The Challenge

Every year, the college basketball season officially begins — in my book, at least — when the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference face off in the Big Ten-ACC challenge.  Early on, the ACC dominated; more recently, the Big Ten has controlled.  Either way, it’s been entertaining basketball — and also a living testament to how college basketball is different from college football.

In college football, any loss could, potentially, disqualify you from contention from a national championship.  (Just ask Alabama.)   In college basketball, on the other hand, no one goes undefeated.  In college basketball, in fact, you want your team to play the tough teams early on.  Let them get a taste of tough competition at the outset, so that they will understand the need to play hard when the later stages of the NCAA Tournament roll around and your team has to realize the need to play hard, or go home.

And that’s why the Big Ten-ACC Challenge is so great.  It’s a guaranteed, evenly matched, power conference game on the schedule, and a chance to assess how your boys fare against a quality opponent.  This year, the Ohio State Buckeyes trounced Maryland as Sam Thompson displayed his high-flying act, LaQuinton Ross displayed his silky three-point stroke, and Aaron Craft . . . well, Aaron Craft did what Aaron Craft always does.  Does it mean Ohio State will win it all?  No, or course not — but it gives us a bit of a measuring stick, and some bragging rights, too.  After all, Maryland will be joining the Big Ten next year.

I love the Big Ten-ACC Challenge!

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Why Are Gun Sales Surging?

By all accounts, Americans are buying guns in record numbers.  Why?

Bloomberg says that gun sales are increasing by significant amounts.  Gun purchases increased 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, and publicly traded gun manufacturers are reporting more than 40 percent increases in sales in 2013.  Demand is so great that manufacturers are competing for market share in the expanding gun market by introducing new products, which is driving a sharp increase in gun-related patents.  The Washington Post reports that Virginia set a record for Black Friday gun sales.  Isn’t it curious that people would think of buying weapons on the day after Thanksgiving?

Many of the new gun purchasers are women and the elderly; gun ownership in both demographics is rising.  Indeed, one report estimates that 25 percent of all women own a gun.

Why this sudden surge in gun sales?  In recent years, some people have speculated that the increases were due to concerns that governmental entities would restrict gun ownership and a desire to load up before any limitations take effect — but that rationale doesn’t make much sense now, with no meaningful effort underway to regulate gun ownership at the federal level and many states loosening their restrictions on carrying firearms.  The normal reason to buy a gun would be to feel more personally secure, but there hasn’t been any apparent, noticeable increase in criminal activity that would motivate people to buy a gun now, as opposed to last year or five years ago.  So why the sudden burst of gun-buying activity?

It’s a bit unsettling that so many people in this country feel the need to be amply armed, in their homes and in their daily lives.  It’s as if they are expecting a breakdown in law and order and envisioning a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s strange to live in a world where so many people apparently think we are on the brink of apocalypse.

 

Will Detroit Once More Lead The Way?

At one time in American history Detroit was a leader in commerce, capitalism, and civic development.  As the home of the American auto industry, Detroit experienced the boom.  More recently, Detroit has experienced the bust.  Now the question is whether Detroit will become a leader in a different way — by showing how local governments can use the federal bankruptcy laws to try to free themselves from the product of decades of financial mismanagement and shortsightedness.

IMG_5164Yesterday, federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes ruled that Detroit’s pension obligations are not immune from scrutiny in a federal bankruptcy proceeding, notwithstanding a Michigan constitutional provision that specifically protects public employee pensions.  In effect, the judge said, contractual obligations that require cities to pay public pensions are like any other contracts and thus may be modified and restructured by a bankruptcy judge after all sides present evidence and argument.  It is the first clear ruling on this issue — one that is of enormous interest to other local and state governments that are dealing with the fiscal consequences of overly generous public employee benefit and pension arrangements that were reached when times were flush but that now threaten to crush the governments’ ability to provide basic services to citizens.

The bankruptcy judge’s ruling will be appealed, and the judge also has promised to be careful and thoughtful before changing any monthly pension payments.  Neither of those circumstances may provide much comfort to former Detroit employees who have retired in reliance on their monthly pension payment from the city and who now must wonder how they personally will be affected.  At the same time, Detroit’s financial challenges are so staggering that city administrators have few options.  The bankruptcy process will work for Detroit only if the city emerges from the bankruptcy with a balanced budget and financial obligations that it can realistically carry given its current, shrunken state — and employee and retiree benefit programs have to be considered as part of that process.

When we visited Detroit earlier this year we stopped to look at a famous downtown statue called the Spirit of Detroit, of a seated man holding the sun in one hand and a family in the other, with a quote from the Bible about liberty behind him.  Viewed in the context of Detroit’s current, crippling financial problems, the figure looks like he is trying to decide which way to turn.  A bankruptcy judge will now help him make that decision.