Saturday, February 26, 2011


February 26, 2011, 9:30 a.m.

Putting Side Effects in Context
(bought to you by*)

Have you ever listened carefully to the lists of side effects included in the drug commercials on TV?

The horrible possible consequences from the use of these products seem to go on forever. It makes you wonder why anyone watching the ad would ever follow the suggestion that they ask their doctor if the pharmaceutical is right for them.

Yet the ads must work, or presumably the drug companies wouldn't continue spending billions of dollars showing them to us. See, Julie M. Donohue, Marisa Cevasco, and Meredith B. Rosenthal, "A Decade of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs," New England Journal of Medicine, 2007; 357:673-681, August 16, 2007.

I suspect the reason the ads work is that most of us are sufficiently distracted by the commercials' pretty pictures of happy people that we never really focus on the warnings.

If these side effects weren't so serious their itemization would be hilarious. But they are serious.

So to lighten our load a bit, I'm going to close out this blog entry with one set of warnings that is intended to be hilarious but is actually also quite serious.

But first, give these possible side effects for Pfizer's Chantix a slow and focused read:
CHANTIX is a prescription medicine to help adults 18 and over stop smoking. You may benefit from quit-smoking support programs and/or counseling during your quit attempt. It's possible that you might slip up and smoke while taking CHANTIX. If you do, you can stay on CHANTIX and keep trying to quit.

Important Safety Information

Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using CHANTIX to help them quit smoking. Some people had these symptoms when they began taking CHANTIX, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment or after stopping CHANTIX. If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression, or changes in behavior, thinking, or mood that are not typical for you, or you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia, or confusion, stop taking CHANTIX and call your doctor right away. Also tell your doctor about any history of depression or other mental health problems before taking CHANTIX, as these symptoms may worsen while taking CHANTIX.

Do not take CHANTIX if you have had a serious allergic or skin reaction to CHANTIX. Some people can have serious skin reactions while taking CHANTIX, some of which can become life-threatening. These can include rash, swelling, redness, and peeling of the skin. Some people can have allergic reactions to CHANTIX, some of which can be life-threatening and include: swelling of the face, mouth, and throat that can cause trouble breathing. If you have these symptoms or have a rash with peeling skin or blisters in your mouth, stop taking CHANTIX and get medical attention right away.

The most common side effects include nausea (30%), sleep problems, constipation, gas and/or vomiting. If you have side effects that bother you or don't go away, tell your doctor. You may have trouble sleeping, vivid, unusual or strange dreams while taking CHANTIX. Use caution driving or operating machinery until you know how CHANTIX may affect you.

CHANTIX should not be taken with other quit-smoking products. You may need a lower dose of CHANTIX if you have kidney problems or get dialysis.

Before starting CHANTIX, tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or if you take insulin, asthma medicines, or blood thinners. Medicines like these may work differently when you quit smoking.
So now let me make sure I understand. If I buy and use this product in accordance with the manufacturer's and my doctor's directions, I may experience the symptoms of serious mental illness (paranoia or hallucinations), an inclination to commit suicide, outbursts of hostility and anger, panic attacks, and a life-threatening swelling of my throat that prevents breathing. My skin may start peeling off my body, while I'm suffering constipation, vomiting, and an inability to sleep (understandable given those other symptoms), plus a three-in-ten chance of serious nausea. I'm sure I missed some of the warnings, but that at least touches on the highlights, right?

Have you seen Norman Lear's 1971 film, Cold Turkey? Put it on your Netflix' list.

And then tell me, why is it the Chantix symptoms are an improvement over the crankiness that giving up smoking cold turkey seems to produce in some smokers?

(Cold turkey was my father's approach to kicking the habit. He just woke up one morning not wanting another cigarette -- and wasn't even cranky about it as I recall. Unfortunately, it was a decision made too late in what turned out to be a 59-year life. But the lesson was not lost on me. I have never smoked a single cigarette -- although years ago I had occasional, brief encounters with other forms of tobacco use.)

Tobacco contributes to the causes of death for some 400,000 Americans a year. Clearly it contains dangerous drugs. But is it really any more risky than using Chantix? Yes -- given the probable percentages of people using Chantix who suffer from one or more of those side effects -- there's little doubt that the odds of serious, ultimately fatal consequences of using tobacco are greater than the odds of serious consequences from Chantix.

So consider . . . "Tequila."

The fact is, like much humor, many of these enumerated tequila side effects hit very close to the truth. Over consumption of alcohol, what is sometimes called binge drinking (especially by teenagers and college students), is no more a laughing matter than the consequences of tobacco use.

With proper care -- diet, exercise, stress reduction, weight control -- our bodies can serve us well for many years. Avoiding things that impede normal functioning, such as tobacco and excessive alcohol (as well as highly advertised, often unnecessary, high-cost designer pharmaceuticals with serious side effects) can provide a big assist. If a little humor can help us see that, it can be a positive public health contribution.

[Notes: (1) Thanks to Sherman Johnson for bringing the tequila "commercial" to my attention. (2) Unfortunately (as he agrees), the video includes one use of an insensitive and politically incorrect reference to those persons professionals currently describe as people with "intellectual and developmental disabilities." See discussion in "Mental Retardation,"]

* 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, February 21, 2011

From Cairo to Madison

February 21, 2011, 7:30 p.m.

