Thursday, August 30, 2012

UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads

August 30, 2012, 10:38 a.m.
Who Could Have Guessed?

The University of Iowa's administrators are shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that when they entered into a lucrative beer marketing effort with Anheuser-Busch that it would lead to beer distributors and local bars using it to increase sales. Jens Krogstad, "Bars pull banners featuring U of I logo; The posters stem from the university's sponsorship deal with Anheuser-Busch," Des Moines Register, August 30, 2012. And see, Jens Manuel Krogstad, "University of Iowa, Busch revisiting beer signs; Athletic director says bar banners did not receive final approval," Des Moines Register, August 31, 2012; Eric Clark, "Sally Mason expresses concern over Anheuser-Busch Tigerhawk use," The Daily Iowan, August 31, 2012; and "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012.

Who could have guessed that anything like this would happen?

As recently as yesterday, the UI president reassured us that the University's policies on alcohol consumption -- that is, discouraging binge drinking while simultaneously engaging in marketing efforts to increase beer sales and profits -- are "very consistent." Anna Theodosis, "UI's Mason Calls Personal Alcohol Stance 'Very Consistent," The Daily Iowan, August 28, 2012, p. A1.

How could it possibly have happened that a beer company, distributors, and bar owners would have done this -- shocking and embarrassing their marketing partners in the academy?

I've not thoroughly researched the matter, but according to the Register's story, "'The university athletics department approved the banners that were seen around Iowa City this week that included the Tiger Hawk, the Bud Light logo and the words "Enjoy Responsibly,"' said Rick Klatt, the university’s athletics department associate marketing director."

Do you suppose that could have something to do with the appearance of those banner ads, prominently displayed in local bars' front windows? It's at least a possibility.

There is one additional item worthy of attention.

A centerpiece of the beer marketing agreement was the understanding that the words "Responsibility Matters" would appear in every beer ad. Why I wonder was it changed from "Responsibility Matters" to "Enjoy Responsibly"?

Presumably, "Responsibility Matters" had been scientifically tested and found to create in students a disinclination to drink. I mean, why else would one make it a major provision in a marketing contract?

At least I assume that was the case. After all, when the University was ranked the Number Two party school in the nation, the administration derisively responded that the Princeton Review's data was not "scientific." See "'We're #2!' . . . in Campus Drunks," August 21, 2012. The administration preferred to get its data from the National College Health Assessment, which reported some improvement in Iowa's numbers. What the administrators may have overlooked was that this reliable, scientific source of data also reported that UI's students were still binge drinking at roughly double the national average.

My sources may not be reliable, but my understanding is that the data from the academy's commendable commitment to scientific research did show that when students confront the phrase "Responsibility Matters" all desire to drink alcohol vanishes. The actual sight of beer creates an upset stomach, and the sensation of vomiting, thus prompting students to return to their dorm rooms and begin studying. The added advantages, besides the elimination of hangovers, avoidance of unwanted pregnancy, feeling more rested the next day, and getting better grades, are the savings in both time and money compared with the rapid consumption of five or six beers in succession. And the benefit for bar owners is that there is much less actual vomit to clean up. It's sort of a win, win.

"Enjoy Responsibly," on the other hand, has not been scientifically tested. Therefore, its use increases the risk that this "warning" might create an association of drinking with enjoyment rather than the contractual, approved and thoroughly vetted "Responsibility Matters" phrase that is reminiscent of a parent's, or other adult's, command.

Thankfully, however, the font is still small enough that underage and binge drinking students will probably not even see it, let alone be able to read it.

How about them Hawks!!
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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Republicans Are Akin

August 27, 2012, 11:05 a.m.

And Platforms Are Like a Box of Chocolates

["My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." -- "Forrest Gump," (1994).]

Both parties' platforms, and candidates, are stews of many ingredients -- comfort with, commitment to, and membership drawn from the over- and under-privileged; ideology, including sense of noblesse oblige, support of unions and social programs, proportions of individualism and communitarianism; the demands of special interest advocates and contributors; factions within the party; and historical positions.

There are many differences between the parties on the issues. Most will be saved for future blog entries.

But when it comes to women's issues there is good news and bad news. The good news is the progress -- having just celebrated the anniversary of women's constitutional right to vote (first proposed 1848, finally granted in the Nineteenth Amendment, August 26, 1920), Title IX (40th anniversary), women bringing home more Olympic medals than the men (thank you Dr. Christine Grant!), and even the Augusta Country Club finally admitting at least two women to membership.

The bad news? The Republicans didn't get the memo.

There are two ways in which the Republicans are Akin at their Republican National Convention in Tampa this week.

(1) They are achin'. One of their own, Todd Akin, a Member of Congress who sits on the House Science Committee and is now running for a U.S. Senate seat, has revealed that his lack of compassion for pregnant rape victims ("he argued against allowing abortions in cases of rape") is exceeded only by his ignorance of their biological science. ("He claimed a woman's body can typically fend off pregnancy during a 'legitimate rape' . . ..")

Candidates fear Akin's identification as a Republican may make it more difficult for Mitt Romney, and other Republicans, to win in November. "Romney calls on Rep. Akin to drop Senate bid over 'rape' comments," Fox News, August 21, 2012 ("Mitt Romney joined several other Republicans Tuesday in calling on Missouri Rep. Todd Akin to give up his bid for Senate over his controversial comments on rape, as the Republican congressman continued to hold his ground and vowed to stay in the race.").

(2) They are Akin. It turns out that Akin is no errant Republican minority of one wandering in the wilderness when it comes to banning all abortions with no exceptions. The reason Akin is a walking Republican disaster is precisely because his "no exception" views are not unique to him. Although previously unknown to many voters, Akin's no-exception stance is the position of a great many Republicans. It has long been a part of the national, and many state, Republican platforms. Although Romney has tried to distance himself, it is the view of the vice presidential candidate hand picked and thoroughly vetted by Romney, Congressman Paul Ryan, plus a goodly number of Ryan's House colleagues.

(For example, the Republican's 2008 Platform says, "we assert . . . and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children" -- with no mention of exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. 2008 Republican Party Platform, p. 52.)

And this year?
This year, the Republican platform will include abortion language adopted last week that reaffirms the party's objection to legalized abortion, with no mention of exceptions for cases of rape or incest. . . .

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said last week . . . "[T]hese guys are proud pro-life candidates and we're a proud pro-life party."
William Douglas, "Romney and GOP lay out agenda," Miami Herald/McClatchy Newspapers, August 27, 2012 [Gazette, "Romney, GOP Lay Out Agenda," August 27, 2012, p., 1].

Of course, it's possible to make too much of party platform planks. As the sub-head, above, puts it, "Platforms Are Like a Box of Chocolates" -- and to continue Forrest Gump's line, "you never know what you're gonna get."

Parties aren't too insistent on candidates endorsing and following up on platforms. Elected officials who intend to follow them may find that a change in conditions -- war, the economy, the weather, public opinion -- can necessitate a change in direction, and policy. Presidents discover the power of the House and Senate to frustrate their best intentions -- just ask President Obama.

However, the Republican Party's opposition to a range of women's rights, including abortion (sometimes with, sometimes without, exceptions) is much more than a platform plank. It has been embedded in proposed (and enacted) legislation. It has been the stuff of Republican officials' campaign and other speeches. It is something that enjoys widespread support among those who hold office as Republicans.

Consider, for example, this assessment of Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan's positions on women's issues:
For years, he has been a reliable vote against workplace equity for women, opposing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to file wage-discrimination lawsuits, and two similar measures.

The full outpouring of hard-right enthusiasm is based, to a large degree, on Mr. Ryan’s sweeping opposition to abortion rights. He has long wanted to ban access to abortion even in the case of rape, the ideology espoused in this year’s Republican platform. (Mr. Romney favors a rape exception.) Mr. Ryan also co-sponsored, along with Representative Todd Akin of Missouri, a bill that would have narrowed the definition of rape to reduce the number of poor women who can get an abortion through Medicaid.

