deferred judgment. He also was charged with stealing $30 worth of DVDs from Wal-Mart, which he pleaded guilty to in November 2007. The judge ordered Douglas to serve two years probation as well as pay $221.53 in restitution, a $625 civil penalty and other court costs. He was removed from the team. Douglas returned to his hometown of Detroit and is attending community college.

Ben Evans, WR: The 19-year-old red-shirt freshman was charged with drunken driving on July 30, 2007.

Tyler Gerstandt, TE: The 20-year-old walk-on football player was cited for underage possession of alcohol on May 18, 2007. The simple misdemeanor carried a $200 fine for a second offense. Gerstandt was cited for underage possession of alcohol in January 2006, according to Iowa online court records.

Clint Huntrods, long-snapper: The 22-year-old senior was charged with public urination, interference with official acts and public intoxication Sept. 6, 2007 after a police officer caught him urinating on a sidewalk. He was dismissed from the team. He issued a written guilty plea Oct. 24, 2007.

Bradley Fletcher, CB: The 21-year-old junior was charged with drunken driving on July 15, 2007. He was suspended for one game.

Arvell Nelson, QB: The 19-year-old red-shirt freshman was charged July 2, 2007, with driving with a suspended license and was scheduled to have his initial court appearance Aug. 16, 2007, but didn’t show. A warrant was issued that day for failure to appear, but Nelson turned himself in to authorities and posted a $545 cash bond Aug. 21, 2007. Nelson was arrested Saturday for possession of marijuana after police found the drug in plain view on top of the desk in his dorm room.

Ricky Stanzi, QB: The 20-year-old red-shirt freshman was charged with underage possession of alcohol on May 5, 2007.

Lance Tillison, S: The 20-year-old red-shirt freshman was arrested Sept. 15, 2007, for drunken driving. Tillison pleaded guilty to the charge in Jan. 4, 2008, in a plea deal. Under the arrangement, Tillison received a deferred judgment with unsupervised probation provided his participation in a substance abuse evaluation within 30 days, attendance of a weekend drunken driving program within 120 days and payment of $625 in fines and court costs. He was suspended for two games.

Ryan Donahue, P/PK: The 19-year-old red-shirt freshman was charged with underage possession of alcohol on Feb. 15, 2008.

Brandon Myers, TE: The 22-year-old junior was arrested Dec. 23, 2007, and was charged with public intoxication and interference with official acts after running from Coralville police. Court records show Myers pleaded guilty to the charges the same day he was arrested and was charged $350 for the two offenses.

James Cleveland, WR: The 19-year-old was arrested Saturday for two counts of unlawful possession of a prescription drug and a tax stamp violation after police allegedly found 21 doses of oxycodone and 24 doses of carisoprodol in his dorm room desk.

# # #

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What's Wrong With Washington

February 23, 2008, 8:00 p.m.

Whether it's inspecting beef or regulating broadcasters, few government agencies have anything like the numbers of staff members they would need to do the jobs Congress hands them.

So it was when I was a commissioner at the FCC.

On one occasion it got so bad that we didn't have enough secretaries to type up (this was before computers) the confidential staff memos to the commissioners regarding pending cases and proposed rules.

The memos arrived on time anyway. "How were you able to do this?" I asked. I was informed the lawyers practicing before the agency had offered their firm's secretaries to do the typing of these confidential documents for us -- documents regarding their clients' interests!

Given the cozy relationship between the regulators and the regulated I can't say I was surprised this was done. But I was truly stunned to discover that no one could understand why I might think there was something wrong with doing so.

I was reminded of that experience this past week with the revelations regarding Senator John McCain's close ties to lobbyists.

Washington is awash with lobbyists. There are multiples more of them than there are elected officials. They swarm the halls of the House and Senate office buildings and the Capitol. The fill Washington's restaurants, and the fairways of its golf courses. Much of the multi-millions in "campaign contributions" passes through their hands on its way to insuring that virtually all who want to be re-elected for life will be. And these lobbyists are usually in the company of elected and appointed officials and their top staff aides.

So I was not surprised that McCain -- in spite of his leadership in campaign finance and lobbying reform efforts -- was often in the company of lobbyists.

What surprised me was his seeming blindness to the matter of appearances.

Indeed, that was the real story in the much-maligned New York Times report -- as its headline suggested. Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn W. Thompson, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Labaton, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk," New York Times, February 21, 2008.

In spite of the Time's critics' efforts to turn this into a "politics makes strange bedfellows" story about his friendship with an attractive female lobbyist, to the extent the possibility of an "affair" with a younger woman was involved at all in the Times' story it was in the context of the concerns of protective staffers regarding appearances -- rather than their, or others', passing moral judgment on behavior that had in fact occurred.

These staff members were doing precisely what they should have been doing.

In fact, I wrote that responsibility into the job description of my chief of staff. He was obliged to be unflinchingly candid when watching and assessing my speech and actions -- dressing me down if necessary, anytime he heard stories, or observed behavior or language that he thought might be capable of being turned into a problem by our critics.

Based on the Times' story, it looks like that's what McCain's staffers were doing. They thought having an attractive female lobbyist, who represented clients with business before his committee, hanging around the office, telling those clients she had a special "in" with the Senator, traveling with him on her client's corporate jets, was problematical -- as much or more because of the conflict of interest such a friendship might be seen to create as for the possibility of rumors of an "affair."

For the record, my practice both as Maritime Administrator and FCC commissioner was to limit meetings with the representatives of regulated companies to my office. They were citizens; they were entitled to be heard. (Of course, so were those whose interests were at stake -- consumers, taxpayers -- those who couldn't even afford to organize, let alone pay for Washington representation. To the extent possible I sought out such citizens' groups as existed for their points of view as well.) But I thought the common practice of having meals with lobbyists, attending entertainment events, traveling together (especially on company planes), or playing in golf matches together was unseemly. I wanted to avoid even the appearance -- let alone the reality -- of a "friendship" entering into a decision.

My concern about such matters was not widely shared.

So from my perspective it was the Washington Post's story, almost more than that of the New York Times, that was the more significant. Michael D. Shear and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists," Washington Post, February 22, 2008, p. A1.

The Post details the extent to which McCain has surrounded himself, primarily at the top levels of his campaign, but also in his Senate office, with lobbyists -- present and former, paid and unpaid. (Obviously, someone being paid by a corporation who is, in fact, putting in their time on a candidate's campaign, can creates rather significant legal problems regarding campaign contribution regulations.)

