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That’s a nice jersey, you wear it to all the games?

June 29th, 2010 Comments off

All right folks, wipe those affiliations off your sleeves and let’s talk a little college football.
It’s pretty amazing what gets people’s blood boiling in this business.
Write a story about how 190,000 people in Mississippi could have their electric bills go up by more than 33 percent because big business wants a new toy to play with, and you get a note or two, mostly from CEO or PR types concerned about their image.
If you criticize the governor, there will be a few more people calling to make their feelings known.
But have someone write a feel-good story about a long-time Mississippi businessman who happens to be a former big-time college football quarterback, and then sit back and watch the fireworks.
We recently ran a story on Jackson’s Glynn Griffing, which detailed the successes of his insurance business over the last 40 years after he starred at quarterback for Ole Miss during the school’s winningest era.
Phone calls, e-mails, letters and I think some smoke signals began pouring in complaining.
About what?
The story included mention that the Rebels won three national championships during Griffing’s tenure at the Oxford school.
Only in the South could a feel-good story about a former athlete turn into what some readers believe to be a covert attempt to mislead the public on issues of national security.
“Why do you hate Mississippi State so much?”
That was one e-mail. There was another I probably wouldn’t repeat unless we were in a bar.
There are lots of football fans out there who like to point out that Ole Miss never won an “official” national championship. Their argument: The Rebels were never crowned by the Associated Press (AP) or United Press International (UPI).
Those were the only recognized organizations for handing out such designations, the haters like to say.
Unfortunately, college football has been without any real structure for naming a champion for as long as there has been big-time college football.
When the story about Griffing was turned in to me, I was aware of the circumstances.
However, my reasoning, as a former sports editor, has always been that college football has created this issue, and teams that won shouldn’t suffer because of the sport’s stubborn ineptitude.
The organizations that voted Ole Miss champs in 1959, ’60 and ’62 are many of the same that have voted seven other SEC schools champs at one time or another. Because the NCAA has never recognized any school as a Division I-A (or FBS) champion, and these other groups (like Billingsley, DeVold, Dunkel, Football Research, FW, National Championship Foundation and Williamson) were considered legitimate by most in the business, there is no reason to not mention Ole Miss among schools to win national championships in football.
That surely doesn’t change a lot of people’s minds, but before you hit “send” on the next e-mail, at least first take off your favorite team’s jersey.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Barbour naive where it comes to BP

June 18th, 2010 Comments off

When the Exxon Valdez ran ashore in Alaska in the spring of 1989, I was a 22-year-old college student and editor of the student newspaper at Delta State University in Cleveland.
I remember being so interested in the events surrounding the oil spill that I seriously considered moving to Alaska to help with the clean-up — so much so that I interviewed with a relief effort group about the possibility.
In the end, I stayed in Cleveland, but I do remember writing a column about the matter.
There was so much hatred and venom directed at Exxon, including boycotts and the threat of historically large lawsuits, that somehow I thought those efforts might undermine the clean-up.
What I wrote was similar to what Gov. Haley Barbour said last week concerning BP and the current oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Barbour said he’s not sure the federal government should have made BP put $20 billion into escrow to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill because the company needs it to drill more wells and make money so it can pay up.
My thoughts on Exxon in 1989 were to keep buying from Exxon so it can afford to clean up the mess, otherwise we, the people, will end up footing the bill.
As I read Barbour’s comments and was reminded of my own thoughts, I was also, on this Father’s Day week, reminded of what my dad told me after having read my column about Exxon.
In so many words, my dad, as fiscally conservative as they come, said that he understood where I was coming from but responsibility was more important than anything else.
In the end, he said, no matter how much money you may have, we all have to put on our pants one leg at a time, and that, as such, every person has to be just as responsible for their actions as the next guy.
Without that feeling of responsibility, he reminded me, there will be those that feel they are above the rules that the rest of us live by.
Sound familiar?
BP anyone?
It would be easy to sit back, look at Barbour’s comments and say that he is out of touch with the everyday folks on the Gulf Coast; or how in the world could he have such different views than his counterpart in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who is praising the efforts for compensation from BP.
“If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” Gov. Haley Barbour asks.
“We need them to generate revenue to be able to pay us,” said Barbour, a Republican. “I worry that this escrow account reduces the chance of that rather than increasing the chances of that.”
Unfortunately, BP has not proven to be a company that is accountable or responsible for its own actions.
The company has been evasive and blatantly obstructive during the entire process.
Without pretending to get into the mind of President Obama, I think it is fair to say that if BP had been open, transparent and forthright during the last eight weeks, there wouldn’t be a need to create an escrow account to set the money aside, with the company agreeing to put $5 billion a year into the fund for the next four years.
Barbour’s comments are naive from the standpoint that, because of the escrow account, the chance of BP losing so much money during the next four years that it can’t pay fines and restitution for its actions is almost laughable.
Exxon, for all of its similar problems in the Valdez disaster more than 20 years ago, seems to be doing OK these days.
That’s not say there aren’t going to be tough times ahead for BP, its shareholders and leadership.
However, I doubt BP’s problems and financial distress will rise to the problems and financial distress of the small business people of Mississippi and the rest of the Gulf Coast who are all still waiting for the company to show some responsibility for its actions and respect for the (human or otherwise) lives that have been disrupted or ruined.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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‘Anti-business’ is usually a scare tactic by label

