Thursday, August 21, 2014

Non-Binding Nonsense

Despite being on "vacation" the past couple of days, I was still able to catch the Winnebago County Board meeting debate over whether to place two non-binding referenda on the November ballot.  Bleeding hearts on the Board wanted to ask people if they support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and if they think Governor Scott Walker should take money from Washington to expand the BadgerCare program.  Both of the measures were eventually tabled--meaning they will almost certainly not appear on ballot.  But the fervor with which the Supervisors argued over the topic reminded me of people who get worked up about pre-season NFL games--it's all much ado about nothing.

Non-binding referenda are nothing more than publicly-funded surveys.  They used to be common on the local level, where wishy-washy politicians didn't know how to gauge public sentiment--so they would put issues like "Should dogs be allowed in city parks?" or "Should we build a new high school?" on the April ballot.  But now, advocacy groups are trying to use the ballot to advance their talking points with questions about the minimum wage and the Medicaid funding.

And make no doubt that these "advisory" questions will be misrepresented to the public in order to boost Democratic turnout.  In the age of the Low-Information Voter any referendum--whether it counts for anything or not--can be used to their advantage.  The accurate statement "Vote 'Yes' on November 4th to let Madison know that you think the minimum wage should be raised" will not be used in pre-election rhetoric.  Instead, the slogan will be "Vote 'Yes' November 4th to raise the minimum wage!".  It doesn't matter that a 100% 'Yes' vote will in no way affect the minimum wage--because how many voters actually know what "non-binding" means anyway?  As long as they think their vote will actually do it--that is all that counts.  Oh and while you are there, why don't you vote for Mary Burke and Mark Harris on the Democratic ticket--even though you don't know who they are.

And speaking of Mary Burke....those Supervisors pushing for the referendum questions made the argument that the Board should "give the people a voice" conveniently forget that the very issues they wanted placed on the ballot seperately are more than being addressed at the top of the ticket in the Governor's race.  Burke is very clear that she would take the Medicaid money and commit the state to all future costs for BadgerCare expansion--and Governor Walker has already declined that.  Mary Burke also supports raising the minimum wage--although she hasn't committed to the $10.10 figure just yet--while Governor Walker thinks Wisconsin should retain the national wage.  If you believe that washing dishes in a restaurant three nights a week or stocking shelves in the grocery store on weekends is worth 40% more than current rates--and if you believe that low-income health care should be paid for with the money you send to the IRS on April 15th instead of the money you send to the State Treasury on April 15th--then you can "make your voice heard clearly" by voting for Mary an election that actually counts!!

President Obama likes to say all the time that "Elections have consequences".  They must not have had a lot of non-binding referenda cluttering up the ballots when he was running for office in Illinois.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Roundabout By Any Other Name......

The City of Neenah has decided against giving their roundabouts "official names".  A citizen thought it would be easier to give directions to people if you could say "go 270-degrees through the "Screaming Eagle Roundabout'" or "go 90-degrees in the Rocket Roundabout to get to the High School."  City officials pointed out that even if they gave the roundabouts names, they still wouldn't be used in the GPS devices that everyone uses to get around nowadays.

But it got me to thinking about what names we could give to roundabouts here in Oshkosh.  Unlike Neenah, our city has decided to go with the overgrown vegetation look in most of the traffic circles--rather than sculptures or statues--so such landmarks really aren't appropriate.  Plus nearly all of our roundabouts come in multiples--so referring to two or four roundabouts in a row would actually make things more complex.  But here are some suggestions I have come up with.

The four roundabouts at Ninth Avenue and Highway 41: The Tourist Trap.  If there is anywhere in Oshkosh that you are going to be involved in a crash with one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Event City every year--this would be the spot.  During EAA this year, I witnessed an SUV with New Jersey plates roll right through three of the four roundabouts without yielding to traffic on the left a single time.  That was balanced out by the truck with Kentucky license plates that kept stopping in the roundabout to allow traffic to enter from the right.  Just this past Sunday afternoon, a woman in a car with Michigan plates never even slowed down to cut in front of me in the roundabout along Washburn--forcing me to lock up the brakes and blast my horn.  She flipped me off, by the way.  Apparently her illegal manuever was my fault.

