Friday, July 31, 2009

Cronkite in Context: Walter, CBS or the Era?

July 31, 2009, 12:30 p.m. (August 19, 2009 Don Hewitt addition)

Insights from Cronkite's Success
Shed Light on Today's Media Failures

(brought to you by*)

This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I'll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I'm afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. . . . And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, . . .. Furthermore, I'm not even going away! I'll be back from time to time . . .. And that's the way it is . . .. I'll be away on assignment, and [others] will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.
Embedded in Dan Shelley, "Commentary: Cronkite & The CBS Broadcast Center; Legendary Newsman's Aura Permeates Every Inch Of Building," WCBS-TV &, July 18, 2009.

That was how Walter Cronkite left us the last time, in 1981. Change "last broadcast" to "last day," "two decades" to "nine," and it works pretty well for his most recent departure two weeks ago. Had he witnessed our response to his passing I suspect he would say again, with equivalent modesty that "those who have made anything of this departure, I'm afraid have made too much."

And it would be neither inaccurate nor immodest of him to prophesy that "I'll be back from time to time." After all, he was known to most Americans as but an image on a television screen, and given the wonders of videotape and other storage media those images can always return. And, to quote Dan Shelley's headline, above, this "legendary newsman's aura" will continue to permeate not only the newsroom at WCBS-TV, but newsrooms of all media, and journalism classrooms, for decades to come.

Like the thousands who have written about his passing, I too acknowledge his greatness -- as a human being as well as a journalist. Like others whose lives intersected with his, I too have my personal stories. Like all Americans with access to a radio and later a television set during the last half-century or so, I also looked to him to tell me "the way it is."

But I've hesitated to leap into my own commentary because it seemed to me there was an even bigger story here. I'm not confident I'll ever fully understand what it is, but I certainly have a greater insight after two weeks' thought than I had on July 17. How much of "Walter Cronkite" was "Uncle Walter," how much "CBS," and how much the times, the era, in which he emerged?

But first, a sampling of some of my own Walter Cronkite and CBS stories.

We were both born in the midwest, he in St. Joseph, Missouri, and I in Iowa City, Iowa. We both attended the University of Texas, he about the time I was born, I about 18 years later. (In later years our pictures were both hung in the UT Journalism Building, along with that of Bill Moyers, as DeWitt Carter Reddick Award recipients.) Although my own accomplishments and prominence were those of a pygmy compared to Walter Cronkite, our most public times overlapped -- his as anchor of the half-hour "CBS Evening News" (1962-1981), mine in Washington from 1963-1979 (three presidential appointments, including Maritime Administrator, FCC commissioner, presidential adviser to President Carter, a congressional race, and chairing the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting).

Cronkite knew of my interest in journalism in general, and television news in particular, and offered me a standing invitation to visit the set and control room whenever he was doing the news from Washington. These were days of film -- occasionally arriving only minutes before the show went live -- and the tension surrounding what would and would not be processed in time to air, along with the split-second commands to the camera operators (and Walter) made the scene, from my perspective, about as exciting a place to be as any I could imagine.

Earlier, as Maritime Administrator, I had learned the power of his broadcast. One of my responsibilities was moving shiploads of wheat to India. There were disputes with the unions, and various government agencies, that made this task something between very difficult and impossible. Cronkite mentioned the problem one evening in a newscast; the next day the orders came down from the White House, following which the ships promptly sailed. It was an insight and lesson that stayed with me when later confronting the power of the mass media as an FCC commissioner.

At the FCC I tried to focus public and congressional attention on the importance and responsibility of broadcast journalism. Broadcasting's greatest failing, I said, was not so much the harm that it did (though there was plenty of that) but the good it could do for America that it failed to do.

In 1967, the second year of my seven-year term on the FCC, CBS launched a new program called "60 Minutes" which I praised as a step in the right direction. It wasn't long, however, before the show's low ratings were cited by those who thought the experiment had failed and the program should be canceled. I urged the network to stick with it, give it time, that it takes awhile for a show to build a following. Not that my urging had anything to do with it, but the program was kept on the air and for many years thereafter reigned as number one in the ratings -- not number one among news programs but number one, period.

Addition: August 19, 2009: Mike Hale, "An Appraisal: Don Hewitt, The Man Who Kept ‘60 Minutes’ Ticking," New York Times, August 20, 2009, p. C1 ("In the wake of Mr. Hewitt’s death on Wednesday, much will be written about how the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” his signal creation, paved the way for a good share of what we see on television today. . . . [A] moment should be taken simply to honor the success: no show in the history of television has been as widely popular for as long as '60 Minutes.'").

CBS had a Sunday morning show called "Face the Nation." On September 14, 1969, I was the guest. I recently accidentally came upon a "Face the Nation" transcript of my exchanges on that occasion with Mike Wallace and George Herman of CBS and Richard Burgheim of Time magazine. They were heated exchanges, and I was at my outrageous worst. Given that the show was not promoted, and the only listings had it at the wrong time, I was not surprised that one of the letters I received from a viewer explained that she had only seen it because she'd accidentally turned on her TV set while dusting it. (As the producer later explained to me, "You're not paranoid, Nick, you've got real enemies.") All told we had more than 7000 letters in my office (if I now remember correctly), and someone from CBS told me that the network got more mail about that show than any "Face the Nation" program prior to that time. (If you're interested in what was said, just click on the link above.)
[* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson]
Most of the occasions when I was the subject of a CBS' or New York Times' news item it involved my work. But years later, when I had long since settled into what would prove to be a 17-year period as a single man once again, Kathleen Nolan (then national president of the Screen Actors Guild) and I began dating and a personal item made Cronkite's newscast.

Kathleen had a friend with a small house on the north side of Oahu where we decided to spend a few days. Next door, among others, was a young boy who lived in a tree, could dive meters below the surface without a scuba tank, walk on coral, and smoked pot. (Asked why he wasn't in school, he replied, "Because the surf's too high.") When we considered a walk in the near-by forested mountain area he gave us suggestions and offered to accompany us. Since we didn't know the area, and assumed he knew it like the back of his hand, we followed him.

We climbed up a mountain under bushes with long thorns that permitted sliding under while going up, but would have torn the hide off of anything trying to go back down. We weren't concerned not only because we had our experienced guide, but because my mountain experience from Colorado and the Shenandoah was that there are usually animal trails along a mountain ridge that we could probably take back to our cottage. We were wrong on both counts. Our guide did not know this territory, and the trail along the top was very narrow, with drops on both sides precluding descent. Assuming we would ultimately get back down, we continued on only to find the trail ended with an equally impassible drop. We were stuck. We were supposed to have dinner with our friends Dorothy and John Craven (who was then running for Lt. Governor of Hawaii). When we didn't show, he got the Honolulu Fire Department helicopter out looking for us. Our guide, of course, came equipped with matches (though no pot, as I now recall), so we started a little (controlled) fire to alert the helicopter we saw coming for us. For some reason the fire did not get their attention, and they left us on the mountain overnight.

There followed a number of contradictory stories running on the wire services. We were lost in a forest. We had gone down in a small plane at sea. We were lost at sea in a boat. I later heard from some of the other women I was dating at the time of their concern -- both as to what might have happened to me, and as to whom I was with at the time.

The next day the helicopter sighted us, and we swung down in baskets from the mountaintop to the road below -- where the local TV cameras were ready to record our rescue. The reporters' first question to Kathleen: "What were you wearing?" (Dressed in shorts and climbing boots she sarcastically explained that she had been in a designer ball gown while climbing, but changed into shorts for the interview.)

And what does Walter Cronkite have to do with this misadventure? It was a slow news day apparently, so he included a report of our safe return on the evening news.

Another thing Cronkite said on his last day as anchor, quoted above, was "the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers . . .."

And that's the point I'm about to make about Walter Cronkite, CBS, and the state of broadcasting during the 1960s and 1970s -- as contrasted with today.

CBS was, as Cronkite himself said, much more than the anchor on the Evening News. And my relationship was with CBS as much or more than with Cronkite.

Our next door neighbors, and probably closest family friends, in Bethesda, were the Pierpoints; Bob was then the CBS White House correspondent. Although I never met Edward R. Murrow (who died in 1965), I enjoyed a dinner with his widow, Janet, one evening in Pat and Bob's home. My sister, who started her career in television broadcasting while in high school ("Let's Pretend" and "It's Fun to Find Out" on award-winning WMT-TV, Cedar Rapids, were her creations), had gone on to work for NBC, CBC, BBC, and others. Before moving on to other things, she also worked with Cronkite and CBS News as both a researcher and on-air reporter. And as
was necessarily the case for someone in my position at that time, I had an acquaintance with a number of CBS reporters and other personnel.

Which brings me to what is perhaps the broader significance of the "CBS era" in broadcasting. Its success was a tribute to more than just the "team of journalists" -- however professionally skilled, ethical, and hard working they may have been.

It was a tribute to CBS' owner, Bill Paley (whom I never met), its president Frank Stanton (whom I did meet), its general counsel, Dick Salant (with whom I publicly tangled in print), CBS News President Fred Friendly (whom I knew in a variety of his roles). It was they who made the decisions to spend more on CBS News than any other network was willing to spend, far more than the FCC would ever have required. They who lived the admonition, "with great power goes great responsibility." They who exercised that responsibility to all America as best they knew how. They who took pride in the creation and operation of one of the world's preeminent television news organizations.