"ONE world, ONE pain, ONE humanity, ONE hope!"
(bought to you by*)

This evening I want to share with you a message from Cairo that you need to see, but may not run across elsewhere.

It is from a young Egyptian engineer who does not precisely identify himself. He runs a WordPress blog he calls "Politirature." As he explains it, "Politirature is a word invented by Me, it’s the mix of Politics and Literature. Me is an Egyptian young man, engineering student & activist seeking freedom and fighting oppression everywhere." But he goes on to provide an email address (, and adds, "You can also follow me on Twitter: M_Nusair."

A couple days ago his blog entry was headed, "From Tahrir to Wisconsin." Here's what he wrote:
Dear activists, protesters & workers from Wisconsin, Ohio and other states,

I was truly touched by your hundreds of thoughts and comments on my photos from Tahrir holding that sign. I thank each and everyone of you, even those who thought the photos were shopped, but I have few things to say.

I’m an Egyptian ordinary young man, activist and Engineering student. I turned 21 years old last December, I love to read and write using both Arabic and English (although my English is kind of weak). and like other thousands, or even millions of Egyptians, I was very busy since Jan25 with our revolution in Tahrir square and all Egypt. we spent very hard days in that square waiting for death to come anytime from air or ground. anyway, what happened in Tahrir is not our subject now, everyone knows what happened there. the point is that I was too busy to know full details of what’s going on in other parts of the world. I knew that people protested in Wisconsin for their rights but didn’t know more details till Thursday, the 17th of February and it was by luck through a wall post of an American friend on Facebook, then I immediately began to search it and read more, then I decided to show support! decided to make the sign and take it with me to Tahrir next morning (Friday).

Many people thought it’s something extraordinary or something that stands out. but I really want to say that me, and many other people, were raised this way. were taught that all human beings are brothers and sisters, were taught that we live in ONE world and under the same sky, so I don’t see what I did as something “abnormal” or “super cool”.

again, as I told many of you, we are all human beings. we shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us, we were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings then everything man created and established since the very beginning of his existence is in great danger.

So…again & again . . . ONE world, ONE pain, ONE humanity, ONE hope!

Now I will leave you with this SUPER FUNNY video

[The song (but not the video) is a creation of the famously hilarious "Capitol Steps" group in Washington, D.C. Here's a link to the group's Web page, where you'll be able to find the way to order their albums and learn about their forthcoming concerts near you. Unfortunately, the video has been taken down from our Egyptian engineer's Web site. I hope my posting of it will remain -- because if not, I'll need to take down this ad for the Capitol Steps as well, and I'd really like for you to become more familiar with them.]

Three years ago I saw revolution coming. I blogged here about it in an eight-part series, "Golden Rules & Revolutions: A Series." The final entry, part VIII, has links to each entry. In that final blog I summarized the others, including, "Part I of this series noted not just the gap in income between the rich and the poor, but the fact that this gap is continuing to grow ever wider, and that history -- as well as the daily news -- provides ample warning that this condition often produces revolution." "Golden Rules & Revolutions: A Series - VIII," April 19, 2008.

As this young engineer reminds all of us, the oppression, and the ultimate popular resistance, know no national boundaries -- from Cairo to Madison.

We are, as he reminds us, "ONE world, ONE pain, ONE humanity, ONE hope!"

[My thanks to my colleague Burns Weston for alerting me to this story.]

* 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
# # #

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Funding Iowa by Selling Assets

February 17, 2011, 12:20 p.m.

Legislators Selling Pollock Thinking Too Small
(bought to you by*)

"Elections have consequences," it is said.

One of those consequences for Iowans, it appears, is the Republicans' proposal to sell off the University of Iowa's Jackson Pollock painting (a 1951 gift from Peggy Guggenheim). William Petroski, "House Panel Favors Selling Pollock Art," Des Moines Register, February 16, 2011 ("An Iowa House subcommittee Wednesday supported the sale of a famed Jackson Pollock painting in the University of Iowa's art collection, saying the proceeds could fund thousands of student scholarships. Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, who was chairman of the three-member panel, said an amended bill requiring the Iowa Board of Regents to sell the world-class Pollock painting, 'Mural,' will set a minimum price, probably about $120 million. The painting had an estimated value of $150 million in 2008.")

Critics of the suggestion point out a number of problems with the sale, including the lost trust (and money) from formerly potential donors, and the UI Art Museum's loss of accreditation.

The more serious problem is that legislators and their critics alike are thinking too small.

It's like their counterparts in Washington, attacking a $14 trillion debt by eliminating $60 billion worth of social programs while increasing the near-$1 trillion Defense Department budget.

Iowa's economic and budget challenges, like those of other states, require the most creative ideas from all its citizens -- not just the little bit produced by selling a painting. Besides, one of my ideas is a win-win, where we virtually double what the Pollock can produce while retaining title -- sort of.

