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Profiles in rent-seeking: College athletics edition

[ 156 ] February 28, 2015 |


The athletic directors and the commissioner of the Big 10 conference are very, very, very concerned about putting the education of their unpaid quasi-professional athletes students who participate in extra-curricular activities first. Very concerned. How concerned? This much:

“While we are comfortable generating multiple ideas about an ‘education first’ approach to intercollegiate athletics in the twenty-first century, we won’t go it alone on any of these matters,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the NCAA Division I governance structure, and to exploring a broad exchange of ideas from both inside and outside of intercollegiate athletics.” had previously reported that the Big Ten had begun internal discussions about making all or some freshman athletes ineligible, a measure that would have the greatest effect on the current one-and-done climate in college basketball.

Delany, who was getting paid just $1.8 million by the conference two years ago, and who is strongly opposed to college football and basketball players having their salaries raised from their current level of $0.00, was walking back those reports, since even the rumor that the conference was considering such a proposal was already being used against the conference’s football and men’s basketball teams (the two sports that make all the money) by coaches from other, less educationally-serious conferences.

But the conference is very serious about education. How serious? This serious:

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said he believes in the NCAA policy that prohibited freshmen participation before a 1972 reversal.

“I, for one ,as a Big Ten AD, am tired of being used as a minor league for professional sports,” Burke said. “What was right for the NCAA in the first 70 years of its history, maybe we ought to go back and say, ‘What’s changed?'”

Among Big Ten leaders, he said, a consensus exists to “get education back on the proper platform.”

What’s changed? Oh it is a deep and abiding mystery. Or is it?

Gaze upon my balance sheets, ye mighty, and despair:

Salary of Michigan athletic director Don Canham in 1980 (Canham at this point was the most successful AD in the country, having transformed Michigan’s athletic department into the most profitable revenue-enhancing in all of college sports): $54,000

Salary of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in 1980 (Schembechler had the highest winning percentage of any college football coach during the 1970s): $105,000

You can multiply these numbers by 2.87 to account for inflation.

Salary of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon in 2014-15: $900,000 base, $175,000 in deferred comp, up to $200,000 in performance bonuses.

Salary of new Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh: $7,000,000.

Brandon won’t be collecting any performance bonuses this year, as he pulled off the astonishing feat of doing such an atrocious job that he got several hundred students to march on the university president’s house demanding he be fired, which he subsequently was. He will collect several million dollars in severance pay, however, because The Market. (An amusing account of some of his follies can be found here). My favorite detail of Brandon’s contract is that he and his wife got the free use of dealer-provided cars, with the dealers paying not only for the cars, but for registration and license plates, while the university was left on the hook for insuring the vehicles, as well as for the cost of “routine oil changes.” (BTW Brandon is the ex-CEO of Domino’s Pizza, and had, conservatively speaking, a net worth well into the tens of millions of dollars, before he took a job with a seven-figure salary that also covers the cost of routine oil changes for his free cars).

And Brandon wasn’t even in the top quarter of Big 10 AD pay last year, as the athletic directors at Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin were all pulling down more than one million dollars in base pay alone.

Those salaries in turn pale in comparison to the $3.24 million being paid two years ago to what might — might — be the highest-paid law professor in the land, Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams (Williams also has an appointment on the Vanderbilt law faculty, which should provide a soft landing if the Commodores’ football team’s current streak of five four three two one zero good football seasons in a row should ever be broken. Williams’ salary is largely a product of the sweetheart deals administrative grifter extraordinaire Gordon Gee put in place before he high-tailed it out of Nashville).

Williams was in the news yesterday when he announced that Vanderbilt’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings wouldn’t be suspended, after he was caught advising one of his student-athletes that he would “fucking kill you” if his on-court deportment did not improve posthaste. (To be fair, Stallings explained to ESPN afterwards that his stated intention to kill his own player was merely a figure of speech, and should not have been taken literally.)

In the light of all this, Burke can perhaps be forgiven if he feels that the half million dollars he’s getting paid to be Purdue’s AD this year, not counting up to another $120,000 in “performance bonuses,” is practically a vow of poverty. On the third hand a cynic might point out that Burke has suckled unmolested at the increasingly engorged teat of big time college athletics for the 22 years he’s held his current position, and that he’s seen his own stupendous salary go up by 50% over the past six years alone.

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Foreign Entanglements: More ISIS!