Besides that, he has co-sponsored more than three dozen anti-abortion bills, including measures that would require women to get an ultrasound first, bar abortions after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia and end federal spending for family planning programs. Though he urged Mr. Akin to end his Senate race last week over an offensive remark about “legitimate rape,” Mr. Ryan has actually co-sponsored more of these measures than Mr. Akin.

“I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” he said in 2010.

He also co-sponsored a bill last year to allow employers to decline coverage of birth control if it violated their moral or religious convictions, and his budget would end all government financing for Planned Parenthood while slashing spending on prenatal care and infant nutrition.
Editorial, "Paul Ryan’s Social Extremism," New York Times, August 27, 2012, p. A18.

Here is a comparable assessment: "A much more far-reaching bill [than Republicans' bills banning abortion] co-sponsored by Ryan, the 2011 Sanctity of Human Life Act, states that the 'life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent' and empowers states to 'protect the lives of all human beings residing in its respective jurisdictions' that meet this definition of personhood. Not only would this give states the ability to treat any kind of abortion as murder, experts have said it could also ban in vitro fertilization procedures and some forms of birth control like the 'morning after' pill." Benjy Sarlin, "A Brief Guide To Paul Ryan’s Abortion Record," TPM, August 23, 2012.

I have written relatively favorable evaluations of both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan in prior blog entries -- in which I do not discuss their positions on the issues. "Why Mitt Romney? Better Than 'Least Worst' Republican," March 22, 2012; "Is Ryan Ready . . . To Be President?", August 14, 2012.

That distinction is perhaps the most important take-away from this blog entry. As I commented along with the praise of Romney,
"no matter how wonderful a presidential candidate of either party might be, he or she brings with them a cast of thousands to which at least some deference must be paid. (Although, as President Obama has shown the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party that got him the nomination and much of the election, it need not be all that much deference.) I'm not thrilled with the national and Iowa leadership of either party. But I think the Democratic Party's gang of party members, major contributors, political consultants, staffers, lobbyists, elected officials, influence peddlers, and hangers-on would be at least marginally better than those who would surround and pressure any Republican president.
Without parsing possible distinctions, let's concede that all four -- Obama, Biden, Romney and Ryan -- are each, as individuals, sufficiently intelligent, skilled and able to perform in the office for which they are running.

That is why it is a bit misdirected to consider this presidential election a choice between two (or four) white guys. It is, rather, a choice between two large wagon loads of baggage, and the folks who are pulling one wagon rather than another. Frankly, if both the House and Senate were controlled by progressive Democrats, I think Romney's record as Massachusetts governor provides some evidence that (with the possible exception of tax cuts for the wealthy) he would govern, as president, somewhere to the left of where Obama has been able to go. (I am not so sure the same thing can be said of Ryan.) [E.g., support for assertion about Romney, added subsequently: Binyamin Appelbaum, "Business and Political Experiences Pull Romney 2 Ways on Economy," New York Times, August 28, 2012, p. A1 ("Mitt Romney declared during his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 1994 that the federal minimum wage should rise with inflation . . .. Mr. Romney has now maintained that position for almost two decades, [as something] good for workers, good for employers and good for the broader economy. . . . [H]is steady support for an idea vigorously opposed by conservatives and business groups underscores the complexity of predicting how he might manage the national economy.").]

That is why the parties' platforms, prior legislative proposals, and the deeply-held ideological convictions of the candidates need to be our focus.

Here's where the Republicans -- as a Party (not all individual Republicans) -- are on issues involving women in general and abortion in particular. The differences between the parties, and candidates, is stark. The choice is pretty clear. The choice is ours to make.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Glass is Too Big

August 23, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

I've Looked at Scores From Both Sides Now
Some see the glass as half-empty,
some see the glass as half-full.
I see the glass as too big.
-- George Carlin
Never underestimate the power of your local headline writer.

It's that time of year when the state and national ACT test scores are revealed. Both local papers presumably relied on the same report and basic facts, but you wouldn't know it from their headlines.

The Press-Citizen headlined, "Iowa's ACT Scores Show Little Progress." The Gazette thought the thrust of the story was that "Area ACT Scores Trump State, National Averages." (Mary Stegmeir,"Iowa's ACT Scores Show Little Progress," Iowa City Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register, August 22, 2012, p. A1; Meryn Fluker, "Area ACT Scores Trump State, National Averages," The Gazette, August 22, 2012, p. A1.)

The Press-Citizen thought the glass half-empty. The Gazette thought it half-full.

I'm with George Carlin. It think the glass is too big.

Why? Because this is one of those occasions when we need to note, and apply, the distinctions between "data," "information," "knowledge" and "wisdom." The analogy may not be perfect, but I think the revelation of ACT scores is one of those occasions when the "data," like bread dough, needs considerably more kneading before it will produce the additional knowledge and wisdom we need in using this data.

When I was serving on the local school board I spent considerable time on the Internet, looking for research reports, trade magazine articles, and other reports of the challenges and solutions -- "best practices" -- coming from the nation's colleges of education and our 15,000 school districts. "Test scores," "teaching to the test," and "No Child Left Behind" were in the news.

Just intuitively, it seemed to me this discussion and debate failed to take into account the variables that would give the data more meaning. For example, the average test scores of a group of K-12 students who start together in kindergarten (known to educators as a "cohort"), and progress through the same schools together, all of whom suffer from over- rather than under-privilege as the children of professional parents who emphasize the value of education, will probably score "above average" on their tests in fourth, eighth and eleventh grade. By contrast, a school in which most of the students are homeless, or the children of poor, or working poor, parents (or more often, one struggling parent with low income), children who may be dealing with violence, abuse and problems of housing, health care, nutrition, and lack of sleep, will probably not do as well on exams. Many of those students may spend no more than a year, if that, in the school as they move from place to place. Few if any will have stayed in the school from kindergarten through sixth grade. "Cohorts" will be hard to find. [Obviously, these are averages and probabilities. On an individual basis there are exceptions, often dramatic exceptions. There are kids who excel, notwithstanding their environment. And there are over-privileged kids who seem more adept at getting into trouble than into elite colleges.]

To compare those two schools' test scores, or the progress made by, say, the third grade students of teachers in both schools (as a way of evaluating teachers), is worse than useless. It does a disservice to teachers, taxpayers, parents, students, and school board members.

The Internet searches revealed there was one state at that time -- perhaps Massachusetts or Connecticut -- making an effort to pull wisdom from its data. It did not compare schools (and teachers) on the basis of comparative test score averages. It compared them by taking into account their comparative challenges. How well were they doing compared with what could reasonably be expected of them? A school for which one would anticipate the students would average around the 28th percentile on tests, if it achieved a 36th percentile average, would be considered more worthy of praise than a school that ought to be hitting the 85th percentile that never seemed to make it above the 76th percentile. You get the idea. In other words, measure the performance of schools, teachers and students on the basis of reasonable expectations, not absolute numbers.

Something consistent with that approach would be appropriate in reporting, let alone utilizing, the ACT scores.

If schools, school districts, and states are going to be compared -- as inevitably they will be, whether it's useful to do so or not -- we need to compare those that are comparable. A state in which only the top quartile of high school students even take the ACT tests will undoubtedly have much higher average scores than a state, like Iowa, in which there is a movement underway to have all students do so. A state whose test takers come from families with higher average family income, and adults' educational level, will probably score higher than those with fewer college graduates and relative lower incomes (measured in schools by the number of students receiving "free or reduced cost" lunch).

So if you're interested in the data, take a look at the stories linked above at the beginning of this blog entry. But if you want to take away knowledge and wisdom from that data you'll have to do a little more thinking on your own.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks

August 21, 2012, 10:00 a.m.