The two roundabouts at Witzel and 41: The Boat Crash.  I thought about calling these roundabouts the "Wrong Way Old Farts" because I and five others have all witnessed different incidents involving elderly drivers going clockwise through the roundabouts--or driving the wrong way in circles on the cobblestone interior.  But for me, these roundabouts will forever be made famous by the crash a few years ago involving a car and a boat that I witnessed on the way back to work from lunch.  Apparently, the car knocked the boat off a trailer that was being hauled by a minivan.  It remains the only traffic crash that required investigation by both the Oshkosh Police Department and the DNR.

The four roundabouts at Highways 21 and 41: The Truckers' Nightmare.  Given the number of semis that have to navigate these roundabouts--and the caution they have to use not to crush cars turning inside of them in the other lanes--this is a fitting name for this complex.  It's also fun to see the big rigs try to get from the lane they needed to take in two roundabouts to the one they need to make a turn in the third roundabout during periods of heavy traffic.  It's amazing that Festival Foods, Menards, Lowes and the gas stations don't have everything delivered by cargo helicopter by now.

The roundabout at Jackson and Murdock: The KFC Roundabout.  This was an easy one--as the name pays homage to the Kentucky Fried Chicken that once stood at that intersection--but had to be purchased by the city and torn down to make way for the roundabout.  KFC is yet to rebuild in Oshkosh--a culinary loss that is still mourned by many.

BONUS: The intersection of Oshkosh Avenue and Sawyer Street: The One Intersection That Needs A Roundabout.  If there is one confusing and convoluted point in Oshkosh that could actually be made better by installing a roundabout this would be it.  Where else have you driven where people making a left-hand turn go behind you?  And then you have seven stoplights all within twenty feet of each other.  Of course, I'm told a roundabout can't be put there because you need the stoplights to control traffic when there is a boat going under the drawbridge and the cars all get backed up.  Figures.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Called This One Too

If you are keeping track of all the dire predictions about the Affordable Care Act that have come true you have already ticked off: " won't work", "fewer people than predicted will sign up", "rates will go up", "people will lose the plan they like", "people will lose the doctor they like", "the number of young, healthy people will not match the number of older, sicker people who sign up", "most states won't take on the cost of setting up their own exchanges", and "the employer mandate will never be enforced".  Now you have another inevitable--yet denied by every Democrat at every level of Government--prediction: "People will sign up to avoid the penalty (I mean tax for Constitutional purposes) and then just stop paying their premiums".

Investors Business Daily reports that the biggest insurers in the exchanges are seeing declining numbers of enrollees as the year goes on.  Aetna says more than 120-thousand people have stopped paying their premiums since the extended enrollment period ended.  And they fully expect the numbers to keep dropping as the year goes on--until the erosion reaches about 30% of their original enrollees.  IBD couldn't get exact numbers from other large insurers--but all did admit to declining enrollment in policies offered through the exchanges.

Industry officials are trying to paint a rosy picture--hoping that these "lost customers" got coverage through new employers or Medicaid or other private insurers.  But the more likely scenario is that these people went through and purchased a policy by paying only one month's premium just so they could check the box on their 1040 form and collect their refund aniticipation loan from Hewitt-Jackson.  And once they didn't have to worry about the IRS anymore--they dropped the coverage.  Because let's be honest, if the budget decision comes down to having health insurance or being able to buy beer and pot that month--I think we all know which is going to win out.

Insurers may as well get used to this, because this will be the pattern as long as the ACA is in effect.  Or until word gets out that President Obama has unilaterally added more and more "exemptions" to the fine (I mean tax for Constitutional purposes) for not having coverage, that hardly anybody faces it anymore--and those that do find out the IRS has no interest is actually trying to collect it--at which time all of those people whom we were told were "desperate for health care coverage" will just openly flaunt the incredibly expensive law that was meant to "save them".  And because the law says insurers can't deny coverage to anyone anymore, they will just have to accept the cost of processing these applications and putting the policies into effect for the one of two months before the "customers" stop paying again.

So back to our list of dire predictions.  Up next appears to be "Insurance companies will see losses on nearly all of the policies offered in the exchanges and will either jack up premiums next year--or get out of offering them altogether". 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Celebrating Dependence

Later today a liberal "senior advocacy group" will be holding a "Birthday Party for Social Security" in Green Bay.  It was 79-years ago today that President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act--and this group wants to "celebrate" the success of that program. 

One of the things they plan to "celebrate" is that "Social Security has helped to reduce poverty!"  They point to the fact that when SSI went into effect, more than 50% of US seniors lived in poverty and that rate is now about 10%.  That sounds impressive--until you recall that Social Security started in the throes of the pre-World War II depression when poverty rates across all age groups was much higher than it has been in the post-World War II economic boom.  As us Supply Siders like to say "A rising tide floats all boats."

