University of Iowa Gives Athletics $50 million ‘Loan’

Vanessa Miller for The Gazette:

Given tens of millions in losses the University of Iowa Department of Athletics is absorbing from COVID-19’s devastating impact, outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld has agreed to permanently end an earlier deal requiring athletics to contribute $2 million a year in direct support to the main campus.

Additionally, the UI main campus — facing budget cuts and tens of millions in pandemic-propelled losses of its own — is nonetheless shipping $50 million to the typically self-sustaining athletics department this budget year.

The University of Iowa’s self-sustaining athletics department has an endowed head football coach who has long been the highest paid public employee in the state.

Our Great Reopening is Stressful AF for Some of  Us

Matt Richtel reporting for The New York Times:

When the pandemic narrowed the world, Jonathan Hirshon stopped traveling, eating out, going to cocktail parties and commuting to the office.

What a relief.

Unlike Hirshon, I’m not diagnosed with anxiety, let alone severe social anxiety, but, despite the stress of the pandemic, I’ve found comfort in my introversion and staying home.

My ideal pre-pandemic weekend was, well, staying home. I hope very much to hold on to that as much as I can, and get anxious AF when I think about what returning to the wider world.

A Reporter Arrested while Covering a Protest Faces Trial Monday. Here’s Why You Should Care.

Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of USA Today:

Over the summer, six USA Today Network journalists were taken into police custody while doing their jobs, reporting from various racial justice protests. Three were jailed. They yelled, “I’m press, I’m press,” as they were tackled. Forced to the ground. Pepper sprayed. Handcuffed.

One of them, Andrea Sahouri, is going to trial Monday. The Des Moines Register reporter, eyes still burning from pepper spray, spoke about her arrest on video as she sat in the back of the police van last May. […]

“It’s clearly sending a signal, whether it’s intentional or not, to other reporters,” Ardia said. “Don’t cover protests in Des Moines.”

Iowa Told Counties 8 Minutes Before Expanding Vaccine Access by 1 Million People

Ethan Stein reporting for KCRG:

An email KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit received shows the Iowa Department of Public Health only alerted county health departments it was expanding eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccinations 8-minutes before the announcement was made.

Iowa’s response has been, um, chaotic. Much of the work has fallen to underfunded, “exhausted” county public health departments to deal with shifting requirements, mandates and policies.

An Oral History of the Indoor Rainforest Iowa Almost Built

Peter Rugg writing for Inverse:

Picture this:

A glass dome a sixth of a mile long and 20 stories tall buffers a lush canopy against the windswept winters. Beneath it free-roaming bonobos, toucans, sloths, and piranha, shanghaied from the jungles of Central and South America, form a free-wheeling menagerie among ferns and vines and hundred-foot-tall-trees reaching towards the expansive sky.

That is what Townsend wanted, what some big thinkers back east wanted, and what the U.S. Senate thought might be crazy enough to work.

I think about this oral history of the Iowa Child Project’s proposed rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, which was a thing while I was finishing high school and into my college years and was planned for what is now Xtreme Arena and the Iowa River Landing, surprisingly often.

A Cynical Change in Accounting

Last week, on a Friday of course, Iowa changed the way it counts COVID-19 cases, suddenly adding 27,398 confirmed positives. It was a significant jump, representing more than 7 percent of total positives in the state.

And while it looked really bad — leading to games of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web — this wasn’t another case of poor pandemic management, at least directly, even though it felt like it fit that narrative. (I shared, and then deleted, social media posts of my own.)

Cynically, it was a shrewd move.

To be sure, the change was completely defensible: an overdue adjustment bringing Iowa into line with the the CDC’s method of calculating positivity rate. Who could argue with that?

But it was set against the backdrop of Gov. Kim Reynold’s equally sudden decision to drop almost all required mitigation two weeks prior, and a new mandate that schools open to face-to-face learning five days a week that had just started earlier that week.

These changes, which seem to have been made without even bothering to pretend to check in with the state’s public health experts, were widely criticized on, again, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web.

But this new accounting change was a perfect cover to the policy changes. How can you critique the immediate, sudden rise in case counts when its obviously and admittedly not representative of reality?

But what’s the point of all this “data and metrics” if they don’t actually reflect reality? If they don’t allow you to assess the impact of your policies? (Look, we know the answer and it’s not reassuring.)

This change in accounting, dressed up as the one thing Iowa is doing aligned with the CDC, offers an easy way to dismiss and discredit any complaints that Iowa will just add to its pile of 5,400 dead.

Gov. Reynolds Regrets Shutting Down Schools

KWWL anchor Ron Steele:

When asked if there was something she wished she hadn’t done during the pandemic, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds replied, “I would not have shut schools down. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that.” Governor Reynolds made the comments Friday in her office, as part of an interview

It’s hard to look back nearly a year and remember how little we knew about the pandemic, how it worked and who it would impact. Leaders wishing they’d made different choices is understandable.

It’s valid to regret the decision to close schools, realizing the impact to had on families and students, thinking about the vital role they play in our communities and in our social support system.

We could have — and should have — prioritized schools. No one opposes safely opening schools.

But you only get one top priority. And this governor’s pandemic response has failed to ask for scarifies — besides illness and death — for her priorities.

Destroying the Economic Engine to Own the Libs

Iowa loves the Hawkeyes. Their games are played across the state on TV and radio for tailgates, at small-town bars and restaurants and in the cabs of combines.