Coach: Players Should Drink in Dorms, Not Downtown
UI vaulted to the No. 2 spot of the Princeton Review’s annual top 20 party schools list for 2013, which was released Monday. UI moved up two spots from the No. 4 ranking it held a year ago . . ..

The party school rankings are one of 62 lists included in the Princeton Review’s 2013 edition of “The Best 377 Colleges,” . . . based on 122,000 surveys conducted last school year . . ..

The book also ranks UI No. 6 on its “Lots of Hard Liquor” list, No. 6 on the “Students Pack the Stadiums” list, No. 8 on the “Students Study the Least” list and No. 9 on the “Lots of Beer” list.
Josh O'Leary, "UI Jumps to No. 2 on Party School List; School Official Dismisses Rankings as Unscientific; W. Virginia Earns Top Spot," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 21, 2012, p. Al. See also, Madeline Savoie, "UI officials balk at party school rankings," Daily Iowan, August 21, 2012.

Needless to say, University administrators were shocked and outraged -- not at their students' drinking, but because "the rankings [are] unscientific."

“Among all the rankings published by various media outlets, the Princeton Review’s stand out for their complete lack of objective, scientific methodology. Their rankings are based almost exclusively on anecdotes and random, subjective feedback,” according to a UI spokesperson.

However, later in Josh O'Leary's story the same spokesperson is quoted as noting the UI's good news from what he presumably considers a much more scientific source. He "points to the latest data from the National College Health Assessment, which surveyed 882 undergraduates this past spring and found that the high-risk drinking rate for UI students has dropped 9 percent from 2009 to 2012."

Sounds good, until Mr. O'Leary informs us of another UI statistic the spokesperson failed to mention: "Even so, the 64.1 percent rate of UI students who reported consuming five or more drinks in one sitting in the two weeks before the survey [one definition of "binge drinking"] was almost twice the national rate of 34.1 percent, the National College Health Assessment found." (Besides binge drinking, the NCHA also reported that, "in 2012, 79.9 percent [of UI students] reported drinking in the last 30 days.")

If your students are consuming alcohol in bouts of binge drinking at twice the average rate of students on other campuses, according to a source you do consider scientific, it would seem to me that rather undercuts any efforts one might make to put down the Princeton Review rankings as "unscientific."

Nor does it help the institution's credibility when it has recently entered into a joint marketing arrangement with a major beer distributor, having apparently decided that the money it would provide is worth whatever additional harm it may do to students. "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .,"

Meanwhile and coincidentally, but totally consistent with the University's response to its impressive ranking as a party school, the same day's paper reported that a Hawkeye basketball player had been "arrested early Saturday [approximately 1:00 a.m., Aug. 18] by University of Iowa police and charged with public intoxication." His coach reassured the public that "He's a really good kid," and that the coach "was not as concerned [because the player] was in his dorm. [He wasn't] blowing a 0.2 at 4o’clock in the morning downtown.”

(You may have noticed that I do not mention the UI spokesperson, the coach or the player by name. This is because my concerns do not relate to them personally, and I see no reason to further implant their association with these events in Google and other search engines. My focus is on the campus culture regarding underage binge drinking, the Administration's willingness to participate in the marketing of even more alcohol to students (so long as it contains the words, "Responsibility Matters"), "A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . .," June 16, 2012, the campus culture surrounding athletics in general, and the especially volatile mix of alcohol with athletics.)

One wonders whether the coach's lax approach to student drunkenness was because the student was "a really good kid," or had perhaps been influenced at least a little by the fact that he was also "a really good basketball player."

Because the coach does not live in a dorm, perhaps he is simply unaware of the University's residence hall regulations:

All residents are expected to be familiar with and abide by the University of Iowa Policies and Regulations Affecting Students . . .. Any resident who commits, incites, or aids others in committing any acts of misconduct shall be subject to disciplinary action by University Housing & Dining and/or the University . . . as well as student or non-student guests . . . subject to disciplinary sanctions imposed by the Dean of Students for violating the rules listed below. . . .

(8) Unlawful manufacture, distribution, sale, use, or possession of illegal, addictive, dangerous, or controlled substances (including alcohol) on residence hall property. Empty alcohol containers and drug paraphernalia are prohibited.
"Prospective Residents Policies, Rules, and Regulations Guidebook," University [of Iowa] Housing & Dining.

So far as I know there are no provisions for disciplining coaches whose players violate these housing rules.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Lehman's 'Get Out of Jail Free' Card

August 19, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

Will Wall Street Ever Be Prosecuted?
Since writing "Goldman: Too Big to Jail," August 12, 2012, questioning why both Justice and the SEC dropped their cases against Goldman Sachs, CBS' "60 Minutes" has asked, and in large measure answered, the same question about the Lehman Brothers case: "The Case Against Lehman Brothers," CBS 60 Minutes, August 19, 2012.

You can find the online "60 Minutes" video here, and the full transcript here.

Here are some Fair Use excerpts from that program. Steve Kroft is the interviewer, Anton Valukas is the bankruptcy court-appointed Chicago lawyer tasked with investigating what happend within Lehman, and the additional narrative is in italics.
When Lehman Brothers collapsed, 26,000 employees lost their jobs and millions of investors lost all or almost all of their money, triggering a chain reaction that produced the worst financial crisis and economic downturn in 70 years. Anton Valukas' job was to provide the bankruptcy court with accurate, reliable information that the judges could use to resolve the claims of creditors picking over Lehman's corpse. . . .

Steve Kroft: Did these quarterly reports represent to investors a fair, accurate picture of the company's financial condition?

Anton Valukas: In our opinion, they did not.

Steve Kroft: And isn't that against the law?

Anton Valukas: It certainly, in our opinion, was against civil law if you will. There were colorable claims that this was a fraud, yes.

By colorable claims Valukus means there is sufficient evidence for the Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring charges against top Lehman executives, including CEO Richard Fuld, for overseeing and certifying misleading financial statements, and against Lehman's accountant, Ernst and Young, for failing to challenge Lehman's numbers. . . .

Steve Kroft: How are you so sure of that? Anton Valukas: Because we read the emails in which we observed the people saying that they were doing it. . . . A jury would have to decide who's telling the truth.

But so far there has been no jury to hear the evidence. Despite Valukas' findings -- and the supporting documents and testimony to back them up -- the Securities and Exchange Commission has not brought any charges of any kind against former Lehman executives. For the past few months, we've made numerous requests to interview the SEC's head of enforcement. All of those requests have been declined.

Steve Kroft: The Securities and Exchange Commission has not brought a case.

Anton Valukas: No, they have not.

There is one plausible explanation why SEC hasn't has not gone after top Lehman executives. As it turns out, some of Lehman's most egregious accounting shenanigans took place right under the noses of government regulators.

Steve Kroft: How closely was the SEC monitoring Lehman Brothers during this time?
Anton Valukas: They were on premises. They were talking to the Lehman people daily. They officed there.
After six years of reporting on stories like this, no wonder Steve Kroft candidly concludes, in a "60 Minutes Overtime" interview (5:18 minutes in), "I think this is the last story I'll do about nobody being held accountable, because I've really sort of given up. I don't think the federal government, either the SEC or the Justice Department, are going to bring any cases against individuals. I just don't think they're going to."

This is one time when I don't really welcome the confirmation. I'd like to have been proven wrong. But Kroft's conclusions is almost identical to mine in "Goldman: Too Big to Jail."

That he and I come to these conclusions when a Democratic Administration is calling the shots is distressing. Especially since we have no alternative. If anything, the Republicans would be worse -- although it's difficult to imagine how they might go about achieving that distinction.

# # #

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is Ryan Ready . . .

August 14, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
. . . To Be President?

What is the number one job of the Vice President of the United States?

In the words of Governor Mitt Romney, when introducing his pick for vice president last Saturday [August 11], it is to be "the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan!"

