Monthly Archives: November 2011

Urban Meyer and Ohio State: Questions About Money and Ethics

Let’s hope there is a clause in Urban Meyer’s $4 million a year head football coaching contract at Ohio State that requires ethical and legal conduct. Said another way: Wouldn’t it be great if the same standards of conduct expected of university faculty and staff applied to football and basketball coaches and others who spend much of their careers wearing shorts with a whistle around their necks?

We’ll see. Clearly Meyer needs to win football games, but he also needs to clean up the mess left by Jim Tressel. If he manages to do that while restoring some integrity to Ohio State and Ohio State football, then good for him.

Yet I still believe that at a time when money is tight at most universities for education-related expenses and students are taking on more and more debt to attend classes it’s hard to justify the emphasis placed on sports and the excessive compensation packages given to coaches at the football and basketball factories.

One of the issues worth considering these days is the growing salary gap in businesses between those at the top and those anywhere else, from middle to bottom. Anyone share a similar concern about the gap between what Meyer will make at OSU  (and his counterparts elsewhere) and let’s say a classroom instructor at any public university (or in any public K-12 school district, for that matter) in Ohio?

OK. I know that successful football and basketball programs bring in big bucks from alumni and generate brand recognition that extends to student and faculty recruitment. And admittedly, it’s a rare Saturday afternoon in the fall when 100,000-plus will show up for a lecture on let’s say the principles of public relations.

Yet here’s an interesting NYT article that highlights some of the issues with Meyer’s contract and with college football in general these days, “For New Coach at Ohio State, It’s First Down and $4 Million.”

Ohio State University hired Urban Meyer as its football coach Monday, giving him one of the richest contracts ever in college sports — the latest indication that the big business of college football is undeterred by the nation’s broader economic woes or by concern about the prominence of sports on campus.

The contract includes $4 million in base salary, bonuses — for everything from players’ graduation rates to playing in a national championship, up to $700,000 annually — and lump payments in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The deal is worth more than three times the $1.32 million that the university’s president, E. Gordon Gee, made in 2010, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mr. Meyer and Ohio State reached the lucrative deal amid a chaotic year in college athletics. The University of Miami was rocked by a report that a donor lavished football players with gifts for years; and longtime assistants for the Penn State football and Syracuse men’s basketball teams are facing allegations that they sexually abused young boys. Several other prominent programs are being investigated by college athletics’ governing body, the N.C.A.A., for myriad violations.

Even the Buckeyes await potential N.C.A.A. sanctions because players traded memorabilia for cash and tattoos, which led to the ouster of Jim Tressel as their coach six months ago.

Still, the college football arms race shows no signs of slowing. To replace Mr. Tressel, Ohio State will invest at least $26.65 million over six years in Mr. Meyer, 47, who won two national championships at Florida. That will include an annual automobile stipend, a golf club membership, 50 hours of private jet use and 12 tickets to each home game.

“It’s symbolic of the condition we’re in,” said William C. Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina system from 1956 to 1986. “There’s an unrestrained salary march, where universities are trying to superimpose an entertainment industry on an academic structure. Any salary in that range is excessive.”

Even Mr. Gee, the university president who hired Mr. Meyer on Monday, has described the system as broken. In an interview with The New York Times in August, he said: “College athletics has gotten beyond itself. Do I think it’s broken? Yes.”

On Monday, Mr. Gee called Mr. Meyer’s contract “a mark of our dignity and nobility.”

“I’m not certain I’ve ever made as much as a football coach,” Mr. Gee said in a telephone interview. “We live in a world of markets and opportunities. A number of surgeons here make more than I do. I’m about having the best physics faculty, the best medical school faculty and the best football coach.”

OK. Fair enough. But let’s suggest to Prez Gee that it might be in the best interest of Ohio State and everyone connected to the university if Meyer turns out to be not just “the best football coach,” but also the most ethical one.

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Caller ID: Who’s on the Line?