(1) Naming Rights. We have sold off naming rights for most of our buildings and colleges. Once named for academics, scholars and scientific researchers, they now reflect our basic values through the names of their wealthy donors. But the one opportunity we've held in reserve is naming rights for the University itself.

Larry Flynt is rumored to be interested in this possibility. Plus, he's more flexible than some potential donors, both as to the name and the amount. While I've heard $100 million mentioned, my understanding is that's just for starters, and that he might be willing to go as much as twice that. He's apparently even willing for us to keep Iowa in the name. That is, he would be willing for us to be called "The Larry Flynt University of Iowa," or "The Hustler Magazine University of Iowa" (not just "Larry Flynt University" or "Hustler University").

This sort of thing is not unprecedented. "Duke University" -- certainly a respected institution (ranked 9th nationally by U.S.News) -- is named for a benefactor whose money came from the tobacco sales that today contribute to some 400,000 deaths annually, James Buchanan "Buck" Duke. Not only that, but his business practices were so illegal that his company was ultimately busted up as an antitrust violation in 1906 into the three companies American Tobacco Company, Liggett and Myers, and the P. Lorillard Company. I don't see Duke taking a lot of heat these days for that association, and I don't see why we should be concerned about Hustler Magazine. Hustler may not be my taste in magazines, but so far as I know, no one ever died from reading it (which is more than you can say for Duke's product).

(2) Iowa's Most Valuable Asset. As long as we're looking around for state assets that we might auction off, why start with something that will produce so little revenue as a Pollock painting?

What's our most valuable physical asset? Think about it. Right. Our topsoil. OK, I know that most of it is by now in Louisiana. And how much money did we get for that? Nada, zero. We just flushed it down the river. Gave it away. How much sense does that make when we need a way to fund the Legislature's proposed 20% tax cut for Iowa's wealthy? William Petroski, "Iowa House Passes 20% Tax Cut in All Brackets," Des Moines Register, February 16, 2011.

Moreover, I think I've found a buyer. Who owns the most land in the United States, almost all of which is devoid of Iowa-quality topsoil? That's right, Ted Turner. I don't know Ted well, but I've met with him on a number of occasions and I think we have a mutual respect for one another.

As his Web page explains,
With approximately two million acres of personal and ranch land, Ted Turner is the largest individual landholder in North America. Turner lands are innovatively managed and work to partner economic viability with ecological sustainability. All Turner ranches operate as working businesses, relying on bison and outfitting as principal enterprises. In addition, Turner ranches support many progressive environmental projects including water resource management, reforestation and the reintroduction of native species to the land.
Here's a public spirited guy who can sit down and write a check for $1billion to help fund the United Nations, who's clearly interested in the land, but hasn't really been involved in agriculture as such at a time when the world's people are confronting an impending food crisis.

Right now we're just paving over what remains of this largely eroded valuable asset, with suburban housing, malls, highways, and industrial parks. How much sense does that make? Let's remove our most valuable asset first, sell it to the highest bidder, and then build on top of the clay that makes for a better foundation anyway.

You'll be the first to know if I get an offer from him.

(3) Most Innovative, Most Remunerative. Unfortunately, I can't give you the name of the next source of budget money for the State Legislature (and University), because he wishes to remain anonymous for now. But there are some Las Vegas individuals who have expressed an interest in the Old Capitol.

I once had a friend whose father bought a European castle for her, brought it back to America stone-by-stone, and reassembled it here. It really was quite grand.

That's the idea. The Old Capitol would be very carefully taken down, with each stone carefully preserved, and shipped to Vegas, where the building would be reassembled and incorporated into a new casino complex that will be the largest and grandest in the city.

There are variants on this idea that are still on the table.

Because the investors are also interested in the Pollock, and understand the University's reluctance in selling it, they have approached the Nevada governor and legislative leaders with this idea. Just as an American embassy in a foreign country is treated as "U.S. territory," so the land on which the reconstructed Old Capitol would stand would be declared to be property of the State of Iowa (requiring, of course, Iowa Legislative approval). One of the advantages of this approach is that the Pollock could hang in the Old Capitol, which would continue to be a part of the University of Iowa, thus complying with the donor's conditions.

Apparently an Iowa alum, who is also a part of the Vegas group and a big Hawkeyes fan, has proposed that the Nile Kinnick statue also be included in the deal.

It's a win-win, where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. By making a package of the Old Capitol, with the Pollock, with the Kinnick statue, the Legislature will have access to far more revenue than anyone ever dreamed of getting for the Pollock alone.

Oh, yes, and they're also willing to pay for the construction of a gambling casino on the Pentacrest where the Old Capitol now stands that would be called "The Old Capitol Casino."

Of course, that's far from a done deal because the Riverside Casino fears the competition and is strongly opposed. Given the revenue the gambling industry provides the athletic program with advertising on the football scoreboard, transporting fans to the games, and its skybox, among other things, that is obviously something that would have to be considered.

We can make it through these financial times, fellow Iowans. All we need is just a little more creative 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
# # #

Monday, February 14, 2011

Crisis Communications 101

February 14, 2011, 8:00 a.m.; February 23, 2011, 7:30 a.m.