Aside from the possibility of becoming the next president, Senator Bob Dole described the other tasks of the vice-presidency as merely "indoor work with no heavy lifting."

Vice President John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner of Texas (1933-41) said, in his most erudite Texas-speak, that the vice-presidency was "not worth a bucket of warm piss."

Nonetheless, it's no joking matter when it falls to the vice president to assume his most awesome and highest responsibility, and he or she instantly becomes "the next president of the United States" for real.

Nor is this just a theoretical possibility, sufficiently unlikely to warrant playing the odds and taking the risk that an unqualified vice president will never have to take on those responsibilities. Nine of our vice presidents have become president through the death, resignation or impeachment of the president. That's nine out of 44; over 20 percent.

So I think it's not only fair, it is imperative, that we take a look at Congressman Paul Ryan's -- and Vice President Joe Biden's -- qualifications to be president.

As I wrote when evaluating Governor Mitt Romney's qualifications, "Why Mitt Romney?" March 22, 2012,
In 2007-08, as the candidates were touting their "experience" as qualifying them to be president, I gave some thought to "Just what is the experience that would qualify someone to be president?" Here's an abbreviated excerpt from an op ed column I wrote on the subject at that time:
There’s no perfect, qualifying “experience.” But two things can help.

One is experience at administering large institutions: a federal cabinet-level department, a state government, military branch, major university or corporation.

The other is the understanding and rapport earned by having worked in institutions with which a president must relate: city, county and state government; the federal executive, legislative, judicial and administrative branches; international organizations and embassies; labor unions and Wall Street, among others.

By these standards both Democrats [Senators Clinton and Obama] and Sen. John McCain are unimpressive.
Nicholas Johnson, "Politics: Assessing Candidates' 'Experience,'" The Gazette, March 30, 2008, p. A9, embedded in blog, with links to many more items, in "Gazette Op Ed: Candidates' 'Experience,'" March 30, 2008 ("Compare these candidates’ 'experience' with that of Gov. Bill Richardson: 15 years’ legislative experience in the U.S. House, understanding of state government from two terms as governor and of federal government from [his service as Secretary of] the Department of Energy, the significant administrative experience as a governor and cabinet secretary and the international perspective of a former U.N. ambassador. His international accomplishments, including successful hostage negotiations with Saddam Hussein and others, inspired five Nobel Peace Prize nominations.")

At that time Governor Bill Richardson came the closest to the range of experiences I thought useful. Mitt Romney doesn't rank that high, given his relative lack of experience with the House, Senate, White House, and Cabinet positions. And his work with the Olympics, while useful, is not exactly the same as the State Department, an ambassadorship, or the United Nations, World Bank, IMF or other international organization. But he has been a governor (and in a state where he had to work with Democrats), which comes the closest to any training we have for the presidency, he's administered other large institutions (Bain; the Olympics; this year's campaign), and certainly has ties with Wall Street and the business community.
Another example of a Republican with Richardson's range of experience is former President George H.W. Bush. Not only did he come to the job with eight years experience as vice president, he had also been a member of the House of Representatives, an ambassador to the United Nations and envoy to China, director of the CIA, and someone with experience in both the oil and banking business. "George H.W. Bush",

(In that evaluation of Romney, I made clear that although his positions on most major issues differed from mine, he also had strengths, notwithstanding his lack of experiences that would be useful for a president to have had (see, e.g., "Romney as Ambassador in Chief," July 31, 2012):
As I've learned more about Romney, I've become increasingly impressed with his smarts, education, experience, accomplishments, commitment to public service, and obvious managerial ability in running a presidential campaign. Today I would say of him (as I said earlier [2008] about Jon Huntsman), Mitt Romney is much, much better than just the "least worst Republican." . . .

I may well be wrong, but what others see as flip-flopping I see as managerial pragmatism. . . . Some others are troubled by his Mormon religion. I see it as a positive. . . . Whether you call it religion, ethics, or morality, I think it useful for individuals (and the communities in which they live) to carry a moral compass that they check for directions from time to time. Maybe it's no more than a hunch, but Romney seems to have that. . . .

Nor do I find his seeming inability to speak the language of ordinary Americans disqualifying -- that his tie to NASCAR fans is that he knows a number of folks who own race teams, his appeal to UAW members is that his wife has two Cadillac cars . . .. I find such unscripted comments almost charming in an odd sort of way. . . . What I see in Romney is a bright, well informed, analytical, hard working, focused, pragmatic, problem-solving manager.
I mention this simply to make the point that my effort to evaluate Paul Ryan's qualifications is not an effort to put down the Romney-Ryan ticket, any more than my finding both Senators Clinton and Obama to be short on experience (when at least Clinton was claiming she had it) was an effort to put down the Democratic Party's effort to elect a president.

I will also note, in that connection, that then-Senator Biden did not score much better on my experience scale in 2008 than did Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama. See "Joe Biden,"; "It's Biden -- for 'Experience'?" August 23, 2008.

In that Joe Biden blog entry there is a point that bears repeating with regard to Paul Ryan:
I don't think a breadth of experience is a prerequisite to being president (or vice president). Someone can be perfectly well qualified to be president without it. Few of our presidents have had the breadth of experience of, say, President George H.W. Bush (the current president's father), or New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. And many have done quite well without it.

All I am saying is that if all (or most of) what one has ever done is to be a member of the United States Senate [to which I would now add with regard to Ryan, "or House"], given the range of experience that would be helpful for a president to have had, it's a little silly to talk about how "qualified" they are for the job based on that very narrow and limited experience, regardless of how long they've done it.

Clearly, Senator Biden brings "foreign policy" experience [as Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee], with emphasis on "policy." He certainly has established relationships among many of the world's leaders. He's brighter, has better judgment, and is far more knowledgeable than Senator McCain on such matters. It's just that it's not the equivalent of having had responsibility for making the decisions, and administering the follow up, as Secretary of State or Defense, or even National Security Adviser to the President.
By now, of course, Vice President Joe Biden has had four years of experience serving as vice president. It's hard to get any better "experience" than that. So, by now, he clearly has the edge on Paul Ryan in that department. (Similarly, Romney, today, scores better on the experience scale than Obama did in 2008. But by now, with four years' experience as president, President Obama clearly has the experience edge over Romney.)

Paul Ryan's relative lack of experience is no more disqualifying for him in 2012 than it was for Joe Biden in 2008. It is, however, a negative, to be balanced against whatever positives one may perceive.

Let's examine the categories used in the past.

(1) "One is experience at administering large institutions: a federal cabinet-level department, a state government, military branch, major university or corporation." Ryan has spent his entire post-college 42-year life in politics, first as a staffer, and subsequently as a member of Congress (with some earlier successful forays into student politics). He has had no administrative or managerial experience running any large institution, let alone anything the size of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government.

"The other is the understanding and rapport earned by having worked in institutions with which a president must relate: (2) city, county and state government; (3) the federal executive, legislative, judicial and administrative branches; (4) international organizations and embassies; the Pentagon, or national security organizations; (5) labor unions and Wall Street, among others."

Congressman Ryan's primary strength is his successful career in the U.S. House of Representatives, a group of 435 in which he rose to the top (as Chair, Budget Committee) primarily while in his thirties.

But (2) he does not have direct experience with the impact of the federal government on state and local government, in that he has never served as mayor or council member of a city, county supervisor, member of a state legislature or governor, or even school board member (so far as I know).

(3) He has had no experience heading, or even working in, the federal executive branch or administrative agencies, with direct knowledge of the impact of the White House and Congress on their work. He has not worked as a judge, or as a law clerk to one; as he is not a lawyer -- something I assume some will see as a great asset :>).

(4) Neither he nor Romney have the foreign relations experience of running, or even working in, the State Department, a foreign embassy as an ambassador, or the United Nations, World Bank, IMF or other international organization. (Romney illustrated the consequences of a president with a lack of foreign relations acumen during his recent trip to London, Israel and Poland. "Romney as Ambassador-in-Chief," July 31, 2012. Vice presidents are often called upon to provide some of our nation's outreach to other countries. Would Ryan have done any better than Romney?)

