Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Real News

November 27, 2010, 9:00 a.m.

Wha' Happened?
(bought to you by*)

Do you find yourself still wondering how America could have moved so swiftly from where we appeared to be heading in the Fall of 2008 to where we are today? Haven't found answers from the mainstream media?

Real News' CEO and Senior Editor Paul Jay offers a succinct and plausible theory:

More at The Real News

Not familiar with Real News? I won't try to explain it. Click the link for an example of the organization's offering, "About Us" for an explanation of what it's up to, and "Board of Directors" for an introduction to some of the personalities.

While I'm at it, if you, too, enjoy getting a variety of perspectives on what's going on, and are not yet familiar with it, check out "Democracy Now!" with Amy Goodman, right on your laptop screen -- one of the best daily hours of television news available anywhere. Here's the automatically updated most recent show:

Check out Democracy Now!'s main Web page to give you a sense of what it provides by way of stories, transcripts, and links each day, and its "About" page, and other links in the left hand column for more background on this remarkable service. As it reports, "Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television (DISH network: Free Speech TV ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Free Speech TV ch. 348 and Link TV ch. 375); and on the internet. DN!’s podcast is one of the most popular on the web."

For one of the best running commentaries about the commercial media, give a listen online to the weekly radio program, "On the Media."

And, not incidentally, each of these operations gains its independence from the fact that it does not accept corporate or government money. Each is heavily financially dependent on contributions from viewers and listeners. So if you're in a holiday giving mood, this would be a good time to send each of them a contribution either online or by check.

Just a thought.

* 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, November 24, 2010

'Buy Locally'? Good Luck

November 24, 2010, 9:00 a.m.

"Buy Locally": Rousing Slogan, Largely Meaningless
(bought to you by*)

Many local businesses become profitable, "go into the black," the day after Thanksgiving ("black Friday"). If it weren't for our purchases from Thanksgiving through the end of the year many wouldn't be around in 2011.

So the Press-Citizen is urging us to "shop locally." Editorial, "Remember to Buy Locally This Holiday Season," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 24, 2010, p. A11 ("The benefits of buying local have been touted -- by local businesses and by this editorial board -- repeatedly. By now everyone should know at least one simple fact of economics very well: Local dollars spent in locally owned stores stay in the community; local dollars spent in non-locally-owned stores leave the community for other regions, states or even nations.").

The holiday season does provide some seasonal, part-time, minimum wage (or slightly above) jobs in retail and related businesses. Even if such workers are only employed for a few weeks, and they're looking for work again come next January or February, better the jobs should be at the Coral Ridge Mall, going to our community's otherwise unemployed, rather than to Minneapolis' workers in the modestly named "Mall of America."

Unless, of course, one cares about all American workers, and businesses, and the mounting national and personal debt as we borrow money from China to buy goods from China.

So what does "buy local" mean?

To really analyze in detail what happens to the dollars we spend in Johnson County establishments would require more data and degrees in economics than most of us would ever have -- or want.

Raw materials. For the most part we cannot control where the raw materials come from; e.g., iron or aluminum ore. (China also controls over 90% of the rare earth minerals essential in the production of cell phones and other electronic products.) An exception would be locally produced foods at our Farmers' Market. (Although even they may also import seeds or fertilizer.)

Manufacturing. At the bottom of this blog entry I provide a shocking and depressing list of products, once America's pride, that are now imported. Few of the products you "buy local" were even made in the U.S. or Canada, let alone Iowa City. Again, an exception would be local artists and artisans. (Although even they may use paints and brushes, silver and gold, from elsewhere.)

Packaging, transportation and warehousing. I recall learning years ago that the worker who makes the box for your cold cereal in a matter of seconds (if that) earns a larger share of what you pay for that box than the farmer earns for the grain it contains. It's true for many of the packaged products we buy. Nor are transportation and warehousing a trivial portion of what we pay. We cannot "buy local" any of those costs; or, otherwise put, none of what we pay, as those costs are passed along to us, stays in our community.

Rent and utilities. When we "buy local" a part of what's passed along to us, and what we pay for, are things like rent and utilities. Last I knew MidAmerican Energy was owned in significant part by Warren Buffet. I have no idea who owns Qwest or ATT this week, but I know it's no neighbor of mine. Mediacom is owned by some guy in New York who's about to buy up the public shares so he'll own all of it again. When the rent comes due for our Coral Ridge Mall stores, where does it end up -- New York, London, who knows?