There Are Three Steps
(bought to you by*)

[Update, Feb. 23: An important addition to this Feb. 14 blog commentary regarding the University's overlooking the lessons in the "crisis communications playbook" when handling the hospitalization of 13 Hawkeye football players on Jan. 25, headlines all the local papers this morning [Feb. 23].

I closed the Feb. 14 commentary with:
It's UI President Sally Mason's call as to how, when, and with whom to draw on what I call the "crisis communications playbook." But Heldt reports that "When asked if athletics crisis communications might be moved to the office of the UI's vice president for strategic communications, Tysen Kendig, Mason said it doesn't matter who reports to whom."

That's one call for which I'd recommend a challenge and instant replay.
It now turns out I was right to call for an instant replay. What the replay shows is that "who reports to whom" was a major part of the problem.

The Des Moines Register got hold of the emails that were flying around the campus in late January -- they are "public records" under Iowa law -- and all the papers are reporting on what those emails reveal about the Iowa's "chaos in crisis communications."

See, Tom Witosky, "Documents cite U of I concerns on what to release about hospitalized athletes," Des Moines Register, February 23, 2011 (also in Iowa City Press Citizen's HawkCentral); Erin Jordan, "UI releases emails showing response to hospitalization of athletes," The Gazette, February 23, 2011 ("Even the University of Iowa’s top communication official disagreed with the Athletics Department’s handling of the football player hospitalizations in January, according to e-mail communications released Tuesday by the UI."); Jordan Garretson, "UI rethinks PR approach after football hospitalizations," The Daily Iowan, February 23, 2011.]

# # #

Last Wednesday [Feb. 9] The Daily Iowan's Alison Sullivan reported the University of Iowa's Athletic Director, Gary Barta's analysis of the University's recent bad national press over the hospitalization of 13 football players -- the "negative attention directed at the University of Iowa football program."

"He [said] the national media and the public reacted too quickly to the recent hospitalization of 13 football players. The instant negative publicity resulted from what he described as the media’s mentality of getting information fast in the Internet era, even if 'facts be damned.'” Alison Sullivan, "Barta: Football media attention has been difficult," The Daily Iowan, February 9, 2011.

The paper maintains an online edition where readers can post comments. I contributed the following:
"The national media and the public reacted too quickly to the recent hospitalization." The other possibility? Maybe the AD [Athletic Director Gary Barta] and [football] Coach [Kirk Ferentz] reacted too slowly.

There's a public relations playbook for "crisis management" that's seldom read and less often followed -- whether any president's White House, corporate CEO, or athletic team -- and was ignored in this crisis as well.

As Ferentz acknowledged: "Ferentz . . . acknowledged he erred by leaving campus to recruit while the players were hospitalized." HawkCentral, Feb. 2. [Andy Hamilton, "Ferentz Says He Erred, but Defends Program," HawkCentral, February 2, 2011.]

Had he briefly returned, expressed the concern, announced an investigation, and made the statements he made later, that "negative attention directed at the University of Iowa football program" would not have been eliminated, but it sure would have been significantly balanced and softened.

Admittedly, some journalists jumped without facts. I've deliberately not blogged about the hospitalization because I don't have the facts either.

But focusing on the media's faults may not be the most constructive or efficient way to identify, and respond to, "the problem."
This morning [Feb. 14], The Gazette's Diane Heldt reports the University may now be digging out and dusting off that "crisis management" playbook. Diane Heldt, "UI considers changes to crisis communication; experts offer tips," The Gazette, February 14, 2011, p. A1: "University of Iowa officials are discussing ways to improve how they communicate in a crisis, after the university’s response to the recent hospitalization of football players garnered bad press across the nation."

My son, Gregory, calms his computer customers' frayed nerves by beginning virtually every instruction for them with the line, "There are three steps" -- which he then proceeds to reveal.

So it is with Crisis Communications 101. Heldt reports, "Experts in image consulting and communications say immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy are key when an organization is hit with a crisis and the public and media are demanding information. 'When you let there be a lag time, that can be perceived as lack of concern or avoidance,' said Kate Loor, vice president with Frank Magid Associates, speaking about crisis communication in general."

OK, four steps. But it's pretty much what I was saying in my little comment on the DI's story. It's not rocket science. It's kind of common sense.

According to Heldt, Barta is still focused on medical details instead of PR basics. "UI Athletics Director Gary Barta said when news first broke of the 13 hospitalized football players, UI officials didn’t have a lot of information and their No. 1 concern was for the players’ safety. 'We felt that was all the information we had at the time,' Barta said of the initial UI response. 'In hindsight, maybe I would have done things differently, but we went with what we knew at the time.'”

So, you don't know the medical details. OK. The "four steps" -- immediacy, transparency, honesty and empathy -- still leave you with a lot of things you can say and do (rather than saying nothing while playing golf in Florida).

Heldt reminds readers that Coach Ferentz acknowledged on Feb. 2 that "it was 'bad judgment on my part' to not return immediately to Iowa City to be with his hospitalized players or take part in the news conference" (which neither he nor Barta attended). (Coach Ferentz was tending to one of his top priority responsibilities: recruiting players for next season's team, with national "signing day" looming before him in 10 days.) That's the confession of someone who "gets it." That's class. We all make mistakes; we don't all acknowledge and take personal responsibility for them, without excuses and blaming others. (He's displayed equal character on occasion when blaming himself, rather than his players, for the loss of a game.)