Neither has headed agencies of, or even worked inside, the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, or other organizations focused on national security. I believe (but have not confirmed) that neither even served in any way in the U.S. military.

(5) Romney clearly has useful ties to Wall Street and the business community generally. Ryan's ties to labor are a little more spotty. His family's business, Ryan Construction, benefits from the Davis-Bacon Act's requirement that federal construction projects pay workers the "prevailing wage." Unions like that. Overall, however, his votes against union members' interests have produced a 16% rating from the AFL-CIO. See, e.g., Laura Clawson, "Paul Ryan is with unions on one lone issue—the one connected to his family's business," Daily Kos, August 13, 2012.

So what is the answer to the question with which I began: "Is Ryan Ready to be President?" "Certainly not," we'd have to say, on the basis of his prior range of experience regarding those things that would be useful to a president. On the other hand, he is certainly not the first vice presidential candidate to have been lacking in that kind of experience. And at least some of them have turned out to be not only "qualified," but among our best presidents when their time came to be tested.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Goldman: Too Big to Jail?

August 12, 2012, 11:50 a.m.

[For confirmation of the conclusion in this blog entry, see the discussion of CBS 60 Minutes' presentation of the issues in, "Lehman's 'Get Out of Jail Free' Card."]

"If You Can't Trust Your Banker"


Credit: "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," Maverick, 2nd Season, 1958. The popular early television series, Maverick, "starring James Garner and Jack Kelly, remains the most famous and widely discussed episode of the Western comedy television series Maverick. Written by Roy Huggins and Douglas Heyes and directed by Leslie H. Martinson, this 1958 second season episode depicts gambler Bret Maverick (James Garner) being swindled by a crooked banker (John Dehner) after depositing the proceeds from a late-night poker game, then recruiting his brother Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) to mount an elaborate sting operation to recover the money." It's also the source of two oft-quoted lines: "If you can't trust your banker, whom can you trust?" and "I'm working on it." See, "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," And see "Terrorist Bankers," February 13, 2009.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) warned us there would be days like this, when he wrote in the story of "Pretty Boy Floyd,"
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.
Woody Guthrie, "Pretty Boy Floyd,"

If fountain pens and handguns are merely optional choices for bank robbers, why is it that those who choose handguns end up in jail, and those who choose fountain pens (as augmented with today's computers) end up living in multiple million dollar mansions? (See, e.g., "Homes: Weeks' Salisbury, Romney's Six," May 30, 2012.) Why is it those with handguns get less than $10,000, and those who use fountain pens are handed millions? Jason Koebler, "What You Should Know Before Robbing a Bank; Most bank robberies net just a few thousand dollars," US News, June 11, 2012 ("The vast majority of bank robberies are relatively unsuccessful affairs, having netted criminals just $7,500 in 2010 on average, according to the FBI.").

For our answer we must turn to a modern-day Woody Guthrie, Harry Shearer, who provides us some musical insight into the operations of Goldman Sachs. Here is a snippet from his song . . .

"Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs"
Harry Shearer
When Mr. Goldman met Mr. Sachs
Business ran on railroad tracks
The world was simpler, you can't forget
When Mr. Sachs and Goldman met

Said Mr. Goldman, "For years and years,
Our guys have got the most between the ears"
Said Mr. Sachs, "Let's unhook some reigns,
And find new ways to profit off our traders' brains"

Spinning gold out of flax,
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax,
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

"Up to the Clintons," says Sachs with glee,
"Our former chief now runs the Treasury"
Slapped Mr. Goldman to Mr. Sachs,
"Everything's OK, we can relax"
For the full lyrics and much more commentary and video clips, see "Goldman, Sachs and Shearer," August 14, 2010.

When Goldman Sachs folks were successful in persuading the House, Senate, Treasury, Fed and President that Wall Street banks were "too big to fail," I responded that those banks were "too big to bail" -- no entity should be permitted to become too big to fail, to merge and monopolize itself into such size that taxpayers are offered no other option than to privatize their profits and socialize their losses. They should be split into entities of such size that, like other American businesses, they can be permitted to fail.

Now, it turns out, they are also "too big to jail."

And so it is that we came to read this last week:
The Justice Department said Thursday it won't prosecute Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs or its employees in a financial fraud probe. . . .

"The department and investigative agencies ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time," the department said. . . .

A Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., in April 2011 found that Goldman marketed four sets of complex mortgage securities to banks and other investors but that the firm failed to tell clients that the securities were very risky. The Senate panel said Goldman secretly bet against the investors' positions and deceived the investors about its own positions to shift risk from its balance sheet to theirs.

The Justice Department's decision capped a good day for Goldman as the Securities and Exchange Commission decided not to file charges against the firm over a $1.3 billion subprime mortgage portfolio. . . . The Senate panel probe turned up company emails showing Goldman employees deriding complex mortgage securities sold to banks and other investors as "junk" and "crap." Levin said . . . Goldman "gained at the expense of their clients and they used abusive practices to do it." . . . In 2010, Goldman agreed to pay $550 million to settle civil fraud charges by the SEC of misleading buyers of mortgage-related securities. The agreement applied to one of the four deals cited by the Senate subcommittee.
Pete Yost, "Government won't prosecute Goldman Sachs in probe," Associated Press/Google, August 10, 2012.

In other words, two years ago Goldman Sachs agreed they were sufficiently guilty of something to be willing to pay a $550-million-dollar fine, A year later the Senate committee sure thought they had engaged in "abusive practices" that made them guilty of something. And now the Department of Justice finds that "the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met"?! So it's "case dismissed," even though Goldman Sachs has already confessed to the need for them to pay a fine in excess of one-half billion dollars for one of the four offenses that would make up that "criminal case."

Jill Treanor, "Goldman Sachs handed record $550m fine over Abacus transaction; Securities and Exchange Commission punishes bank over collateralised debt obligation," The Guardian, July 15, 2010 ("The [Goldman Sachs] Abacus case had called into question the integrity of Wall Street after the commission alleged Goldman had packaged up mortgages into Abacus and then sold the CDO [collateralized debt obligation] to investors without telling them one of its powerful clients, the hedge fund Paulson, had been taking a trading position intended to profit from a fall in the value of US house prices.").

It sounds to me like the "burden of proof" ought to be on those elected officials in Washington, and the Department of Justice, to justify this decision to those American, and global, citizens who have borne the burdens of the global economic collapse from which Goldman and others have profited.

It's also noteworthy, it seems to me, how little attention the mainstream media gave to this story. The Associated Press ran the story quoted, and linked to, above. But I didn't see any fragment of it in any of the local papers I read. The New York Times offered a short piece, but put it back on page B-5. Ben Protess and Azam Ahmed, "S.E.C. and Justice Dept. End Mortgage Investigations Into Goldman,", New York Times, August 10, 2012, p. B5.

But the Times is to be credited with informing us in the very same story of what may or may not be the coincidental fact that, on the very same day the Department of Justice dropped all charges, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also did so:
Separately, Goldman Sachs announced early Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission had ended an investigation into a $1.3 billion subprime mortgage deal, taking no action. The move was an about-face for the commission, which notified the bank in February that it planned to pursue a civil action.
In other words, the U.S. Senate asks the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute what it considers very serious charges against Goldman Sachs. The SEC announces that it's going to go after Goldman in a civil action. And then, on Goldman's glorious day, both the DOJ and the SEC do what the Times calls "an about-face."

Of course, "a correlation is not a cause," but it's fair to note that this year, so far, Open Secrets reports that Goldman Sachs has made total political campaign contributions of roughly $5 million, plus $4.5 million on "lobbying," plus another roughly $1 million in "soft money." "Goldman Sachs Totals,"

It may have been a good day for Goldman Sachs, but it has not otherwise been a good year for all the other banks.
This hasn’t been a good year for Bank of America.

