Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An Overdue Payment

“In its heyday in the 1970s, the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic rivaled the PGA Tour stop in Milwaukee as the summer’s must-see golf event.”

That was the opening line in a Milwaukee (WI) Journal Sentinel feature story this week.  The writer told how the professional tour event, The Greater Milwaukee Open, lost corporate and community support and finally folded in 2009.  The Lombardi Classic also went into decline, but rallied under new leadership and once again is a premier links event.  Coincidentally, both tournaments have 42-year histories.

The Classic is one of five events sponsored by the Lombardi Cancer Foundation.  The foundation has raised more than $15 million to fight the disease that prematurely took the life of Vince Lombardi, the iconic Green Bay Packers coach.

In 1979 I was in my 32nd year as a Packers fan.  I’d heard very little about the golf tournament, but thought I’d have a look at it because a local news story said several Packers would be playing.  The event was held, as it will be June 8-9 this year, at North Hills Country Club, which was a mile from our home in Menomonee Falls.

I walked to the country club about mid-afternoon, some four hours after the advertised start of the tournament.  My mostly cross-country journey was designed to get me there as directly, not as precisely, as possible.  I wound up nowhere near the club entrance.  I encountered a roped-off parking lot.  Entry was easy and inexpensive.  I just lifted the rope, ducked, and walked in.

A large tent to my left looked like a central point of some sort.  My arrival there was greeted with shouts of “Stand back!”  I and dozens of others did as former president Gerald R. Ford passed within six feet of me on the way to the scorer’s table. The smiling ex-president was escorted by several very serious young men, assumed to be Secret Service agents.  I joined the crowd in applauding Mr. Ford.

Spectators seemed to be moving around randomly.  I heard several talking about going to the sixth tee, because “you can see a lot of action from there.”  I went to the sixth tee.  From the elevated vantage point I saw:

1.  Bart Starr, legendary Packers quarterback, do on the golf course what “Mr. Perfect” had done for years on the football field.  He hit a beautiful long drive right down the middle of the sixth fairway.

2.  On another fairway observable from my position on the hill, a very big man wearing Chicago Bears colors hit the longest fairway wood shot I’ve ever seen.  The accuracy wasn’t great, but the distance was awesome.  Memory dims, but that golfer was either Dick Butkus or Mike Ditka.

One of the heart-warming things about the tournament over the years has been participation by former Bears players in an event honoring their supposedly all-time “hated rival” Green Bay coach. The gridiron enemies proved they could be on the same team for good causes.

The tournament has a celebrity-guest format.  The celebrities donate their time.  This year the guests will pay $995 each to play with the famous folks, and the slots are sold out.  The 2012 field includes 14 current Packers among the 40 celebs.  And, yes, Bart Starr will be there playing once again.

Spectators get in for a paltry $10 donation, with all proceeds benefiting the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.  The entry fee probably wasn’t even that small amount in 1979 when I avoided it, but there ought to be some penalty for those who sneaked in back then and are feeling a little guilty now recalling the intrusion.

The geezer just redeemed himself in a small way by sending a $10 donation via  Checks may be mailed to: Lombardi Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 341217, Milwaukee, WI, 53234-1217.

Everybody who gets involved in this tournament wins.       

Friday, May 25, 2012

Here Come De Judge

Yeah, I know. Don’t cast the first stone.  But I couldn’t resist commenting on this CNN News report:

“After spending eight weeks in jail, Orange County Court Judge Robert Freehill ordered Vega to return the $13,368.48 she gained in gifts and donations while posing as terminally ill.”

What would the judge have ordered if he had spent 12 weeks in jail?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Facing Up To It

A lengthy analysis carried by Bloomberg Businessweek purported to give reasons why General Motors dropped its $10 million Facebook advertising package.  Among them was GM simply is cutting back on ads in its new “lean-mean” business mode (GM cancelled future Super Bowl advertising at about the same time). Another was that the auto maker doesn’t know how to utilize Facebook advertising properly.

The thoughts were advanced to counter the idea that perhaps Facebook advertising simply doesn’t work. The analysis dismissed that possibility by saying it works for some products, but not for others. But the author didn’t name a single product in either category.

Most web advertising is sold on the basis of clicks on the ad, which supposedly translates into a percentage of sales. All of that is theory. No one has proved the theory has merit, and probably no one ever will. People can click to be amused by a dancing cartoon snake, and have no interest whatever in buying the snake oil being promoted.

Although I’m not a big Facebook player, I look at my page fairly regularly. I have never even read an ad on Facebook, much less acted under the influence of one.  We buy lots of things online, but we almost always do that after searching for the item, not because an ad attracted us to it.

