Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “Billionaires’ Row and Welfare Lines” Mr. Blow says the widely divergent fortunes of the rich and poor in this country are an unsustainable imbalance.   Mr. Nocera is back on one of his favorite hobby horses.  In “A Little Miami Heat” he has a question:  Why can’t the N.C.A.A. come up with penalties that are fair? The punishment imposed on Miami after a long investigation wasn’t.  I suppose, all else being equal, that I’d rather he ride his hobby horse than play Gunga Din for big oil…  Ms. Collins, in “Roll Out the Health Care,” says it’s about computers. So how could it possibly work out the first time around?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The stock market is hitting record highs.

Bank profits have reached their highest levels in years.

The market for luxury goods is rebounding.

Bloomberg News reported in August, “Sales of homes priced at more than $1 million jumped an average 37 percent in 2013’s first half from a year earlier to the highest level since 2007, according to DataQuick.”

A report last week in The New York Times says that developers are turning 57th Street in Manhattan into “Billionaires’ Row,” with apartments selling for north of $90 million each.

And there’s no shortage of billionaires. Forbes’s list of the world’s billionaires has added more than 200 names since 2012 and is now at 1,426. The United States once again leads the list, with 442 billionaires.

It’s a great time to be a rich person in America. The rich are raking it in during this recovery.

But in the shadow of their towering wealth exists a much less rosy recovery, where people are hurting and the pain grows.

This is the slowest post-recession jobs recovery since World War II. The unemployment rate is falling, but for the wrong reason: an increasing number of people may simply be giving up on finding a job. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people over 16 who either have a job or are actively searching for one — fell in August to its lowest rate in 35 years.

This disconnecting is particularly acute among young people. Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, recently released a study finding that a staggering 5.8 million young people nationwide — one in seven of those ages 16 to 24 — are disconnected, meaning not employed or in school, “adrift at society’s margins,” as the group put it.

Median household income continues to fall, according to recent data from the Census Bureau. The data showed, “In 2012, real median household income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.”

And according to an April Pew Research Center report, “During the first two years of the nation’s economic recovery, the mean net worth of households in the upper 7 percent of the wealth distribution rose by an estimated 28 percent, while the mean net worth of households in the lower 93 percent dropped by 4 percent.”

The dire statistics take on even more urgency when we consider what they mean for America’s most vulnerable: our children.

According to First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization focusing on child and family issues: “The 1,168,354 homeless students enrolled by U.S. preschools and K-12 schools in the 2011-2012 school year is the highest number on record, and a 10 percent increase over the previous school year. The number of homeless children in public schools has increased 72 percent since the beginning of the recession.”

A report last month by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire bemoaned the stagnation of the child poverty rate in this country, saying, “These new poverty estimates released on Sept. 19, 2013, suggest that child poverty plateaued in the aftermath of the Great Recession, but there is no evidence of any reduction in child poverty even as we enter the fourth year of ‘recovery.’ ”

Nearly one in four American children live in poverty.

A report last year from the National Poverty Center estimated “that the number of households living on $2 or less in income per person per day in a given month increased from about 636,000 in 1996 to about 1.46 million households in early 2011, a percentage growth of 130 percent.”

And yet, the value of aid for those families is shrinking and under threat.

A report this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, “Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2013 and are now at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 37 states, after adjusting for inflation.”

The number of Americans now enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is near record highs, and yet both houses of Congress have passed bills to cut funding to the program. The Senate measure would cut about $4 billion, while the House measure would cut roughly ten times as much, dropping millions of Americans from the program.

Next week, lawmakers will start trying to find a middle ground between the two versions of the farm bills that include these cuts.

There is an inherent tension — and obscenity — in the wildly divergent fortunes of the rich and the poor in this country, especially among our children. The growing imbalance of both wealth and opportunity cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

I was about to hang up the phone when Donna Shalala, the former Clinton cabinet secretary who is now the president of the University of Miami, interrupted me. She had something she wanted to say before our interview ended.

“They’re not some foreign entity,” she said, “and we shouldn’t act like they are. University presidents have to demand that they change the way they do business.” Can you guess whom she was referring to? Yes: our old friends at the N.C.A.A.

It was Thursday when we spoke, two days after the N.C.A.A.’s Committee on Infractions unveiled the penalties it was imposing on Miami after a long, tortured — and botched — investigation by the N.C.A.A.’s much-feared enforcement staff.

Several years ago, Nevin Shapiro — an ardent University of Miami booster, who is in prison for running a Ponzi scheme — told Yahoo Sports that for years he had entertained players at his home, bought them meals and gifts, picked up the tab at strip clubs and given them small amounts of cash. His stature was such that he had nearly as much access to the football and men’s basketball teams as the coaches. He got to stand on the sidelines during games. Twice he led the team onto the field for a game.

Shapiro now says that his involvement with the football and men’s basketball teams was so corrupt that it ranked with the Southern Methodist University scandal of nearly three decades ago, when boosters were openly paying players. S.M.U. got “the death penalty,” meaning that it was not allowed to field a football team for two years, and Shapiro claimed that the University of Miami should be treated as harshly. Indeed, Britton Banowsky, the commissioner of Conference USA — and the current chairman of the Committee on Infractions — said in a conference call on Thursday that the Miami case had been “extraordinary in its size and scope.” It involved more than 30 athletes.

So how is it then that the penalties that were revealed on Tuesday — a loss of nine scholarships over a three-year period — were little more than a slap on the wrist? One theory — the one proposed by the N.C.A.A. — was that the university had already punished itself by withdrawing its football team from postseason play for two straight years. (On the other hand, those teams weren’t very good.)