[ 3 ] February 28, 2015 |

On this episode of Foreign Entanglements, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and I talk ISIS:

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[ 69 ] February 27, 2015 |

SEK needed to go to an ENT because his right ear is on the fritz. So he went to VERY YOUNG ENT’s office in Prairieville, Louisiana, which may or may not have any bearing on what follows.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (looking at — but not reading — SEK’s medical file) This is a really thick file you have here.

SEK: I do what I can.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (putting down file) So what seems to the be the problem, man?

SEK: My right ear is on strike.

VERY YOUNG ENT: (puts otoscope in SEK’s ear) Whoa, dude, how do you hear anything out of this?

SEK: I don’t at the moment.

VERY YOUNG ENT: I mean, what about ever?

SEK: What about ever what?

VERY YOUNG ENT: What about how do you ever hear anything out of it? It’s like your ear canal is upside down, man.

SEK: It’s not ideal.

VERY YOUNG ENT: And what’s up with your eardrum?

SEK: (looking longingly as his unread medical history) There’s a —

VERY YOUNG ENT: Giant hole in it, man. How’d that happen? I mean —

SEK: Tubes. Many sets of —

VERY YOUNG ENT: You don’t need to tell me. That’s giant — like, giant. How are we even having this conversation?

SEK: (resisting to the urge to say, “What conversation?”) With effort.

VERY YOUNG ENT: No doubt, man, no doubt. So it’s not infected, it’s just —

SEK: Weird?

VERY YOUNG ENT: Very weird. Let me look something up. (leaves)

And that’s where SEK’s story ends, at least for the moment, because SEK is still in the room where the VERY YOUNG ENT left him. After about 30 minutes SEK got so bored sitting in the room that he took out his laptop and wrote this.

SEK isn’t sure whether the VERY YOUNG ENT is coming back, or even if the VERY YOUNG ENT’s offices are even open anymore.

The rest of the story is available at Facebook because sorry, that’s just where people “live-blog” stuff now.

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Making Any Art Form More Inclusive Will Probably Only Improve It

[ 35 ] February 27, 2015 |

Amanda Marcotte has a good rant over at Raw Story about how nobody is going to stop game developers from making sexist games. That’s true and I think that’s good–people should be allowed to make sexist games. And games that don’t acknowledge the existence of people of color and LGBT folks. That’s fine. Now, while acknowledging that, it’s important to keep in mind that when you make these sorts of myopic, exclusionary games, you are not guaranteed an audience for them. Aww, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant for a whole ‘nother day and people who don’t understand what censorship is aren’t reading this blog anyway.

For awhile now I’ve had conflicted feelings about my body of work (as an artist). Looking through my gallery, I can’t help but notice that all my models are young, thin, and white. I also manipulate my models quite heavily. It’s an odd sort of manipulation–I’m not making them prettier, I’m making them weirder mostly. I’m playing with proportion, I’m making their heads too big, their waists too small, their shoulders too narrow, their dresses impossibly voluminous. I’m painting their faces to make them look, uh, creepy-glamorous, I guess.  I have every right to use models that are young, thin and white. I have a right to play with proportion the way I do. I have every right to do my weird take on glamor make-up. But if someone wants to offer a critique of my art based on the observations I just made, it will only help it if I listen.

Lately I’ve been pushing myself to change things up a bit, to create the mood I’m after without relying so heavily on my old tropes. I’m exaggerating proportions less. The piece I’m working on now features models slightly younger than I’m used to working with so I’ve decided not to distort their faces or bodies–at all. I simply wasn’t comfortable taking liberties with younger models and was worried about the message I’d send if I’d gone “all in” as I normally do. Do I view this as a limitation? No, not at all. It’s a challenge, and a fun one at that. I’ve already got my workarounds all mapped out, so there will be no magic missing from my canvas in the end. This has got me excited about working with models of color (although they are distressingly hard to find at my hunting grounds) and and of size. Making my art more inclusive is not going to hurt it, it’s going to help it, and it’s going to make me a better artist with more interesting body of work.

To be clear, I have every right to use any sort of model I want and manipulate her how I choose. However, if I make my art exclusionary I will *purposely* be taking money out of my own wallet. Since I’m not a moron, I happily choose diversity. Here’s to challenging myself and giving everybody a choice and acknowledging the existence of a wider range women. This is a good, healthy development that’s going to spur creativity, not stunt it.

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King Art of North Carolina

[ 20 ] February 27, 2015 |

Art Pope’s rule as King of North Carolina continues with the closing of centers on North Carolina campuses that deal with social and ecological issues:

The full UNC Board of Governors met in Charlotte this morning and voted unanimously to close three academic centers.