June 14th, 2010 Comments off

You know, we do it to ourselves.
We label ourselves to such an extent that it is impossible view an opinion as being one that isn’t right, left, liberal, conservative or whatever.
I was reminded of this last week when I went to hear Brandon Presley speak to the capital press corps.
Presley is the Northern District public service commissioner that voted twice against the approval of the Kemper County Coal Plant.
Both times, he was outvoted, and the plant will be built for as much as $2.8 billion.
Presley has stated on many occasions that he isn’t necessarily against the plant, he’s against the people of South Mississippi being on the hook for that kind of money for a plant which has technology that owners can’t guaranty will work.
Yet, because he has a view that is contrary to building a multi-billion-dollar plant that will employ about 150 or so people, he has been labeled as an anti-business politician.
Presley points out that when this plant is built, rates will go up by at least 33 percent, but it could be more.
That, he contends, will make it harder for small business people to pay their electricity bills, therefore passing along the rate hike to their customers who already are paying a rate hike at home for the new coal plant.
And isn’t this country built on the backs of the small businessman?
Yeah, there are always two sides of the story, and this column really isn’t to slam the coal plant.
It’s about labels.
And Presley isn’t anti-business for voting the way he did. He is looking out for a part of the Mississippi business community that isn’t getting attention from a different side.
He points out, as the former mayor of Nettleton (the hometown of Boston Red Sox outfielder Bill Hall — sorry, but I had to throw that in there.) that if his city’s electricity bill goes up, that money has to be offset somewhere else in the budget.
Again, if that goes to taxes, the businesses and residents are charged with the city’s higher rates, which they are already paying at home.
It’s a vicious cycle; trickle-down economics, if you will.
Presley is no more anti-business for his vote than the other two public service commissioners for seeing the business opportunities the way they have seen them.
Yet, we like to throw around these labels to make ourselves feel better about the decisions we make.
If we label ourselves as pro-business, then we must be right, and anyone that has an opinion unlike ours must be anti-business.
All of that brings me to a story about me.
Seriously, I wrote a column many months ago that drew the ire of a particular professional association in Mississippi. The president of the group happened to be a guy I grew up with a hundred years ago. We are friends. Our families are friends, the whole nine yards.
Yet, I had taken a stance that wasn’t necessarily in line with his association.
We chatted.
He was mad.
I tried to appease him.
“But, Ross, how can a pro-business publication like yours take such an anti-business stance?”
Well, first and foremost, I said, the Mississippi Business Journal is neither a pro-business nor anti-business publication.
We are a business publication that prints all business news that has to do with Mississippi.
My friend and I chatted a little longer and then he was shocked to find out that I was willing to allow him to send a rebuttal to my column.
It’s about getting business information, or in this case, an opinion about Mississippi business in our publication.
It doesn’t have to be about pro-business or anti-business.
It should just be about business and having all the information to make the right decision.
In Presley’s case, his business opinion was based on different information than the other two commissioners.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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Haley’s been soaking his head in oil

June 5th, 2010 Comments off

Gov. Haley Barbour told a group of mostly native Mississippians today (Saturday) that the oil tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t as bad as the media is making it out to be.

“It’s really more of a nuisance,” he said.

Really?

Barbour made the comments at the Mississippi in the Park event at Central Park in New York City.

Does he really believe that?

Nearly 40 percent of the Gulf of Mexico is closed to fishing and boating; oil is inundating the marshes of Louisiana and is beginning to wash ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

I suppose nuisance is one way to describe it, but I suspect only folks that are trying to downplay the effect of this tragedy would use that term.

Gov. Barbour has no sense of urgency about this event and hasn’t since Day 1.

While Mississippi has not seen the devastation to evironment and wildlife that Louisiana has to date, there is no guarantee those conditions will hold.

It really is quite striking that Gov. Barbour would even be in New York when he should be on the ground on the gulf coast monitoring the situation.

During the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Barbour was famous for going on national television and anywhere else, for that matter, and telling everyone how Mississippians are “hitching up their britches,” to get through the tragedy.

Maybe it’s time Gov. Barbour hitch up his britches and make sure the Mississippi Gulf Coast is protected from an event that could prove to be far more costly than Hurricane Katrina in the long run.