A second possible reason is that the N.C.A.A. was gun shy after its mistakes in the Miami investigation. Unable to interview certain witnesses, N.C.A.A. investigators paid Shapiro’s lawyer to feed questions they wanted answered during a deposition about a bankruptcy proceeding. Several N.C.A.A. investigators were fired, as was the chief of enforcement. Shalala, meanwhile, did something most college presidents are terrified of doing: She openly criticized the N.C.A.A., accusing it of leaking false information and labeling some of its investigative tactics as “ludicrous.”

And then there’s the third possible reason, which is the one that most people in college sports believe. The N.C.A.A. does whatever it wants, regardless of whether the results are fair or appropriate. I’m of the opinion that there is something loony about punishing a school because its athletes got free meals (though, admittedly, they probably shouldn’t be hanging out with the likes of Nevin Shapiro). But that’s me. In the world we live in, these are called “impermissible benefits,” and punishment must be meted out.

In which case, there should at least be some rhyme or reason to the penalties — some consistency. But there isn’t. In 2010, for instance, the N.C.A.A. absolutely hammered the University of Southern California, taking away 30 football scholarships and imposing a two-year postseason ban. That case involved exactly one athlete — the star running back Reggie Bush — and it is far from clear that anybody at the school knew what was going on. The chairman of the Committee on Infractions back then was the late Paul Dee, who, for 15 years, was the athletic director at — gosh! — the University of Miami.

When Banowsky was asked during the conference call why the Miami penalty was comparatively so mild, he gave the classic N.C.A.A. answer: “Each case is different,” he said. “We don’t put cases against each other based on the unique nature of each case.” But they’re really not that unique. They all revolve around various kinds of recruiting violations and “impermissible benefits.” It wouldn’t be hard at all to come up with a system that institutionalized certain penalties for certain violations, and put some real fairness into a system that, today, is anything but fair.

Before she hung up, Shalala told me that she is part of a group of “major university presidents” who have taken up the task of reforming the N.C.A.A. Although she declined to give specifics, she said that “it is very clear to me what changes need to be made.”

I look forward to seeing what she and her fellow presidents come up with.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

If you’re a citizen who tries to keep up with current affairs, your latest responsibility is having a strong opinion about the troubled rollout of the health insurance marketplace.

Really makes you miss the government shutdown, doesn’t it? Try leading a lively dinner table conversation on software coding errors.

The Democrats are depressed. The Republicans enjoy pointing out that the Obamacare rollout has been a mess. But they obviously can’t pretend to be upset that people are finding it hard to sign up for a program their party wanted to kill, eviscerate and stomp into tiny pieces, which would then be fed to a tank of ravenous eels.

Well, actually, they can.

“I haven’t heard one of you apologize to the American public,” Representative David McKinley of West Virginia sternly told government contractors who had worked on the Web site. McKinley’s party recently shut down everything from the national parks to preschool programs, while costing the economy an estimated $24 billion. Nobody apologized. Perhaps they’ll write a note this weekend.

“I’m damned angry that I and 700,000 Texans I represent have been misled, misled and misled,” said Representative Pete Olson. The only thing that could conceivably make Olson angrier would be if the Obamacare site was working so well that Texans could get health insurance as easily as they can order a chrome scarf holder from

On Thursday the House Energy and Commerce Committee held the first of what will be a very long line of Congressional hearings on the subject of the botched rollout. The private contractors claimed, in the most oblique language possible, that their own individual pieces of the operation had gone swimmingly.

Meanwhile, the committee members told the private contractors about their personal technological expertise, which sounded so extensive it’s a wonder that the House of Representatives hasn’t invented its own search engine.

“I was in small business for 22 years, in the radio business. We dealt with software upgrades and changes in systems and all that . . .”

“When I was in developing software . . .”

“Being a computer science major from Rice University and a former naval aviator who could not afford to have my computer drop off-line as I’m rolling in my plane to drop a torpedo to stop a Russian submarine from launching a ballistic missile, a nuclear missile at our country. . . .”

That last one was Representative Olson again.

It is very possible that you missed this hearing. Perhaps you were at work. Perhaps you have taken a vow never to listen to any discussion in which the word “functionality” is used on a regular basis.

The bottom line is that the start-up was terrible. We’re just going to wait and see how well the administration does in fixing things. White House officials have promised to bring in “the best and brightest,” which is encouraging unless you are old enough to remember that “the best and the brightest” was what they called the guys who gave us the war in Vietnam.

In the meantime, keep things simple and just find somebody to blame. A few suggestions:


The major contractor on the Web job was CGI Federal, which is a subsidiary of a Canadian company. Perhaps this is all a Canadian plot. Perhaps the Canadians were jealous that the United States was on the verge of creating a health care system so much more exciting than their own single-payer version. Remember, these are the exact same people who sent us Justin Bieber.

Kathleen Sebelius

This is an extremely popular option. Fire the secretary of health and human services. The Republican National Committee has a petition drive demanding that Secretary Sebelius be canned. Democrats are less enthusiastic, but a lot of them feel that President Obama should fire somebody and really, it’s not going to be the secretary of agriculture.

Also, Secretary Sebelius has a family vacation home in northern Michigan. You can probably see Canada from her house.


Younger people are shocked that the Obama White House, which is supposed to be so technologically savvy, can’t manage a Web site rollout. They express this opinion through multiple devices that are seamlessly interlinked to one another, and to their friends’ multiple devices, and their friends’ friends’.

Many older people just shrug. It’s about computers. How could it possibly work out the first time around?

I am definitely going with option two, in my capacity as a person who has never recovered from the day my company changed e-mail systems. Let alone the time my cellphone started responding to all prompts by offering to call the old office number for former Senator Trent Lott.

The White House just has to call a tech. And then another tech. And then another tech. And then maybe buy a new cellphone.


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