In 2009, when Ohio voters approved the constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling in our state, it was sold as a way to create jobs — and at least that promise is being kept. Two years later, the economy still stinks, and former construction workers, machinists, and medical billing technicians who have been out of work for months are so desperate that they have flooded a not-yet-open casino with applications and even taken classes in hopes of improving their slim chances of landing a job dealing blackjack. In my view, that painful reality says a lot more about the true extent of our economic problems than cold statistics ever could.
Institutions of higher learning used to presume to occupy the moral high ground. More and more, however, those institutions behave like businesses and are facing the same kinds of scandals we see in the business world. What do such scandals mean for a school’s ability to achieve its educational mission? How is a law school that admits to falsifying data supposed to enforce an honor code, or credibly instruct students about legal ethics?
Saturday night, the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team plays its first conference game as a member of the Big Ten. When the ball is kicked off and that game begins, the long-awaited expansion of the Big Ten becomes a reality.
Fittingly, Nebraska’s first game is also a big game, and one that should give them a proper Big Ten welcome. The undefeated, eighth-ranked Huskers travel to Camp Randall Stadium to take on the unbeaten Wisconsin Badgers, who sit at number 7 in the polls. For a visiting team, Camp Randall is one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, with the distinctive traditions found in many Big Ten stadiums. Nebraska will have to endure the taunts of the Wisconsin faithful and then, when the third quarter ends, feel the field shake when the stadium rocks and the student section hops to House of Pain’s Jump Around.
It’s hard to predict what will happen in this game. Wisconsin has pulverized its opponents, but it really hasn’t played anybody with a pulse yet. (C’mon, Wisconsin — it’s time to start scheduling some more competitive out of conference games. South Dakota? Really?) Nebraska has beaten marginally better teams, but has given up a lot of points. Given the caliber of the opponents, there’s no way of telling how tough these teams are. Saturday’s game will give us a tentative answer to that question.
As a long time Big Ten fan, I’ll probably be rooting for Wisconsin to win. Although I welcome Nebraska to the party, I want the Cornhuskers to understand that they’ve joined a tough, hard-nosed conference with more tradition than any other. A hard-fought loss in their first conference game seems like a very good way to send that message.
Don’t look now, but states are jockeying to move up the dates of their primaries, caucuses, and other electoral contrivances. Florida has indicated that it is going to move its primary to January 31. If it does so, expect South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Iowa to follow suit, so they can maintain their current positions in the presidential pecking order. Such a result could mean the Iowa caucuses happen on January 9, 2012. Happy New Year! It’s time to vote!
It’s silly to be voting in January, 10 months before the actual election. No rational person would want to front-load the process because it increases the risk that a flukey candidate might get on a roll and knock everyone out of the race, only to be exposed months later as a hapless lightweight who isn’t ready for prime time. Rick Perry’s recent bumbling, fumbling, stumbling performance at a Florida debate aptly demonstrates why it makes sense to draw out the process, to give the candidates the chance to mature and to give the public a reasonable amount of time to get to know who they’re voting for.
So why is there this irresistible impetus to keep moving things up? States might claim it’s to maintain a tradition or because they want to have a say in selecting the candidates, but I think the real reason is money. Huge sums are spent on political campaigns these days, and the media flocks to the early primary states. Early primaries have more candidates and more campaigns spending cash, and states want to get their share. So why not schedule an early primary and then sit back and watch the hordes of candidates, staffers, consultants, pundits, and reporters descend, fill your hotels, restaurants and bars, buy the TV and radio spots and employ the printing presses, and pump up those hospitality and sales tax receipts?
People at our office are always coming up with events to try to keep the workplace interesting. Recently they announced that, on some date in the near future, there will be an “ugly sweater” contest. With that innocent, well-intentioned decision, they placed the fashion-challenged among us at enormous risk.
The problem is that, once you get beyond a solid colored sweater, there is no sure way of distinguishing an “attractive” sweater from a repulsive one. This isn’t an issue for men’s attire; few guys have a taste for sweaters as vivid and outlandish as those worn by Dr. Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Women are another story, however. You may see sweaters with hanging fuzzballs or swaying threads of yarn, scattered sequins, ribbons, or spangles, large Brutus Buckeye figures, bright orange pumpkins, or fake fall leaves sewn on, or blinding abstract designs that could have been ripped from the walls of the Guggenheim. And there appears to be no rule of thumb that allows you to safely place one sweater versus another in the humorous, isn’t-this-a-razz,”ugly” category.
Therein lies the awful risk. A guy might cheerfully tell a fellow passenger in the elevator that their sweater is a sure winner in the “ugly sweater” contest, only to realize from the icy response that the event isn’t until the day after tomorrow. Or he might compliment a co-worker about her lovely ensemble, and then be advised that she thinks the sweater is hideous and certain to prevail in the competition. The opportunities for a colossal faux pas are endless.