Looking back the 40 years to those days it's ironic that I should ever have included CBS in my criticisms of the industry. They somehow seem, by comparison with today, the "golden years of responsible television journalism."

And so I'm left to wonder, "why?" What happened during the last three decades to create the state of the broadcast media we see today?

Certainly a part of the answer is the "Wall Street cancer" that infects the majority of American capitalism. Capitalism used to be run by capitalists. Now it's run by bankers and multi-million-dollar hired hands.

You knew who owned CBS in those days; where the buck stopped -- and where the bucks came from. It was Bill Paley. He was driven by forces other than the goal to become "the richest man in the cemetery." He took personal pride in CBS' accomplishments. (And as he once told Edward R. Murrow, when trimming his sails, he also felt it in the pit of his stomach when, in his judgment, CBS was stepping over the line.) But the result was that profit maximization was not paramount; the money spent on CBS News was money that would otherwise have been in Bill Paley's pocket.

Today's news judgments, and news budgets, are made by Wall Street financiers with little respect for journalism or sense of national responsibility. They know, as the saying has it, "the price of everything and the value of nothing." They not only want profits (and the multi-million-dollar bonuses they make possible), they want ever-increasing profits. Hard times? Fire the journalists, reward the executives.

Dick Salant was ferocious defender of CBS' First Amendment rights. I disagreed with him often, but always respected him. Journalism was serious business; it was no place for music or other promotional nonsense. When President Lyndon Johnson complained to Frank Stanton (LBJ's Austin station was a CBS affiliate, I believe) about CBS' Vietnam coverage Stanton never even mentioned the conversation to the reporter the president disliked. When Cronkite thought the Vietnam war unwinable, he simply said so. Unlike today's lapdog media, CBS never felt it had a responsibility to be a cheerleader for war for the White House.

Necessarily, TV reporters and anchors in those days had come up through print journalism (Cronkite with UPI). There were no TV stations to train them. My sense (devoid of data) is that at least some of today's TV's "reporters" have had neither that experience, nor its equivalent, in either journalism school or prior employment. (As a communications study student once told me, the reason he was choosing broadcasting rather than newspapers was because he didn't really like to research and write.)

Another factor, in fairness to ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the others, is that we no longer have what we used to call a "two-and-a-half-network economy." We have hundreds of channels on cable, and even more from the online Internet sites (including blogs). There's a little more competition than there used to be -- and a lot less inflation-adjusted revenue.

The reasons we do not, today, have a Walter Cronkite are many. But among them is the fact that, even if there were a potential Cronkite out there somewhere there is no media operation that would hire him or her -- or place where such a journalist would stay for long even if hired.

"That's the way it is" -- and a significant part of the story of Walter Cronkite's life, and death, that didn't receive the attention it might have during our grieving and memorial services.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's the Unemployment, Stupid!

July 29, 2009, 6:00 a.m.

Perry County: If the Question is Economic Recovery
The Answer is Jobs

(brought to you by*)

James Carville, the political consultant who once famously tried to keep presidential candidate Bill Clinton "on message" with the wall sign, "It's the economy, stupid!" is today giving Afghanistan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani similar "stay on message" advice. If Carville were content to stay in his own country, and on message, I suspect his wall sign for President Obama might well be, "It's the unemployment, stupid!"

Our unemployment numbers continue to climb to roughly 10%, with some pockets more than double that, and most economists projecting at least a year before meaningful improvement, noting that the jobs picture is the last to improve when coming out of a recession.

Despite these realities, the response of Congress and the White House has been bailouts for the corporate CEOs credited with the largest campaign contributions rather than America's working men and women.

Nine months ago I urged a jobs program as the most efficient and effective "stimulus package." Nicholas Johnson, "Jobs, Not Unemployment, Key to Recovery; Why America Needs a Jobs Program: Because When Your Automobile (Industry) is in the River It Makes More Sense to Go For the Shore Than to Continue Bailing it Out," November 8, 2008.

Earlier this week the Times reported that at least one of America's 3100 counties is now successfully taking that approach. Michael Cooper, "To Create Jobs, Tennessee Looks to New Deal Model," New York Times, July 27, 2009 (the site offers a multimedia slide show including the voices of some of the new job holders).

Excerpts from my earlier recommendations, and the Times' report on the Perry County, Tennessee, project, follow.

My own view -- buttressed by [reports regarding] (1) the automobile industry (especially General Motors), (2) retail sales, and (3) unemployment -- is that the best interests of the business community, as well as the American people, will be served by providing public jobs programs, and economic support to the unemployed, rather than continuing to pour billions of dollars into failed and failing businesses. . . .

[A] major part of GM's problem is that laid-off GM workers, and the 10 million other unemployed Americans, don't have the money to buy anybody's cars right now . . ..

[T]here's little likelihood much of the billions given to GM (whether "loans" unlikely to be repaid, "bailouts," or money said to be for "re-tooling" or research on more energy efficient vehicles) is going to find its way to UAW workers, suppliers and dealers -- unless GM would be stupid enough to increase its production, and inventories, of cars that neither its dealers nor its customers can afford. . . .

If the automobile industry is the lynch pin to economic recovery the new president thinks it is, the solution is to get more money into the hands of consumers -- especially the unemployed (and soon to be unemployed). Enabling auto executives to have tens of billions of additional dollars to spend at their discretion in postponing bankruptcy doesn't strike me as a solution to anything . . ..

Another problem with Washington's willy-nilly giveaways, aside from the fact that they are unfair, don't work and will ultimately bankrupt our nation, is that they are irrational. . . .

I have no more enthusiasm for bailing out, or subsidizing, the retail sector than I have for the automobile sector. If Target's sales are down (as they are), I'm not confident that giving its executives billions of dollars will increase its "discretionary spending" sales to customers who barely have money for food.

But if Obama is looking for economic sectors to which to transfer taxpayers' money, wouldn't the one that represents "two-thirds of the nation's economic activity" make more sense in a recession/depression than bailing out the one that makes $30,000 new vehicles? . . .

Why We Need a Jobs Program

Look at the numbers. There are now over 10 million unemployed. Unemployment stands at 6.5 percent, and is projected to go to 8 percent next year -- 22 percent of whom have been out of work for more than six months, something we haven't seen for a quarter-century. The rates are increasing. Of the 1.2 million jobs lost this year 284,000 were in September and 240,000 in October.

In the 1950s over 50 percent of the unemployed received benefits; today, because of various restrictions, only 32 percent qualify -- more unemployment, more holes in the safety net. . . .

[T]he answers seem, to me, rather obvious.

You can't improve business (profits, returns to shareholders, executive compensation) without improving retail sales; you can't improve retail sales without putting money in the hands, and confidence in the heads, of potential consumers; and unemployed consumers don't have money unless they are provided either unemployment compensation or wages from a public sector job (in an economy with a shrinking private sector).

Given our rotting, unattended, infrastructure (roads, bridges, pipelines, schools) resulting from the last 30 years of "tax cuts" it seems to me, given the same amount of money, that using it to create "jobs" makes more sense than providing it for "unemployment compensation."

But either makes more sense than trying to turn an economy around with "trickle down" -- whether tax cuts for the rich, or bailouts for the rich.
Nicholas Johnson, "Jobs, Not Unemployment, Key to Recovery; Why America Needs a Jobs Program: Because When Your Automobile (Industry) is in the River It Makes More Sense to Go For the Shore Than to Continue Bailing it Out," November 8, 2008.
[* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson]
Now read what's happening in Tennessee:

Critics elsewhere may be questioning how many jobs the stimulus program has created, but here in central Tennessee, hundreds of workers are again drawing paychecks after many months out of work, thanks to a novel use of federal stimulus money by state officials.

Here in one of Tennessee’s hardest-hit areas, some workers were cutting down pine trees with chainsaws and clearing undergrowth on a recent morning, just past the auto parts factory that laid them off last year when it moved to Mexico. Others were taking applications for unemployment benefits at the very center where they themselves had applied not long ago. A few were making turnovers at the Armstrong Pie Company (“The South’s Finest Since 1946”).

The state decided to spend some of its money to try to reduce unemployment by up to 40 percent here in Perry County, a rural county of 7,600 people, 90 miles southwest of Nashville where the unemployment rate had risen to above 25 percent after its biggest plant, the auto parts factory, closed.

Rather than waiting for big projects to be planned and awarded to construction companies, or for tax cuts to trickle through the economy, state officials hit upon a New Deal model of trying to put people directly to work as quickly as possible.

They are using welfare money from the stimulus package to subsidize 300 new jobs across Perry County, with employers ranging from the state Transportation Department to the milkshake place near the high school.

As a result, the June unemployment rate, which does not yet include all the new jobs, dropped to 22.1 percent.

“If I could have done a W.P.A. out there, I would have done a W.P.A. out there,” said Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, referring to the Works Progress Administration, which employed millions during the Great Depression. . . .

