Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The One Man Revolution

"We are starting a political revolution tonight"

That was the comment from Bernie Sanders after his expected win in neighboring New Hampshire last night.  Sanders and his followers believe that their close lose in the closed caucuses in Iowa and their win in the tiny Granite State are signs that America at large is embracing the idea of Democratic Socialism.  But when the Clinton Political Machine and the "establishment" at the Democratic Party eventually win out in this long process, who is going to lead the "revolution"?

Keep in mind that Bernie Sanders is 74-years old.  Ronald Reagan was 73 when he was elected to his second term in 1984.  And he's not even a Democrat.  He was elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate as an Independent in Vermont.  He's running for President as a Democrat because he knows a third party candidacy would be political suicide--and by at least claiming to be a Dem, he would get a place on stage for at least a couple of early debates.

So if a 78-year old Bernie Sanders decides not to run in 2020, who becomes the Democratic Socialist candidate?  The next most-liberal member of the Senate is Al Franken.  The convenient thing about Al running for President would be that he could do his own parodies on Saturday Night Live--since he is very familiar with how the show works.  Would Russ Feingold pick up the Democratic Socialist flag and run with it--even if he doesn't win a return to the Senate this fall?

It's easy for one candidate who makes for good late night television appearances and who delivers a populist message of being Robin Hood to build a niche following for one election cycle.  But that doesn't automatically mean the next person who claims to be "next Bernie Sanders" will enjoy the same popularity.  And would Sanders even "anoint" someone as his "successor"?

The scary thing is that there could be a local "revolution" brewing--as city councils and school boards across the nation would eventually fill up with people who believe in high rates of taxation and government promises to fix all of your ills--without actually having to run as declared Socialists.  That is much easier to do in elections with 10% turnout and no major media campaigns.  That may be an even greater threat to America than some old hippie enjoying a couple of months in the spotlight.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Smaller Would Be Better

It appears the annual Sawdust Days festival in Oshkosh is reaching a crossroads.  Last night, the Oshkosh Advisory Parks Board approved a new slate of special event fees to cover the revenue that is lost when events prevent the general public from using things like boat launches and shelters.  For Sawdust Days, that would mean an additional $7000 a year in fees--as they prevent the rental of most shelters in Menominee Park--while also blocking the main boat launch and docks for several days every July.  That will be on top of the fees they are already charged for city services like police, ambulance and electrical service.

As Chairperson Ellen Schmidt has pointed out numerous times, Sawdust Days doesn't have the money to pay for such fees--and she continues to hint that they may just pack up the tent and go home if they continue to get charged more and more every years.  But Parks Boardmember Bill Gogolewski provided an option for them last night that I have been advocating for years: downsize the festival.

I know the Sawdust Days people take great pride in what they put on each year--and they firmly believe that admission should be free.  But free don't pay the bills.  And when you hold fast to limiting your revenues like that, then your expenses have to be cut.  As Gogolewski pointed out, if Sawdust Days didn't tie up the boat landings and docks they could save almost $4000 right there.  And if the festival went from five days to just a couple of days, their special event permit fee from the city would be reduced by almost 60%.

The time has come for the Sawdust Days committee to let go of what they consider to be the "traditional festival" and adjust to modern realities.  Ms Schmidt responded to downsizing suggestions with the pat answer of "we've always done that" when it came to the suggestion of getting rid of the midway rides or one of the music stages or not having a rodeo on one of the ball diamonds.

If somebody thinks there is enough demand in Oshkosh for crappy midway rides they can rent the parking lots of the former KMart or Wal-Mart and charge people as they drive in to do the rides.  If members of the Mexican-American community believe there is enough demand for their music and vendors in Oshkosh, they can rent the Sunnyview Expo Center and charge people admission to get in the gate or the buildings.  The Buckskinners can pay their own park rental fees and set up at any time during the summer.  And the city and Festival Foods can continue to pay for the 4th of July fireworks.

So it's up to the Sawdust Days folks now.  Put on a small and still free event--or watch as the same number of people show up for the fireworks at night anyway.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Brutal Working Conditions

Instead of heading into your boss's office to demand a raise, you might want to consider asking for tenure instead.  Last week, the UW Board of Regents approved a new policy on tenure for faculty which became "necessary" after the Legislature eliminated those job protections from state statutes.

The new tenure tenets are seen as being "tougher" than what UW professors enjoyed in the past.  There will now be actual job performance reviews--conducted every five years.  Yes, we will now take a look at how good or bad a job someone is doing in the classroom every five years--which is an improvement from the total lack of any performance review ever under the previous tenure policy.  How would you like it if you never got any feedback on the job you were doing for five years?  Wouldn't you wonder about your performance at some point?  Wouldn't you want to know if you are getting better or worse at what you do?  Or would you just assume that you were great--and there's no point in having someone tell you that.