It's UI President Sally Mason's call as to how, when, and with whom to draw on what I call the "crisis communications playbook." But Heldt reports that "When asked if athletics crisis communications might be moved to the office of the UI's vice president for strategic communications, Tysen Kendig, Mason said it doesn't matter who reports to whom."

That's one call for which I'd recommend a challenge and instant replay.
# # #

Addendum, For the Record.

I subsequently elaborated on my first comment on the DI's page.

Following my original comment, an "Ed S" said, "Nick 52 is right on the money with his comments. If the AD does not understand the problem he has created than who in the world does? . . .."

This prompted an "FlSven" to come to the AD's defense. In the spirit of the FCC's repealed "Fairness Doctrine," I reproduce his comment in its entirety:
All way off base, this truely is the result of the "instant news, screw the facts, just tell me something, anything" culture and mentality we've slipped into.

Can you imagine the 'outrage' by these analyzing experts if quick, inaccurate statements were made by Coack Ferentz .. omg!!

All these University individuals are very honorable Gentlemen and this has been validated by the new recruits and their families who didn't waver in their committments and the existing players who are all looking forward to more HAWKEYE football.

I'd suggest getting over yourselves and recognizing the hype and exaggeration that the media and some fans of other teams have blown up over this accidental event that was handled professionaly by the University.

Please let go of the jealousy that surrounds the monies made by successful individuals discussed, it's not very attractive and is often the vehicle of the wannabies and unsuccessful.
In response, I commented:
Seldom would I respond to a comment here. Such 'tis-'tain't exchanges too often escalate into dialogues neither constructive nor civil. And I'm not even sure FISven had my earlier comment in mind. But to remove any possible ambiguity as to what I was trying to say:

- I also noted "some journalists jumped without facts" and that "I've deliberately not blogged about the hospitalization." Of course the media bears much of the blame for how the media handled the hospitalization.

- No one's suggesting that Ferentz should have, or would have, made "quick, inaccurate statements." What I suggested was that had he "expressed the concern, announced an investigation, and made the statements he made later" the "outrage" FISven (and I) wish to avoid "would have been significantly balanced and softened." His choices were not limited to (1) delaying saying anything, and (2) making "quick, inaccurate statements."

- I absolutely agree with FISven that "all these University individuals are very honorable Gentlemen." I've described Coach Ferentz as perhaps the best coach in the country -- pro and intercollegiate -- who runs a class program.

- However, both Coach Ferentz and I seem to disagree with FISven's characterization that the public relations and media relations aspects of this event were "handled professionally by the University." He's publicly acknowledged as much -- being the classy guy that he is. I agree; and because of my affection for the University of Iowa, offered the suggestion that it might be institutionally advantageous for the University -- and its major programs in the spotlight, UIHC and athletics -- to anticipate, and give a little more attention to, what I called the "public relations playbook for 'crisis management.'"

* 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
# # #

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Palin Attacks 'The Corporatist Agenda'

February 9, 2011, 9:00 a.m.
[As you may have noticed, while I'm teaching Sports Law, the blogging has had to be cut back to something more like once a week than once a day. But there may be occasional exceptions. This is one.]

Progressives and Conservatives Take Note: Palin's Going Populist
(bought to you by*)

Sarah Palin had some things to say at the President Reagan Tribute the other day that deserve more attention and reflection than they've received so far -- by those of every political persuasion in America, whether Palin normally causes them to swoon or to sputter incoherently.

New York's Boss Tweed used to say, "I don't care who does the electing, just so long as I do the nominating." It ought to be a motivator to your active participation in the caucuses and primaries of your party of choice.

In my case, it causes me to think carefully about the least worst candidates of both major political parties. One will win. If it's not going to be my favorite, I can at least hope, and work to ensure, that both of the nominees are competent enough to function as President.

To remove any possible question in your mind, Sarah Palin is not now my first choice among the possible Republican nominees. Most of her positions I disagree with, many I find uninformed, and -- as many conservatives also believe -- I don't think she now has what it takes to function effectively as President.

But I hope it is true that I have never been one to dismiss entirely all of anyone's views with ad hominem comments. I find life more interesting and rewarding when I look for agreements with, and new ideas from, those individuals my acquaintances and colleagues may be rejecting out of hand.

And so it was that when I heard a quote from Sarah Palin the other day I made a mental note to try to track down the source sometime. It wasn't easy to find, but I came upon it this morning.

It was from a talk she gave at a dinner tribute to President Reagan at the Reagan Ranch Center museum in Santa Barbara, Friday evening [Feb. 4, 2011], sponsored by Young America’s Foundation (unaffiliated with the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley). Jeff Zeleny, "Palin Keeps Position Clear and Intentions Vague," The Caucus/New York Times, February 5, 2011. (The date marks the occasion of what would have been Reagan's 100th birthday.) And see, Jeff Zeny, "Palin, Rallying Base, Paints Dark Picture of Obama’s Policies," February 6, 2011, p. A19.