The impact has been enormous, all across the county. Even the look of the place is changing, following the old W.P.A. model. In addition to the jobs for adults, there are 150 summer jobs for young people, some of whom have been working with resident artists to paint murals depicting local history on the buildings along Main Street in Linden, the county seat.

Over all, two-thirds of the new jobs are in private sector businesses, which are reimbursed by the state for the salaries of eligible stimulus workers. Some, in retail, might be hard to sustain when the stimulus money runs out in September 2010. Other businesses say the free labor will help them expand, hopefully enough to keep a bigger work force.

The Commodore Hotel Linden, a newly restored 1939 hotel that has brought new life to downtown, has seen an increase in its bookings since it has expanded its staff thanks to the stimulus. And the Armstrong Pie Company expects to be able to keep on the new bakery assistants and drivers it hired with stimulus money, saying the new workers have helped the company triple its pie production and expand its reach through central Tennessee. . . .
Michael Cooper, "To Create Jobs, Tennessee Looks to New Deal Model," New York Times, July 27, 2009 (the site offers a multimedia slide show including the voices of some of the new job holders).

My only disagreement with the Times' story is its characterization of the Perry County approach as "novel." As it alludes later in the piece, we did this in the 1930s and called it the "Works Progress Administration" and "Civilian Conservation Corps" -- the creations of which we are still enjoying to this day (in, for example, our state parks).

Why are we not doing it today -- outside of Perry County? Your guess is as good as mine. But my suspicion is that it has more to do with the big money corruption of our political system than with some new, Nobel-prize-winning insight into the mysteries of economic theory.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

# # #

Monday, July 27, 2009

More for Insurance Ain't Rx for Health

July 27, 2009, 9:45 a.m.; July 28, 2009, 8:00 a.m.

Forget the "Details," the Devil is in the Basic Concept
(brought to you by*)

Update July 28: This morning brings more evidence that "insurance" is continuing to win out over "health care," thanks to the six senators who are, in fact, the folks writing America's 21st Century guarantee of their campaign contributors' profits. David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear, "Health Policy Now Carved Out at a More Centrist Table," New York Times, July 28, 2009, p. A1 ("Already, the group of six has tossed aside the idea of a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers, which the president supports but Republicans said was a deal-breaker.").

[July 27 blog entry:] Have you, like I, been more focused on the politics of health care, and the "universal, single-payer" systems of civilized countries that is off the table than what's in the plans that are on the table?

This thing is doomed to disaster from the starting gate.

"The Devil is in the details?" Not this time. The Devil is in these approaches from "Be it enacted" through the bottom of the last page.

As Congressman Dennis Kucinich has long and famously said, "I don't want everybody in America to have health insurance. I want everybody to have health care."

What the sickness industry's special interests, and the Democrats and Republicans they fund, are proposing is more sickness insurance. And it's far from clear that everybody is even going to have that.

The sickness insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. You want to cut the costs of medical services? Well, how about starting with the 25-30% of those costs that represent insurance companies' administration (compared to 3% for Medicare)?

The insurance companies, in case you hadn't noticed, are a for-profit operation. How do they increase profits to the levels Wall Street demands? Two ways: (1) continually increase premiums, while (2) reducing coverage, by refusing to insure at all those who might actually file claims, and then refusing to pay the claims of those they do insure.

And how are we going to solve this problem? By requiring everyone to have health insurance?! It would be a hilarious segment of a comedy club stand-up routine if it weren't so outrageously corrupt.

We've used taxpayers' money to bail out the banks and the auto companies. Now we're gong to pour more consumers' and taxpayers' money into the deep dark hole that is the for profit sickness industry.


Think I'm exagerating? Take a look at this sampling of three pieces from yesterday's and today's New York Times:

Editorial, "Health Care Reform and You," New York Times, July 26, 2009, p. WK9 ("The health care reform bills moving through Congress look as though they would do a good job of providing coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. But what would they do for the far greater number of people who already have insurance?"); Robert Pear, "Reach of Subsidies is Critical Issue for Health Plan," New York Times, July 27, 2009, p. A1 ("The major health care bills moving through Congress would require nearly all Americans to have health insurance. But as lawmakers struggle to achieve the goal of universal coverage, a critical question is whether the plans will be affordable to those who are currently uninsured."); Paul Krugman, "An Incoherent Truth," New York Times, July 27, 2009, p. A21 ("Reform, if it happens, will rest on four main pillars: regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition. . . . [E]ven as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.").

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

# # #

Friday, July 24, 2009

Alcohol's Impact on Iowa City

July 24, 2009, 10:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m.

Police Toss Bar Closing Recommendation to Council;
Loh Talking Tough

(brought to you by*)

July 29 Update: The Princeton Review has recently provided America's binge drinking high school graduates some guidance with regard to America's top "party schools." The University of Iowa came in 12th. It's too fuzzy a number to qualify as one of Provost Loh's alcohol metrics but, if it were, my recollection is that we were 9th last year. So, aside from the potential loss of tuition from those UI applicants more interested in alcohol and athletics than in academics, it can be chalked up as modest progress of sorts. (The UI's 2002-03 Parent Times Online indicates parents are notified when their kids are ticketed for alcohol violations. Is that still the case?) And see, Chris Rhatigan, "Council denies license renewal for 2 bars; PAULA rates at Etc., Fieldhouse triggered recommendation," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 29, 2009 (As I wrote in this blog entry July 24, below, "It will be a real test for the City Council next Tuesday evening. Are they willing to really stand up to the politically and economically powerful Iowa City alcohol industry?" Well, apparently they were, and in fairness I want to give them credit for doing so.)

Evening update, July 24, 10:00 p.m.: "And the beat(ing up) goes on": more alcohol-related violence and killing, before the day is even out. "Stabbing, Shooting Reported in Iowa City," The Gazette Online, July 24, 2009, 10:00 p.m. ("According to witnesses, a long-time patron of the Hawkeye Hideaway bar . . . heard a man believed to be a transient drop two bags full of empty pop cans and bottles. The transient then stabbed the bar patron. Kevin Grimm of the Hawkeye Hideaway said the incident was witnessed by an off-duty Iowa City police officer, who then pulled a gun and shot the transient.")

10:00 a.m. (original blog entry): Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine has made a radical proposal to the City Council: don't continue to grant liquor licenses to bars that consistently flout the law. What a concept!

It will be a real test for the City Council next Tuesday evening. Are they willing to really stand up to the politically and economically powerful Iowa City alcohol industry? Rob Daniel, "Police: No liquor license for 2 bars; Council to vote Tuesday on The Fieldhouse and Etc.," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 24, 2009.

Meanwhile, UI's Provost Wallace Loh is also talking a little tougher.

He [Loh] wants action.

“It’s trial and error, experiment,” he said. “Let’s do things — let’s stop studying it.” “This problem has been studied to death,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of articles with recommendations. What there is very little of is people taking action.”

So the partnership focuses its energies on specific, concrete ideas for gradually changing the culture, he said.

The UI is stepping up with police overtime on downtown patrol, beefing up alcohol safety education training for freshmen and offering even more intensive training to at risk groups.

They plan better communication with parents and cooperation with bar owners. They’ll schedule more Friday classes and fund more alternative activities, he said.

Loh’s goal: fewer alcohol-related emergency room admissions. A drop in blood alcohol levels, reduced incidents of alcohol-related assaults, fewer dropouts and more.
Jennifer Hemmingsen, "Attitude Change on UI Drinking on Horizon?" The Gazette, July 18, 2009, p. A4.

Although the test is "what happens next"? there's some reassurance in Hemmingsen's story and quotes. Perhaps most impressive to me is Provost Loh's reference to some metrics for measuring "success": alcohol-related dropouts and emergency room admissions, and blood alcohol levels in students arrested and tested.

There's really no substitute for the business adage "you get what you measure."

Speaking of which, what are we to make of the statistics regarding student arrests?

The Gazette recently headlined, "Athletes Not Most-Arrested Group." (Fraternity boys are.)

Might it have been more relevant/meaningful to look at some of the sports (and, presumably, fraternities) separately? Is it possible that the percentage of football players who get in trouble exceeds the percentages for members of the UI's teams in, say, cross country, golf, rowing, swimming, tennis, track and volleyball? Is it possible that some fraternities contribute a disproportionate number of fraternity members' arrests?

Here's how the Gazette presented the numbers:

Male student-athletes at the University of Iowa have had lower rates of arrest and citation than members of UI fraternities every year for the past five years, according to UI figures. . . .

Male athletes’ arrest and citation rates in Iowa City during the 2008-09 academic year — 10.5 percent — were nearly the same as those for male students living in residence halls — 10.1 percent. Fraternity members tallied the highest charge rate, at 15.1 percent. . . .

That compares with . . . 4 percent of the total UI student body. . . .
Of the 1,504 charges in the categories that were tracked, 75 percent were alcohol related . . ..
Diane Heldt, "Athletes not most-arrested UI group; Fraternity members’ rates higher, though athletes get attention," The Gazette, July 11, 2009, p. A1. And see, Editorial, "Hook students on positive activities," The Gazette, July 16, 2009, p. A4 ("Of the 1,504 criminal charges . . . 75 percent were alcohol related. . . . Yet another reminder of the UI’s struggles with alcohol. . . . [A] 2006 survey . . ., 'Research on Iowa Student Experiences,' found that binge drinking was lower among students who participated in . . . student organizations, honors programs and research projects with faculty. . . . Only students can choose to engage in positive, educationally purposeful activities. But the easier the UI can make that choice, the better.")