The safest course is to stay in your office, keep your head down in the common areas, and avoid any discussion until after the contest day has passed and a period of apparent sweater normalcy has returned.
Stripped of its partisan baggage, the appeal poses a fascinating legal issue: how far does Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce extend? In prior cases, the Court has articulated an expansive view of that power. However, opponents of the new law argue that this case is different because Congress — through the “individual mandate” provision that requires all citizens to buy health insurance — is for the first time assuming the power to compel unwilling citizens to engage in commerce. Proponents of the law respond that, when it comes to health care, every living American is already affecting commerce, because those who don’t have insurance and then need health care are imposing economic burdens on the rest of us. A Supreme Court decision on this issue would go a long way toward defining, once and for all, the full extent of Congress’ power to regulate the daily lives of Americans.
For the citizens of eastern Ohio, the Utica Shale find is an economic godsend. The sale of lease rights are making landowners wealthy, oil companies are setting up shop in the area, and the eventual extraction of the natural resources will produce a host of new construction and long-term blue collar and white collar jobs. The state will want to ensure that the wells are operated safely, of course, but the impetus to develop the resources and bring jobs to the area seems irresistible.
It’s hard not to contrast the Utica Shale boom with the government effort to spur green energy. Oil and gas companies are spending billions of dollars to get at natural resources that have proven value and can be obtained using established technology. They have moved rapidly to identify the potential resources, obtain drilling rights, and erect rigs and start work. And this burgeoning economic activity has not required costly government subsidies, slow-moving government bureaucracies, or politicized, heavily lobbied programs that advantage one manufacturer over another.
This textbook lesson in the speed, nimbleness, and efficiency of capitalism will create new wealth and lots of new jobs in Ohio that cannot be moved overseas. All of which should lead everyone to ask: if we want to immediately create jobs here in America, why isn’t the government making sure there are no unnecessary barriers to the development of our other existing natural resources?
In some ways, our presidential selection process is like that awkward 8th-grade “sock hop” that your Mom made you attend. As your classmates arrived, you spent much of the time looking at the gymnasium door. A guy might wonder if that cute girl from algebra class was going to come, and a girl might hope that the dreamy guy who sat two rows behind her in home room would show up. At some point, though, the gym doors would close, the music would start, and the assembled crowd would focus on who was actually there and ready to dance.
I’m sorry Christie isn’t running because I think his ability to articulate the issues and merits of his positions would add something to the race. But he’s not coming to the dance, and with state filing deadlines rapidly approaching the gym doors soon will be closed. In the meantime, we’ll start to give the current Republican lineup closer scrutiny. We’ll see whether any of them look like good candidates for the presidential foxtrot — or whether we decide not to dance after all.
The Issue 2 ad barrage continues, and polling indicates the onslaught may be moving public opinion. The question for Issue 2’s backers and opponents is: how far, and how fast?
According to the latest Quinnepiac University poll, 51 percent of Ohioans say they would vote against Issue 2, and thereby repeal legislation that will affect collective bargaining and other work conditions for public employees. That’s still a majority, but it reflects a significant shift in opinion since the prior Quinnepiac poll on that topic, which was taken in July. In two months, the gap between those who favor repeal and those who oppose it has closed from 24 percent to 13 percent.
Although the news reports on the polling data are focusing on the erosion in the support for repeal, I’d say the odds still favor repeal. Ads on Issue 2 have been running for weeks now and the people who were easily persuaded have already been persuaded. In short, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked — and unlike a presidential election, there won’t be highly publicized debates or the possibility of gaffes that might have a discernible effect on voter preferences on Issue 2. Unless there is some blockbuster ad campaign ready to be rolled out between now and the election, those who seek to uphold the public employee collective bargaining law probably will have to bank on voter turnout working in their favor. Right now, the law seems likely to survive only if the fact of an off-year election, no statewide races, and a lingering recession operate to depress the turnout of Democratic voters.
I’m happy to report that Alpine Village is still there, ready to provide a great vacation to anyone who visits Lake George. The resort is owned and operated by an energetic man who refurbished the main lobby pictured here, gave us a tour, and filled us in on fires, new buildings, and other developments in the 35 years since I’d last been there.
A lot has changed,and two changes in particular saddened me. First, the long tables where guests used to sit for communal meals are gone. Today’s guests simply will not sit with strangers; they insist on dining at their own tables — and, I think, living in their own, imperturbable worlds. To me, the elimination of communal meals on the “American plan” eliminates some of the adventure in an Alpine Village vacation, and also reaffirms how Americans continue to withdraw from socializing with their fellow citizens. This retreat is part of a fundamental change in a people who used to routinely join every imaginable social organization. (Read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America if you don’t believe me.) I don’t think this is a good development.
Second, when I told the proprietor how much I loved working in the dishwashing room, he shook his head sadly and said that he couldn’t find any American kids who were willing to do that job anymore. The only applicants were immigrants who wanted to wash dishes as a second job. Have our kids really gotten to the point where they won’t take jobs that are hot and dirty, but yield a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work? If so, I am sorry for them, for they are missing out on an experience that could help them grow and learn — and have some fun, besides.