The centers ordered to close are: the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC Chapel Hill; the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina; and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at NC Central.

Board of Governors leadership denied that politics played a role.

Dozens of students and others attended the Board meeting and protested the decision. Several spoke out during the discussion and were removed from the meeting. Board Chair John Fennebresque eventually had to recess and move the meeting to another room as protestors shouted and chanted outside the door.

Not political?

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which consists almost entirely of Republican appointees, opted Friday to disband the think-tank run by Gene Nichol, a law professor and former Democratic congressional candidate from Colorado.

About two-dozen activists demonstrated against closing the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was created to help launch John Edwards’ presidential campaign. Some protesters were told to leave and led out by UNC-Charlotte campus police.

State university leaders moved to a smaller room, allowing in board members, reporters and staffers and leaving protesters to chant outside.

Nichol has acidly criticized the policies advanced by McCrory and Republican lawmakers. In one 2013 opinion essay, he compared McCrory to 1960s-era segregationist Southern governors because of his support for tougher election laws. Subsequent newspaper opinion pieces included the disclaimer that Nichol doesn’t speak for UNC.

Nichols swiftly responded to the decision, saying in an email to The Associated Press that it was an effort to punish him as the center’s director “for publishing articles that displease the Board and its political benefactors.”


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What Could Go Wrong

[ 9 ] February 27, 2015 |

Good ol’ regulatory capture: Department of Agriculture edition from Tom Philpott:

Their comments focus on three Hormel-associated plants, which are among just five hog facilities enrolled in a pilot inspection program run by the USDA. In the regular oversight system, USDA-employed inspectors are stationed along the kill line, charged with ensuring that conditions are as sanitary as possible and that no tainted meat ends up being packed for consumption. In the pilot program, known as HIMP (short for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points-based Inspection Models Project), company employees take over inspection duties, relegating USDA inspectors to an oversight role on the sidelines.

What’s more, the HIMP plants get to speed up the kill line—from the current rate of 1,100 hogs per hour to 1,300 hogs per hour, a jump of nearly 20 percent. The five plants rolled out the new inspection system around 2002, USDA spokesperson Aaron Lavallee said. That’s when Murano, now on the Hormel board of directors, ran the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. If the privatization-plus-speed-up formula sounds familiar, it’s because the USDA ran a similar experimental program for chicken slaughter for years. After much pushback by workplace and food safety advocates and media attention (including from me), the USDA decided not to let poultry companies speed up the kill line when it opened the new system to all chicken slaughterhouses last year (though it did greenlight turkey facilities to speed up the line from 51 to 55 birds per minute).

All four affidavits offer blistering critiques of the hog version of the pilot program. Three themes run through them: 1) company inspectors are poorly trained and prepared for the task of overseeing a fast-moving kill line involving large carcasses; 2) company-employed and USDA inspectors alike face pressure from the company not to perform their jobs rigorously; and 3) lots of unappetizing stuff is getting through as the result of 1) and 2).

Good times. My only problem with Philpott’s piece is how much it underplays the effect of the speedup on workplace safety. It’s referenced in passing, but like so much when it comes to the food industry, consumers’ interests are privileged above that of workers, when in fact the two are so interconnected that any reasonable analysis can not really separate them. The meat industry is already incredibly dangerous labor and speed-ups always make labor more dangerous, while also of course making inspections less rigorous and with greater likelihood of tainted meat getting to the consumer. Both issues are equally important.

Really, it’s impossible to see what could go wrong with the meat industry regulating itself. That is, if you like killing workers.

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Nobody Actually Cares About Federalism, An Infinite Series

[ 41 ] February 27, 2015 |

Responding to Abbe Gluck’s argument that the troofer reading of the ACA violates the clear notice requirement that is now well-settled constitutional law, Ed Kilgore observes:

This argument may or may not have an influence on, or find reflection in, SCOTUS’ decision. But don’t expect the conservatives praying for the plaintiffs to win to read it and say, “Oh, I get it! Never mind.”

Truth is most conservatives value “state’s rights” or “federalism” only when it does not conflict with their more important ideological values, such as capitalism or their idea of Divine Law. This is why they mostly support federal constitutional amendments to override state prerogatives on cultural issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and when in a position to do so, support federal preemption of state laws and regulations that annoy or inconvenience corporations. Indeed, one example is almost invariably included in those Obamacare “replacement” proposals Republicans say they’d pursue if King goes their way: “interstate health insurance sales,” which is a nice way of saying a preemption of state health insurance regulations so that insurers can race to the bottom-feeding state that lets them do whatever the hell they want.