Franchises; national chains. The Press-Citizen says we should not buy from Internet Web sites. But how much of the price of anything you purchase at Best Buy stays in Coralville, rather than going to corporate headquarters or for other of the costs mentioned above? If it's a choice between (a) going out to the Mall to get something at the Best Buy store, or (b) ordering online from the Best Buy Web page, for delivery to the Coral Ridge Mall Best Buy store for you to pick up, or (c) delivery to your home, what, precisely, is the marginal benefit to our local economy of (a) over (b) and (c)? What are the economics for Johnson County of the other "local businesses" that send a share of their profits to the remote corporate headquarters of national chain restaurants, retail outlets, and motels?

"Local" owners. Whether a stand-alone business, or a franchised chain store, how "local" is the owner or manager? Are they actually living in Iowa City? Or is the largest share of the ownership held by someone who has long since retired to Arizona or Florida and spends the profits there, with only rare (if any) trips to Johnson County?

Workers' pay and benefits. Finally, how much of what you're spending when you "buy local" is actually ending up in the pockets of the workers in that establishment (individuals who will spend most to all of their wages locally)? Does the owner/manager pay a "livable wage," health and other benefits -- or as close to the minimum wage as s/he can get by with and still find employees? If you want money to stay at home and circulate throughout the economy as fast as possible, giving more of it to local workers is the way to do it.

So, what can we do? What can the Press-Citizen editorial board do if it's really serious about its "buy local" campaign?

Press-Citizen, give us the information we need to fall in step, intelligently, behind your drum major. Have your reporters dig. Do the research. What's the difference, in terms of how much stays in the local economy, between buying a hamburger at Hamburg Inn No. 2 and at McDonalds -- in terms of all the factors listed above? Who are the landlords who are getting the rent from our "local businesses"? How much of that money is going out of town? How much of the purchase price of various products actually stays in Iowa City and how much goes elsewhere? Give us a couple of dozen examples, broken down with some precise numbers and details. Don't just tell us the overall benefit to the owner if the store is here, or if it goes out of business. Tell us: What is the incremental benefit locally from the sale of one more item?

Give us the tools, the precision tools, we need and I, and I believe a lot of other local citizens, are willing to do the job. Without the tools, "buy local" is just a rousing slogan, and, as Tom Joad says of the filling station attendant in Grapes of Wrath, "you're jus' singin' a kinda song." [John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath, p. 128.]

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Now for "Buy American." (Which is the best "buy American" strategy when purchasing automobiles: to buy a Toyota made in Indiana, or a Ford made in Malaysia?)

Here's Arthur Frederick Ide's take (drawing on Anika Anand and Gus Lubin, "18 Iconic Products That America Doesn't Make Anymore," in "Investing, Products and Trends, Recession," Yahoo!.com, November 4, 2010, who in turn drew on Business Insider):

From shopping at WalMart to buying at Dollar Stores where more than 80% of all goods sold are foreign imports, to driving oriental made cars, the average American are buying these products that began in the USA and now made overseas:

Beer (Miller, Coors, and Budweiser are now owned by foreign companies; Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis MO based company that has nearly 50% of all market shares int he USA was sold to Intel, a Belgium-based conglomerate run by Brasil). Corona and others are now totally owned by other nations.

Cellular phones (none made in the USA since 2007) all are made overseas: India, Finland, Sweden, etc.

Converse shoes (since 2001) are now made in Indonesia.

Dell computers (last made in North Carolina, closed in January 2010; its Round Rock TX “headquarters” is a front organization to hide the outsourcing of USA jobs). Today the computers are made in Asia.

Etch-a-Sketch (since 2000) made in Shenzhen, China.

Forks, spoons, and knives (last manufactured by Sherrill Manufacturing that had purchased Oneida Ltd in 2005, closed down all operations in June 2010).

Hathaway Dress shirts (since 2002) made in India, Philippines, etc.

Incandescent light bulbs (last made in September 2010 by a major industry, although Osram/Slavania Plant in St. Mary’s PA is still producing the light bulbs to fill old and international contracts; they will soon announce their closure), closed down operations after the GOP Congress of 2007 passed a measure banning incandescents by 2014, prompting GE to close its domestic operations.

Levi jeans (last made in Dec. 2003) now all made in Latin America and Asia.

Mattel toys (since 2002) the largest toy maker and seller, is made in China (costing 65% of all jobs in its plant in California)

Minivans including General Motors and Chrysler chassis used on Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana, Buick Terraza, Saturn Relay, Chrysler Town & Country, and Dodge Grand Caravan (since 2003) are all made abroad.