Some of the comments on papers' stories in their online editions emphasize individuals' "right" to drink alcohol (a right possessed, apparently, even by those who are legally precluded from exercising it) and the contribution to Iowa City's downtown businesses (i.e., bars) and "vibrancy."

But there are costs associated with our present policies -- economic, medical, social, and moral/ethical.

Universities may no longer have the responsibilities of parents for their students' every action (though they once did), but they do still have some obligation to contribute more to students' lives than freedom, football, and the rote learning and regurgitation of bits of information.

And consider the Gazette's report this morning regarding the Los Cocos bar:

Los Cocos . . . has been a popular hip-hop club since it opened a little more than a year ago, but in that time, the bar has had almost 210 calls to police that consumed more than 200 officer hours and ended in nearly 90 arrests. . . . Los Cocos has alcohol-related arrests, but unlike many other bars, it also has seen a stabbing, numerous assaults and shots fired.
Ashton Shurson, "Tough Crowd: Police Say Los Cocos Bar in I.C. Plagued with Violence; Owner Says It's Unfairly Targeted," The Gazette, July 24, 2009, p. A1.

And see, "Man assaulted in ped mall," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 23, 2009 ("Police say a man was assaulted early Wednesday in downtown Iowa City. Police said a man had fallen down and was knocked unconscious in the 100 block of East College Street about 1:46 a.m. Wednesday. He was intoxicated and had a large cut on his head, police said. Officers determined he had an altercation with someone and that he was tripped by the suspect, who had fled on foot eastbound through the pedestrian mall.").

Taxpayers are subsidizing much of the "externalities" from Iowa City's bar culture. We pay the overtime for the diversion of the police to the violence that is the aftermath of drunk patrons. We pay the City employees who clean up the vomit outside the bars on Sunday morning. We pay for the streets and sidewalks, and their maintenance, that are given (free, so far as I know) to bar owners who'd like to claim the territory for more patrons. We pay, either as taxpayers or in excess health insurance premiums, for the alcohol-related emergency room treatments. We pay for the property damage for whom no perpetrator can be found. We are left with the obligation to clean up our yards after the drunken hoards of bumblebees depart Kinnick. We pay for the prisons. And we pay in having our freedom restrained by needing to avoid some areas of town at some times of the week and day because of risks of alcohol-related violence and just all-round unpleasantness. We pay the "opportunity cost" of what our downtown might have been had the City Council not been so willing to give in to bar owners' drive for ever-increasing profits.

There's much more involved here than the libertarian ideology that individuals ought to be left free to destroy their careers and lives by whatever means they choose, free to reject the opportunities offered them. Even in its purest form, that assumes they are doing no harm to others.

In this case, they are.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

U.S. Trains Honduran Coup Officers

July 22, 2009, 8:05 a.m.

Heads We Win, Tails They Lose -- in Honduras
(brought to you by*)

It turns out that President Obama and his Administration, while bemoaning the coup in Honduras -- backing, and insisting on the return of, President Manuel Zelaya -- have been training the very officers and soldiers who brought off the coup!

It's an example of the U.S.'s win-win foreign policy strategy: In public we back the ousted leader; in private we train the army officers that overthrow him.

The story, which I found in the National Catholic Reporter, is just one example of what we were missing while the world's media brought the laser-like focus of its video cameras on the death of Michael Jackson and little more.

James Hodge and Linda Cooper, "U.S. continues to train Honduran soldiers; Coup that ousted president, didn't stop U.S. engagement in Honduras," National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2009. Here are excerpts from the Hodge and Cooper story:

A controversial facility at Ft. Benning, Ga. -- formerly known as the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas -- is still training Honduran officers despite claims by the Obama administration that it cut military ties to Honduras after its president was overthrown June 28, NCR has learned.

A day after an SOA-trained army general ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint, President Barack Obama stated that "the coup was not legal" and that Zelaya remained "the democratically elected president."

The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act requires that U.S. military aid and training be suspended when a country undergoes a military coup, and the Obama administration has indicated those steps have been taken.

However, Lee Rials, public affairs officer for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the successor of SOA, confirmed Monday that Honduran officers are still being trained at the school. . . .

Asked about the Obama administration's suspension of aid and training to Honduras, Rials said, "Well, all I know is they're here, and they're in class" . . . adding that it's possible that other U.S. military schools are training them too. "We're not the only place." . . .

The school trained 431 Honduran officers from 2001 to 2008, and some 88 were projected for this year, said Rials, who couldn't provide their names.

Since 2005, the Department of Defense has barred the release of their names after it was revealed that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers.

The general who overthrew Zelaya -- Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez -- is a two-time graduate of SOA, which critics have nicknamed the "School of Coups" because it trained so many coup leaders, including two other Honduran graduates, Gen. Juan Melgar Castro and Gen. Policarpo Paz Garcia. . . .

The ongoing training of Hondurans at Ft. Benning is not the only evidence of unbroken U.S.-Honduran military ties since the coup.

Another piece was discovered by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, while on fact-finding mission to Honduras last week. . . .

"Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes" about the U.S.-Honduran relationship, Bourgeois said. "We asked him if anything had changed since the coup and he said no, nothing."

The group later met with U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who claimed that he had no knowledge of ongoing U.S. military activity with the Hondurans, Bourgeois said. The ambassador also said that he himself has had no contact with the de facto government.

That has apparently changed. Christopher Webster, the director of the State Department's Office of Central American Affairs, said Monday that Llorens has in fact been in touch with the current coup government, according to Eric LeCompte, the national organizer for SOA Watch. . . .

Herrera Hernández, the lawyer with the Honduran attorney general's office, told Webster that the coup government has disseminated misinformation by claiming the coup was legal because the court had issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for pushing ahead with a non-binding referendum on whether to change the Honduran constitution.

However, the order to arrest Zelaya came a day after the coup, he said. And contrary to coup propaganda, Zelaya never sought to extend his term in office, and even if the survey had been held, changing the constitution would have required action by the legislature, he said.

Whatever legal argument the coup leaders had against Zelaya, it fell apart when they flew him into exile rather than prosecuting him, the attorney said. The legal system has broken down, he added, for if this can happen to the president, who can't it happen to?
Looks like Iraq and Afghanistan aren't the only countries where our "peace through war" efforts are a little off track.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Health Costs, Rationing and Hypocrisy

July 20, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Two Thoughts on Medical Bills
(brought to you by*)

There are a couple aspects of "the cost of health care" I'm going to try to put briefly this morning.

1. I believe that those public officials, and the campaign contributors who fund them, who so willingly handed over trillions of taxpayer dollars to some of America's wealthiest bankers this past year are now morally precluded from using "cost" as a reason for continuing to deny health care to Americans.

Am I concerned about sickness costs accelerating at a rate four times wages? Of course. It's not a trivial concern. But there are responses other than voting "No" on any and all proposed solutions.

(a) They talk of the added costs "over ten years." But a trillion dollars over 10 years is $100 billion a year. They gave that much to individual companies! To be able to provide health care to every American for the same amount puts both their prior generosity, and their current miserliness, in a clear, stark perspective.

(b) Where did this idea come from anyway that we can only have the quality of health care other countries provide their people if we can do it for no additional money? Of course it's going to cost money! We don't apply that standard to the defense budget. We don't apply it to earmarks and other corporate tax breaks, subsidies and giveaways. Why does it suddenly become our Polaris of navigation when it comes to keeping America healthy?

(2) "Rationing" health care. One of the arguments of the special-interest advocates, and their purchased public officials, in opposing universal, single-payer and public option plans is the bugaboo of "rationing."

(a) We already have "rationing." The rationing decisions are made by the executives of for-profit companies that make more profit, and pay those executives larger bonuses, by refusing to provide any insurance, or care for some, and denying the claims of others (all the while raising premiums). There are procedures, and drug treatments, they simply refuse to pay for. They try to suggest that there is no rationing in the present system, but that it would be imposed by "government bureaucrats" in the proposed reforms.

Give me a choice between a greed-driven rationing and even an incompetent (but at least not self-interested driven) rationing, and I'll choose the latter every time.

(b) We cannot provide every conceivable medical procedure known to everyone who might like to have it, regardless of cost. We can't, won't and don't pay for that approach whether with the insurance premiums paid to for-profit providers or with the taxes that support a public system.

There needs to be some metric, some way of thinking about, the benefit-cost returns in any health care system, private or public. It is not only economically essential, it is rational and reasonable, for a public system to focus on providing "the greatest good to the greatest number" by insisting that no one go without the relatively low cost procedures and medicines that can provide them more "quality years" of life -- even though the result may be that the very most expensive treatments have to be curtailed as a public expense (while retaining the option of a patient paying for them with cash, or an additional private insurance plan). The point is, that's what we do now. The very wealthiest get care the rest of us do not; we can't afford it, and our insurance policies won't cover it.