In February, the bank paid a $1 billion dollar fine to the Feds for defrauding the FHA by underwriting loans to unqualified buyers. Just last month Bank of America joined Visa, MasterCard and other large banks to settle a price fixing case brought by retailers over credit card swipe fees. The bank’s portion of that fine: $738 million. . . .

Mortgage investors, claiming that they were misled about the quality of the mortgages and mortgage-backed bonds the bank sold them, have filed claims that have cost the bank over $13 billion so far. The bank lost over $19 billion on their consumer real estate division last year. . . .

Part of Bank of America’s $2.46 billion dollar profit came from cutting their bad loans reserve, a rather neat accounting sleight of hand.

Most recently, Bank of America was the recipient of a subpoena and Request for Information from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding their role in the Libor benchmark interest rate scandal. Berkshire Bank likewise named Bank of America, Citigroup, and Barclays as some of the defendants in their lawsuit for damages, alleging that Libor fraud lowered the . . . interest payments . . . received from customers.

-- Karen Rogers, "Can Bank of America Survive Libor?" Motley Fool, August 8, 2012.

ING Bank has agreed to pay a $619 million penalty for moving billions of dollars through the U.S. financial system at the behest of Cuban and Iranian clients, acts that violated economic sanctions [and] falsifying the records of New York financial institutions . . .. "These cases . . . ultimately contribute to the fight against money laundering and terror financing," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said . . ..

-- Charles Riley, "ING to pay $619 million for Cuba, Iran dealings," CNN/Money/Fortune, June 12, 2012

Barclays [Bank]’s record $451 million fines for interest rate manipulation sent bank shares plunging . . . amid speculation that lenders could face billions of dollars in lawsuits. . .. Traders at the U.K.’s second-biggest bank by assets routinely coordinated with counterparts from at least four other banks in an attempt to move interest rate benchmarks [including] the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and Euribor . . . to generate profits on derivatives held by the banks, the agencies said. . . . Citigroup Inc., Royal Bank of Scotland Group, UBS, ICAP, Lloyds Banking Group and Deutsche Bank are among the firms regulators are investigating.

-- Joshua Gallu, Silla Brush and Lindsay Fortado, "Barclays Libor Fine Sends Stocks Lower as Probes Widen," Bloomberg, June 28, 2012.

If you can't trust your banker, whom can you trust?

It's reminiscent of the story of the father who places his young son on the mantlepiece of their fireplace, holds out his arms, and tells the son to jump. The father steps back, and lets his son fall on the tiles below. When the bewildered and bawling boy looks up and asks why his father did that, the father replies, "Son, that's to teach you the lesson that you should never trust anyone, not even your own father."

The sad conclusion: (1) No, you can't trust your banker. (2) Nor can you trust your elected officials to regulate banks effectively. (3) No matter how you vote this next November those truths will not change. Bank executives are just too big to jail.

Have a nice day.
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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Do Iowa's School Districts Need Consultants?

August 9, 2012, 10:00 a.m.
Are They Worth It?

[Credit: Ted Elliott Resources.] The Iowa City Community School District is looking for a consultant -- or consultants -- again. Adam B. Sullivan, "District considers hiring consultant; Firm would determine building capacity, enrollment trends, growth projections," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 8, 2012, p A1.

[And see, e.g., "School Boundaries: There Are Better Ways," April 16, 2010 ("The ICCSD is not the only school district from among the 15,000 in the U.S. that is confronting the need to redraw its schools' boundary lines. . . . However, most districts also manage to resolve it without months of undirected chaos, changes in direction, and the 'assistance' of expensive consultants."); "School Board Can't Do Job? There They Go Again," January 7, 2010 ("What is it about elected and appointed board members and administrators? Why this compulsive, knee-jerk sprint to search firms and consultants whenever they come face to face with the real job they're there to do? Honestly, what is it? Fundamental, gut-wrenching insecurity and low self-esteem? A political cowardice that seeks to ward off any possible criticism from any quarter with the ability to say, 'But that wasn't our decision; . . ..' Or is it a candid, honest assessment that they are really incapable of doing their job?"); "School Boundaries Consultant Folly", August 28, 2009 (and associated, embedded links); "UI VPs and ICCSD Consultants," August 14, 2009 ("it seems to me the tasks he has identified [for consultants] are tasks well within the job descriptions and expertise of administrators and staff the District already has in place").]

And what do they want these consultants to do? Why does the board think it needs them? The Press-Citizen quotes the superintendent as saying, "As we go through the process of doing facilities planning . . . there is some data we need. We need to know how many kids we have . . .."

This is not calculus, folks. It's not even trigonometry. It's elementary school math.

We had an Australian family visiting us last week. Their young son is almost three years old. He can count. Maybe the Iowa City District could hire him to gather that "data" regarding "how many kids we have." I'm sure he'd be willing to do it for substantially less than the $8000-to-$120,000 bids the board is considering.

Yes, I agree. I am being a little unfair. The board also wants to know "how many kids we're going to have." They think consultants can help them design buildings, draw school boundary lines, and determine transportation and staffing costs. But enrollment projections are already being provided by the University of Iowa. And as I'll soon explain, the decisions in question can and should only be made by board members, not consultants.

Administrative and Executive Pay Scales -- and for What?

What are we paying our school superintendents and college presidents for anyway? With their salaries running ten times those of many of their institutions' employees, and many corporate CEOs paid as much as 400 times their employees' salaries, it's hard to say what level of pay would be appropriate, reasonable and fair. But aren't we already paying them for their expertise to do the very things they want to pay consultants to do?

I'm reminded of the time our Board of Regents was unwilling to exert sufficient effort to retain UI President David Skorton, one of the nation's most highly regarded -- and now highly paid -- university presidents. As Slate has said, "Skorton, a man of great humor, warmth, and charm, is a distinguished research cardiologist and an accomplished jazz musician." Robert H. Frank, "Why Has Inequality Been Growing? How technology and winner-take-all markets have made the rich so much richer," Slate, December 6, 2011. That certainly squares with my own experiences with him -- although I would go on at much greater length regarding the full range of the extraordinary talents of this man. (If I am not mistaken he was qualified to, and did, hold positions in three of Iowa's graduate colleges.)

When the Regents refused him a pay raise, and many expected him to be miffed, his response was characteristic of the man: "When the median family income in Iowa is around $45,000 and I make over $300,000, it’s hard to argue that is not a lot of money. It’s very generous." Nicholas Johnson, "Pricey Presidents' Added Cost," Daily Iowan, March 7, 2006. (Cornell University is now paying him probably about three times that.)

Call me naive, but I think even $100,000 a year, plus benefits -- twice the average Iowan's income -- ought to be a liveable wage in most towns in Iowa today. At $250,000 -- five times the average Iowan -- the recipient is in the top 2 percent of American wage earners, most of whom live in east or west coast locations much more expensive than any in Iowa. Andrew Ross Sorkin, "Rich and Sort of Rich," New York Times, May 15, 2012, p. WK1.

It would be unrealistic to think that a school district or college should be able to obtain the equivalent of a David Skorton at those, or any other, salary levels. Individuals who combine the talents of Thomas Jefferson, Galileo, Michelangelo, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Jesus, Wynton Marsalis, and Jerry Seinfeld are extremely rare.

So we're not getting those qualities. But what are we getting for our money? What can we reasonably expect? Sometimes it seems like the equivalent of the fellow who applied for a job as chef, and when asked what he most liked to make for dinner replied, "reservations." An institutional administrator whose primary skill is picking consultants is little better than that aspiring chef -- especially if the consultants he finds aren't that much better, either.