There are a number of joys about being in Hilton Head this time of the year. The temps are mild, the beaches are nearly empty, and I can enjoy happy hour every day from a balcony that provides an unobstructed view of the ocean.

Gee, in this setting it’s tough to get my shorts in a knot over the super fail of the congressional supercommittee — or fret about the next exercise in government gridlock as our federal elected officials begin the navel-gazing this week about whether to extend the “payroll holiday” that cuts the amount of Social Security tax.

According to a NYT article: “A one-year extension would cost more than $110 billion, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. Senate Democrats want to offset the cost by increasing the tax on income over $1 million a year.”

Well, good luck with that.

So, back to happy hour. Another joy of being in Hilton Head is that I am able to escape the daily flood of annoying calls from telemarketers and other miscreants. I know. I should just end the service for my land line at home. Hey, I don’t receive any personal phone calls (or snail mail letters) these days? Does anyone?  But I haven’t been able to pull the plug as yet.

Yet I might, especially since telemarketers are becoming more unethical in how they get people to actually pick up the phone. Anytime my phone rings I first check the caller ID. But that might not be all that helpful these days.

Here’s from a NYT article “Who’s on the Line? Increasingly Caller ID Is Duped“:

Caller ID has been celebrated as a defense against unwelcome phone pitches. But it is backfiring.

Telemarketers increasingly are disguising their real identities and phone numbers to provoke people to pick up the phone. “Humane Soc.” may not be the Humane Society. And think the I.R.S. is on the line? Think again.

Caller ID, in other words, is becoming fake ID.

“You don’t know who is on the other end of the line, no matter what your caller ID might say,” said Sandy Chalmers, a division manager at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in Wisconsin.

Starting this summer, she said, the state has been warning consumers: “Do not trust your caller ID. And if you pick up the phone and someone asks for your personal information, hang up.”

Regulators in Wisconsin and many other states are hearing a significant jump in complaints about what is often called “caller ID spoofing” or “call laundering.”

The rise of such tactics has prompted the Federal Trade Commission, which already prohibits telemarketers from masking their identity, to consider new rules. And last year, the Federal Communications Commission introduced rules to strengthen enforcement against the practice, and law enforcement officials in many states are working on other ways to combat it.

OK. The sun is coming up over the ocean and I’m about to head out the door for my daily five-mile run.

Then I’ll look forward to happy hour — without any distracting phone calls.

Black Friday: Better Bring Your Pepper Spray

OK. Full disclosure. It’s unlikely that I’ll get into a queue these days for much of anything, especially for a product or service I can order via the Internet. So don’t expect to find me participating in Black Friday — the shopping equivalent in the USA that mirrors the Running of the Bulls in Pamploma, if the runners there were waving credit cards and carrying big-screen TVs.

And, thank you very much, but if I’m going to be pepper-sprayed I prefer it to happen while sitting with students and faculty at the University of California Davis or similar venue and not standing outside a Wal-Mart. Here’s from an article in the LA Times, “Wal-Mart customer in Porter Ranch pepper sprays other shoppers; 20 hurt“:

At least 20 people suffered minor injuries Thursday night inside a crowded Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch after a female customer used pepper spray on other shoppers attending a Black Friday sale.

At least seven people were examined after being hit with the pepper spray. The 10:10 p.m. incident forced employees to evacuate part of the store, police said.

“This was customer versus customer ‘shopping rage,’ ” said Los Angeles Police Lt. Abel Parga.

He said police were seeking a female suspect. Parga added that it was unclear what prompted the confrontation.

Fire officials said they were treating about 10 people with minor injuries at the store, which is on Rinaldi Street near Corbin Avenue in the San Fernando Valley.

Shawn Lenske, a Los Angeles fire spokesman, said the injuries, all minor, were due to “rapid crowd movement.”

No arrests have been made.

Oh, boy.

Still, for many, shopping on Black Friday has become as much a part of the Thanksgiving tradition as pumpkin pie. Here’s from WaPo, “New research reveals the reasons we shop on Black Friday“:

The National Retail Federation estimates 152 million people will shop between Friday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, up from the 138 million last year. That means nearly half of Americans will lose sleep, crush into stores and wait in eternal lines in order to take part in holiday shopping. But far from being mass synchronized temporary insanity, the Black Friday ritual has distinct psychological underpinnings.