Pontiac cars. Stopped all production in May 2010–yet over 60% of its employees drove Asian made vehicles, and few Pontiac cars were in the main plant in Michigan.

Radio Flyer’s Red Wagon (stopped production in March 2004) at its Chicago plant and now has all products made in China.

Railroad parts (castings, guard bars, braces, etc), none made in the USA since 2008.

Sardines (canned; the last produced in April 2010 by Stinson Seafood in Maine) now are made in Peru and other Latin American nations, and in Japan.

Rawlings baseballs (since 1969, made first in Puerto Rico, later in Haiti, now made in Costa Rica).

Strawberries and fresh fruits and vegetables are imported from Mexico.

Televisions (the last made in October 2004, was Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, a Tennessee company). Today none are made in the USA.

Vending machines (last produced in 2003 in the USA)

Wine: most are imported from Chile, Italy, France, and other foreign nations.

Job outsourcing will increase.
In short, it's even harder to "buy American" than to "buy local."

* 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, November 22, 2010

Coach Ferentz Provides Classy Variety of Wins

November 22, 2010, 11:20 a.m.; November 29, 2010, 9:30 a.m.

Winning Isn't Everything
(bought to you by*)

Packers Coach Vince Lombardi is often credited with Bruins Coach Red Sanders' line, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
[It is attributed to UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell ("Red") Sanders, who spoke two different versions of the quotation. In 1950, at a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything. (Long pause.) Men, it's the only thing!"[1] The phrase is quoted in the 1953 film Trouble Along the Way by John Wayne's character, Steve Aloyosius Williams. In 1955, in a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying "Sure, winning isn't every thing, It's the only thing."[2] . . . The quotation is widely attributed to American football coach Vince Lombardi; who probably heard the phrase from UCLA coach Henry Russell Sanders.[3] Lombardi is on record using the quotation as early as 1959 . . ..]
"Winning Isn't Everything; It's the Only Thing,"

Now don't get me wrong. I'm as competitive as the next guy -- or woman. We may overdo competition (especially with the emphasis on test scores and grades throughout our educational system; as I remind law students in "So You Want to Be a Lawyer: A Play in Four Acts"). But the fact is, the military awards medals, seemingly every profession or endeavor has awards of some kind -- and all sporting events have winners, losers, and "championship" designations of various kinds.

In sports, winning determines in large measure which teams go to bowl games, how teams are ranked nationally, which players (and coaches) "go pro," the judgments of sports reporters, broadcast rights revenues, and the loyalty and enthusiasm of fans -- including their willingness to make contributions to the athletic program and buy season tickets for the following year. And although hopefully outside the purview of collegiate athletics, winning also determines who ends up with the tens of billions of dollars wagered on sporting events through the online and conventional gambling industries and privately among acquaintances.

Lest there be any doubt about the importance of winning to "the academy" (as university professors refer to themselves and their institutions), consider the content of their football coaches' contracts. Take Coach Kirk Ferentz' Feb. 1, 2010, contract for example. There is, of course, a brief section 3 on "compensation." But it is followed with the much lengthier section 4 on "supplemental compensation" for the really important part of his job description in working with "student-athletes." These are the "incentive bonuses" based on how the team ranks nationally (up to and including "National Champions"), within the Big 10, BCS and other bowl games, and various awards as "Coach of Year." (In fairness, there's also a modest payment (roughly 2%) if 70% of the players who could graduate do so.) Needless to say, insofar as the more significant of those payments are concerned it is indeed true that "winning is the only thing" insofar as the signatories to this contract are concerned -- the University President and Athletic Director (with the subsequent approval of the State's Board of Regents).

I watch fans leave a stadium during the third or fourth quarter of a football game their team will handily "win" or "lose." It always seems to me they are short-changing themselves by putting so much emphasis on final scores. There's a beauty, and a thrill, to every play, every move, in the game -- the foreplay that only culminates in a final score. Sure it's nice when the home team wins. But it's also nice to watch a quarterback place a pass with pin-point accuracy into the arms of a receiver accompanied by three opponents, an offensive line that gives him plenty of time to pass, the fast-forwarded ballet moves that enable a hard-charging runner to seemingly slip out of the grip of defenders during a long run, a well-placed kickoff or an especially skilled, long field goal.

Not only do we have a cultural emphasis on winning in all endeavors, and especially in collegiate athletics, but it is at a minimum just nice to win -- especially for a coach.