The Responsibilities of School Board Members

School board members cannot reasonably be expected to bring high level administrative skills, and K-12 expertise, to their jobs. It is a largely thankless position with little-to-negative payoff professionally, politically, socially, and none financially. As I used to say when serving on the Iowa City school board, "You may not get any pay, but at least you get a lot of grief."

That said, for whatever reason board members have chosen to serve. From my perspective that means they have assumed some self-imposed responsibilities.

They need to combine the desire and ability to listen to all stakeholders, along with the political courage to stand up to the inevitable opposition to the changes necessitated by the best interests of the district.

They must be able to think rationally and precisely about their governance system and come to agreement about their self-imposed procedures.

They need to get themselves informed about the range of issues confronting school districts all across the country, and given our global economy, progressive systems in other countries as well.

They need to recognize that, with 15,000 school districts in this country it is highly unlikely they will confront any challenge that has not already been present, identified, confronted, resolved, and written up about another district somewhere.

There are thousands of useful articles, books, government and foundation reports, education periodicals, and academic research regarding K-12. School board members need to spend at least as many hours informing themselves by searching the Internet, and local libraries, as the hours away from home they would spend attending a national school board convention in a holiday resort at taxpayers' expense.

Many to most of the issues school boards confront are issues that school board members, and only school board members, can address and resolve.

As I used to tell my colleagues, "Normally before you ask an architect for advice you know whether you want to build a courthouse or an outhouse." Only the board can decide what they want to do inside those school buildings -- not an architect, a committee, or a consultant. If they think team teaching and block scheduling are a good idea the walls will be in different places. If the board is persuaded by the available research that the optimum size of a high school is about 800 students, that will affect the size and cost of any new high schools. If the board decides, as advised by the National Commission for the High School Senior Year, that the best place for high school seniors is out of the high schools, that may reduce the "overcrowding" that dictates the need for new buildings.

The same thing can be said regarding school boundaries, class sizes, allocation of students from low income or homeless families. These all involve decisions that should be assumed, personally, by board members -- legally, politically, morally, and administratively -- not "contracted out" to the superintendent, committees, or consultants.

Ulterior Reasons for Using Consultants

Of course, the problem is actually worse than this. Consultants are often used, not because board members haven't done their homework, not because they don't know the answer or how to find it, but because they want to distance themselves politically from the decision. They want to be able to say, "we got the best consultants in the business (or best people in the community to serve on our committee), and this is what they advised." This may be made worse still by paying a consultant who is willing to come up with the recommendation the board has already decided upon.

A Little Closing Consultant Comedy

Well, enough of all this heavy discussion. Let's close with some of the stories consultants even tell about themselves.

Consultants, like lawyers, suffer from an abundance of jokes.

A young consultant in a Mercedes pickup truck, dressed in suit and tie, missed his turn and found himself on a dirt backroad in Iowa alongside a field. Spotting the farmer, he decided he'd have some fun while getting directions.

"If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in that field will you give me one?"

"Sure," the farmer replied.

The young man went to work with his laptop, access to a NASA satellite, and offered the answer: "You have exactly 1322 sheep."

"Right, said the farmrer, who opened the gate, and let the young man into the field to select his animal.

Now it was the farmer's turn. "If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my animal?"

"OK, take a guess."

"You're a consultant."

"How'd you know?"

"Simple," replied the farmer. "You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog!"

How do you know you're dealing with a consultant?
When he took you to lunch he asked the waiter to explain the restaurant's "core competencies."

He can spell "paradigm."

He insists on referring to every serious problem in your organization as nothing more than an "improvement opportunity."

When you asked what he did before becoming a consultant he described it as "my sunk cost."

He is able to say "value-added" without laughing.

He refers to his wife as his "co-CEO." She confides to you that he used to refer to their dating as test marketing, he always put executive summaries on his love letters to her, he wanted to do more market research before they had their first child, and now he wants to re-org their family into a "team-based organization."

(Who provided some of the raw material to stimulate the above? Why, consultants of course. DCS Media "Consulting Jokes" and Tom Antion & Associates, "Consulting Humor.")

Want to be able to talk to your consultant? Forbes has contributed its own list of proposed vocabulary for MBA's seeking promotions. It will also be useful for school board members who wish to appear knowledgeable when talking with consultants. It contains such words and phrases as this sampling from Forbes 89: "thrown under the bus," "low-hanging fruit," "next big thing," "best practices," "peel back the onion," "phoned it in," "elephant in the room," "basic blocking and tackling," "our go-to-market," "move the needle," "the deliverable," "gone viral," "square the circle," "cash cow," "synergy," "incentivize," "perfect storm," "at the end of the day," "let's put lipstick on this pig," "results-oriented," "a one-off," "facing some headwinds," "put that in the parking lot," "let's blue sky this," "where the rubber meets the road," "net it out," "creative destruction," "boots on the ground," "paradigm shift," "data-driven," "win-win," and "wrap our heads around." Eric Jackson, "89 Business Cliches That Will Get Any MBA Promoted And Make Them Totally Useless," Forbes, June 19, 2012.

Concluding Remarks

I don't deny that there may have once been some institution, many years ago in a land far away, that actually benefited from consultants. That's certainly possible. But I'm not convinced we're better off with them than we would be if superintendents and board members would bring their own expertise, study, judgment, and political courage to bear to what are, after all, their personal responsibilities.

# # #

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Media as Misinformation

August 4, 2012, 3:55 p.m.
From Ronald Reagan to Rush Limbaugh

The preceding blog entry addressed the impact on a functioning democracy of "what we know that ain't so." "Snopes and 'What We Know That Ain't So," August 2, 2012.

Today's deals with the role of the media in perpetuating misinformation.


Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan was a Hawkeye.

After graduating from the small, Illinois, Eureka College in 1932, Reagan was a UI employee, hired to broadcast home football games at $10 a game.

Having launched his broadcast career in Iowa City, he went from there to Davenport (WOC-AM) and Des Moines (WHO-AM) -- for which he announced Chicago Cubs games, creating fictional accounts of the action on the basis of spare details of the game delivered by telegraph.

He served as California's governor during the late '60s and early '70s [January 2, 1967 – January 6, 1975], following which he returned to, among other things, radio commentary.

Between 1975 and 1979 Reagan wrote (most) and delivered (all) of some 1,000 commentaries dealing with a range of public policy issues. (Sources for preceding paragraphs: "Ronald Reagan,", and Reagan in His Own Voice.)

These were years during which I was traveling the country doing, among other things, an active public lecture business. Listening to local radio as I traveled, Reagan's presence on stations all across the country seemed a matter of some potential political significance.

As it happened, however, none of the stations in the Washington, D.C., area (so far as I was then aware) carried his commentaries. So my warnings to fellow Democrats that this was serious, and cause for a major application of the Fairness Doctrine's opportunity to respond to his comments, fell on deaf ears. Nothing was done. The daily drumbeat of the world according to Reagan was implanted in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, left unaware of alternative perspectives. By November of 1980 he was President of the United States.

Media Matters

After yesterday's blog entry ("Snopes and 'What We Know That Ain't So," August 2, 2012), I found a comment placed there by Trish Nelson. Trish is bright, media attentive, informed, as energized as any media reformer I know, and effective. She is, among a great many other things, the Editor of "Blog for Iowa: The Online Information Resource for Iowa's Progressive Community".

Here is her comment:

Thanks for reminding us about this terrible problem and the negative effects on Democracy. Let's not forget about conservative talk radio. Iowa has 14 stations in every corner of the state that broadcast multiple hours daily of conservative talk. One Iowa station, KILR, broadcasts conservative talk 23 1/2 hours a day leaving a half hour for local news and sports. WHO Radio broadcasts 12 hours a day of conservative talk. Stations in Burlington, Sioux City and other communities broadcast 14-16 hours a day of the same stuff that goes around on the internet. Our publicly owned broadcast airwaves are saturated in Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage's opinions. It's no wonder people believe this stuff.