Those not meeting the standards will come under a tight control--as they will have to show improvement within 18-months or face the possibility of termination.  I don't know how someone could expect to sleep under the pressure of having a year and a half to show some kind of improvement in what they do.  And even then, quite possibly still not get fired for failure to get better.

The most "controversial" provision in the new tenure policy is that Chancellors now have the authority to terminate programs--and the professors that teach them--for financial reasons.  That could mean bad news for the tenured instructors that teach 17th Century Russian Literature attended by six students a year or courses dealing with celebrity culture that have zero academic merit but appeal to kids obsessed with stardom.  They may have to go, to make room for professors that teach math or science.

The arguments offered by those who oppose the changes and wanted to keep the old tenure rules break down into two categories: 1--This is the way it has always been and 2--That is the standard in Academics.  To which we should reply: 1--I guess we should go back to just putting babies in boxes on the front seats of cars instead of car seats then and 2--If everyone else is jumping off a cliff, that means we have to as well?

I'd work a little harder on this My Two Cents--but my review isn't for another four and a half years.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Trying Hard Not To Hate

Much of Super Bowl week has been spent trying to convince America that they shouldn't hate Cam Newton.  The Carolina Panthers quarterback is poised to become the face of the NFL with an MVP regular season and probable Super Bowl MVP trophy coming his way.  Yet, Newton remains a polarizing figure.

A lot of people don't like Cam's on-field demeanor.  The excessive celebrations that started with his "Superman" move--looking like he was pulling open his shirt to reveal an "S" on his chest--and then added a few dance moves and then this year the addition of "dabbing"--sort of an old-school "bow to the crowd".  If Cam were to add another move or two for the Super Bowl, he's going to end up looking like John Cleese from the "Ministry of Silly Walks" skit on Monty Python's Flying Circus.

And then there's the taking of team selfies on the sideline before the game is even over, the yelling and jumping around in pre-game warmups, and the outrageous wardrobe selections for press conferences and team appearances that also grate on people.  Some of us can't help but recall the theft charges filed against Newton during his freshman year at Florida--which saw him steal a laptop computer from another student and then throw said computer out of the window when the cops showed up.  That led to his transfer to a junior college. 

Some fans still refer Newton as "Scam" after his return to Division One football was marred by his father's open bragging about how much schools were offering to pay him to have his son play for their team.  The inept NCAA investigated but couldn't find any concrete evidence that Cam got paid--and he led Auburn to a National Title and won a Heisman Trophy--both of which large sections of the country believe are forever tainted.

Talking heads and writers have spent countless hours this week trying to convince football fans none of that stuff mentioned before should matter--and that we should embrace Cam Newton as the game's next great star.  I've heard Cam's on-field celebrations compared to the "joy" with which Magic Johnson played basketball--and everyone loved Magic.  That the selfies and the dabbing are a generational thing and that we are just sticks in the mud if we can't learn to enjoy it.  And, of course, the race card has been played often as some wonder why Cam's dancing is an issue, but Peyton Manning's alleged use of Human Growth Hormone has practically been a non-issue this entire week.

There is one thing that I do like about Cam Newton--and it comes in his new commercial for Beats Audio.  He lists all of the perceived slights that motivate him to workout harder (wearing his Beats headphones) and then addresses the belief that he hurts people's feelings with his actions.  His response: "It's too bad they don't make band-aids for feelings".  I'm using that in every conversation about political correctness and "inclusive speech" from now on.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

So Much For the Accountability Factor

I had a chance to engage an Internal Revenue Service agent in an informal, off-the-record conversation this week.  I found out that morale is low at the IRS right now due to staffing cuts that are making it nearly impossible to keep up with returns and collections.  We discussed an amended return that I filed almost three months ago which still has not been processed.  I half-jokingly asked the agent how they were going to enforce the Affordable Care Act requirement that everyone must have health insurance and to collect the penalty--I mean tax for constitutionality purposes--if there were fewer auditors.  For a response I got an exaggerated eye roll and a "Yeah, like that was going to happen".

So it sounds like the hallmark legacy of the Obama Administration--a lack of personal responsibility on the part of anyone--will continue.  Based on my conversation, I'm left with the belief that someone could either falsely claim to have insurance--knowing the possibility of being audited is greatly diminished now--or just not pay the penalty--I mean tax for constitutionality purposes--since there won't be anyone trying to collect it.

And speaking of collections, it turns out the IRS is  hamstrung by language in the ACA when it come to enforcing the penalty--er, tax--provision.  The only option the IRS has is to take it out of someone's refund.  If you owe Uncle Sam on your return, the tax is added on--but there is no immediate penalty for not paying that portion.  What's more, the IRS cannot put a lien on your property or garnish your wages to collect said tax--as it can do with all other tax debts.  Their only hope is that someday you will be getting a refund--and then they can deduct what you owe.