They also will likely "celebrate" how Social Security "provides seniors with a sense of security about their retirement".  I'm guessing they won't be showing video footage of Congress debating cost of living adjustments every year.  I also doubt they will be discussing the projected income to outflow in the Trust Fund over the next five years--which according to the 2014 report from the SSA is NEGATIVE 77-BILLION DOLLARS!  And I can flat out guarantee that there will be little celebration of the fact that automatic withdrawals would have to increase by 7% per working American to fill in that deficit.

I am sure that there will be much "celebration" of the steady income Social Security has provided to retirees who "otherwise would have had nothing to live on in their Golden Years."  The average SSI payment is just over 12-hundred dollars a month per person--meaning a married couple who retire at 65 and live another 25-years can expect to get (with average cost of living adjustments of 2%) about $825,000.  That is a pretty good little "nest egg" isn't it?  But I took what my wife and I pay annually in SSI withholdings from our paychecks--a combined $4239--and figured out how much we would have if that money had instead gone into a Roth IRA every couple of weeks during our 40-year working careers and earned the S&P 500 average return since 1926: 11.69%.  That money going to Social Security would have earned my wife and me $2,983,832.81 by the time we were 65.  Yes, that is correct, by investing instead of relying on the Government to fund my retirement, my family would have an extra 2.1 MILLION DOLLARS!!!

Maybe we should go to the big Social Security Birthday Party with a cake that has 2.1 million candles on it to drive home the point about what you give up through government dependence. Although, having 2.1 million burning dollar bills on the cake would actually be a better representation.  Anyway, I think I'll pass on crashing the SSI party and use that time to instead double-check my math on the $1.1 MILLION I could have in my Health Savings Account if I hadn't had to pay into Medicare and Medicaid my entire life......

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Garbage In, Garbage Out

It might be time to reassess how we deliver election night coverage.  In yet another vote, what appeared to be a victory for one candidate at the end of election night, has turned out to possibly be a different result this morning.  The latest case involves the Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District where the Associated Press declared State Senator Glenn Grothman the winner at 11:00 last night.  OK, we here at the Radio Ranch go with that (since the AP is our "trusted" statewide news source) talk with Grothman about the win and set up an interview with Bob Burnell this morning to discuss the race against Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris.  Everybody goes to bed satisfied with what has happened

But then, at 2:30 this morning, we find out that the Sheboygan County Clerk has issued completely different vote totals that had been posted all night.  Some sort of computer glitch was causing State Senator Joe Liebham's vote totals to be under-reported.  Sheboygan County just happens to be Liebham's home base and the source of his greatest support in the primary race.  All of a sudden, the easy victory that was declared for Grothman is a razor thin margin of just 215-votes--with a few precincts still to report.

This comes after the infamous "bags of ballots" that "we forgot to count" in Waukesha County a few years ago--which turned around a State Supreme Court race in favor of the "Conservative" candidate--and the tearful press conference from the Clerk trying to explain how that happened.  That of course was followed by a statewide recount and lawsuits.

And that was preceded by an overnight reversal in an Oshkosh School Board race about 10-years ago--where we got "all precincts reporting" and interviewed who we were told was the "winner"--only to find out the next morning that there were "copied ballots in the Town of Algoma" that hadn't been hand-counted yet--leading to a new winner actually getting the seat.

And then there was the debacle of 2000--when Al Gore was declared winner of the Florida election--only to have everyone backtrack on that--followed by hanging chads, "count all the votes" protests and multiple lawsuits.

Obviously, we don't want to go back to the days when newspapers ruled the media world and you waited two days to find out who won an election.  And we don't want to renew the errors of the Voter News Service days, when winners were declared moments after (and sometimes before) polls closed based solely on exit polls and results from certain "targeted districts".  But there has to be someway to provide more accurate election night coverage than what is being provided now.  What I can't understand is that computers count the ballots--and then report the results to computers in clerk's offices.  So why aren't those numbers matching up?  Banks seem to have no problem keeping our balances correct.  The Monopoly Chance card with "Bank Error in your favor--collect 200-dollars" is considered quaint today because that really never happens anymore.  Yet, every election cycle, we send you the listener to bed with one declared winner--and a "hold the phone" re-write the next morning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Out of Bounds

"There are deaths all the time in racin', at small tracks like that, it's just part of the sport". 

