MAY 14, 2016 -- BY JIM NEFF
THE NEFF ZONE
“Show me the money,” is an often heard refrain. Right or wrong, when you boil down a news item to its essence, more times than not it comes down to money. This holds true in many aspects of life.
Take sports for instance. In our state, an interesting debate is going on regarding spending on college athletics, and in the bullseye is Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, which was singled out in an HBO program. “Eastern has a $33.9-million budget, with $27.8 million coming from the general fund.” That means 80 percent of the money spent on sports comes out of the pockets of students. (http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2016/05/02/how-much-cash-should-michigan-public-universities-pour-into-athletics/83716694/)
According to a report on Michigan Radio: “About $1,000 of the $10,000 tuition the average EMU student pays each year goes to support the athletic department – whether they care about it or not...most EMU students aren’t from wealthy families. They’re taking out expensive loans, working their way through school, or both.” An article in the university's student newspaper, the Eastern Echo added: “I cannot understand how the administration can ethically justify spending millions of dollars on football, all the while raising tuition, keeping classrooms in a state of virtual decay, not paying faculty on time and charging fees on top of that raised tuition for taking particular courses.” It all comes down to how to best spend students' money.
Right next door in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan has no such money worries in its athletics program. The Wolverines, with a rich fan base and multiple revenue streams, get no general fund money from the university. That's why the football team can afford to actually lose money by going to a bowl game. Last season, they spent $2.1 million going to the Citrus Bowl, $70,000 more than was allotted by the Big Ten for expenses. You know, it takes a bunch of cash to take a “travel party” of 739 to a game. It's only money. (http://www.freep.com/story/sports/college/university-michigan/wolverines/2016/04/26/michigan-citrus-bowl-trip-costs/83556748/)
In terms of the every day lives of people, this type of spending is almost beyond comprehension, but it's even more unnerving if you're a woman. Right now, women's median salaries are roughly 79 percent of what a man makes in the same job. “Mothers are the primary breadwinners or sole breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of all families..but mothers typically make only 73 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.” Plus, it's even worse in Michigan where “the motherhood gap is 71.4 cents per dollar.”
For real people this is real money, not a game. “It's money that cannot be saved toward college for their children; money that cannot be saved for retirement...money that cannot help the family pay down a mortgage more quickly or reduce its high-cost debt.” (http://www.freep.com/story/money/personal-finance/susan-tompor/2016/05/07/gender-pay-gap-shareholder-proxy/83963588/)
Of course, it's difficult to talk about money without talking about business at the same time. The airline business is always good head scratching material. On the one hand: “The 25 U.S. passenger airlines logged a record $25.6 billion in profits in 2015, more than three times the industry's after-tax earnings of $7.5 billion reported in 2014.” They benefited from a 35 percent reduction in fuel costs, plus $3.8 billion in baggage fees and $3 billion in fees for reservation changes.
On the other hand, the average ticket price only dropped 3.8 percent, so customers did not see much benefit from the record profits. In fact: “Travelers filed 20,170 formal complaints last year, up from 15,539 in 2014...passengers grumble about lost bags, deceptive ticket prices, poor customer service and shrinking seats and legroom.” Good model for those who want to run government like a business.
Speaking of government and business, in the Michigan Legislature right now: “Big Data is on the cusp of stripping one the nation's best privacy laws.” Not that businesses did not try to skirt Michigan's laws. “Many publishers routinely sell their magazine subscription records to third parties, including data miners and brokers, for a premium. The data miners then sell these inferences to anybody willing to pay for them, and in doing so, generate over $60 billion per year...Only after Michiganders began suing these companies for violating the act did businesses start complying with the law.”
So, if you are a data company what do you do? Why, spend money lobbying legislators to allow the miners to collect personal information without having to tell (the citizen) or get (their) permission and at the same time take away any legal recourse a citizen might have to sue for damages. Nice and neat, it's Senate Bill 490, and it's on the governor's desk. This is what Governor Snyder means when he talks about transparent records, except he means yours and not his. Yours are on sale to the highest bidder. (http://www.mlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/04/michigan_is_about_to_sell_more.html)
Finally, if all this talk about money is making you thirsty, do not go to Venezuela. The socialist country’s largest brewery has shut its operations and laid off 10,000 workers due to a lack of malted barley. “According to statistics compiled by the Kirin Beer University, Venezuela has the highest beer consumption in South America, 75 quarts per person a year. That places Venezuela 25th in global beer consumption, slightly behind the USA, which averages 80 quarts a person. A bottle of Polar, which sports a polar bear on its label, costs 14 cents at the black market rate but $15 at the official exchange rate.”
The country is already experiencing shortages of things like toilet paper, shampoo, sugar, medicines, spare parts and electricity. The inflation rate is 700 percent. As farmer Luis Garcia told a reporter: “What are we coming to when we can’t even buy a beer? I can no longer support the socialist revolution...This country is just falling apart.” You know, money can't buy everything, but this shows it better be able to buy some really important things. We could be witnessing the beginning of the world's first six-pack-powered revolution.