But there was so much more to write about that Iowa-Ohio State game than the sports writers' focus on the loss, what caused the loss, how it compared with other losses in this and prior seasons, the probability of losses in future seasons, and what the consequences of Saturday's loss would be. See, e.g., Andy Hamilton, below; Pat Harty, "Iowa Rarely Stays at an Elite Level," Hawk Central/Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 22, 2010, p. B1; Marc Morehouse, "8-4? Better than 7-5," The Gazette, November 22, 2010, p. B1.

[Nov. 29:] You can concentrate on the team's losses this season if you want to. Admittedly, November was not a good month for those whose football focus is myopically limited to the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of each game. But if you focus on how the team does throughout each game you discover that (I think this is true) they were winning or tied in every one of the 12 games they played -- an unbeaten season record -- at the 55-minute mark. That's not chopped liver. Of course, that's not 12 "wins" either; this isn't horseshoes. But it does rather neatly narrow the nature of the "wins" problem, and reflects the skill and strength of the players.

I have no doubt that Iowa's Coach Ferentz would have been much happier after the Ohio State game Saturday had his team had the larger score. A lot turned on the final score in that game.

All of which makes his post-game comments even more remarkable. As Andy Hamilton reported,
“You know, I’m not real big on that ['wouldas, couldas and shouldas'] game, especially since the guys played hard and competed,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t know that they could have played any harder. Our guys couldn’t have. We didn’t do some things well enough to win. They played hard and competed, and that’s all you can ask against a very good team.”
Andy Hamilton, "Ohio State Loss Feels Like Deja Vu for Hawks," Hawk Central/Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 22, 2010, p. B1. The Iowa team couldn't have played any harder "and that’s all you can ask against a very good team.”
Nov. 29: More quotes from our Coach Ferentz before and after the Minnesota game, Nov. 27:

On sitting in outdoor stadiums in below-freezing weather: "'It's really not bad for coaches and players,' Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. 'I've never understood why fans go. Coaches and players are working. It's not that big a deal. Would I go to one of those games? I don't think so.'" Mike Hlas, "Only Winning Makes New Stadium a Home," The Gazette, November 27, 2010, p. B1.

And the no excuses, no blame game response to the Minnesota loss? “They were more ready to go than we were today. They got what they deserved and we got what we deserved.” Andy Hamilton, "Iowa’s loss to Minnesota: ‘Something’s not going right,’" Hawk Central/Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 27, 2010.
I just thought that was a valuable, useful, compassionate and classy response to a major loss (just like his taking some public responsibility for an earlier one). I don't mean that the Pope should add him to the list of new Cardinals or anything like that. There are a lot of possible reasons for his saying what he did.

But it represents a useful observation, and orientation, we can all benefit from applying to ourselves, our children and our students.

President Lyndon Johnson used to say occasionally, "They call me 'Lucky Lyndon.' But I always find the harder I work the luckier I get." It's true in the study of law, and it's certainly true in athletic performance. That's what "strength training" is about. It's why and how Ricky Stanzi benefits from his four-hour sessions studying game videos.
[Andy Hamilton, "The education of Ricky Stanzi; Hawk QB a student of the game," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2010 ("Stanzi is a quarterback major this semester with a minor in football film study. His classroom is a dark chamber inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex where, in an average week, Stanzi spends nearly 20 hours — sometimes up to four a day — watching film and studying Iowa’s next opponent.").]
But once you really have worked at preparing yourself, and you're performing up to the level of your ability, whether you're a high school student with special needs in a play, or a star quarterback making plays on the field, "that's all you can ask" -- of yourself or of others.

"Winning" games really isn't everything. It does make a difference "how you played the game" [Grantland Rice: “[It's] not that you won or lost but how you played the game,", supra], and what you said and how you behaved after the game.

Full effort, plus class, counts, too.

In fact, in the greater scheme of things it's probably the most important "win" of all.

* 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, November 19, 2010

Commercializing Non-Commercial Radio

November 19, 2010, 5:30 a.m.

IPR's 'Enhanced Underwriting'
(bought to you by*)

Introduction. Today's blog entry is a reproduction of an article of mine in the December 2010 issue of The Prairie Progressive [P.O. Box 1945, Iowa City IA 52244-1945, $12 annual subscription, no online Web site].

Roughly 40 years ago I predicted and warned that once "non-commercial" broadcasting began taking money from "corporate underwriters" it would follow the same evolutionary path as our early Twentieth Century radio pioneers (who also initially pledged themselves to a public service devoid of commercial influence): from (1) acknowledgments at the beginning and end of the day, to (2) acknowledgments before and after programs, to (3) the mention of a mere product name or two, to (4) mentions during the hour or half-hour, to (5) what we today recognize as "commercials" for products (words, music, pictures, stories, and videos describing the product in ways designed to promote sales).