Sigh. I believe my world is becoming smaller and smaller. Who wouldn’t want to “lose sleep, crush into stores and wait in eternal lines” to save a few bucks?

But what if the best deals are available not on Black Friday but later in the holiday shopping season?

Here’s from the NYT, “Friday’s Deals May Not Be the Best“:

Oren Etzioni writes articles about artificial intelligence for scholarly journals, is a renowned expert on data mining and gained fame when Microsoft paid $115 million for Farecast, an airline-ticket price predictor he founded.

Now, Professor Etzioni, who teaches computer science at the University of Washington, has directed his considerable intellect at the American ritual of shopping for bargains on Black Friday. After examining billions of prices of consumer electronics, he has decided to spend the busiest shopping day of the year scuba-diving in Bali.

Why? It is not until early December, Professor Etzioni’s research shows, that prices are likely to be the lowest for electronics, products that are among the biggest sellers on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“The bottom line is, Black Friday is for the retailers to go from the red into the black,” he said. “It’s not really for people to get great deals on the most popular products.”

What the professor has determined with a complex computer algorithm for consumer electronics, others have found through less scientifically rigorous means for other products, including clothing and toys: despite all the ads that suggest otherwise, the lowest prices tend to come at other times of the year.

In the case of toys, stores actually offer the steepest discounts in the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving because they want to unload the inventory not swept up on Black Friday, said Dan de Grandpre, who has tracked deals for 15 years at Dealnews.com.

For those of you shopping today, remember to follow the advice of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

And just so you don’t think that I’m sitting here in South Carolina doing nothing but munching on turkey and drinking Jameson, here’s a report and photos of Thursday’s Piggly Wiggly 10K in Hilton Head from my daughter, Jessica, on her blog: budajest.

Thanksgiving: How To Stuff Yourself

OK. I’m in South Carolina where the living is easy, but Internet and cell phone access is iffy. Wonder if that’s one of the reasons why the living is easy? Just a thought. In any event, I’m preparing myself this early a.m. both mentally and physically for Thanksgiving.

It’s my favorite holiday. All I have to do is eat — and try not to make too big of an ass of myself as the rounds of Jameson and wine loosen my tongue. Note to self: Avoid all talk of Congress, the failed supercommittee, the inability to come up with a plan to get America working again, and MLB’s designated hitter rule. But be prepared to offer some pithy commentary on the latest in the Kim Kardashian wedding debacle.

And unless you work for one of the retailers that now believe that Black Friday begins as early on Thursday as possible, I expect like me you’ll stuff yourself with turkey and other goodies on a day according to a NYT article that is “essentially a state-sponsored, socially acceptable binge with predictable, almost universal results: bloated bellies, wider waistlines and outgunned couches.”

Ah. Life is good. I digress.

Here’s from the article, “Prepare to Indulge“:

ASK Crazy Legs Conti, a professional eater, what he thinks of your average Thanksgiving feaster, and you can almost hear him choke.

“I call Thanksgiving ‘amateur hour,’ ” said Mr. Conti, 40, who weighs 215 pounds and is the nation’s reigning sweet-corn-eating champion. “Not to disparage: I want them to enjoy it, I want them to enjoy their meal. But the truth is, I watch every morsel of food I put in my body year round.”

That may be rich coming from a man who recently devoured 115 shrimp wontons in 8 minutes at a competition in Singapore. (He lost.) But there is a kernel of truth in Mr. Conti’s pride in controlling his appetites.

Many of us are, in fact, rookies around Thanksgiving, which is essentially a state-sponsored, socially acceptable binge with predictable, almost universal results: bloated bellies, wider waistlines and outgunned couches.

So how can you avoid the agony of overeating while still enjoying the stuffing? Can you actually prepare for overindulgence, so that third helping of yams doesn’t lay you out flat? And what do you do when you inevitably eat too much anyway?