Her speech contained much with which I would disagree, expressions I would not have used, and conclusions that I might think don't logically follow. But that does not surprise me, and should not surprise you.

What did surprise me was what she said with which I totally agree.

By way of introduction, background and glossary, here are my definitions of some relevant terms:
Words like "socialism," "communism" and "fascism" are seldom used anymore in their original, technical, literal sense. They are swear words, words of derision carelessly thrown at anything one does not like.

That's too bad.

"From each according to ability; to each according to need" [Karl Marx, "Critique of the Gotha Program" (1875)] -- "communism" -- can be applied to professional sports' revenue-sharing schemes designed to keep the teams more or less competitive, and the games more interesting. It also applies to the "negative income tax" proposals of conservative economist Milton Friedman and conservative President Richard Nixon.

"Socialism" -- government owned and operated enterprises, such as the Interstate Highway system, public schools, libraries and parks (among other things) -- also works pretty well for us.

"Capitalism" -- free private enterprise, the marketplace -- rewards the successful entrepreneur (sometimes, as with a Bill Gates, overwhelmingly so), and leaves those who fail to the bankruptcy courts, with nothing but the opportunity to start all over again.

What do you call a system of joint government-corporate partnerships -- "heads I win, tails you lose;" "If I make a profit I get to keep it; if I have big losses the taxpayers will give me a bailout"? Subsidies, tax breaks, government contracts, tariffs, bailouts, price supports are often just rewards for major campaign contributions. Those who remember World War II will identify government by interlocking relationships between corporate and government interests as what we then called "fascism." (If the government owns and operates an automobile manufacturing company that's "socialism"; if it provides a private, for-profit car company a "bailout," that's "fascism.")
Enough of the definitions.

The point is, I am a fan of both capitalism and socialism -- as I have defined both, above. I am not a fan of fascism.

More significant for purposes of this blog entry, it turns out that Sarah Palin is not a fan of fascism either. So on that proposition we agree.

Here is what she had to say -- in words very close to what I was writing about yesterday in "Super Boosters' Super Bowl; Champions' Wins Can Be Taxpayers' Losses; Lessons for Iowa," February 8, 2011, and numerous prior Web pages, newspaper columns, and blog entries.
This is not an economic policy. . . . It is the road to ruin. It’s crony capitalism, too, on steroids. The corporatist agenda — big government, big business collaboration, with powerful friends in DC who can afford to hire the lobbyists to grease the wheels of government in their favor for these investments.

In the interest of certain special interests, the government invests our money in technologies, in industries that venture capitalists tell us ‘no, those are nonstarters.’ but they’ll provide lucrative returns for favored corporate interests with major stakes in these areas. . . .

This collusion, this isn’t competition. It’s crony capitalism and it stifles our economy. It stifles the free market . . .. Government makes it increasingly impossible for anyone but cronies to get ahead. . . .

And ["the little guy"] that’s who is left out in the cold today. Big business, big labor, big finance — they have seats at the table. The little guy doesn’t. But we’re the ones left holding the tab. We’re paying the bill. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. This is not the way that it must be. American exceptionalism is not exceptionally big government with a command and control industrial policy. . . .

History has proven again and again when government picks the winners and losers, we are stuck with the losers. And we the taxpayers subsidize the failures. . . .

Do we still believe in . . . free-market capitalism?

Or do we surrender to big government and a corporatism agenda?. . .

We must be as motivated and optimistic as our parents and our grandparents were, many of whom started off with nothing and yet they were able to build a fulfilled life by the sweat of their brow. . . .

They didn’t demand bailouts.
Text of Governor Palin's Keynote Address: Tribute to President Reagan, Feb. 4, 2011.

So why are these excerpts from this transcript of her talk of vital importance to what I described, above, as "those of every political persuasion in America, whether Palin normally causes them to swoon or to sputter incoherently"?

Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), posits the thesis that the big business wing of the conservatives (those who advocate and practice what I have defined, above, as "fascism") have managed to bring along millions of voters, willing to vote against their own best interests (the funding of social programs and regulations designed to protect them), by talking about (while doing little or nothing about) "God, guns and gays" (opposition to abortion, gay marriage, immigration, and handgun control).

This has been accomplished, in part, by attacking "big government" and "taxation" while remaining eerily silent about the very linkage that big business has with that "big government," and the cash transfers it receives from the taxpayers who pay that "taxation."

So the big business, big money, funders of the conservative coalition should be (and probably are already, as they watch the events in Cairo unfold) a trifle concerned about Palin's turn toward an anti-fascism populism.

Similarly, the Palin-haters -- and progressives concerned about the rest of what she says, and might do in office -- should be wary of the consequences that might flow from a Palin-as-Populist campaign. It wouldn't take that much to expand the Tea Party's appeal to those who ought to have been a solid part of the Democratic Party's base (e.g., the poor, working poor, working class) -- and were, until the Party turned its back on them in its own search for corporate dollars.

It's something to think about.

* 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, February 08, 2011

Super Boosters' Super Bowl

February 8, 2011, 8:40 a.m.