The Post's story does not suggest, nor would I, that McCain's decisions as a Senator are affected by the presence of those who are helping him in his quest for the presidency (although the Times' story details some troubling instances of his interaction with the FCC on behalf of one of his woman friend's clients -- an interaction the FCC Chair apparently characterized as both very unusual and inappropriate). The Post does point out, however, that "McCain has at least 59 federal lobbyists raising money for his campaign, compared with 33 working for Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani and 19 working for Democrat Clinton."

What I find troubling is what apparently troubled his staffers, the Times' reporters and headline writer ("For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk"). It is his seeming acceptance of the way Washington does business, it is his insensitivity to the possible reactions of those outside the beltway to such relationships, his belief that because he has sponsored campaign finance and ethics legislation that appearances simply don't matter when it comes to him (presumably he would add, "So long as he is not, personally, doing anything illegal"). It is a reflection on his good judgment.

From time to time I make reference to what I call the "sub-governments" that hold the real power in Washington. Here is one such speech excerpt:

Most kids learn about the three branches of government: "legislative" (Congress), "executive" (president) and "judicial" (courts). But Washington doesn't work through three branches. It works through the dozens of sub-governments . . ..

Sub-governments grow under rocks, away from the media's spotlight. They require an industry dominated by a few firms that grow rich with government help, whether through subsidies, price supports, tax breaks, government contracts, use of public lands, bailouts or tariffs.

A sub-government's membership includes a small, incestuous collection of one industry's corporate and trade association executives, their lawyers, lobbyists and publicists, its trade papers' journalists, congressional sub-committee members and staff, and the relevant agency's employees. They eat and play together, literally inter-marry, and protect each other."
Nicholas Johnson, "Challenges Facing Global Leadership: Refocusing the International Leadership Forum," La Jolla, California, April 27, 2002.

That's just the way it is. That's the way Washington works.

Like the Federal Communications Bar Association's secretaries typing up the FCC's confidential memoranda, I can't be surprised that thousands of persons in Washington naturally identify with the sub-government of which they are a part (rather than "the public interest," or even their own institution, such as Congress).

However, I can be deeply disappointed at what a statistically insignificant minority are able to see what is wrong with this picture.

# # #

Friday, February 15, 2008

Greenbelts for Grandchildren

February 20, 2008, 6:30 a.m.

[Note: In the course of exploring possibilities for a "Greenbelt" around the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids "Corridor," I was surprised and impressed to discover both the numbers, and the diversity, of individuals and organizations already working to preserve Iowa's land for future generations. This is a major movement!

I'm still a believer in the multiple values of Greenbelts, but I also see the contribution to be made by a Web site of resources for those working on related efforts. The newly-created GO IOWA! (Great Outdoors of Iowa, is that resource -- a regularly updated collection of relevant news stories, listing of organizations and agencies, along with background information about Greenbelts.

Check it out. -- N.J.]

Now here's an op ed column from this morning's [Feb. 20] Iowa City Press-Citizen with some observations about this exciting popular movement.

Preserving for Our Grandchildren

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2008, p. A13

Conservative Christians and political liberals, animal rights advocates and hunters, farmers and realtors, bicyclists and bird watchers, golfers and environmentalists, regulators and libertarians, wealthy and poor, academics and entrepreneurs, young and old.

What do these Iowans have in common?

A surprisingly diverse array of individuals have independently come to the same conclusion: We need to do something, now, to preserve Iowa's natural resources.

The Johnson County Heritage Trust already has purchased and put aside five substantial areas. Friends of Hickory Hill Park have raised more than $100,000. The Johnson County Conservation Board is considering a $20 million bond issue to preserve more land. The new GO IOWA! (Great Outdoors of Iowa, Web site lists more than 60 such organizations.

And yet in spite of their efforts, Iowa still ranks 47th to 49th among the 50 states in acreage, funding and percentage of preserved public land.

There's something about having great-grandchildren to get a fellow thinking a little further into the future. What will be left of Eastern Iowa's natural resources in 2058 and beyond? How many trees to reduce our carbon footprint and global warming? Trails? Recreational land? Forests? Family farms? Clean lakes and streams? Wildlife?

Is it too late? Is our land already too expensive to save?

That was the question confronting some New York legislators in 1853. New York City's population had nearly quadrupled since 1821. It was a terrible time to buy land with prices at an all-time high. The 700 acres they wanted would cost $5 million -- then an extraordinary amount of public money. But in a triumph of foresight over political fear they did it. Today we call it "Central Park," and this gem of Manhattan has increased 100,000 times in value to something over $500 billion -- a half-trillion dollars!

The opportunities confronting Johnson and Linn Counties today are no less politically challenging --and potentially rewarding.

There are two parallel and mutually consistent paths to our stewardship of Iowa's land. One is to continue what we're doing and create more open spaces wherever we can:

• wildlife habitats,

• parks,

• urban boundaries,

• wetlands,

• set asides,

• golf courses,

• smart growth and

• trails and prairies.
Whether from private gifts, voluntary sales, zoning, use of land trusts or the proposed bond issue, every plot helps, no matter how small.

The second path is to "think outside the corridor" about something called "greenbelts."

Greenbelts are an idea that has been contributing ecological value, economic growth and quality of life to communities around the world for nearly 200 years. As the name suggests, it refers to a swath of land, a "green belt," surrounding an urban area -- such as our Iowa City-to-Cedar Rapids corridor.

One of the first was in Adelaide, Australia, in the early 19th Century. Greenbelts really took off in Britain in the 1940s, doubling in acreage during the 1980s to 3.8 million acres, some 12 percent of all the land in England.

Greenbelts help to clean the air and water while holding the soil, reduce greenhouse gases, provide unlimited recreational opportunities of all kinds, preserve family farms, increase real estate values both inside and outside the greenbelt and serve as an unbelievable magnet in attracting new, clean businesses.

Greenbelts -- plus urban growth by "building up instead of out" -- are much more rewarding and economical than urban sprawl for cities, their taxpayers, businesses and homeowners.

A corridor greenbelt won't be easy. It will require lots of planning, education, politicking and compromising. Like New York's Central Park, it will cost some money -- although, also like Central Park, a lot less today than 150 years from now.