So in effect, the Affordable Care Act has created 20-million people who are violating the "Law of the Land" as the President likes to call it every time Republicans try to repeal ObamaCare--by still not having health insurance.  And now there could be 20-million tax scofflaws as well who don't ever have to fear being "brought to justice".

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Holiday From Holidays

If you were tired of hearing about a "war on Christmas", get ready for a couple of weeks of complaining about a "war on Valentine's Day".  A St Paul, Minnesota elementary school is banning the celebration of Valentine's Day this year--because it could be perceived as "offensive" to those who do not mark the holiday.  In fact, the principal of the school says he is doing away with the celebration of all "dominant" holidays in an effort to be more "inclusive of his diverse student body".

We all know what that language means: marking holidays celebrated by white, Christian students is "offensive and a micro-agression"to racial and religious minorities--while marking white, Christian students mark holidays celebrated by those of a minority or immigrant background is being "tolerant".  But that is not the focus of this My Two Cents.  Instead,  I want to enthusiastically jump on-board this "war against Valentine's Day". 

In elementary school, Valentine's can be a source of frustration, consternation and angst for young boys.  When I was a kid, the day was marked by the exchange of those cut-out cards and candy hearts--both featuring lame sayings like "Be mine" and "You're Sweet".  Class rules required you to bring a card and candy for everyone--so that the unpopular kids wouldn't feel bad about being unpopular.

But as an 8-year old, countless hours would be spent wrangling over what card and what candy heart to give to everyone.  You weren't about give another guy a card saying "Be Mine" or "I think you're sweet!"  That is what the "Happy Valentines Day" or "You're Cool" cards and hearts were for.  But there were never enough of those to go around.  Plus, you didn't want to give the shall we say "awkward" girls anything that indicated in any way that you might like them--as they would never let you alone on the playground or on the bus--leading to endless teasing from your friends and angry denials that she had given you cooties.

So rant and rave all you want Bill O'Reilly about your "war on Valentine's Day"--but there are probably a couple hundred grade-school boys breathing a sigh of relief right now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Over-reaction Tuesday

In the NFL, the day after a full slate of games is what we like to call "Over-reaction Monday".  If your team wins, the talking heads on sports radio and TV are debating which jersey color they should wear in the Super Bowl--because it is clear that no one is going to beat them the rest of the season.  If your team loses, the talking heads on sports radio and TV are calling for the firing of the head coach and the general manager while trying to find one more game on the schedule they might have a chance to win.  It's the nature of the sport--since there really is nothing to do but rehash what happened yesterday because another contest is a week away yet.

Welcome to the "Over-reaction Tuesday" of the political world.  The 24-hour news channels will be filled with "post Iowa Caucus analysis" for at least the next two or three days--as "experts" pore over the results of voting done by about 15% of eligible voters in that state in an archaic and exclusionary format.  But that certainly won't prevent everyone from making broad pronouncements.  Well here are my impressions from last night's festivities:

Hillary Clinton is really disliked by a lot of people in Iowa.  Consider that the anointed candidate by the Democratic Party Machine was barely able to beat an avowed Socialist from a state with an even smaller population than Iowa.  Just like Barack Obama in 2008, Bernie Sanders benefited from the "anyone but Hillary" mindset within the Iowa Democratic party to make it s close race.

There are a lot of Republicans in Iowa that vote based on religion.  Ted Cruz is the "Evangelical Candidate" this time around.  Just like Rick Santorum was in 2012 when he won in Iowa (and nowhere else) and just like Mike Huckabee was in 2008 when he won in Iowa (and nowhere else).  Apparently, Huckabee wasn't "Evangelical enough" this time around--since he got less than three percent support and immediately dropped out of the race.

You don't win elections just because you are famous.  "The Celebrity Candidate" Donald Trump is likely wondering how he lost to Ted Cruz (and almost to Marco Rubio as well) last night.  Trump is famous.  Trump is on TV all the time.  Trump talks louder than everyone else.  How could Trump have lost?  The answer is simple, he didn't put in the work.  He didn't do the coffee shop "listening sessions".  He didn't do the fairs.  He didn't call the supporters on Caucus Day to remind them to bring as many people as they could with them Monday night.  Trump thought he could just show up, be famous and win.  And with no real party infrastructure support behind him to do that kind of real "grassroots work"--his poll numbers in other states likely won't equal ballot box success either.

So, next week it's New Hampshire's turn--followed by "Over-reaction Wednesday"--where everything we thought and said today won't matter.