Champions' Wins Can Be Taxpayers' Losses;
Lessons for Iowa

(bought to you by*)

There is at least one significant way in which Super Bowls are far less super than the claims in its super boosters' hype.

Sunday's [Feb. 6, 2011] game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the community-owned Green Bay Packers was by many measures a truly "super" bowl game. It was a great game to watch; which a record 111 million did in front of TV screens and an almost-record 110 thousand did in the Texas-sized and styled super stadium in Arlington. Whether the TV commercials will have a super impact on increasing sales remains to be seen, but they produced some super laughs for the audience, potential super awards for the creators, and at $3 million for each 30 seconds some super revenue for the broadcasters.

The two-year-old Dallas Cowboys' stadium used for the event, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' three-million-square-foot "Palace in Dallas," the world's largest domed stadium, cost $1.15 billion to build -- of which the taxpayers of Arlington contributed $325 million.

However, its likely impact on the economy of Arlington, Texas (and its Dallas-Ft.Worth environs), is going to be far less super than Super Bowl boosters and promoters routinely claim when their billionaire owners approach local taxpayers, hat in hand, begging for their equivalent of public housing.

With no pro teams in Iowa, and open stadiums during Iowa winters, it's unlikely there will ever be a Super Bowl game played in an Iowa town. Nonetheless, there are still lessons here for Iowans -- for the Iowa City City Council's love affair with the corporate benefits from local taxpayers called "TIFs," and Governor Branstad's apparent belief that transferring taxpayers' money to the bottom line of for-profit corporations (and campaign contributors) is ideologically consistent with "free private enterprise" and an efficient way to "create jobs."
The Super Bowl host committee commissioned a report that says the region will see a $611-million windfall as a result of Sunday’s game. . . . Robert Baade, a sports economist at Lake Forest College, . . . says host committees forget to factor in things like tourists and convention goers who are crowded out during mega-events like the Super Bowl, money that goes home with the players, team owners, and national hotel chains, and costs the city bears in clean-up and safety. 'If you move that decimal point one place to the left, you’re much closer to reality,' Baade says. '[T]he $60 million figure is likely to be far more representative of what we’ll see.' And, Baade says, the real figure might be closer to $30 million. . . . [Do pro teams and Super Bowls bring new businesses to town?] Professor Baade says, corporate sponsors and business executives have much more tangible things to think about . . .. '[T]hey’re going to consider things like: "Is there a skilled labor force?," Baade said. ' . . . the tax environment . . . the school system. . . . [O]ther factors . . . are far, far more important for the bottom line than a Super Bowl or even the presence of a pro sports team.'
"Dallas Expects Super Rewards for the Super Bowl," "Only a Game," WBUR-FM/NPR, February 5, 2011.

The $600 million benefit claimed this year is 50% more than last year's NFL estimate of $400 million -- when economists found the League's math equally flawed.
"'All they do is add and multiply,' [University of South Florida economist Phil] Porter said. 'They never subtract and divide.' . . .

Economists say the NFL-sponsored studies look at the 'gross' spending by Super Bowl visitors but not the 'net' effect.

Some tourists, economists say, may intend to visit South Florida for vacation, but will avoid the area because of the Super Bowl. Also, with Super Bowl attendees spending much of their money with national hotel and rental-car chains, most of the influx is going to corporations headquartered elsewhere, such as Hilton, Marriott, Hertz and Avis.

'The airfare being spent on American Airlines isn't ending up in Miami,' said Craig Depken of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. 'A lot of it is being repatriated to Dallas.' . . .

'I'm estimating north of $400 million,' said Rodney Barreto, chairman of the host committee. 'This is a huge event.' . . .

But independent economists have tossed the challenge flag and demanded a closer look at what they consider the puffery behind the big game's economic effect.

'If you can move the decimal point one digit to the left, you would get a more realistic estimate,' said Andrew Zimbalist, a prominent sports economist at Smith College. 'If they were arguing $40 million, I would say that's a realistic impact; $400 million is not.'

Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross, said Super Bowls generate a boost of $30 million to $90 million.

'Absolutely, you'll take it,' he said. 'But on the other hand, it's one-quarter to one-tenth of the figure the NFL is publicizing.'

Economists from the University of Chicago, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and the University of South Florida have reached similar conclusions.

Phil Porter of the University of South Florida sees a link between the NFL's optimistic economic impact estimates and team owners' lobbying for public money for stadiums.

'The NFL is not in the business of giving us $400 million every year,' Porter said. 'They're in the business of telling us they're giving us $400 million every year so we'll give them things.' . . .

[I]t's unclear when the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl will come back to South Florida. NFL executives say the Super Bowl might not return for an 11th visit without $250 million in improvements to the Miami Gardens facility now known as Sun Life Stadium."
Jeff Ostrowski, "Super Bowl economic impact of $400 million? That's super-inflated, scholars argue," Palm Beach Post, February 4, 2010.

For years I wrote in a similar vein about Senator Grassley's belief that spending $50 million of federal taxpayers' money on an indoor rainforest in an Iowa cornfield could somehow pass the laugh test and make any economic sense. See, e.g., the entire Web site I devoted to the subject: "Earthpark."