Meanwhile, there's a new Web site available to provide us some resources and a little coordination for what we're already doing, and what we may do in the future. It's called GO IOWA! (Great Outdoors of Iowa), with links to organizations (if yours isn't there, let us know) and the media coverage of their activities. It also has background on greenbelts, and suggestions of what you can do.

Check out
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and contributes to GO IOWA!, and

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UI and the ATF II

February 15, 2008, 10:15, 11:15 a.m.

I first wrote about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- as it's now called -- last September, when the UI's primary focus was on alcohol (for underage binge drinkers) and firearms (for campus police).
Nicholas Johnson, "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" in "Iowa City's 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,'" September 22 and 23, 2007. Those issues are still with us, but to them we have now added tobacco.


Alcohol abuse is still in the news, creating its easily predictable consequences. (And note how many of these stories were all in one day's paper!).

A patron, so drunk that even an Iowa City bar owner wouldn't let him buy more is turned out on the street and is now an alleged murderer. Brian Morelli, "Mandatory bartender training suggested; Possibility exists of charges against bar," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 12, 2008; Brian Morelli, "Jakes refused entry to alleged murderer," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

A student is so drunk that he either falls or lies down in ice and snow overnight, still smells of alcohol when he's discovered by workmen in the morning, could easily have lost his life but thankfully looses only fingers and toes. Brian Morelli, "Student loses fingers, toes after passing out in alley," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

In my September entry I noted the captions on a Bob Patton cartoon cartoon depicting two guys at a bar. One says, "I can't wait for Iowa City bars to go 21-only! This will be such a boon to my business!" To which the other inquires, "What are you, a bar owner?" and the first responds, "No, I run a fake I.D. mill!" In the latest illustration of life imitating art, a student has been arrested for running just such a business -- selling fake IDs for $200 apiece. Lee Hermiston, "Police shut down fake ID business; seize drugs, guns," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2008.

A local bar owner stiffs the Fire Department, refuses to fix a firetrap problem, then bellyaches when he's politely asked a second time, but is permitted to stay open. Editorial, "Council right to support fire official on bar license," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2008.

Another bar, in violation of law, holds an "Extreme Midget Wrestling" contest. Lee Hermiston, "Local bar going to court over event; Paperwork is missing from 'Extreme Midget Wrestling' event," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

And a local bank vice president, by embezzling over a half-million dollars, comes up with an alternative to alcohol abuse: $150,000 worth of powdered cocaine. (We haven't heard much more about the fraternity that was recently closed because of the drug dealing going on from there.) Lee Hermiston, "Former Hills Bank VP indicted," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.


To alcohol, the University has now added the matter of tobacco -- a substance which, while a leading cause of death -- causes much less general societal havoc than alcohol. See Harold Harker, Jr., "Alcohol Has Done More Damage Than Smoke," Des Moines Register, February 15, 2008 ("It's the ironic nature of the ad that created my chuckle. Here we see pictured an individual [a bartender standing in front of rows of liquor bottles] who is a purveyor of the legal drug in America that has single-handedly caused more personal heartache, death, destruction and suffering than any substance known to man -- not to mention related health problems, lower worker productivity, property damage and a host of other social ills . . . and he is complaining about breathing secondhand smoke?"). That's kind of my point.

Alcohol abuse gets a wink and a nod, and tobacco gets a total ban.
Erin Jordan and Mason Kerns, "U of I to ban smoking on campus next year," Des Moines Register, February 5, 2008. It's an interesting juxtaposition. (However, like alcohol, local businesses also profit from its sale to those under-age customers to whom sales are illegal. Lee Hermiston, "Three Coralville businesses fail tobacco checks," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 13, 2008.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for discouraging smoking. Epidemiologists have told me that they can still see in the statistics the impact of the 1960s anti-smoking commercials I encouraged when an FCC commissioner. As co-director of Iowa's Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy I helped select anti-tobacco efforts as our number one priority -- the most effective single thing we could do to promote public health.

But I do think that an academic institution of intellectuals has an obligation to at least recognize a distinction between the underlying rationale for various anti-smoking policies.

Smoke is a health hazard, whether from burnt toast, a bonfire or cigarettes. For a flight attendant in a plane, a waitress in a bar, a co-worker in a building, or a student in a classroom, there's little they can do to avoid that hazard. To prohibit smoking in such places is simply an application of the old adage that "your freedom to swing your arm stops where my nose begins."

The second-hand smoke prohibition is directed not so much at the harm the smoker is doing to him or herself, but rather to the harm they are doing to others (although a beneficial by-product of the policy may be the encouragement to quit it provides smokers).

However, to ban smoking anywhere on campus, irrespective of any harm it is doing to others (beyond de minimis), cannot claim that rationale. That's not to say such a policy cannot be justified. It's just to say that it's difficult to justify without acknowledging that it contains an element of paternalism (i.e., "we know better than you do what is good for you"). Now the fact of the matter is that we do know better than the smoker what is good for him or her -- indeed, there are a good many smokers who would agree that we do. It's only to say that you can't sneak the policy in under the "harm to others from secondhand smoke" tent.

A campus-wide ban has an element of social ostracism, a punitive quality, about it. That may be OK, but it at least needs to be acknowledged.


Regarding the arming of campus police, in the September blog entry I wrote,

Very little (if any) evidence and data have been offered to support the notion that even if campus police were armed that they would have many (if any) occasions to use guns, or otherwise put, that their being armed would actually prevent acts of violence that, but for their possessing guns, would otherwise have occurred.
And so it is this morning that we read of yet another incident of inexplicable random gun deaths in a classroom at the near-neighbor Northern Illinois University. Ted Gregory, "NIU Gunman Identified," Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2008, 11:34 a.m. It's tragic; it's sad; but whether NIU has armed campus security or not, their guns would not have prevented this tragedy -- nor would the guns of our campus police should, God forbid, a similar incident occur here. As the Trib quotes NIU President Peters as saying, ""I don't know if any plan can prevent this kind of tragedy." And see Erin Jordan, "Regent: Steps to Protect Students Carry No Guarantees," Des Moines Register, December 15, 2008 ("[A] member of the Iowa Board of Regents [Craig Lang of Brooklyn] said there are no guarantees the steps [taken by the Regents and university administrators] are adequate [to guarantee student safety]. 'Unfortunately, that [the procedure put in place] doesn't mean we can protect everybody from someone like that who wants to kill.'")