That was a quote Dale Earnhardt, Jr gave to a television crew before Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen about his thoughts on a fatal incident the night before involving fellow driver Tony Stewart.  Stewart was involved in a crash with one of the local drivers on the dirt track--Joe Ward, Jr.  Ward got out of his car after the crash and--has become a racing tradition--was going to shake his fist at Stewart, whom he believed to have done him wrong in causing the crash.  Unfortunately, Stewart ended up hitting Ward with his car and killing him.

In what could have been a major PR disaster--and a huge black eye for the sport in general--Stewart still planned to race Sunday at the Glen--despite being the subject of a police investigation.  His crew chief Greg Zipadelli even went so far as to tell the press "It's business as usual"--until Stewart "decided" not to race a few hours before the event.  I use the flying quotes there because I am sure that NASCAR leaned heavily on Stewart to sit this one out--despite desperately needing the points to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Both of the comments made yesterday by Earnhardt and Zipadelli show just how callous racers are (and you could say have to be) about dying during competition.  Dale, Jr's dad was famously killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 (some would say blocking for his son and the driver of his own team, Michael Waltrip).  But the Stewart case is a bit different.  This wasn't two cars collide and one hits the wall and a bad angle.  This happened under caution, Ward was not in his vehicle at the time and Stewart was not "jockeying for position".

So what we are left with is the sticky legal question of what constitutes "a sports incident" and what constitutes a "criminal action"?  Video of the scene is a little dark and grainy--but it appears that Stewart guns it at the moment before impact with Ward--maybe hoping to kick up a little dirt in Ward's face to show him who the "real star" was.  Stewart supporters immediately got onto social media to defend their guy saying sprint cars are set up to jump to the right when you hit the gas in order to slide through the dirt corners--and that is why Ward got hit.  Others coldly said Ward had it coming for running into traffic to throw his little hissy fit.  Now it will be up to prosecutors to decide if Stewart was acting negligently or recklessly in the seconds before hitting Ward.

There is precedent for criminal charges against athletes for their actions on the field.  Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals was charged with assault for an unprovoked hit that seriously injured a player in New Jersey back in the 1990's.  Canadian courts have also convicted hockey players for sucker punches on the ice.  Now we are going to find out what is and isn't "in bounds" when it comes to "sending a message on the track". 

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Reality Bursts Your Bubble

Is there anything better than when reality doesn't fit the narrative put forth by liberals? 

Take for instance the constant claims that "a college education is becoming too expensive for students and families to afford".  That line is used every time somebody wants more taxpayer dollars to go to state college systems, grant programs and to allow past student loan borrowers to default on their obligations.  But how then do you explain UW-Madison getting a record number of freshman applications this year?  Shouldn't the exact opposite thing be happening?  Shouldn't students and families be so discouraged by the cost of college that they decide to forego it--or put it off until they can save up more cash?

And these record applications are to the most expensive school in the entire UW System.  I've detailed before the tens of thousands of dollars students and families could save by going to one of the two-year campuses--commuting from home--taking the same general ed requirements that you would need to take in Madison.  But these freshman want to start paying the most right from day one.

What the application record shows is that if someone values something enough--in this case, a degree from one of the best universities on the planet--they will find a way to pay for it themselves.  Which brings us to another topic where reality is not quite living up to the narrative of the Left: health insurance.

Remember the key component of the Affordable Care Act that A--made it constitutional and B--was going to help fund the thing--the penalty for failure to buy health insurance?  Well it turns out that the 30-million people who remain uninsured (which I swear is the same number of uninsured that existed before the ACA) won't actually have to pay that penalty.  The Wall Street Journal reports that 90% of those violating "the law of the land" will face no penalties this year, or next year or the year after that.  In an ironic twist, that is the direct result of President Obama acting unilaterally to change the law Congress approved.

The really bad news about the lack of punishment for non-compliance with the law is that it allows more of the "young healthy people" who were needed to balance out the increase in "old sick people" being covered by private insurers to stay out of the pool--thereby creating the "Death Spiral" that us Conservatives predicted from day one.  It also robs the Federal Government of an estimated 3-BILLION dollars that were supposed to be used to help offset the cost of the subsidies provided to the 4-million people that actually did gain new coverage.  And all of this is based, of course, on the IRS actually tracking down the 10% scofflaws and getting them to pay the penalty.  And we all know what kind of track record that agency has when it comes to people who are actually breaking the law--not just criticizing the Obama Administration.

Well, enough reality for today.  I'll let you get back to your little fantasy worlds again.