More recently I've addressed the triumph of boosterism over economic analysis in some blog entries and Press-Citizen columns.

Nicholas Johnson, "Making 'Shop Locally' a Meaningful Suggestion," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 3, 2010, p. A9, embeded in "Downtowns' Future: 'Shop Locally' Column & Dialogue; Making "Shop Locally" a Meaningful Suggestion," December 7, 2010 ("[T]he Press-Citizen Editorial Board is urging us to 'shop locally.' But what does 'buy local' mean? [Money spent here doesn't necessarily stay here.] To analyze in detail what happens to each portion of 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. . . . [But without it, 'buy locally'] is just a rousing bumper sticker of a slogan, and, as Tom Joad says to the filling station attendant in Grapes of Wrath: 'You're jus' singin' a kinda song.'").

"The $100 Million Hawkeyes' Football Team; Hawks: "How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Dollars," August 28, 2010 ("The Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says the Hawkeyes' Football Team is about to bring $100 million to Johnson County this fall. . . . Really? $100 million? . . . [T]he only sales that can fairly be attributed to football would be those above and beyond those that would have occurred without a football game. What is the average Iowa City/Coralville revenue for . . . weekends from September through November -- excluding the weekends when there are home football games? What is the average during weekends when there are football games? It is that difference, that 'incremental increase,' that is relevant. Otherwise you're counting revenue that would have gone to local businesses even without the games. Second, how much of that incremental income would never have been earned 'but for' the football game, and how much is merely 'time-shifting'? . . . [Coralridge Mall shoppers who do not attend football games may have] contributed to increased retail income when there was a football game in town, that's true; but they have not contributed more income to merchants for the year in question than they would have contributed anyway without that coincidence. It's not 'but-for' incremental income.").

Nicholas Johnson, "Flying Video Screens, Stories and Tourism," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 30, 2008, p. A15, embedded in "Tell Me a Story; The Stories Project," August 30, 2008 ("[A]n Iowa City monument to stories is certainly more appealing than 'a rain forest in a cornfield' -- the earlier proposal for Coralville. But good ideas are a dime a dozen. The challenge? Finding the next dime. Something rain forest promoters never found. Whether Stories makes sense requires the same analysis to which I subjected the rain forest. . . . In fairness, Stories’ promoters acknowledge their details aren’t nailed down – ‘"flying video screens" and holographic projections,' school, bookstore, restaurant? But it’s hard to be 'for' or 'against' a thing not knowing what the 'thing' is – the rain forest’s persistent problem. ('It’s a floor wax, it’s a desert topping; it’s whatever they want it to be.') So all I can offer is an all-purpose sampling of issues for any attraction.").

"Chicago Wins Olympics Bid; Why Chicago Won the Olympics Bid," October 5, 2009 ("The fact is that, most of the time, winning an Olympics bid, like many other efforts at local boosterism, turns out to be a Pyrrhic victory. . . . [M]ost community cheerleaders, like modern day George Babbitts [Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922)], with confidence and pride in their town truly believe that their idea -- whether an indoor rain forest, the world's largest ball of string, or hosting an Olympic event -- really will 'put their city on the map,' while bringing tourists and their tourists' dollars to town. Who needs a business plan when 'everyone knows' what a great idea it is? . . . All too often the construction money can't be found, or the project is built but it turns out that 'build it and they will come' only works in the movies. Or enough public debt is incurred that it is, with the declining revenues that could have been predicted but weren't, the death knell for the project and then -- like paying for a dead horse -- takes years, if ever, to pay off. But there is no effort at community promotion for which there is a greater disparity between the promised economic benefits and the ultimate disappointment than Olympic venues.").

For more on our excessive focus on sports reaching from pro to college to high school to junior high and elementary schools, see "Fandom; Super Bowl, Super Mystery," January 30, 2011.

And for more on use of taxpayers' money for campaign contributors, see Nicholas Johnson, "Branstad and Public Transparency," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 5, 2011, p. A7, embedded in "Governor Branstad's 'Transparency;' Making 'Transparency' in Government Meaningful," January 5, 2011. Accord, see Donnelle Eller, "Study Questions Branstad's Economic Proposal," Des Moines Register, February 2, 2011 ("States that have switched to public-private partnerships like the one Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed have experienced misuse of taxpayer money, excessive executive bonuses and questionable awards, a national group [Good Jobs First, a Washington, D.C., research group] says. . . . [S]tates like Iowa that are considering public-private partnerships should focus on improving existing economic development efforts rather than seek to create agencies. 'Turning economic development over to public-private partnerships is fool's gold,' said Greg LeRoy, Good Jobs First executive director. 'What really matters is business basics: strategic public investments in skills, infrastructure and innovation - not privatized smokestack chasing.'"). See the similar observation of sports economist Robert Baade in the first major blocked quote in this blog entry, "Professor Baade says, corporate sponsors and business executives have much more tangible things to think about . . .. '[T]hey’re going to consider things like: "Is there a skilled labor force?,"' Baade said. ' . . . the tax environment . . . the school system.'"


* 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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