The advantage of a public option is that we would save the system money by getting the uninsured out of the emergency room and into a doctor's office (at a fraction of the cost). By providing medical care to all at the onset of disease, or immediately after an injury, by offering relatively cheap routine checkups, we'd not only improve Americans' health we'd also save the far greater future costs of treating more serious conditions.

Would this mean that some of us, some of the time, would not get public coverage of some treatment we might now get with our private for-profit insurance? Probably. But the opposite might also be true; there would undoubtedly be some treatments a non-profit system would conclude are cost-effective than a for-profit system refuses to provide. Regardless, we would have the benefit of a nationwide level of health -- of infant mortality rates, and life expectancy -- that would bring us closer to the standards of the rest of the industrialized world, with all the economic, humane and moral consequences of such a system.

This morning's blog entry was inspired by the following thoughtful, analytical, balanced article in yesterday's New York Times Magazine: Peter Singer, "Why We Must Ration Health Care/'Public Health Insurance Should Pay Up To $__________ For a Treatment That Would Extend a Patient's Life for One Year,'" New York Times, July 19, 2009, p. MM38.

If you're at all interested in this subject you need to read it.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

How Many Administrators Does It Take?

July 16, 2009, 8:45 a.m.

Administrators Are Multiplying & Sucking Us Dry
(brought to you by*)

July 21 Addendum. This blog entry deals with three aspects of institutional administrators: (1) the number of administrators (do we really need that many?) and their rate of increase compared to the number of those actually doing the work of the institution, (2) their pay (do we really need to pay that much? are they worth that much?), and (3) the relative lack of transparency, and the public/media's inability to compare compensation packages because of all the hidden, and added on, payments.

This morning's news provides one more example of the last category. Andy Hamilton, "Ferentz's contract finalized," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 21, 2009.

It begins, "Kirk Ferentz agreed in February to a contract extension that would keep him in place as Iowa's football coach through the 2015 season. More than five months later, the ink on the signatures is finally dry." That's a cute line, but without more one really is left wondering, "why the delay between a February agreement and a July release of the information?"

On the one hand, Iowa's Athletic Director, Gary Barta, says of the contract, "we haven't given him a raise the past three years and there isn't one in the new agreement . . .." On the other hand, he acknowledges the University "will continue to pay the . . . coach $3.02 million annually plus incentives" -- without identifying what those "incentives" might be or how much additional income they might generate. He continues, "Under the new pact [he] will have access to a private plane for personal use of 35 hours each year -- a perk that could be worth $85,000 annually."

First off, I suspect most Iowans would consider an additional $85,000 annual income from a grateful employer in the nature of "raise." Even for the $3 million-dollar man it's roughly a 3% increase in pay. And, given that this "perk" is worth roughly twice the average Iowa family's income, I suspect many Iowans may view his flying about at nearly $2500 an hour pretty high living, even for Iowa's highest paid public servant.

I don't mean to pick on Coach Ferentz, who is a good coach and for all I know an all-round wonderful fellow. But it did seem to me worth noting this morning's story in the context of this prior blog entry about those who receive institutions' top pay.


What do health care, Goldman Sachs and the Cedar Rapids school superintendent have in common?

Each was recently featured in the news in ways that ought to cause us to take a second look at how we're going about running our major institutions.

One of the consequences of choosing for-profit companies to deliver health care is that we're now trying to do the impossible -- and paying the price to do it. We've deliberately gone about creating a system with a systemic problem, an unresolvable internal conflict of interest. And from the early rumblings emanating from the hollow halls and minds of the best Congress money can buy it looks like we're going to continue doing so.

What do I mean? I mean that when you hand over health care delivery to those whom Wall Street controls and drives to ever-increasing profits, and who can only increase profits by raising premiums and denying care and claims, you should not be surprised that our costs accelerate far faster than inflation, and that we continue to pay more and get less health care from our system than any other on earth.

In addition to that inherent catastrophe in our system there is the matter of the percentage of overall expenditures going to administrative costs -- estimated to run at something like 10 times the percentage we pay to administer Medicare and Medicaid (our "socialized medicine" systems). Couple that with what the companies pay for marketing and advertising, among other things, and something like one of every three "health care" dollars serves little more than our ideological rigidity.

An op ed column in the Register recently put the matter in stark, graphic terms. Miles Weinberger, "Rethink priorities in UI hospital layoffs," Des Moines Register, July 11, 2009.

Dr. Weinberger is a pediatrician at the University of Iowa Hospital. There must be something about working with kids that creates caring, progressive, rational thought about public policy. I may well be wrong, and I certainly have no data, but at least my general impression over the years has been that some of the best suggestions from within the medical profession have come from pediatricians.

Dr. Weinberger expressed his concern that "two administrative personnel at the University of Iowa Hospital pulled two pediatric nurse practitioners from patient-care responsibilities . . . professionals, with more than 20 years of experience in pediatric respiratory and allergic disease . . .."

Now, we all know that these are difficult times, and the hospital was in a difficult financial bind. But was the bind because these two pediatric nurse practitioners were costing the hospital excessively? Of course, by decreasing hospitalizations . . . hospital income is adversely affected. But do we really want increased hospitalizations that are preventable by improved outpatient care? . . . [T]here is certainly the potential for current administrative decisions to have such unintended consequences.

Costs are exceeding income, and something had to give. So let's look at where personnel costs have been rising.

Personnel costs nationally have not risen primarily because of too many health-care personnel. Rather, there's been a meteoric rise in the number of administrative personnel. From my observations at the University of Iowa Hospital, we have emulated this national pattern . . .."

Is he right? Look at the chart for 1970 to 2008 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics, based on an analysis of the Current Population Survey. The number of doctors is roughly 150% of what it was. The number of administrators? Roughly 3000% of what it was.

These numbers are from the sickness industry, and are not unrelated to its accelerating costs, as just discussed.

But the point, for now, is not the folly and fraud in our chosen system for delivering health care, it is that similar patterns may well exist throughout other American institutions as well.

How many Pentagon administrators does it take to support one of our combat soldiers in Afghanistan?

How many GM administrators did it take (before bankruptcy) to produce a single automobile?

How many educational administrators does it take to run a university faculty and student body -- or school district?

I'm not charging all American institutions are administratively top heavy. I don't have access to data that would support, or refute, such a charge. All I'm saying is that I think it's something that ought to get more attention than it does.

Is it possible, when cuts are necessary in an economic downturn, that the reason the nurse practitioners are let go from hospitals, UAW workers from auto plants, teachers from schools -- rather than an equal proportion of administrators -- is because it is the administrators who are making the decisions? If nurses were vested with the power to make all hiring and firing decisions for a hospital would their best judgments end up being different?

If faculties were given responsibility for all hiring and firing -- and setting of pay scales -- would they allocate the positions and money in the ways that university presidents tend to?

And speaking of pay, the Gazette had an editorial the other day that dealt with the difficulty we confront in trying to find out, and then understand, just how much compensation administrators are getting. Editorial, "What a Superintendent Actually Costs," The Gazette, July 14, 2009, p. A6.

[I]n order for taxpayers to better judge, the [Cedar Rapids school] district must be clearer about what that [superintendent] compensation was for. [B]etter explaining is in order when those extras allow a public employee to earn nearly $100,000 over his annual base salary. . . . It’s relatively easy to compare base salaries — a spreadsheet with those figures is on the Iowa Association of School Boards’ Web site. But total compensation is a different story. [The Cedar Rapids superintendent's]gross taxable income, $273,172.05, . . . includes his base salary of $178,854, plus an additional $9,230.75 in professional expenses, a salary supplement of $1,100 and a retention supplement of $74,577.09. Even when contracts are collected and compared, varying perks like extra annuity payments, performance bonuses, vehicle allowances and others make apples-to-apples comparisons difficult.
Of course, there are some administrators for whom $273,000 is little more than pocket change.

Even on Wall Street, the land of six- and seven-figure incomes, jaws dropped at the news on Tuesday: After all that federal aid, a resurgent Goldman Sachs is on course to dole out bonuses that could rival the record paydays of the heady bull-market years.

Goldman posted the richest quarterly profit in its 140-year history and, to the envy of its rivals, announced that it had earmarked $11.4 billion so far this year to compensate its workers.

At that rate, Goldman employees could, on average, earn roughly $770,000 each this year — or nearly what they did at the height of the boom.
Graham Bowley, "With Big Profit, Goldman Sees Big Payday Ahead," New York Times, July 15, 2009, p. A1.

Of course, "averages" are misleading. As the old line has it, with your hand in a pot of boiling water, and your foot in a bucket of ice water, on average you're comfortable.

Three years ago the Goldman Sachs CEO earned almost 8 times that employee annual average -- every month! "In 2007, he made $68.7 million and bought a $27 million apartment at 15 Central Park West." "Lloyd C. Blankfein," Times Topics/People/New York Times.

Of course, there's much more to be concerned about than the mere injustice of excessive administrative compensation. As Bowley's article continues, "Another concern is that the blowout profits might encourage rivals to try to match Goldman in the markets so they, too, can return to paying hefty bonuses. Wall Street’s bonus culture is widely seen as having encouraged the excessive risk-taking that set off the financial crisis. 'I find this disconcerting,' said Lucian A. Bebchuk, a Harvard law professor. 'My main concern is that it seems to be a return to some of the flawed short-term compensation structures that played an important role in the run-up to the financial crisis.'"