First, the bad news. While specialists say handling a big meal is easy for them (“I can look at a turkey the way that a Terminator looks at something: I can scan it,” Mr. Conti said), there’s really no easy way for the rest of us to prepare our bodies for gluttony. Fasting the day before Thanksgiving, for example, doesn’t work. It might make room in your stomach, but it also increases your appetite to the point where gorging is all but inevitable.

O.K., but can you train to get your gullet ready for the battle? Maybe, but you should have started long before today.

Dr. Lawrence R. Kosinski, a committee chairman of the American Gastroenterological Association and a private practitioner in the Chicago area, said that if you really wanted to, you could stretch your stomach’s capacity (normally about a quart and a half) by consistently overeating. But that would take a lot of food and time.

“You really can’t do it over a couple of days,” Dr. Kosinski said.

That being said, there are ways to survive the intestinal onslaught, most of which, like any good disaster plan, involve preparation, containment of the damage and the strength to rebuild.

Doctors, psychologists and experts in overeating all say that mental preparation is crucial to creating willpower, which can be hard to come by when you are suddenly staring down that perfect triple-layered chocolate-dipped cheesecake. With whip.

“Venues that are typically food-free zones light up like pinball machines around the holidays,” said Cynthia Bulik, a clinical psychologist and the director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program.

Ms. Bulik says that as bad as the feeling of being overfull can be, the guilt over those trips to the pie table can last far longer. “It’s not just the pounds,” she said. “It is the self-pounding that people put themselves through for having that extra dessert or taking that second helping of stuffing.” (Or third. Or fourth. Or … .)

Oh, boy.

I’m planning to start my holiday by running the Piggly Wiggly 10K in Hilton Head. Then I’ll stuff myself with a clear conscience.

Hope you enjoy the holiday.

Supercommittee: Super Fail

Wow. The Chattering Class is all worked up this morning about the apparent inability of the members of the so-called Congressional supercommittee to actually agree on anything. As I was chasing the treadmill belt this early a.m., no matter what TV station I went to the story was basically the same: Republicans and Democrats pointing the finger of blame.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. But it doesn’t surprise me that the supercommittee has failed. It surprises me that anyone thought it would succeed. And really. Congress and the Prez shamefully punted by giving the ball to this small group in the first place.

So now what?

In theory, there will be $1.2 trillion in mandated spending cuts to defense and other programs that kick in in 2013. LOL. Congress will work most of next year making sure that doesn’t happen.

And what about the issues of unemployment and growing our economy? Can we really wait until late January 2013 to do something — and even that date means nothing if we end up with another split Congress.

So while most Americans are figuring how to get into the queue on Black Friday to boost the economy, consider the business of Washington and how it works:

Policy wonks identify a problem (real or imagined) and conduct research…public and private policy groups hold meetings to explore the issues…the Chattering Class takes sides via traditional and social media…lobbyists press for their positions…Congress holds meetings and conducts hearings and sends out trial balloons…fail.

Repeat.

So it goes.

 

Occupy Wall Street: To What End?

I’ve opined previously in this space that the Occupy Wall Street protesters in NYC and elsewhere should just declare victory and go home. I still believe that is the correct strategy, and they should pack it in before the situation gets ugly with more arrests and violence. As that happens any positive message will get buried by the TV images.

Of course, I many times miss the big picture. And perhaps that’s why I’m sitting here early a.m. as a pajama-clad citizen journalist while pundits like Eugene Robinson use their national media megaphones to share different views.

Here’s from Robinson’s article in WaPo this morning, “Occupy: Out of Zuccotti Park and into the streets“:

Occupy Wall Street may not occupy Zuccotti Park anymore, but it refuses to surrender its place in the national discourse. Up close, you get the sense that the movement may have only just begun.

Demonstrators staged a “day of action” Thursday, following the eviction of their two-month-old encampment this week. The idea was, well, to occupy Wall Street in a literal sense — to shut down the financial district, at least during the morning rush hour.