I noted elsewhere,

There is no basis for the belief that guns on campus won't create the same risks as they do elsewhere -- including the risk that a campus police officer's gun will be stolen in a scuffle and then used on him or her, or someone else.
Nicholas Johnson, "Weaponry on Campus: Wrong Reasons, Wrong Result" in "Peace Through War; Security Through Weaponry," September 6, 2007.

Now, sadly, we've seen that prediction come true as well. A police officer in New Orleans, following a scuffle, was killed with her own gun by her assailant. It remains a real risk on the UI campus as well -- that armed police end up making a campus more dangerous rather than less.
Leslie Eaton, "Officer's Slaying Leaves New Orleans Asking Why," New York Times, January 31, 2008

But in some ways the most baffling aspect of arming our campus police -- hilarious if it weren't so serious and expensive -- involves the purchase of the guns. Lee Hermiston, "UI Police getting new guns," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 4, 2008; Melanie Kucera, "UI police switch guns," The Daily Iowan, February 5, 2008.

Hermiston reports,

Since then [November 2007], officers have been carrying their black .40 caliber SIG Sauer P229s with them everywhere they go.

However, beginning in April, the officers will carry a new handgun, the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson M & P.
And the cost of this switch?

The department will order about 40 guns, Visin said, at the cost of about $430 per gun. Visin said that price is about $170 less per gun than the cost of the SIG Sauers. Also, Visin said that the department will be able to trade in their old guns to the provider and the credit officers receive will go towards the purchase of the new handguns.

“It’s costing us about $3,000 and some change,” Visin said.
OK, $430, plus the $170 additional for the P229s, is $600, times 40 guns is $24,000. Now we're going to pay an additional $3000 for the cheaper guns? What a deal we're getting on that trade-in, huh? The bottom line? Looks like we're going to be paying $27,000 for 40 $430 guns which, had we purchased them in the first place would have cost $17,200 rather than $27,000.

Of course, they get a lot of use so it's probably worth it, right? Kucera reports,

Since Nov. 22, 2007, when the UI police were officially armed, no instances of weapon use have occurred, Visin said. In the year and a half that state troopers have been using the guns, Paradise can only recall two times in which the trigger was pulled.

But wait, it gets worse.

Remember the call for armed campus police? One of the arguments was that they should be similarly equipped as the Iowa City Police. Well, they were. They won't be any longer. As Kucera reports, "The Iowa City police still use older guns, Glocks" -- the ones the campus police apparently had before they decided to "step up."

Someone calling himself "623" posted the following comment to Hermiston's Press-Citizen story,

It is misleading and foolish to call this weapon a "step up" from the weapons carried by other departments. While the M & P has sold very well since its inception, that has been strongly augmented by aggressive marketing and promotion. Despite good sales, there have been a number of issues with the guns and many "upgrades" to address those issues. The most recent of which involves melting of the frame after sustained firing. Smith and Wesson seems commited to the platform, but that doesn't make it better than anybody else's product.

The "step down" Glock pistols carried by other agencies (something like 75% or more agencies nationwide) are based on a design that is both simple and proven. A Glock pistol disassembles in to less than forty pieces and is perhaps one of the easiest weapons platforms on the market to maintain. Add to that near infinite industry support (holsters, parts, etc) and the fact that it has existed in virtually the same form for more than 20 years, and you simply may not call it a "step down."

The Sig handguns that the department of public safety is getting rid of are considered to be very "high end" guns.
"Posted by: 623 on Mon Feb 04, 2008 5:40 pm."

I have no idea who this is, and I claim no comparable knowledge about guns. But whoever he or she is they at least sound like they know what they're talking about.

Whatever else you may think about arming campus police, I don't think we're off to a very reassuring start.

# # #

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Register Skips a (Presidential) Beat

February 10, 2008, 11:00 a.m.; February 11, 2008, 7:30 a.m. [Register posts new AP story], 1:30 p.m., 3:15 p.m.; February 12, 2008, 8:00 a.m., 11:45 a.m.; February 13, 2008, 11:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m.; February 14, 2008, 12:30 p.m.

Register Skips a (Presidential) Beat

Yesterday was a really big day for Senator Barack Obama. In one AP story it was called "his best night of the campaign." (All quoted stories are linked, below.)

The New York Times's page-one headline called it "convincing wins" in a story that began, "Senator Barack Obama won decisive victories . . . an impressive sweep . . . just as Mr. Obama is building a strong advantage over Mrs. Clinton in raising money . . .."

The Washington Post's page-one story headlined that "Obama Handily Wins" and began, "Sen. Barack Obama dominated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in presidential balloting . . . besting her by huge margins . . .."

The Gazette used an AP story that led, "Sen. Barack Obama swept the Louisiana primary and caucuses . . . , slicing into Sen. Hillary Clinton’s slender delegate lead . . .. The Illinois senator also won caucuses in the Virgin Islands, completing his best night of the campaign."

This morning's Register, by contrast, headlines this news "Obama, Clinton Fight in 3 States," puts the story on page 2, and leads with news of Senator McCain -- following which they note that Obama and Clinton "competed for convention delegates across three states" in a race that was "close and likely to get closer."

Spreading the Clinton campaign's usual pre-results spin (if Obama wins this one it was to be expected and doesn't mean anything; of course if we win it is a major upset showing the momentum is now going with us) the story notes "nearly half those casting ballots [in Louisiana] were black. As a group, African-Americans have overwhelmingly favored Obama . . .."

The story reports the merged (pledged and super) delegate count (in which Clinton has a slight edge) rather than the caucus and primary delegate count (in which Obama leads). It mentions that "people were turned away from a University of Maine [event where] Clinton spoke to a capacity crowd of about 1750 people" (with of course no mention of Obama's crowd of 21,000 at a Washington State event earlier in the week).

Morever, immediately under this page 2 placement, in the "Campaign News" sidebar, following the heading for "DEMOCRATS" is, immediately "Hillary Clinton" -- in bold. It goes on to quote her view "that she, not Barack Obama, is best positioned to beat [McCain]." Only later in that paragraph is there a quote from Senator Barak Obama, referred to as simply "Obama" at that point, and in regular font rather than bold, without a paragraph break, and thus something the reader's eye would not quickly catch.

I have no real problem with the Register deciding that its corporate, or ideological, or political, or public spirited interests or inclinations lean it in the direction of an editorial endorsement of Clinton over Obama. That's the right and choice of those who buy printers' ink by the barrel.

