Friday, June 29, 2007

An unusual example of common sense

Lansing, Michigan Mayor Virg Bernero (for whom I worked as a full-time intern several years ago) has suggested that the region would be stronger if his city merged with East Lansing. Even more surprisingly, East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh seemed open to the idea if Lansing resolves its budget issues.

Regardless of whether a merger actually takes place, the two cities are pressing ahead with plans for regionally combined services, including a consolidated 911 emergency dispatch system, a regional communications center that would handle such things as televising public meetings, and a fire station that would be staffed by firefighters from both cities.

Merging these two cities would be a great start, but my dream politician for Michigan would do something about the townships (like get rid of them!). Charter townships are a developer's dream, and a breeding ground for suburban sprawl, and rural areas no longer need such a small unit of government.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

More evidence that the Bush/Cheney administration will say anything to get what it wants

As if the almost weekly changes in stated justification leading up to the invasion of Iraq weren't enough, now we get this flip-flop.

Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney justified ignoring an executive order on the grounds that he is not part of the executive branch. This week, he argues that he is exempt on the basis of executive privilege.

Just one more instance of the Bush/Cheney administration acting as though they are above the law.

Reasons not to use U-Haul

If I wasn't already avoiding U-Haul (due to bad experiences several years ago), I this investigative series by the Los Angeles Times would start me on a boycott.

Quote for the day

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

- Chief Justice John Roberts, in the 5-4 majority decision that race cannot be a used as a factor in determining what school students attend.

Friday, June 22, 2007

What other mistakes willl John Edwards make?

As I've written previously, I do like John Edwards, but I'm starting to question whether he would really be a good president.

His admission that he made a mistake in voting to authorize the invasion of Iraq is well-known; less well known is his 2001 vote in favor of a change in bankruptcy law that consumer advocates say made it harder for families to get out of debt, about which he wrote in 2005, "I can't say it more simply than this: I was wrong."

So what are we to make of a presidential contender who is repeatedly -- by his own admission -- wrong. It would be one thing if these were relatively inconsequential or obscure votes, but these were not. The bankruptcy bill was controversial at the time, and was extensively debated, and though not as heavily debated, no one disputes the significance of the Iraq war vote.

I still like John Edwards, but if he was wrong on these important issues, what else will he get wrong?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

John Edwards' prescription for disaster

Generally, I like John Edwards. I think many of his ideas are on the right track, and I wish I was able to see him speak while he is in Detroit today. Despite that, one of his health care proposals is so far off the mark that it has to be addressed.

First, his good idea: requiring health insurance companies to justify their rates by forcing them to spend at least 85% of premiums collected on health care. A handful of states, including New York and Florida, already have such laws, and this idea is ready for nation-wide implementation.

But Edwards' idea for controlling the cost of drugs would be a disaster. Edwards' plan would remove long-term patents from breakthrough drugs, allowing generic drugs to be produced much sooner. Unfortunately for Edwards (and for all of us, if this piece of his plan is implemented), removing long-term patent protection removes most of the incentive for pharmaceutical firms to conduct expensive research and development. Not only would patent removal lead to a decline in R&D (and hence in new drugs brought to market), but since branding would be the only difference among firms' products, we would probably see an increase in drug advertising -- exactly the opposite of what we should be working toward.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

How to fix college basketball

When you really dig down, the root of the problem with college basketball is the relationship with the NBA. The NCAA likes to talk about "student-athletes" while universities build palace-like arenas (and now practice facilities), pay coaches millions of dollars, and charge ticket-holders professional sport prices. The NCAA has not been able to decide if they are an amateur athletic league for students or a professional minor league, and they are trying to take the best (for them) of both.

My (unrealistic) proposal is to split the top tier of NCAA basketball (division 1-A) into a semiprofessional or professional minor league and a league of true student-athletes. Teams opting into the professional league might maintain some relationship to their schools, but would drop any pretense of academics; they would essentially be "basketball schools." They might implement some rules regarding player age or experience, but players would be paid like the professional athletes they are. Teams opting to remain amateur would operate more like the "lower" NCAA divisions, limiting or even eliminating athletic scholarships (and certainly banning athletic recruiting); players would be students who happen to enjoy the sport but are not on an athletic career path. With such a division, basketball players seeking a professional career would no longer be forced into pretending they want a college degree, the NBA could have a real "developmental league," and university administrators could spend more time and energy on improving the academic quality of their school.

The biggest problem I see with implementing such a system is that the schools that must be convinced are the schools with the most to lose, schools such as my alma maters of the University of Kentucky and Michigan State University, schools like North Carolina, Duke, Florida, UCLA, and Louisville. To ensure a smoother transition, and to make this proposal more palatable to these schools, they should be permitted to keep a substantial stake in their teams. For example, the "University of Kentucky Wildcats" might become the "Kentucky Wildcats," a minor league professional team owned and managed by the University of Kentucky. Or they might create the "University of Kentucky College of Basketball" (OK, School of Basketball in the College of Athletics).

Detroit Public Schools

Maybe my math is wrong, or maybe the Free Press got their numbers wrong, but it seems to me that with a budget of more than $10,000 per student, Detroit should have great schools.

The problem with NCAA basketball

The events of the last week at the University of Florida are emblematic of the problems inherent in the current arrangement of the NCAA.

First, after announcing his departure and signing a contract with the NBA's Orlando Magic, Billy Donovan asked to be released from that contract to return to Florida. The Gators welcomed him back with open arms, and for most practical purposes it is as though he never left.

In returning to Gainesville, Donovan accepted a six-year contract worth $3,500,000. At the same time, Florida football coach Urban Meyer received a six-year contract for $3,250,000.

Compare this treatment of college coaches with the treatment their players receive; if a player even retains an agent, it is unlikely he will ever be allowed to play college basketball again. At best he might be allowed to return after sitting out half of a season. And don't even think about paying your players; the "student-athletes" are supposed to be grateful for their college scholarships -- scholarships they only need so they can play basketball for a few years before entering the NBA.

Coming soon: How to fix basketball.