For the most part, it didn’t work. Entrances to some subway stations were blocked for a while, and traffic was more of a mess than usual. But police turned out in force, erecting barricades that kept protesters from getting anywhere near their main target, the New York Stock Exchange. Captains of commerce may have been hassled and inconvenienced, but they weren’t thwarted.

There was some pushing and shoving, resulting in a few dozen arrests. Coordinated “day of action” protests were held in other cities. They did not change the world.

A big failure? No, quite the opposite.

Lower Manhattan was swarming not just with demonstrators and police but with journalists from around the world — and with tourists who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A small, nonviolent protest had been amplified into something much bigger and more compelling, not by the strength of its numbers but by the power of its central idea.

There is a central idea, by the way: Our financial system has been warped to serve the interests of a privileged few at the expense of everyone else.

Is this true? I believe the evidence suggests that it is. Others might disagree. The important thing is that because of the activism of the Occupy Wall Street protests — however naive, however all-over-the-map — issues of unfairness and inequality are being discussed.

This is a conversation we haven’t been having for the past 30 years. For politicians — and those who pay lavishly to fund their campaigns — the discussion is destabilizing because it does not respect traditional alignments. For example, white working-class voters are supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies such as affirmative action and gun control. They’re not supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea of relief on underwater mortgages.

Ah, good. I’m all for the conversation and I agree that the demonstrations have focused attention on some big issues in this country. But that conversation is about to be lost on the streets. Better to figure out some way now to be heard where it matters: at the ballot box.

And I know we are sliding into the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday so many will actually be trying to work today instead of wiling away the hours on Facebook, Twitter and so on. So in case you missed this, here’s a good news story.

Mila Kunis is going to keep her date with Sgt. Scott Moore and attend the Marine Corps Ball in Greenville, N.C.  Justin Timberlake kept his promise and attended a similar event a few days ago.

I know these dates were originally organized as publicity stunts when Kunis and Timberlake were promoting their flick “Friends With Benefits.”

But I like the idea that the two of them are recognizing in some small way the heroism and the sacrifices our men and women in the military make on behalf of all of us.

Enjoy the weekend.

Third Parties, Super Committees and Occupy Franco

I spent yesterday visiting my mom and dad in Pittsburgh and touring the Carnegie Science Center, which is nestled in a location on the North Side near Heinz Field and PNC Park. So what’s that have to do with Franco Harris, the legendary Steelers’ running back who orchestrated the greatest play in sports history, the Immaculate Reception.

It appears that Franco got the boot yesterday after his employer at a local race track and gambling casino said he fumbled some remarks in defense of Joe Paterno. Franco played for JoePa at Penn State. Here’s from USA Today:

Harris played for Paterno from 1969-71 before a Hall of Fame career with the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks.

Last week, he questioned the school’s decision to fire Paterno amid a sex abuse scandal involving former coach Jerry Sandusky. Paterno has been criticized for failure to be more aggressive in reporting Sandusky’s alleged crimes.

“I feel that the board made a bad decision in letting Joe Paterno go,” Harris said. “I’m very disappointed in their decision. I thought they showed no courage, not to back someone who really needed it at the time. They were saying the football program under Joe was at fault.”

Good grief. Readers of this blog should know where I stand on Joe Paterno and the scandal and apparent cover-up involving Penn State. But c’mon. Unless you are directly involved in this debacle, it seems a bit of a stretch to me that anyone would lose his or her job for expressing an opinion one way or another about Joe Paterno. Maybe there needs to be an Occupy Franco gathering at the race track. Terrible Towels anyone?

Anyway, back in the real world.

Is anybody by the Inside the Beltway Chattering Class paying any attention to the progress — or lack of same — on the part of the so-called Congressional super committee. Next week the clock strikes twelve on the deadline to reach an agreement — or not. And I believe it is a sad commentary on government and leadership in this country that (1) Congress abdicated its responsibility to govern by passing the ball to this small group, (2) the negotiations of the super committee have been held essentially in private, with apparently only the K Street lobbyists privy to what’s being proposed and discussed, and (3) it doesn’t appear that the 12 committee members can reach any agreement.