When The Prairie Progressive asked me to revisit my prediction to see what has happened to Iowa Public Radio, what I discovered to my horror was that the inevitable progression had indeed occurred.
-- N.J.

The Commercialization of Non-Commercial Radio
The Prairie Progressive
Nicholas Johnson
December 2010, p. 2
(distributed November 17, 2010)

When, and why, did our Iowa universities’ non-commercial, educational radio stations go commercial?
Listen online, become a member, or learn about underwriting opportunities at our Web site,
I feel like a once-proud parent who discovers that her former star student has become a pregnant, alcoholic, drug dealer and college dropout.
Support comes from Adamantine Spine Moving, a locally owned, socially responsible mover, offering full service, green moves down the block or across the country. Adamantine Spine Moving. Funny name, serious about doing good. On the Web at
“Proud parent”?

WSUI’s programming has been a significant part of my life since growing up in Iowa City in the 1940s.

As an FCC commissioner, I helped promote the growth of educational, non-commercial public radio and television.

There’s a photo on my office wall of me with President Lyndon Johnson the day he signed the law establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with one of the pens he used.

I have hosted two seasons of “New Tech Times” for PBS stations, and provided NPR with commentaries, reporting from the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and on the road from early RAGBRAI rides.
Support comes from Iowa City Tire and Dodge Street Tire, where Mike Brown and Brian Sekafetz have been providing full auto service and repair for over 25 years. Featuring nitrogen for tires to help fuel economy and steel wheel weights instead of lead. Two locations on Kirkwood Avenue and Dodge Street.
I have great admiration for, and a good many friends among, those who do the programming and get it on the air for public radio and television. My beef is certainly not with them.

I’m no enemy of public broadcasting.

But the licenses for Iowa Public Radio’s stations were originally issued by the FCC to our State’s universities in accord with Commission regulations still applicable today:
(a) A noncommercial educational FM broadcast station will be licensed only to a nonprofit educational organization . . . for the advancement of an educational program. . . .

(b) Each station may transmit programs directed to specific schools . . . for use in connection with the regular courses . . . and may transmit educational, cultural, and entertainment programs to the public.

(c) [An educational] broadcast station may broadcast programs produced by . . . persons other than the licensee, if no other consideration . . . [is] received by the licensee. . . .

(d) Each station shall furnish a non-profit and noncommercial broadcast service. . . . No promotional announcement on behalf of for profit entities shall be broadcast at any time in exchange for the receipt, in whole or in part, of consideration to the licensee . . .. However, acknowledgements of contributions can be made. The scheduling of any announcements and acknowledgements may not interrupt regular programming.
(emphasis in original; 47 CFR Sec. 73.503).
Support comes from Fin and Feather, locally owned and family operated, dedicated to helping others enjoy the great outdoors, offering a wide variety of gear for outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, hiking, winter sports and more. More information at
Whether the Regents have violated the letter of the law by turning over the universities’ stations to “Iowa Public Radio,” and financing from for-profit corporate advertising, I’ll leave to others. Seemingly, Congress and the FCC have neither noticed nor cared. But the Regents decision has clearly done violence to the spirit of the law creating America’s non-commercial radio alternative.

Law aside, the universities are spending big bucks on technology, personnel and press releases to improve their image, encouraging “faculty engagement” with Iowans, and lobbying for a level of financial support from the Legislature more befitting “State” universities. Their failure to enlist in these endeavors the statewide radio network they already own is a bewildering oversight of monumental consequence. (For more see, http://FromDC2Iowa. com/2008/11/public-radios-self-inflicted-wounds.html.)
Support comes from Quality Care, the nature care company; complete lawn and landscape maintenance for home, business and institutions, with over a century of combined gardening experience. Since 1980, quality work done with care.
Of course, the money has to come from somewhere. But as I’ve written elsewhere, “Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole.”

For our universities to sustain their radio stations financially by abandoning the stations’ very reason for being is like the Viet Nam War rationale: “We had to burn down the village to save it.”

Nothing offers more benefit-cost return on a higher education dollar than using educational radio stations for educational purposes. Properly used, the stations can multiply those Legislative and university dollars many fold. That funding, plus some simple acknowledgments of donors (without “enhanced” advertising), can provide all that’s needed.
Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner, teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains
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* 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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