The other day I received another AARP card in the mail. Immediately my shoulders rounded a bit, I felt an irresistible impulse to hitch my trousers to nipple height, and I developed a keen interest in the weather.
I’ve gotten AARP stuff in the mail before. On your 50th birthday, you inevitably get an AARP application as a special birthday treat. At 50, you can laugh it off — but the AARP is persistent. They keep sending you stuff, and sending you stuff, until they wear you down. There is a certain grim inevitability to the process. Once the AARP decides you should be a member, there’s nothing you can do about. You are caught up, inexorably, in titanic forces beyond your control.
This latest card is heavy cardboard and has the whiff of permanence about it. Its arrival moved me to verse:
New Jersey, like other states, has been grappling with serious budget concerns that have required Christie and state legislators to make some tough decisions and decide where to put scarce government resources. Giving tax breaks to a hit TV program — especially one that makes your state seem like a repository for perma-tanned, muscle-bound idiots — has to be at the bottom of the priority list, as Christie recognized and explained in clear, unmistakable language.
I like those qualities. That’s why I’d like to learn more about Christie and hear his take on how to tackle the federal budget deficit.
Ho hum. If it’s Monday, there must be another political stalemate in Washington, D.C., and another possible government shutdown looming.
The contours of this dispute are familiar. Federal funds are running out and a short-term spending bill must be passed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also needs more money. As a matter of fiscal discipline, Republicans insist that the increased funding for FEMA should be offset by cuts elsewhere. House Republicans passed a bill that would make $1.6 billion in offsetting cuts that target the Department of Energy’s Advanced technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, which makes loans to car companies to pay for things such as factory upgrades and the development of new, green, fuel efficient technology. Senate Democrats object and argue that the cuts to the DOE program would cost up to 10,000 jobs.
I’m with the Republicans on this one. Congress can always find an emergency to justify more spending. If we don’t make cuts to compensate, spending will just spiral even more out of control. Moreover, the DOE program sounds like a classic federal boondoggle. If market forces make better fuel efficiency important to car buyers, car makers will have plenty of incentive to spend their own money to achieve better fuel efficiency. And haven’t we done more than enough for auto companies lately, with the taxpayer-financed bailouts of GM and Chrysler? We need to curb our appetite for ever-increasing spending, and curtailing programs that subsidize big auto companies seems like a good place to start.
For all of their protestations about being serious about restraining spending, Senate Democrats apparently are unable to identify even $1.6 billion in spending “cuts.” Doesn’t that say something about how serious they really are?
HBO’s Boardwalk Empire started its second season last night. Fans of this terrific series were plunged once again into the 1920s world of gunrunners, bootleggers, and . . . the Ku Klux Klan?
Wait a second . . . the KKK? I didn’t think I could be shocked watching TV anymore — particularly on HBO — but seeing white-sheeted KKK members in full uniform shocked me. I was shocked when I saw KKK members using a machine gun to mow down members of Chalky White’s bootleg operation in cold blood, and I was shocked again when Klansmen, in their hoods and robes, were shown chatting without embarrassment in full public view on the porch of a funeral home. The Klan made a brief appearance last year — when Chalky White, played with seething magnificence by Michael Kenneth Williams, memorably used his father’s tools to interrogate a Klansman — but it looks like they will have a more prominent role this season.
The KKK was part of the dark and grotesque underside of America of the 1920s, and showing the role of the Klan, in all its violent, racist ignorance, therefore is just part of presenting an honest depiction of that era. However, it disgusts and embarrasses me to the core to see the members of that hated organization shown on TV. It hurts to be reminded of the craven and unforgivable acts of the KKK and those who tolerated its madness and lawlessness.
I’m not asking anyone to sanitize the ugly racist underbelly of America in the 1920s, but I’m hoping for some discretion on the part of Boardwalk Empire‘s creators. I just hate seeing those despised hooded figures.
The Browns won an ugly game today. As victories go, it was about as repulsive as you can get — but it was a win nevertheless.
After three games, the Browns are 2-1, and will be, at worst, tied for first in their division. They won today because their defense played a good game against a pretty mediocre team and their offense — which was wretched for most of the game — cobbled together a good last-second drive for a touchdown. The drive gave the Browns a 17-16 lead, and the defense forced a Miami turnover to seal the win.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves about this Browns team. The offense clearly is searching for itself, and the defense hasn’t faced any offensive juggernauts. Still, Colt McCoy’s performance on the two-minute drill was encouraging and may help to kick start this offense into a good rhythm. And a more productive offense would be a help for the defense, too. The Browns appear to have some defensive playmakers, and letting them take a gamble now and then might make them into a more effective unit.
I’ll take the win, of course — but with the Browns it’s never easy.