In case you've forgotten, these are the guys whose greed brought down the global economy and caused individuals to lose investments worth trillions of dollars. These are the guys who then had the gall to call upon their buddies in the Administration, and the members of Congress they own, to fork over trillions of taxpayer dollars.

As Bowley quotes Senator Brown, “People all over this country feel an incredible frustration that they are seeing their neighbors lose their jobs and the government is helping companies like A.I.G. and Goldman Sachs and then the next thing they are reporting huge profits and huge compensation,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and a member of the banking committee. “I think people are incredulous that this system is working this way.”

Bottom line: There's a lot wrong with the way we administer our largest institutions. Turning to administrators to study the problem, fire administrators, and cut the pay of those who remain -- including themselves -- makes about as much sense as expecting a for-profit sickness industry will ever be able to deliver meaningful health care to every American at a reasonable cost.

Whether it's the rapidly increasing numbers in our institutional administrative armies, their rapidly increasing pay, or the rapidly decreasing wisdom of their decisions, it's a challenge we seem ill equipped to address.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gambling Our Way to Economic Prosperity

July 14, 2009, 9:00 a.m.

Iowa: A Place to Grow (Your Debt) and Lose Your Green
(brought to you by*)

The Press-Citizen has a good editorial this morning regarding the wisdom of increasing the number of Iowa's gambling casinos. l, Editorial, "State shouldn't gamble with any more casinos," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2009.

Here are some excerpts, followed by some of my own analysis from two years ago:

Iowa voters have seen much evidence of the Iowa gambling industry's power over legislators in recent years.

In 2007, the Legislature and the governor agreed to dry up the requirement that gambling facilities with riverboat casino licenses locate their gaming floors over water. . . .

In 2008, the Iowa Legislature exempted the gambling floor of casinos from the state smoking ban. . . .

And now the casino industry is looking to gain even more of a foothold into Iowa politics. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is scheduled to meet this week to consider increasing the number -- and most likely the influence -- of casinos in the state. . . .

[W]e hope the commission recognizes there simply is no need for the state to increase its addiction to gambling dollars.

Gambling too often becomes the fool's gold of economic growth. If Iowa really wants to grow its small towns and increase tax revenues, then lawmakers need to continue to support businesses and industries that help create new wealth and new opportunities. . . .
I would take issue with that last suggestion -- as I have in numerous blog entries. The best way to "support businesses and industries" with taxpayers' money is not the "support" that goes directly to the bottom line of a for-profit enterprise. It is to make a public investment in infrastructure (e.g., roads, broadband, schools, libraries, community colleges, parks and trails, etc.) that can help attract business to the state while sharing the benefits of that investment with every Iowan.

Aside from that, I think the editorial is right on point.

The problem, of course, was the initial decision to get into the gambling business. It was, after all, a business that was originally prohibited by the Iowa Legislature in the same chapter of the Iowa Code that prohibited prostitution. Once we have established 20 in-state casinos, as we have -- like the 50 bars within walking distance of the campus in Iowa City -- the net effect of prohibiting any more (while certainly better than adding to the number) is to increase the "medallion value," the oligopolistic profits, of an industry effectively protected from competition.

Here are some earlier thoughts of mine regarding the wisdom behind the hope that Iowans might, somehow, gamble their way into economic prosperity:

1. It doesn't "create jobs" or "improve Iowa's economy" to move jobs and revenue from one county to another. Politicians and business persons alike proudly assert that every new business in Iowa is creating jobs, and improving the economy. They claim too much. Riverside's figures make the point. So did the Coral Ridge Mall. (I don't have the figures for the latter off the top of my head, but it's fairly close to say that it grossed about $100 million in retail sales its first year -- while the surrounding counties lost something like $90 million in retail sales.) I'm not suggesting this is an argument for, or against, starting up new businesses; but it is a caveat regarding the claims of the economic benefits they bring. It turns out it's true, once again, in this instance. The Riverside gambling casino didn't bring an additional $7 million profit into the state; it simply shifted much of it from its competitors to itself.

2. Gambling isn't value added manufacturing or services. Gambling is something in the nature of a self-imposed tax -- indeed, a significant proportion of what's left behind by each visitor is literally a tax going to the State and other governmental units. True economic development for Iowa requires (a) making something from our natural resources (e.g., wind generated electricity; food; ethanol and biodiesel), (b) value added manufacturing (e.g., making something from raw materials or parts that can be sold for much more than the cost of what goes into it, as numerous small and large manufacturers are doing throughout the state), or (c) value added services (e.g., individuals with the ability to create value by fixing broken equipment, or transforming a dream into an architectural plan). Jobs are created, and money changes hands, when casinos are built or expanded (such as the Mesquaki $111 million expansion project). But once they're built their primary function is to suck money out of the state's economy, not put more back into it.

3. It's not clear how much gambling is enough; conflicts of interest drive public policy. . . . When the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission evaluates applications for additional casinos, how much will its decisions be shaped by the present casinos' desire to prevent any additional competition, and how much by -- if it is in fact our purpose to promote Iowans' gambling as vigorously as we can -- the desire to make casinos ever more conveniently located for old, and potential new, gamblers?

4. Gambling casinos are primarily taking advantage of Iowans. Of course, casinos located on Iowa's borders will attract gamblers from the bordering states -- unless they have a closer casino located in-state. But for the most part, it is Iowans who are leaving their money behind in these establishments. How much of that money is flowing to out of state owners, managers, and mortgage holders? Do we know? What we do know is that we can't gamble ourselves into economic prosperity.
Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling: Checking the Math," October 11, 2006.

And see the additional material linked from the blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "Riverside Gambling Casino's Future," October 12, 2006.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Politics & Health Care: Both Rotten to the Core

July 13, 2009, 8:00 a.m.

Shameful Performance Should be Required Reading
(brought to you by*)

I'm angry. Really angry. Why do we take this? Why aren't Americans marching on Washington by the millions?

What the sickness industry and our puppet politicians have been demonstrating about the current operation of politics and "health care" in America is shameful. When it's all over, and President Obama proclaims the outcome "a good start," we will all continue to pay more and more, while getting less and less, year after year. The campaign contributions will increase, as will the compensation packages for the sickness industry's CEOs and the proportion of our premiums going to "administration" (already roughly 10 times those for Medicare/Medicaid, or what others countries pay).

Hopefully, after it's over, this shameful chapter of American politics and corporate control will be written up and made required reading for every school child and college student. What a lesson in the "decline and fall of the American empire" (to borrow from Gibbon's title); the control of our mass media; the revolving door phenomenon; the role of lobbyists; the power and use of deliberately misleading industry "talking points" by "their" elected officials and media outlets; the impact of campaign contributions on public policy; the price we pay for our failure to have public funding of campaigns; the willingness of Wall Street, corporate executives and elected officials to knowingly harm the health of the American people (as with the environment, or any other public good) in their drive to increase profits and their own personal power and wealth.

The potential list of references for these assertions of mine is endless, so I'll just provide three or four.

The Washington Post has named names and provided the details on the industry's power, and the former politicians' willingness, to come together in an overwhelming army of well-financed former insiders to swarm over Washington's elected and appointed officials. Dan Eggen and Kimberly Kindy, "Familiar Players in Health Bill Lobbying; Firms Are Enlisting Ex-Lawmakers, Aides," Washington Post, July 6, 2009.

Of course, this story was published after, and possibly as an effort to regain some of the paper's prior reputation before, the publisher was shamed.

How shamed? For the role of the mainstream media in the sickness industry's efforts see, Nicholas Johnson, "Rare Washington Post Apology Misses Mark," July 5, 2009. In case you missed the story, the Post's publisher was caught selling access to her reporters and editors, along with the Obama officials and legislators to whom she has the power to issue command performances, for small, off-the-record dinners at her home. The price tag: $25,000 per sickness industry lobbyist per dinner, or $250,000 for sickness industry lobbyists who feel they'd need a series of such opportunities to guarantee defeat of the "public option." So much for the days and heroes of Watergate fame.

The Nation has reported the formula for calculating how large a campaign contribution it takes to get a Democrat to oppose a "public option" in the bill (notwithstanding the fact that 76% of their constituents want it). Sebastian Jones, "Noted: Health and Wealth," The Nation, July 13, 2009 ("[T]he White House . . . starts at a significant disadvantage, perhaps as large as $1.38 billion. According to the Center for Responsive Politics . . . that's the sum that five industries -- pharmaceuticals/health products, insurance, health services/HMOs, hospitals/nursing homes and health professionals -- spent lobbying lawmakers . . .. Beyond lobbying, hundreds of millions have been spent . . . in campaign contributions . . .. So what does all this money buy? According to Nate Silver . . . the low sum of $60,000 in campaign contributions over the past six years would cut in half the odds of a centrist Democrat supporting [a "public option" in] the plan").