Is it possible that many big-time advertisers have not figured out how to effectively “talk to” the millions of potential buyers the Internet has the ability to deliver?

Is it possible the huge Facebook empire is built on a faulty business model?  Is it possible some shrewd stock market players knew that when the stock price dropped instead of roaring upward shortly after the company went public last week?

What do you think?

Monday, May 14, 2012

All Together Now

The headline on my news summary page was clear enough: “After the JPMorgan Chase mess, we must bust up the big financial houses.”

My first impression was the source had to be The Progressive, Democratic Underground, Michael, or some other ultra-liberal web page interested in fomenting an ill-defined revolution against Wall Street capitalists. Not so.

When I looked at the byline, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The article was by ultra-conservative economist Peter Morici, and the publisher was none other than Fox, a conservative medium accused by some of being slightly right of Benito Mussolini.

Morici was commenting on a bad bet by investment bankers at JPMorgan that resulted in a $2 billion dollar loss.  Yes, this is the same outfit we taxpayers bailed out after similar shady and risky business by it and other big banks nearly caused the collapse of the world financial system.

Morici details recent history of the deregulation of U.S. banking and the reasons why a strict return to the separation of commercial and investment institutions once dictated by the Glass Steagall Act would not be good policy in today’s banking environment.  “Ho, hum,” I thought.  “The headline was a come on; this story really is just another justification for letting the self-proclaimed wizards of finance operate any way they want.”

Then came the shocker.  Here are Morici’s concluding paragraphs:

“The simplest solution is to once again separate commercial and investment banking, as was required by the Glass Steagall Act, with some modest exceptions.

“Let banks take deposits and make loans, and sell those to investors through investment banks who would do the bundling of loans into securities. Even let commercial banks own securities backed by loans in other regions to balance default risk, but leave the business of making markets and trading to separate investment banks.
“Commercial banks would continue to be regulated and government insured by the FDIC, and investment banks would be free to trade and take risks with their stockholders capital. If the latter failed from foolish trades their investors would lose their capital, but the taxpayer would not be on the hook.”

What a remarkable dose of common sense.  Hurry up, Republicans, and introduce legislation to make this conservative position become reality.  It probably would be approved by record majorities in both houses, and President Obama would sign it into law in about 30 seconds. 

Of course, this medicine would leave the investment banks with no regulation at all, an undesirable situation, but that could be analyzed and adjusted if needed later. The major problem would be removed--financial institutions “too big to fail” gambling with other people’s money and depending on taxpayers to save them when they lose the bets.

It’s high time to quit fiddling around with halfway controls like the 2010 Dodd Frank law, which contained too many compromises to be fully effective.  It’s time to get to the heart of the problem and solve it for the common good. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Gro Carting

Conventional wisdom says the melting pot is working--we’re becoming homogenized Americans. 

We’ve gone through a half-century of population mobility, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion.  Few stayed were they were born.  The young went off to pursue advanced education, promising jobs, or both. The old sold the family home and moved to enjoy final years in kinder climates and with other oldsters in communities built just for them. 

In the process, we’ve been losing those charming regional accents along with differences in manners and traditions.  We increasingly find the same big-box stores in every state.  The Golden Arches loom everywhere, and their proprietors go to great lengths to fry the stuff the same way at every location.

Knowing all this, we were surprised to spot a cultural difference the first time we made an extended visit to southwestern Michigan in 2006.  It was no fluke.  We’ve verified it hundreds of times since we moved here from Utah three years ago.

People in southwestern Michigan put shopping carts in the racks after they unload the groceries. Empty carts are rarely seen scattered about in parking lots.

In Utah, carts are left all over the place, and some abandoned ones are spotted blocks and even miles away from the store. 

Place in rack, please.
The signs imploring customers to put the empty carts in the racks are the same. Literacy rates are equal. The weather is similar, and thus not a factor.  We’d even give Utah an edge in that department.  The stores and lots are virtually identical.  So why do almost all the people here pay attention to the cart-return signs, while so many in Utah do not?

We’ve pondered the cart corral question at length without developing a glimmer of a theory for the cause.  Any ideas out there?

We do know that if you’re a parking lot neatnik, southwestern Michigan is the place for you.  You may get the bonus of seeing a gray haired geezer wearing a Packers shirt launch his empty cart at the rack and raise his hands to signify three points whenever his cart splits the uprights. It causes a lot of laughs in Michigan parking lots.  Bet you won’t see that elsewhere in the U.S.A.