For sources, more detail and discussion, see Trish Nelson, "Iowa’s Talk Radio Landscape," Blog for Iowa, January 13, 2011.

FCC: From Regulation, to Fairness Doctrine, to Non-Regulation

Although clearly no longer the law, it is interesting to note that stations carrying many of those radio hosts Ms. Nelson mentions could have lost their licenses as the law stood in 1932. Trinity Methodist Church, South v. Federal Radio Com'n, 62 F.2d 850 (D.C. Cir. 1932): "Congress, may . . . refuse a renewal of license to one who has abused it to broadcast defamatory and untrue matter," the court then wrote, upholding the then-Federal Radio Commission's denial a license renewal for Los Angeles station KGEF-AM. 62 F.2nd at 851.

It continued,

[H]e [Dr. Shuler] charged particular judges with sundry immoral acts. He made defamatory statements against the board of health. He charged that the labor temple in Los Angeles was a boot-legging and gambling joint. In none of these matters, when called on to explain or justify his statements, was he able to do more than declare that the statements expressed his own sentiments. On one occasion he announced over the radio that he had certain damaging information against a prominent unnamed man which, unless a contribution (presumably to the church) of a hundred dollars was forthcoming, he would disclose. As a result, he received contributions from several persons. He freely spoke of "pimps" and prostitutes. He alluded slightingly to the Jews as a race, and made frequent and bitter attacks on the Roman Catholic religion and its relations to government. . . .

If it be considered that one . . . may . . . use these [broadcasting] facilities . . . to obstruct the administration of justice, offend the religious susceptibilities of thousands, inspire political distrust and civic discord . . . then this great science, instead of a boon, will become a scourge, and the nation a theater for the display of individual passions and the collision of personal interests. . . . Appellant [Dr. Shuler] may continue to indulge his strictures upon the characters of men in public office. He may just as freely as ever criticize religious practices of which he does not approve. He may even indulge private malice or personal slander — subject, of course, to be required to answer for the abuse thereof — but he may not, as we think, demand, of right, the continued use of an instrumentality of commerce for such purposes, or any other, except in subordination to all reasonable rules and regulations Congress, acting through the Commission, may prescribe. 62 F.2d at 852-53.

The Fairness Doctrine

As I've noted, above, this is no longer the law. What was substituted for it is generally referred to as the "Fairness Doctrine." Report on Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees, 13 F.C.C. 1246 (1949). (And see the earlier, Great Lakes Broadcasting Company, 3 F.R.C. 32 (1929), rev'd on other grounds, 37 F.2d 993 (D.C. Cir. 1930), cert. denied, 281 U.S. 706 (1930), in which the Federal Radio Commission denied a request for license modification because of a station's consistently failing to present a range of points of view.)

The Fairness Doctrine was never significantly intrusive on broadcasters, and was only modestly effective. It required no more than what a professional journalist would be doing anyway, the 60,000 complaints the FCC received each year (when I was there) were "investigated" by a staff of three that traveled in pairs, were first given to the stations to respond to, usually dismissed, and seldom if ever resulted in anything more than a notation in a station's file.

It only required two things. Stations must report on local "controversial issues of public importance," and in doing so refrain from functioning as an unrelieved, one-sided instrument of propaganda. Both were "requirements" of little more than what any professionally responsible -- and profitable -- journalist, or media owner, would do anyway. It did not require any particular subject to be addressed. It did not specify the format to be used. It did not require a presentation of all points of view. It did not require "equal time." It did not require that any specific person be given time on the station.

In 1969 the constitutionally of the Fairness Doctrine was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court in the Red Lion decision. Indeed, when confronted with a claimed right to buy time on broadcast stations, the Court rejected the claim (upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals below, and advocated in my FCC dissent) on grounds that while a diversity of views was desirable, it was the Fairness Doctrine, rather than direct purchase, that provided this diversity. CBS v. Democratic National Comm., 412 U.S. 94 (1973).

The Deregulation

Notwithstanding this policy, and the Court's interpretations, the F.C.C. chose to repeal the Fairness Doctrine -- without, of course, providing for a legal right to buy time for those whose views had been excluded. See, e.g., In the Matter of the Handling of Public Issues Under the Fairness Doctrine and the Public Interest Standards of the Communications Act, 48 F.C.C.2d 1 (F.C.C. 1974); Syracuse Peace Council, 2 F.C.C.R. 5043, 5058 n.2 (1987).

Thus, we have today no check from either Congress, or the Commission, on stations that wish to propagandize, engage in behavior like that of Dr. Shuler in the 1930s, or to provide unrelieved political, even partisan, commentary and criticism from one point of view.

Truth or Consequences

Those who support this state of affairs argue that, what with the Internet, Facebook, blogs and tweets, satellite and cable distribution of "television" programs, newspapers, magazines, and over-the-air stations, Americans have more than enough access to a "diversity" of viewpoints and information.

For news junkies who have that much access, and have reason to use it, the argument has some validity. But for many Americans -- without computers (or the skills to use them); reasonably priced broadband connections (if any); access to public television, NPR and the BBC; home delivery, or library availability, of the New York Times or other major newspapers; or who have a habit, or preference, to listen to only one local radio station -- their steady diet of brain food consists of the intellectual equivalent of salted french fries, loaded with the fat of partisan ideology. It's all they know. As Trish Nelson wrote in her comment, "It's no wonder people believe this stuff."

For a list of what "this stuff" consists of, see "Snopes and 'What We Know That Ain't So," August 2, 2012 -- and the expanded Snopes list, along with Snopes evaluations of the assertions.

Rush Limbaugh

Finally, a brief word about Rush Limbaugh. He is a modest man, as this opening to his show on the EIB ("Excellence in Broadcasting") Network reveals:

Greetings, conversationalists across the fruited plain, this is Rush Limbaugh, the most dangerous man in America, with the largest hypothalamus in North America, serving humanity simply by opening my mouth, destined for my own wing in the Museum of Broadcasting, executing everything I do flawlessly with zero mistakes, doing this show with half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair because I have talent on loan from . . . God. Rush Limbaugh. A man. A legend. A way of life.
Richard Corliss and Daniel S. Levy, "A Man. A Legend. A What!?," Time, September 23, 1991.

For some evaluations of the truthfulness of Limbaugh's assertions, see "Rush Limbaugh,"; "The Way Things Aren't; Rush Limbaugh Debates Reality," Extra! [FAIR], July/August 1994; John K. Wilson, The Most Dangerous Man in America; Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (New York: St. Martins Press, 2011); Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, and Other Observations (New York: Dell, 1996).

Why Media Matters

Do these misrepresentations, this media-distributed misinformation, matter? According to, "Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War," [The PIPA/Knowledge Networks Poll, The American Public on International Issues] October 2, 2003, they do. With regard to the Iraq War, Americans were misinformed regarding Saddam Hussein's personal involvement in 9/11, Al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, the discovery of weapons of mass destruction, and the extent to which world public opinion supported the U.S. intervention.

Moreover, "The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions. Those who receive most of their news from NPR or PBS are less likely to have misperceptions. These variations cannot simply be explained as a result of differences in the demographic characteristics of each audience, because these variations can also be found when comparing the demographic subgroups of each audience." Id., p. 12.

The percentage differences were stark. Some 80% of those who watched Fox had one or more misperceptions regarding "Evidence of al-Qaeda Links, WMD Found, or World Public Opinion." There were also PBS/NPR viewers and listeners who held misperceptions. Fans of the networks should take note of how many there were. But for our purposes at the moment, at 23% they compared well with Fox's 80%.

The fact is television, and to a lesser degree radio, do change our base of information, our opinions, and our beliefs. That's why corporations engaged in consumer marketing spend $200 billion on advertising. That's why political candidates' support decreases after a barrage of "negative" commercials. It works.

It also works to create a democratic nation of citizens who must struggle to overcome "what we know that ain't so."

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