But I do think that running this AP story and "Campaign News" blub favoring Senator Clinton -- without more -- raises questions regarding the extent to which that editorial ink is bleeding over into the news pages.

Now the Register may respond that this was all that was available to it when the paper went to press. (The AP story it used ran about 5:00 p.m. CT Saturday.) To which I would respond with the following questions and comments:

1. When do you go to press with the up-to-date "news" for the first, "Section A," portion of your Sunday paper? Is there no way you could do that any later in the afternoon or evening?

2. If not, wouldn't it have been better -- knowing that the page-one news all across America (and the world, for that matter) this morning was going to be results in yesterday's Democratic contests -- to put a notice on page one indicating that you were aware of the importance of the results in the primaries and caucuses, but that your paper had to be printed before any results could be known?

3. Finally, since you have an online version of the paper, to which you often add news and updates before the next hard copy paper version is printed, why did you not post results -- and stories -- there once they were available? (Perhaps you have by now; but I couldn't find them when I looked this morning at the same time I was getting the stories from the Times, Post and Gazette).

[Feb. 11, 7:30 a.m.: The Register has an AP item on its Web site this morning that tells the story of Obama's impressive sweep of five events over the weekend: the Washington, Nebraska and Virgin Islands caucuses, to which he added the Maine caucus on Sunday, plus the primary in Louisiana -- all by substantial 2-to-1 or close to 3-to-1 margins over Clinton. Charles Babington, "Obama Basks in Crowds, Momentum," Associated Press/Des Moines Register, February 11, 2008, 7:47 a.m. ET. (Also noting that Obama's crowds are "several times larger" than those for Clinton, Obama's having won a Grammy as well (over Bill Clinton), and the shake-up in Clinton's top campaign staff.) [The link now [4:00 p.m.] takes you to a 4:46 p.m. ET rewrite of the Babington story.]

The addition of the Maine victory makes this an even bigger national/international story this morning than it was yesterday. I haven't yet seen a hard copy paper version of this morning's [Feb. 11] Des Moines Register, but if it still contains no mention of Obama's string of major victories during the prior 48 hours I think it has some explaining to do.

Feb. 11, 1:30 p.m.: Having now seen my hard copy Register for today I'm sad to report that the paper's choice of AP stories continues to leave it open to charges of (pro-Clinton) news (as distinguished from editorial) bias. Details later this afternoon.

3:15 p.m.: On p. A1 is Beth Fouhy, "Clinton Overhauls Campaign Leadership," Associated Press, with a cheery picture of Hillary Clinton. [A version of this story can be found as Beth Fouhy, "Clinton Replaces Campaign Manager," Associated Press/, February 11, 2008, 12:34 a.m. -- a version from which the Register 's version deletes from its lead: "engineering a shake-up in a presidential campaign struggling to overcome rival Sen. Barack Obama's financial and political strengths."]

Page A2 has the carry-over from the p. A1 story, and two additional Associated Press stories: Stephen Ohlemacher and Jim Kuhnhenn, "Clinton Leads With Insiders" [a version of this story can be found as, Stephen Ohlemacher and Jim Kuhnhenn, "Clinton Has Lead With Party Insiders," Associated Press/, February 10, 2008, 9:44 p.m.], and Pauline Arrillaga, "Obama's Appeal Among Hispanics Could Prove Critical; Polls Show It's Lagging, Whereas Hillary Clinton Has Solid Support From This Segment of Voters." [A version of the Arrillaga story -- with a much more balanced headline and a story from which the Register stripped all the balanced positives about Obama and Hispanics -- is available as Pauline Arrillaga, "Democratic candidate Barack Obama says 'Yes, We Can!' but Hispanic voters ask: Can he?," Associated Press/Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 10, 2008, 2:04 p.m.]

The only mention of Obama's extraordinary string of victories is a little boxed story on p. A2 with no by-line: "Maine Voters Hand Obama Another Victory." As the headline suggests it is, almost in its entirety, merely a very brief report from Maine. Thus, so far as I know the Register has yet to run a story regarding Obama's having bested Clinton, often by 2 or 3-to-one, in 5 straight contests during 48 hours -- contests in America's Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, South and Virgin Islands.

Feb. 12, 8:00 a.m. -- And the (Register's) beat (up on Obama) goes on: Haven't seen the hard copy yet, but The Gazette features the AP story pointing out how much better Obama does against McCain than does Clinton. The Register's online "national news" uses the AP story repeating the Clinton "expectations" spin, designed to diminish any Obama victories, while downplaying and burying the "Obama Beats McCain" story and presenting only the Clinton camp response to it. Beth Fouhy, "Obama Hopes to Rout Clinton in Primaries," February 12, 2008, 8:22 a.m. EST.

11:45 a.m.What the Register runs in its hard copy paper edition is a different AP story (90% of which deals with Clinton and McCain) on page 2: Kristin Jensen and Indira Lakshmanan, "Democrats Work Crowds Ahead of 3 Primaries Today," Associated Press/Des Moines Register, February 12, 2008, p. A2 -- along with a smiling picture of Senator Clinton trying to look her most charming, and an expressionless picture of Obama. (It's not available from the Register's online site, but is available here: Kristin Jensen and Indira Lakshmanan, "Clinton Woes Small Groups, Obama Rallies Crowds," Associate Press/, February 11, 2008.)

As the Bloomberg version reveals, not only did the Register's headline give the story an entirely different spin than Bloomberg, the Register also chose to omit from its version of the story paragraphs such as the following:

Obama held his first rally today at the Comcast Center arena at the University of Maryland's College Park campus. The arena, which seats more than 17,500 people, was packed with cheering Obama supporters. He plans a similar event at a stadium in Baltimore.

. . .

Weekend Contests

Obama bested Clinton in four states over the weekend, winning caucuses in Maine yesterday 60 percent to 40 percent and rolling up similar margins in caucuses in Nebraska and Washington along with the primary in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, The Daily Iowan printed the AP story reported by Alan Fram and Trevor Tompson, under the headline, "Obama Bests McCain in New AP Poll," The Daily Iowan, February 12, 2008, p. A5 (which I cannot find in its online edition). Against McCain Obama wins by 48-42%; Clinton and McCain are in virtual tie at 45-46%. Clinton did no better than Obama with two groups that have previously favored her: whites and women. (While among men, in a McCain-Clinton match-up, they prefer McCain by 9 points, but split evenly with Obama; younger men favor Obama by 9 points over McCain.) Matched against McCain, women choose Obama by 12 points, and Clinton by 11. Among minorities, Obama gets 74% of their votes when running against McCain -- 7 points more than Clinton.