Last week I wrote in the Des Moines Register: "The for-profit marketplace does some things well. Health care's not one of them. We pay more while covering fewer and getting less, with more rapidly increasing costs, than any country on Earth. Insurance companies create the ever-increasing profits Wall Street demands by ever-increasing premiums, denying coverage to some and the legitimate claims of others." See, Nicholas Johnson, "Why GOP Fears Meaningful Health Care," July 8, 2009.

A confession: The statement about Wall Street's involvement, increasing premiums and denial of coverage and claims, was intuition. It just seemed to me when I wrote that it was probably what is going on.

Two days later I had the reassurance of affirmation of my intuition from someone who knows, from the inside, and from the top of the inside, how the sickness industry functions. See, e.g., Trish Nelson, "Insurance Insider Reveals Industry Tactics Intended to Kill Health Care Reform," BlogForIowa, July 12, 2009.

His name is Wendell Potter, a former senior vice president of communications for Cigna, the fourth largest health insurance company in the country -- the single live guest on "Bill Moyers Journal," PBS, July 10, 2009. Here is the the main Moyers' Web site, and the page for the show with Potter (both with lots of additional, related, material and links to more).

It's an absolutely appalling tale he has to tell about Wall Street's pressure on the companies, the companies' refusal to cover some and denying the claims of others, the lobbying efforts, the deliberate misrepresentation of the issues, and the full bore attempt to discredit and marginalize Michael Moore's documentary, "Sicko" -- about which Potter acknowledged, "I thought that he [Moore] hit the nail on the head with his movie." For some reason, this portion of the Moyers' interview was deleted from the PBS and Moyers' sites; it can, however, be found here.

You owe it to yourself to take a look at the portion of the interview that PBS/Moyers does make available, and to check out the other information and links from their sites.

This is a tragic, despicable, shameful story in the history of American capitalism and politics that we all need to understand.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Hancher Relocation Process and Site

July 10, 2009, 8:30 a.m.

University Offers Useful Model for Major Decisions
(brought to you by*)

The way the University of Iowa is going about the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp rebuilding project interests me almost as much in terms of the decision making process and procedure as the ultimate outcome.

The UI's "Facilities Management" held a major town hall-style meeting last night (July 9) with an invitation to all local folks interested in coming -- at which an estimated 350 showed up. It has created a Web site with relevant information, and provided an email address for those wishing to offer opinions, suggestions, and objections. It promises more public meetings in the future.

The Web site is The email address is

Unlike some past University -- and City, business and homeowner ongoing -- decisions to flout warnings about building in flood plains, and failing to provide flood-mitigating greenways, this time the University is taking very seriously the risk of future flooding. Its studies are not yet completed, but the Web site provides access to the current pdf file-report: Siting of Hancher/Voxman/Clapp and Art Building Flood Mitigation Task Force Recommendations, e.g., "The second and most important recommendation of the Task Force is that the future Hancher/Voxman/Clapp and Art Building complexes be designed and built in such a way that they are protected at least to an elevation two feet above the 500-year floodplain, as that 500-year floodplain has been newly calculated by a 2009 hydrologic study conducted by the Corps of Engineers and funded by the University of Iowa. This level of protection would be approximately seven feet above the high water elevation of the 2008 flood."

And the Web site also provides a link to the Power Point slides used at last evening's meeting. If you're interested in either the ultimate location of the buildings, or the process issues surrounding the University's decision-making process, these slides are very much worth your time. They include maps of the eight sites' locations, photos of the sites, and perhaps most significant a listing of the "criteria" used for evaluating them, which of those were considered "critical," and a comparative evaluation of the two sites thought to be the best of the eight.

Here is Lee Hermiston's report of last night's meeting: Lee Hermiston, "2 Possible Hancher Sites Show Promise; Citizens discuss relocating complex at public forum," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 10, 2009 ("While eight sites on and off campus have been identified, Joe Hibbard of Sasaki and Associates said not all of them will fit space, parking, topography and other critical needs. . . . The two sites with the most promise are the land directly north of the existing Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex, dubbed Site 1, and a two-block parcel of land in downtown Iowa City"). And see, Erin Jordan, "Hancher Site List Narrowed to Two," Des Moines Register, July 10, 2009; Diane Heldt, "East vs. West for Relocated Hancher," The Gazette, July 10, 2009, p. A1.

The Press-Citizen's editorial yesterday urging attendance: Editorial, "Give Your Input Tonight on Where to Move Hancher," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 9, 2009

And some letters to the editor yesterday that put forth arguments for and against the two top sites:

Katherine Belgum, "Move Facility West of Its Present Site," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 9, 2009 ("The obvious choice is right along Riverside Drive just west of where the buildings are now located -- but built close to the street and uphill from there current location")

Regenia Bailey, "Iowa City Needs an Urban Auditorium," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 9, 2009 ("Placing Hancher Auditorium and the School of Music in downtown -- ideally south of Burlington Street -- would meet both city and UI objectives")

Donald Baxter, "Link New Hancher and Courthouse," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 9, 2009 ("Hancher should be located in such a place as to reinforce the growth of Iowa City's downtown, so the locations along Burlington Street are the most ideal")


As you may have gathered, I'm relatively well impressed with the process. If I recall correctly the "eight sites" were disclosed to the community by the University some time in March, rather than sprung on us last evening. Unlike the school board's proposal to close Roosevelt Elementary School, last night's meeting didn't have the aura of a "done deal." That may just be because the consultant and officials involved were simply more slick with their public relations than the school board members were with theirs. It's possible that the "March eight" were simply straw men to provide the illusion of alternative possibilities when "site 1" was already pretty obvious to them. But if that's the case they're entitled to some credit for their PR skills (an application of valuable skills somewhat analogous to the old advice, "be sincere, even if you don't mean it").

The point is, whatever may have gone on in back rooms, their list of "criteria" seemed rational and genuine, their comparative evaluation of sites 1 and 6 seemed balanced (that is, it acknowledged the strengths and weaknesses of each) rather than an argumentative effort to favor one over the other. They did hold the town meeting. They did explain and demonstrate their rational process. They are seeking to get the best data available with regard to risk from future floods, and they seem to be willing to have their decision driven by that data. They did listen to the remarks of a significant number of attendees. And the listening could come across as genuine since they had not merely presented to the audience what they were going to do (even if that was the case), but rather their "criteria" in a process that was represented to be ongoing rather than a done deal, and one that would involve additional public meetings.

Is there a template we can draw out of the contrast between the school board and Facilities Management approaches? I think so.

To hold a public meeting, with the express or implied representation that an institution genuinely seeks public input -- ideas, suggestions, reactions, objections -- that will help shape and be incorporated in a final decision, when in fact the decision has been made, is disingenuous at best and seriously self-defeating. It's worse than holding no meeting at all. Not only was the public not included, it was lied to and its efforts were merely wasted time.

On the other hand, there is a reason why experts with professional training are used by institutions as employees or consultants. You can't turn every decision over to a majority vote of the inadequately-informed, special-interest-driven mob.

So what's the best balance? I think the judicial process has something to offer in a procedure that might include the following:

o provide as much advance notice and transparency as possible with regard to future decisions

o outline the issues and relevant data for the public, in writing, on Web sites, as early in the process as possible

o include the criteria the institution believes relevant, along with a full and candid, independent, analysis of the arguments and data pro and con with regard to each option

o hold public meetings, and provide other opportunities for public input, at that point -- with a focus not on the ultimate decision, but on the data that needs to be gathered and the criteria that are relevant, of those the ones that are "crucial," and what is, and is not, thought to be appropriate analysis

o make some modifications, however relatively insignificant, in those data and criteria based on suggestions received, to provide the reality as well as the appearance of genuine listening and response -- rather than just rejecting all out of hand and sticking with the institution's initial list

o hold a public meeting at which the options (not a "decision," but the options) are presented along with an analysis of each in accord with the agreed upon criteria and data; listen and respond as appropriate to presentations by members of the public (while politely urging them to stick to the agreed upon criteria and avoid repeating the arguments of others)

o finally -- and the analog drawn from appellate court process -- when the ultimate decision is made issue a written explanation of how it was arrived at and why, that identifies and acknowledges every suggestion that came from the public throughout the process and the impact it had on the decision and why. (For example, suggestions were made last evening regarding the possibility of building over the Iowa River, or re-purposing the Foundation building as Clapp. Such ideas should be considered (even if ultimately rejected) -- rather than merely rejecting them, like universal, single-payer health care, as "off the table.")

A couple substantive ideas, and then I'm through.

On the assumption the "New Hancher" will go somewhere in the area bounded by the Iowa River, Park Road, and Riverside Drive I do hope some detailed thought will go into the potential greenway -- (a) using a parking lot surface that permits the permeability of water into the subsoil, and (b) planting of the grasses most able to hold back runoff. Properly planted, flood plains without homes and buildings not only eliminate property damage, they can also reduce the seriousness of the floods that will, inevitably, occur -- with their potential to absorb as much as a five-inch rain without raising the level of the River.

Has thought been given to re-routing Riverside Drive, so that its intersection with Park Road would occur nearer the River, across Park Road from the lower entrance into City Park? This could free up even more land near the top, rather than the bottom, of the present acreage.