So in this environment of gridlock and apparent unwillingness to do anything that might jeopardize political careers, I wonder why there isn’t more of a push in this country for a third political party, or more? Here’s an interesting story on NPR, “Political Climate Ripe For A Third-Party Prospect“:

Voter dissatisfaction with both parties is at an all-time high — and voters’ trust in Washington is at an all-time low.

This is the kind of political climate that is welcoming for an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans.

Pollster Stan Greenberg worked for Bill Clinton in 1992, when third-party candidate Ross Perot roiled the race. If it happened back then, Greenberg says, it can happen again next year.

“I can’t imagine that with 85 percent of the country thinking we’re on the wrong track that there won’t be a third-party candidate,” he says. “There has to be. There’s too much opportunity, too much anger with politics.”

The message of the last three elections is clear: Voters are in an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington and now anti-Wall Street mood. Former Republican Rep. Tom Davis says voters see the system as rigged.

“They look at the political system as absolutely broken,” Davis says. “This is expressed by the fact that today the fastest-growing element in the electorate are independents. Voters given the opportunity to cast a protest, or to go a certain way — I don’t think it has been riper for that in probably a generation.”

There already is an organization, called Americans Elect, trying to make sure voters get that opportunity.

The group’s chief executive, Kahlil Byrd, says they’re already on the ballot in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Nevada.

“Currently, California officials are counting 1.6 million signatures — and we expect to be on the ballot in California by mid-December,” he says.

Americans Elect is backed by wealthy investors, and it will have the $20 million to $30 million it takes to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Then, next June, it will hold an online convention, where participants can draft an independent ticket for president.

Theoretically, anyone could emerge. But Americans Elect seems to be looking for fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidates — think Grand Bargain instead of Grand Old Party.

Columnist and former Clinton administration official Matt Miller doesn’t think either party is telling Americans the truth about what needs to be done to solve the country’s problems. He’s a fan of Americans Elect — and he’s drafted a stump speech for what he hopes will be a radically centrist third-party candidate.

“How’s this for something different?” the speech reads. “I want to raise your taxes, cut spending on programs you like, and force you to rethink how we run our schools, banks, armies, hospitals and elections.”

A third-party candidate probably couldn’t win the election. But in the past, they’ve often had an impact on the race — particularly in a close race, as the early polling suggests 2012 will be.

In the last three races where there’s been a prominent third candidate, the incumbent or his party lost. In 1980, Jimmy Carter had John Andersen; in 1992, George H.W. Bush had Ross Perot; and in 2000, Al Gore had Ralph Nader. Republican strategist Ed Rogers wishes the same for President Obama next year.

“I wish somebody good and credible from the left would wander into the race and scramble the numbers in a few key states — Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — for Obama. Some sort of labor purist or eco-fanatic or something,” says Rogers. “Yeah, I’d be for that.”

That’s exactly what keeps Democrats up at night. But Rogers worries about a challenge from the right — and it doesn’t even have to be a national candidate.

“As an example: An anti-immigration candidate with some organization and some money on the ballot in Colorado and Arizona and New Mexico — it got 3 to 5 percent of the vote, [and] you have Obama win with 46 percent or less,” he says. “You know, an angry Tea Party purist that just wants to rage against the machine — look out. That could be real trouble.”

But until an actual third-party ticket emerges, it’s impossible for political professionals to game out who it would hurt — Obama or the Republican candidate.

“With absolute certainty, there’s going to be a third-party candidate,” says pollster Greenberg. “And with absolute certainty, we have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Nothing about this election, Greenberg predicts, is going to follow a predictable path.

Hey, maybe somebody like Ron Paul, Michele Bachman or Michael Bloomberg should line up against the Democrats and Republicans in November 2012 and just toss a long Hail Mary pass and see what happens.

Hey, it worked for Franco and the Steelers.