In short, this is a major, major story -- especially given the role of the super delegates and the emphasis they tend to put on who can win (as do Democratic voters generally). And yet the Register chooses to dismiss it with the line in a little sidebar, "MATCHUPS: McCain remains competitive in head-to-head matchups against both Democratic contenders . . .." [p. A2].

Feb. 13, 11:30 a.m. -- Register acknowledges existence of 2008 presidential election contest. David Espo/Associated Press, "Win in Virginia is Sixth Straight for Obama; On the Republican Side, John McCain Narrowly Edges Mike Huckabee," Associated Press/Des Moines Register, February 13, 2008, p. A1. (Although not available from Register online, it can be found as David Espo, "Obama, McCain Win Virginia Primaries," Associated Press/AP Online, February 12, 2008, 9:46 p.m.) Below the fold, at the bottom of the page, it was at least on page one, and a fairly straight story -- although the Register deleted the line, "An Associated Press-Ipsos poll found Obama with a narrow lead over the Arizona senator [Senator John McCain] in a potential match-up, and Clinton running about even," characterizing Obama's lead as simply, "the two camps debated which contender is more likely to defeat McCain in the general election." And of course, presumably because of early deadlines, the Register's headline referred only to "Sixth Straight for Obama" rather than the eight it now is. Nor did the story report anything beyond bland generalities regarding the extent to which Obama is not only winning eight contests in a row, not only winning by margins of 2-or-3-to-one but, most significantly, now increasingly adding to his base demographic (African-Americans, upper income, well educated, and young people) larger and larger shares -- often even besting Clinton -- of those demographics formerly providing her support (women, white men, older voters).

1:00 p.m.: The great irony is that the Register columnist, David Yepsen, has written a balanced column about what's really going on in this primary.That's the good news. The bad news? It's not in the paper! It's a blog entry, available only to those who search for it. David Yepsen, "On Politics: Of Delegates and Demographics," Des Moines Register Online, February 12, 2008. He begins, "Despite all the network talk about how close the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama race has become, Obama is starting to put this away." He then itemizes six categories of reasons why and concludes,

"Bottom line: He’s winning. She’s losing. It’s only a matter of time. While there will be lots of talk about how this will have to be decided by the superdelegates, the fact is those superdelegates are politicians. They can put a wet finger in the wind quicker than any of the rest of us and sense that reality.

They will also want to get with a winner. They will want to unify their party and move on. O-mentum will accelerate."
Has this already appeared in the Register's hard copy paper edition? Is it (or some revision thereof) scheduled for publication later? If not, why not? What is going on at the Register?

Feb. 14, 12:30 p.m. -- It's Valentines Day; Time to Credit the Register Where Credit is Due. Today's page one, bottom of the page, in the "Inside Today's Register" feature, there's a picture of a charming, smiling, energized Senator Clinton, but a headline: "Clinton's Support Slipping Among Women, Whites." So, it may be coming nearly one week late, but the paper is finally acknowledging (on page A6) that its candidate is in real serious trouble (as its columnist, David Yepsen, pointed out yesterday -- though from a blog entry that's yet to appear in the hard copy paper).

The demographics that have been thought to be hers have been moving over to Senator Obama. The story on page 6 (unavailable from the Register online) is Alan Fram and Trevor Tompson, "Women, Whites Leaving Clinton; Her Support Among Other Groups Also Seems to be Slipping, Exit Polls Show," Associated Press/Des Moines Register, February 14, 2008, p. A6.

The story is available online as Alan Fram and Trevor Tompson, "Clinton's Edge Slips With Whites, Women," Associated Press/, February 14, 2008, 6:32 a.m. ET. (This version contains a good deal more than the Register's edit, but I cannot say that either is more or less favorable to Senator Clinton than the other.)

So thank you, and Happy Valentine's Day, Register!]

What Follows Are Links to, and Quotes From, the Stories Referenced
in the February 10th Portion of This Blog Entry

David Espo, Associated Press, "The Race to the White House: Iowa winners Obama, Huckabee add to totals; McCain still far ahead in GOP delegate count; Clinton, Obama tight," The Gazette, February 10, 2008, p. A1.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama swept the Louisiana primary and caucuses in Nebraska and Washington state Saturday night, slicing into Sen. Hillary Clinton’s slender delegate lead in their historic race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Illinois senator also won caucuses in the Virgin Islands, completing his best night of the campaign.

“Today, voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say ‘Yes, we can,’” Obama told a cheering audience of Democrats at a party dinner in Richmond, Va.

Michael D. Shear and Anne E. Kornblut, "Obama Handily Wins Nebraska, Louisiana, Washington," Washington Post, February 10, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama dominated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in presidential balloting in Nebraska, Louisiana and Washington state last night, besting her by huge margins in those contests and further narrowing her slender advantage in delegates needed to claim the Democratic presidential nomination.

Kate Zernike, "Obama Gets Convincing Wins in 3 States," New York Times, February 10, 2008

Senator Barack Obama won decisive victories over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska on Saturday, giving him an impressive sweep going into a month when the Democratic nominating contests are expected to favor him. The successes come just as Mr. Obama is building a strong advantage over Mrs. Clinton in raising money, providing important fuel for the nominating contests ahead.

David Espo, Associated Press, "Obama, Clinton Fight in 3 States; Huckabee Wins 1," Des Moines Register, February 10, 2008, p. A2 [not available from Register online].

Although the Register does not make an online version available of the AP story it used, what follows is a version of it as presented by Yahoo! News. The Register did not run all of it; the portions it omitted are [enclosed in brackets] -- for example, the AP story's noting that Obama raised $7 million in two days and Clinton had to loan her campaign $5 million.

David Espo, Associated Press, "Democrats battle; Huckabee wins Kan.," Yahoo! News, February 9, 2008, 6:11 p.m. ET

Sen. John McCain flunked his first ballot test since becoming the Republican nominee-in-waiting, losing the Kansas caucuses on Saturday. Democratic rivals Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton competed for convention delegates across three states in their landmark struggle for the party's presidential nomination.

McCain fell in Kansas to Mike Huckabee, who got nearly 60 percent of the caucus vote a few hours after telling conservatives in Washington, "I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them." The former Arkansas governor won all 36 delegates at stake.