What are the University's plans for 50 years out? I can recall when most of the University's buildings were within an easy walk of the Pentacrest. It was not until the late 1920s that it began to build (e.g., field house, hosptial, stadium) on the West side. It always seemed a shame to me that we did not take advantage of the $100 million spent on refurbishing Kinnick to buy land, and build a modern stadium and parking area, well out of town. Is the hospital complex going to have to continue to "build up instead of out"? The rest of the University as well? Or are we, at some point going to have to establish a second campus -- perhaps linked by monorail? If not, no problem (except for the congestion, and impact on Iowa City's historic neighborhoods, and downtown). But if that will need to happen at some point we might be wise to be thinking about it now, and considering (even if considering and then rejecting) the possibility of doing that with the "New Hancher" (while leaving Voxman and Clapp nearer to where they are).

All thoughts prompted by one evening meeting.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

UI Law School On Course Full Speed Ahead

July 9, 2009, 9:30 a.m.

University of Iowa College of Law Doing Fine
(brought to you by*)

UI President Sally Mason did a good job the other day of trying to put in perspective some folks' concerns about the University's College of Law.

It's a subject I addressed a year ago in what has become one of my most popular blog entries in terms of hits from throughout the country and around the world -- a subject to which I return this morning.

As the newspaper industry searches for innovative business plans and practices to compete in this age of digital journalism, the Des Moines Register has an innovative operation it calls "Live Chats."

It's not totally clear to me how it works, but it appears to be an online exchange between a newsmaker and reporters and members of the public -- sort of IM, text messaging, or tweets, only in full sentences.

The Register makes the full set of exchanges available on its Web site, and also assigns a reporter to write a story about the "Live Chat" for the hard copy and online version of the paper.

Anyhow, our UI President Mason underwent the process a couple of days ago. The full transcript is available as, "Live Chat with University of Iowa President Sally Mason," "Des Moines Register Live Chats," July 6, 2009 (scroll down, click on "Completed Events"). And this is the story Erin Jordan wrote about the event: Erin Jordan, "Mason Praises Athletics Leaders," Des Moines Register, July 7, 2009.

Here is the excerpt from the "Live Chat" having to do with the law school:

[Comment From JeffH] President Mason. I am an Iowa Law alum, and I am concerned about the path the school has taken the past few years, dropping out of the top 25 rankings, losing key members of the faculty, and looking at losing more of the aging faculty soon. Not only that, but the faculty numbers have been falling, as some members aren't being replaced, and young faculty are leaving because they feel the ship is sinking. There is a golden opportunity to hire a new dean, but more has to be done. Can you share your views on the future of the law school?

Sally Mason: The latest rankings, I believe, have us placed at no. 26 overall and 9th among public universities. But I believe we can, must and will do better. Hiring the new dean will provide a great start to a process that will include rebuilding a strong faculty and setting priorities that will build on and expand the existing and traditional strengths of our law school. With losses also come great opportunities, especially for a new dean, to reinvigorate the entire school. We look forward to a search that will yield strong candidates and we are prepared to maintain strong investments in our law school.
A little over a year ago I provided my own analysis of law school rankings in general, and those of the University of Iowa College of Law in particular, in a blog entry entitled "Random Thoughts On Law School Rankings," April 29, 2008.

Its analysis is as relevant now as it was then. There's no need to repeat it all here; just use the link to read last year's blog entry. But here are the sub-headings and conclusion from that piece:

How to Pick Your Law School:
Random Thoughts on U.S. News' Law School Rankings

Altogether too much is made of these U.S. News' rankings.

U.S. News' monopoly (of law school ranking systems) contributes to its disproportionate weight.

Iowa was a good law school, is a good law school and will continue to be a good law school.

The weight accorded various factors makes a dramatic difference in ranking.

The rankings have distorted law schools' decisions, and led to "gaming" the system -- and therefore unreliable and misleading results.

So what's a student to do when choosing a law school?

Distinguish between the "superficial" and the "substantive."

Substance: You have to "teach yourself the law" -- and you can.

Superficiality: How to pick the best law school for you.

Bottom line: chill. Law school rankings don't tell you much, and can be and are manipulated. Rankings are of very little significance in terms of the substantive quality of the legal education you'll get, especially because you're going to have to teach yourself the law anyway. Superficially, rankings in the top half-dozen may make some difference -- if you're set on getting into the places where they can help open doors -- but even by that standard you may be better off with a higher class rank from a lower ranked school than a much lower class rank from a higher ranked school. And between schools ranked, say, 15th to 30th, there really isn't much basis for choosing one school over another.

Good luck -- and don't forget to apply at Iowa!
If you're really concerned about the future of the University of Iowa College of Law I urge you to read that entire blog entry, "Random Thoughts On Law School Rankings," April 29, 2008.

I believe it deals, more than adequately, with the concern of "JeffH" that we are "dropping out of the top 25 rankings." ("Rankings" are unreliable, misleading and manipulated; all schools go up and down from year to year; Iowa has been pretty consistently over the years in the top 10 of public law schools; and it has ranked in the top 1, 2 or 3 by some measures from time to time.)

Meanwhile, here are some additional thoughts.

Rotation is an Iowa strength, not weakness. So far as I know, I am the only member of the law school faculty who was actually born and raised in Iowa City. (There is one other native Iowan, from Cedar Rapids.) Top law schools -- of which Iowa is one -- draw on what amounts to a national pool of top faculty. In addition to looking for the most promising potential faculty among Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals judges' law clerks (we have a number, including myself), they raid each others' faculties, including ours. During the 28 years I've been teaching at Iowa the number of our faculty who have become law school deans and internationally well-regarded faculty elsewhere has been a matter of pride -- although admittedly accompanied by sadness at the loss of a friend as well as a colleague.

But as one or more move on, others -- equally bright, creative, hard working and collegial scholars -- are soon occupying their offices. That will be the case again, as it has been over the last three decades.

Think about it for a moment. Why would you want a faculty made up of professors who are never invited to visit, or move, elsewhere? Why would you want a faculty that is never reinvigorated with new hires?

I've spent substantial time in many cities in this country and beyond. Iowa City is my favorite place to live (for a long list of reasons I won't now take time to explain). I have family in northwest Iowa and in Des Moines. I'm living once again in the house I grew up in from 1941 to 1952. It's a three or four block walk, or bike ride, from the law school. I enjoy the atmosphere and community that is the law school, and being intellectually challenged by my colleagues. It's unlikely that any amount of money, or professional opportunity, could attract me elsewhere.

But I'm somewhat unique in that way. For the most part, the loyalties of this "national pool of top faculty" are, by definition, to the legal profession in general, and the legal academy in particular -- not to any given institution or geographical location. They don't come to Iowa, or anywhere else in America's heartland, for the beaches, mountains, or the "ho, hum, another perfect day" weather of a southern California. They don't come for the corndogs at the Iowa State Fair, or the "little green salads" of lime jello in our church basements. (Nor do they leave for those reasons.) They have come, do come, and will come, because of the academic opportunities our law school offers.

In fact, it's amazing that pay is not more of an issue than it is. Bear in mind, top-of-the-class law graduates, from top law schools like Iowa, in a good economy, are offered starting salaries at the top law firms in the range of $120,000 to $160,000. That's with no experience. With a Court of Appeals or Supreme Court clerkship there may be an additional bonus. Those who move up the partnership ladder at such firms (again, in a good economy) are looking at $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year or more, possibly plus bonuses. (A fellow who followed my path as a law clerk first to Judge Brown and then Justice Black, is now billing out his time at over $1000 an hour.)

No one goes into law school teaching for the money. But I would acknowledge that the Iowa law school may suffer a bit in the national competition when it is not only precluded from competing on the basis of weather, beaches and mountains, but on the basis of salary as well.

It's tough in a university setting, where undergraduate liberal arts professors already earn a fraction of the salaries of professional school faculty members (e.g., doctors, engineers, dentists, lawyers, etc.) to appropriate even more money for professional school faculty recruitment.

But in view of the disparity between what we can pay law school faculty and what they can get at some other schools -- not to mention law firms -- it is an extraordinary credit to the law school that we are able to attract, and hold, those we do.

I know fairly well each of my colleagues who is going to be visiting elsewhere, or has accepted a "permanent" position elsewhere. I am not about to reveal confidences, but I am about as confident as anyone can be of another that it is simply not true that our "young faculty are leaving because they feel the ship is sinking." Each has his or her own unique set of factors they've weighed in making their decisions. This is to be expected when you think about it, as it's true for almost anyone leaving one job for another, whether academic, corporate, public interest or government.

When I was in the building yesterday I couldn't help but reflect on the quality of those colleagues who were working there that day, and the many more who will be this coming semester; colleagues whom any law school would be delighted to have; colleagues who choose to be at Iowa.

We will be needing a new "captain" for our ship, given the resignation of our dean, and a couple extra crew. But they are in the process of being recruited, and aside from them we have about as good a crew as any ship ever had.

As the former U.S. Maritime Administrator, I've walked the deck, I've checked the hull, the bridge, the paint job, the propeller, the engine room. I see no signs of a "sinking ship" and I don't think my former colleagues did either.

As I wrote a year ago, "Iowa was a good law school, is a good law school and will continue to be a good law school."

And thank you, President Mason, for recognizing and saying as much to "JeffH" and the Des Moines Register.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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