The trouble is much of our state seems to hate the University of Iowa.1

The University of Iowa, along side its sibling institutions in Ames and Cedar Falls, is a huge economic engine for the state. Each year, these public schools are and being responsible for billions — $11.8 billion in the most recent study — plus employment for 1 in 14 Iowans. In the midst of a pandemic the University of Iowa’s healthcare system has been a backstop for the state.

It’s easy to cheer Luka Garza’s dominance, or aw-shucks another football loss to Northwestern, but that it’s-great-to-be-a-Hawkeye energy doesn’t prevent the plenty of animosity towards the parent institution.

I guess it’s hard to root for a university epidemiologist critical of the state’s COVID response. Or a tenured performance artist who dresses up as a robot to hassle elected officials. Or a law professor who’s so pissed about Republican extremism she gets elected to the state legislature.2

And so, year after year, politicians gather in Des Moines to pass laws, or at least to file messaging bills, just out of spite towards Iowa City and Johnson County, the liberal bastion that benefits the most directly from the institution. Banning a ban on housing discrimination. Forcing a lower minimum wage. Even banning bans on goddamn plastic bags

But direct assaults on the University of Iowa have been mostly limited to big GOP donors having install university presidents in questionable proceedings.

Until this year.

Now the Republican-led legislature advanced a slew of bills meant simply to punish the University of Iowa and its sibling institutions.

That this is all nose-despite-your-face bad policy is obvious — not a single lobbyist has registered in support and plenty have registered opposed. But good policy isn’t the point. The point, in a state that was once so proud of its commitment to public education, is simple: to hollow out the University of Iowa and own the Iowa City libs. 

It’s great to be a Hawkeye. It just sucks to be the University of Iowa. 

1 | John Deeth often writes about the local issue of “Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students,” which I think is a different, though perhaps related, issue than what I’m writing about here.

2 | The closest the actual Hawkeyes seem to have come is kneeling during the national anthem, which was enough for the Trump-loving, long-time equipment hauler to, um, suddenly part ways with the team.

State Agency Seeks to Block State Auditor from Auditing $1.2 Billion Deal

William Morris reporting for the Des Moines Register:

At issue is a deal announced in December 2019 awarding two French companies a 50-year contract to operate the University of Iowa’s utility system. University of Iowa Energy Collaborative Holdings LLC, a joint venture of global energy company ENGIE and asset manager Meridiam, paid the school $1.165 billion up front, the majority of which the school is investing in an endowment. In return, the university will pay the companies a yearly fee starting at $35 million that after five years will increase by 1.5% annually.

While this story calls this — the so-called P3 — a deal to operate the University of Iowa’s utilities, it’s much closer to a equity loan: the university gets a chunk of cash up front and pays back an escalating set amount each year; though university utilities employees are now employed by University of Iowa Energy Collaborative Holdings LLC, a joint venture of global energy company ENGIE and asset manager Meridiam, the university is still also on the hook for many of the costs associated with running the plant.

Anyway, after some sleepy years under Mary Mosiman, the Iowa State Auditor’s office is doing good work under Rob Sand (the best thing folks could say for Mosiman was she was a CPA unlike Sand, who, um…has his own watchdog credentials).

Can you imagine working for a state agency and believing you had the right to secret meetings and records? Oh, I guess that’s a thing now.

Fighting Over Scraps

Soon, many Americans will hit the one-year anniversary of spending time at home for work, school and what counts these days as play. Once the novelty and bizarro camaraderie of being home all the time wore off, lots of reasonable people were left with existential dread, illness and a whole lot of anger.

Anger at businesses reopening or building shelters around outdoor tables or not immediately disclosing COVID-positive employees. Anger at schools for staying online or for universities bringing students back to town. Anger at venues for hosting events. And so much anger about masks: wanting people to wear them, having to tell people to wear them, and that months into the pandemic people still needed to be told to wear them over their goddamn noses.

I’ve been angry, including a lot of anger about those who aren’t living up to my expectations of pandemic-safe behavior.

And I’ve heard from good, reasonable people who are angry that I’m angry. They are, after all, working to follow all the guidance they’re getting from public health officials.

How they hell are any of us to know what the hell we’re supposed to be doing or allowing or avoiding? None of us are epidemiologists.

Our governor and state legislators aren’t epidemiologists, either. Nor are our school board members, teachers or school superintendents. And, yet, two weeks from now, our schools will be required to offer five-day in-person classes because non-epidemiologist state politicians have the power to tell non-epidemiologist school boards and administrators that they have to, but they’re also doing it because non-epidemiologist parents are understandably angry that non-epidemiologist school boards and administrators are listening when actual epidemiologists tell them they don’t believe its safe.

This anger, my own included, has often been misdirected. From the very beginning, we’ve been left to be angry about what people are choosing from a menu of bad options: reopen a restaurant at the risk of staff and patrons or put the business and jobs at immediate risk? Try to hold events or tournaments with some risk mitigation or believe that folks are going to do some of this anyway but without any guidance? Get kids into the supported environment of schools at the risk of teacher’s health or force caregivers — disproportionately women — out of the workforce or try to work around school schedules?

All the choices suck. And it makes us angry.

And so we keep getting angry because we’re all worn out. We’re stuck fighting over scraps of normalcy.

Public health crises demand public policy solutions, and our we need real leadership from our federal and state leaders. Leadership means being willing to make hard choices and willing to tell hard truths. Instead, our leaders have continued to too often take the the side of ill-informed anger and frustration and entitlement, squandering so much time and money and trust.

So here we are, with 4,000 people dying every day from COVID-19, racing towards a death toll of 500,000. Angry that we only have bad choices, and fighting over the scraps.