Republicans also voted in a primary in Louisiana and held caucuses in Washington.

McCain began the day with 719 delegates, far ahead of his remaining rivals. Huckabee's Kansas victory left him with 234.

The Democratic race was far different, close and likely to get closer.

A total of 158 delegates was at stake in the Louisiana primary and caucuses in Nebraska and Washington. Caucuses in the Virgin Islands offered three more.

Preliminary results of a survey of voters leaving their polling places in Louisiana showed that nearly half of those casting ballots were black. As a group, African-Americans have overwhelmingly favored Obama in earlier primaries, helping him to wins in South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

One in seven Democratic voters and about one in 10 Republicans said Hurricane Katrina had caused their families severe hardship from which they have not recovered. There was another indication of the impact the storm had on the state. Early results suggested that northern Louisiana accounted for a larger share of the electorate than in the past, presumably the result of the decline of population in the hurricane-battered New Orleans area.

Clinton began the day with a slender delegate lead in The Associated Press count. She had 1,055 delegates to 998 for Obama. A total of 2,025 is required to win the nomination at the party convention in Denver.

[The day's contests opened a new phase in the Democratic race between Clinton, attempting to become the first woman in the White House, and Obama, hoping to become the first black.]

The Feb. 5 Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in 22 states, which once looked likely to effectively settle the race, instead produced a near-equal delegate split.

That left Obama and Clinton facing the likelihood of a grind-it-out competition lasting into spring — if not to the convention itself.

[With the night's events, 29 of the 50 states have selected delegates.]

[Two more — Michigan and Florida — held renegade primaries and the Democratic National Committee has vowed not to seat any delegates chosen at either of them.]

Maine, with 24 delegates, holds caucuses on Sunday. [Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and voting by Americans overseas are next, on Tuesday, with 175 combined.]

[Then follows a brief intermission, followed by a string of election nights, some crowded, some not.]

[The date of March 4 looms large, 370 delegates in primaries in Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont.]

[Mississippi is alone in holding a primary one week later, with a relatively small 33 delegates at stake.]

[Puerto Rico anchors the Democratic calendar, with 55 delegates chosen in caucuses on June 7.]

People were turned away from a University of Maine student center Saturday morning as Clinton spoke to a capacity crowd of about 1,750 people. [She urged supporters to participate in Sunday's caucuses.]

"This is your chance to be part of helping Maine pick a president," she said. "So I hope even if you've never, ever caucused before, tomorrow will be your first time ... because there is so much at stake in this election."

Obama, also campaigning in Maine, looked ahead to the general election, criticizing Republican McCain without mentioning his Democratic rival.

McCain initially "stood up to George Bush and opposed his first cuts," Obama said at Nicky's Diner in Bangor. Now the GOP senator is calling for continuing those tax cuts, which grant significant breaks to high-income taxpayers, "in his rush to embrace the worst of the Bush legacy."

[If Super Tuesday failed to settle the campaign, it produced a remarkable surge in fundraising.]

[Obama's aides announced he had raised more than $7 million on line in the two days that followed.]

[Clinton disclosed she had loaned her campaign $5 million late last month in an attempt to counter her rival's Super Tuesday television advertising. She raised more than $6 million in the two days after the busiest night in primary history.]

[The television ad wars continued unabated.]

[Obama has been airing commercials for more than a week in television markets serving every state that has a contest though Feb 19.]

[Clinton began airing ads midweek in Washington state, Maine and Nebraska, and added Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Friday.]

[The exit poll was conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for The Associated Press and the television networks.]

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Meaning of "Win"

February 6, 2008, 8:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m.; February 7, 2008, 11:00 a.m.; February 9, 2008, 8:45 a.m.

Once again, mainstream media coverage of politics leaves a good deal to be desired.

(State29, who has been writing up a storm recently in his inimitable style, thinks I'm being unrealistic to expect any more from the media. State29, "John McVain or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the RINO," February 6, 2008.)

We're being told who "won" this state or that. We're told estimates of candidates' "total" delegate counts.

But if the story is what happened yesterday [Feb. 5, "Super Tuesday"], and if what determines who is nominated at the Democratic National Convention is "delegates" not "states," what ought to be reported -- at least first -- is how many delegates Obama and Clinton picked up yesterday from primaries and caucuses.

[Feb. 6, 2:00 p.m.: Scroll to the bottom of this entry. Clinton got 8 delegates more than Obama yesterday; 641 vs. 633; in other words, she got 50.31% of the delegates -- something I'd call about as close to a "tie" as you can get in politics, rather than a "win" for anybody.

Feb. 7, 11:00 a.m.: CNN now reports that of "pledged delegates" (i.e., all minus super delegates) Obama now leads with 635 to Senator Clinton's 630 -- still essentially "a tie" in my book. For another interesting, if otherwise totally meaningless, set of numbers, consider the total votes cast: Clinton: 50.2% (7,347,971), Obama: 49.8% (7,294,851). What I find fascinating is how close Clinton's percentage of delegates (50.31%) is to her percentage of total votes (50.2%). Karen Tumulty, "Super Tuesday: The Most Interesting Number of All,", February 6, 2008.

Feb. 9, 8:45 a.m.: The New York Times has a very good analysis of the reasons for, and solutions to the problem of, the disparity in delegate counts. Mike McIntire, "Media and Candidate Methods of Counting Delegates Vary and So Do Totals," New York Times, February 9, 2008.]

To the extent the media want to insist on talking about "winners" and "losers" that is the data upon which those characterizations should be based.

Like the electoral college presidential "election," in which a candidate can lose the popular vote but still win the electoral college vote -- and the White House, an election in which states do matter -- (a) a candidate could "lose" a state yesterday (that is, get fewer popular votes than the other candidate) and yet get more delegates, or at least more delegates in total from all the states, (b) therefore, who "won" a "state" yesterday is almost totally irrelevant, and reporting, let alone emphasizing, those popular vote totals only confuses the audience, and moreover (c) to the extent states' results are interesting, when the delegates from that state are allocated proportionately (rather than "winner takes all" as with some of the Republican contests) it's misleading to talk about winning and losing "states" (since neither Obama nor Clinton ever "won" anything more than a slice of the irrelevant popular vote and some proportional share of the very relevant delegates).