All true.

The significance of the federalism argument is that it might appeal to Roberts if he’s only weakly committed to gutting the ACA. The clear notice argument would allow Roberts a passive-aggressive escape hatch straight out of the John Marshall playbook: willfully misread a statute, criticize your political opponents, advance long-term institutional goals, but concede to your opponents on the immediate substantive issue. If Roberts is strongly committed to wrecking the exchanges it won’t matter, but if he doesn’t feel strongly the argument might influence him.

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I don’t get it

[ 125 ] February 27, 2015 |


Are the people who say this dress is gold and white pulling some sort of internet-wide prank?

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[ 74 ] February 27, 2015 |

Leonard Nimoy’s influence on the way I look at the world is incalculable. Still active until very recently, he will be deeply missed.


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You Can Have Their Answer Now, If You Like

[ 46 ] February 27, 2015 |

If 5 Republican judges take away health care from upwards of 10 million people, what will the federal and state Republicans who could fix the problem do about it? Why, nothing, of course.

It may be worth clarifying briefly about why my assessment is more pessimistic than Jon Chait’s (here and here.) I do agree with a couple of his points. Wrecking the exchanges probably will generate more political opposition than turning down the Medicaid expansion. I also agree that it’s not accurate to say that reversing King would destroy the ACA. The immediate result would be polarization, and if the Democrats can hang on to at least one of the federal veto points necessary to keep the ACA from being repealed, eventually many states would establish exchanges, and the next unified Democratic government would pass a federal fix immediately.

Put this way, it doesn’t sound that terrible, but:

  • Even assuming that every state outside the Deep South has an exchange with available tax credits (and the Medicaid expansion) by 2025 or so…that’s still an awful lot of completely unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted by the Supreme Court (and the decision on the Medicaid expansion was every bit as irrational and incoherent as a decision reversing King would be.)
  • If Republicans do assume full control of the government, the chaos created by wrecking the exchanges makes it more likely that they would be able to repeal or mortally wound the ACA.
  • I’m not nearly as convinced as Chait that Republicans will take the blame for the chaos.  A lot of voters are going to blame “Obama” for anything associated with “Obamacare.”   I hope Chait is right that this will play out like government shutdown scenarios, but I’m not sure it will.
  • And we should remember that after taking the political damage for a stupid shutdown, congressional Republicans…won big in 2014 anyway.  Elections aren’t referenda on single issues, and Republicans with safe seats at the federal and state level can both take the hit and have more to fear from Republican primary voters than the general electorate.   As I say in the piece, Sam Brownback should give any optimist pause — his agenda was enacted, it couldn’t possibly have worked out any worse, and he was re-elected anyway.

Exactly how bad the Court joining the Moops resistance army would be depends on various contingencies, but it would be bad.

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“Open up your hate and let it pour on them” is Def Leppard’s lesser-known song for a reason

[ 54 ] February 27, 2015 |

Only true completists know about the week Vox Day was part of the band.

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“Don’t Look At Us. We Didn’t Do it.”

[ 123 ] February 26, 2015 |

You can accuse the co-ACA Troofer-in-Chief of many things, but having shame is not one of them:

“If they’re not looking at some kind of contingency plan, I think that’s irresponsible. It’s kind of like hostage-taking,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and one of the architects of the legal challenge.

I can’t even. The problem with the argument is that Adler and Cannon are both taking and shooting the metaphorical hostages, and they’re asking Obama to tell the public that everyone is fine while the hostage-takers look for a getaway car.

And what Adler is asking is for the Obama administration to lie to further his campaign to willfully misread the ACA to strip insurance from millions of people. There is no meaningful contingency plan the administration can put into action. They cannot force Republicans in Congress to pass anything (let alone anything that would make the problem better rather than worse.) They cannot make states establish exchanges. They cannot repeal basic economic facts. The fate of the newly uninsured will be mostly beyond their control, unless Adler thinks that the administration’s response should be “John Roberts has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

If the troofers can eke out a bare Supreme Court majority for their argument, then the health insurance markets in a majority of states will thrown into chaos. This situation will not change in many of the states anytime soon, and the result will be plenty of unnecessary suffering and death. That’s not a threat; it’s a fact. Adler should own it, not join his political allies in pretending that there’s some magic fix Obama will pull out if his hat after it happens.

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