Moreover, to understand what happened yesterday it is also kind of irrelevant who now has how many "super-delegates" (officials chosen as delegates on the basis of their elected or appointed positions rather than the results of primaries and caucuses). In addition to the fact it tells us nothing about yesterday, it's also irrelevant because super delegates are both (a) free to change their support from time to time before the convention, and (b) very likely to do so by going with whoever appears headed for victory -- so that yesterday's results could actually have an impact on re-aligning those delegates preferences, rather than the other way around.

It's also irrelevant how many delegates they picked up in the primaries and caucuses prior to yesterday (often added together in media reports).

What we need to know about yesterday -- and what I've not found it easy to discover -- is how many delegates Obama and Clinton picked up in the primaries and caucuses held on February 5.

Knowing that, it then becomes an interesting footnote, or sidebar, to know who "won" the most "states" (Obama did), who "won" the most states holding caucuses (Obama won all of them), and who (once all the dust has settled) will have the most total delegates tomorrow (super delegates, prior primaries, and the results from yesterday, for which it looks like Clinton).

But for now, I'd just like to know what happened yesterday -- what happened that mattered, that is. As the TV police drama's Sargent Joe Friday used to say in "Dragnet," no commentary, "Just the facts, ma'm."

If you have a link to a site that makes it clear please add it in a comment. Thanks.

. . . And so now [1:45 p.m.] I see in a comment from "The Gazette's Librarian" [See John McGlothlen's blog, "Looking in at Iowa"] and the referenced Real Clear Politics site, an ability to create the numbers I seek. By using the RCP table, adding up the delegates from prior primaries/caucuses and the super delegates, and subtracting that number from their total delegate numbers, I get:

Senator Hillary Clinton: 641 delegates earned Feb. 5 (900 total less 259 super and prior)
Senator Barak Obama: 633 delegates earned Feb. 5 (824 total less 191 super and prior)

(In other words, Hilary may, now, have a total that exceeds Barak's by 70 or so, but the difference yesterday was a margin of 8 for her, not 76 -- when, not that long ago, she was running a good 10-20% points above him in national polls, as I recall.)

Just because this is the "Information Age of the Internet" doesn't mean we aren't still dependent upon, and thankful for, our librarians.
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Monday, February 04, 2008

Obama: Inspiring AND Polls Say Strongest Candidate

February 4, 2008, 12:40 p.m.

I'm Voting for Michelle

There was a really extraordinary event in Los Angeles yesterday that I just happened to catch by accident as I was scanning the channels.

Although Barack Obama was not there, the event was billed by C-SPAN as "Obama for President Rally at UCLA (February 3, 2008)." Today it is available from the site under "Recent Programs." If when you check that site it is no longer listed there, through the miracle of C-SPAN and its Archival collection you can watch it on small screen RealPlayer at your leisure.

It was remarkable by many measures -- the size of the crowd, the presence (and Obama endorsements) from Caroline Kennedy, Oprah, Stevie Wonder, and Maria Shriver.

I wasn't able to watch all of the event that runs over an hour (1:23:45). What I did see, and that I found one of the most impressive and moving campaign speeches about a candidate I've ever heard, were the remarks of Barack Obama's wife, Michelle.

If you'd like to watch her presentation, you can slide the control in RealPlayer to 23:50, where she begins and listen through to 57:07 where she introduces the surprise "added starter," Maria Shriver (who is, of course, the wife of California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has endorsed Senator John McCain).

Listening to Michelle Obama's speech provides even more insight into why the polls this morning are revealing what they do.

My support of Obama is not based on polls, or who stands the best chance of winning in November. It's not often that my political choices end up as winners -- which is not surprising since they have never been selected for that reason.

But in this case -- at least at this time, and I'm fully aware, to paraphrase the song, "Oh, it's a long, long time from February to November" -- for the benefit of those who do put much more emphasis on ability to win than I do, it appears that Obama also happens to have a great many advantages over Senator Hillary Clinton from that perspective as well.

NPR reported this morning ["Morning Edition," Feb. 4] and makes available from its Web site a poll it commissioned from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, conducted January 29-31, 2008, published February 4, 2008, of 1000 likely voters.

It includes such things as the trends on approval ratings for the president and Congress, issues thought most important by voters, and so forth. But here's what it reveals about Obama and Clinton.

Given a choice between Clinton and McCain, Clinton loses: 48% to 45%. Among Democrats, 9% prefer McCain over Clinton (only 5% of Republicans prefer Clinton over McCain). Among independents McCain has a 26 point spread: 58% go with McCain, and 32% with Clinton.

When the choice is between Obama and McCain, this poll shows the result to be a statistical dead heat: 48% McCain, 47% Obama (although other polls, which also show Clinton losing to McCain, show Obama with a slight edge over McCain -- or in the case of yesterday's Zogby poll, below, a rapid rise in support for Obama over Clinton).

Obama pulls 48% of the independents (compared to Clinton's 32%), a tie with McCain, who also gets 48%. Among Republicans 13% say they'll vote for Obama (compared with Clinton's 5%); although 18% of Democrats would vote for McCain if the choice is Obama (compared with Clinton's more favorable loss of 9%).

If Romney were the Republicans' nominee, Clinton would win by 5 points (49-44%) but Obama would win by over twice that (53-41%).

When all voters are asked how their opinions have changed during the primary contests, 59% are "somewhat" or "much" less willing to support Clinton than they were before (to 38% "somewhat" or "much" more willing to support her) -- a drop of 21 percentage points. For Obama, it is 52% more willing> and 42% less willing -- a 10 point gain compared to Clinton's 21 point loss.

(For the Republicans, McCain gains 6 points, Romney (like Clinton) has a 22 point loss.)

The daily tracking poll run by Zogby for C-SPAN and Reuters, is even more favorable for Obama this morning [Feb. 4]:

Pollster John Zogby: "A very big single day for Obama in California (49%-32% over Clinton) and Missouri (49%-39% single day). In California, Obama has widened his lead in the north and pulled ahead in the south. He leads among Democrats and Independents, liberals and moderates, men (by 21 points),among whites, and African Americans. He holds big leads among voters who say Iraq and immigration are their top concerns. Clinton holds a big lead among Hispanics (though Obama has made some inroads), women, voters over 65, and has pulled ahead among those citing the economy. "In Missouri, Obama leads two to one in the St. Louis region, and has solid leads with independents, voters under 50, and African Americans. He also leads among Missouri women."
It looks like we finally have a race where one can vote with their head and their heart and still have a real shot at having gone with a winner.

In politics, it just doesn't get any better than that.

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