Friday, March 24, 2017

Nothing to Get Excited About

Of the two hospitals here in Oshkosh, which one has the lower price for delivery of a baby?  What is the cost of an arthroscopic surgery on a knee?  What medical practitioner has the lowest rate for an annual physical?  If you aren't able to answer these questions definitively, you understand the root cause of what's usually described as the "health care crisis".

And because you likely won't be able to answer those questions definitively after the Republican health insurance bill passes (or doesn't pass) in Congress, you can see why that is not a real solution to the problem either.  I'm starting to hope that the bill does fail this week, so that everyone can go back to the drawing board and craft a plan that will actually work.

While the GOP bill would do away with the "employer mandate" it doesn't provide the incentives to get health insurance completely out of the "benefits package"--where it no longer needs to be.  Why do you have the health insurance plan you have?  Not because you went out and shopped for the best rates or the services that you need.  Instead, someone in HR in the front office decided that was the insurance you were going to have.  What if your employer just paid you what they currently pay for their share of the premiums and you found the insurance that best serves you?

The House bill also fails to put the onus on health care providers to inform patients of what their care actually costs.  Current rates are a delicate balance between the maximum hospitals and doctors can get--and how much insurance companies are willing to pay.  What if clinics and physicians had to provide you with written estimates like auto mechanics--detailing the actual "labor costs", "parts" and "service charges"--and you could choose which one offers the best results for the best price?  I bet the prices for over-the-counter pain medications and gauze would come down sharply at the doctor's office.

And what if health insurance was actually run like an "insurance" program--and not a "subsidy" program?  Actuarial tables could be used again to determine fair rates--rather than federal mandates and laws to treat everyone the same--even though a small percentage of the population are the ones racking up the major medical expenses.  There would be less pressure on the young, healthy population to overpay for insurance plans providing services the actuarial tables show they are highly unlikely to need.  And like bad drivers find out with auto insurance rates, those who choose to engage in habits detrimental to their health will pay more--because that is actually "fair"--not everyone paying the same.

When a bill comes before Congress that sets us on the path to truly containing our consumption of health care services--and lowering the costs--then we should get excited.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Winners Win

I know that we aren't supposed to glorify success anymore--better to have everyone achieve at the same level so no one feels "different", "disenfranchised" or "left behind"--but let's take a moment to honor the University of Connecticut Women's Basketball team for its 109-game winning streak.  Their head coach Geno Auriemma was asked this week how he has fostered this success--and he had a very interesting answer:

I think we can all agree those are words to live by--not just on a basketball court.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brought To You By the Letter Q and the Number 0

While they like to call themselves "Progressives", liberals sure are unwilling to let go of archaic public institutions.  They are always the loudest in opposition to doing away with or downsizing the US Postal Service--no matter how much money it loses in an ever more digital world.  They plead on behalf of the dwindling number of Americans without internet access.  Or they propose ludicrous plans to use the USPS as a bank for low-income people--or a short-tem lender.  The real reason they want to keep the Post Office as large and bloated as possible is because that preserves a sizeable public employee union and pension.

Liberals also oppose the downsizing of public libraries in an age were more people read and access their information electronically.  Better for communities to continue to maintain, heat and cool oversized buildings constructed in the early 1900's with bloated public employee staffs.  Again, they suggest "repurposing" libraries as "community organizing centers" with rows of bookshelves replaced by "gathering rooms", "performance spaces" and "internet cafes".

And now they are putting on the battle gear to "save" the Public Broadcasting System.  The Trump Administration is the latest to attempt to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Liberals continue to claim that the programming on PBS cannot be found anywhere else on the 450+ cable channels that come into your home--or on the millions of Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo, AppleTV or GoogleTV channels as well.  It also ignores the biggest trend in TV consumption--cord cutting--and not even watching most of your shows on an actual TV attached to an antenna or cable.

They always trot out the Sesame Street characters as being on the "chopping block"--but production of those shows is now done by HBO.  PBS basically airs "reruns".  And don't forget the "quality programming you won't find anywhere else" like "NOVA"--which contains the same information as most shows on Nat Geo or the Science Channel--or "America's Test Kitchen"--which is exactly like everything on the Food Channel, or Cooking TV--except the host chefs on PBS are incredibly boring.  Oh and the huge PBS hit "Downton Abbey"?  You could have watched that on BBC America too.

PBS doesn't even live up to its "commercial free" claims anymore--and hasn't for years.  They just save all the commercials for the start and end of the show--instead of spreading them out throughout the show.  Plus, they take money from such "evil corporations" as Exxon/Mobil, Chevrolet and BP. 

And when they say "nobody else would produce shows like this" they are wrong about that too.  You don't think ESPN or the MLB Network would have paid Ken Burns to produce the "Baseball" documentary?  In fact, the "30 For 30" series on ESPN has won numerous Emmys and an Oscar this year.

Yes, PBS costs us just $1.35 per person as taxpayers.  But think of how much more "progress" we would make as a country if that money went to getting us closer to landing a man on Mars--than making sure "Sewing With Nancy" doesn't have to become a video blog.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Did They Miss That?

One of the most common things you hear during March Madness (besides "Duke Sucks") is "How did the refs miss that call?!?!?"  That was heard loud and clear on Saturday night as the Northwestern Wildcats--trying to come back from a huge early deficit against Gonzaga--had a basket that would have cut the lead to just three with five minutes left denied by one of the most-obvious goaltending violations in the history of basketball.  Yet three officials managed to somehow miss a Gonzaga player putting his hand through the bottom of the basket to block the shot.

If you look closely at the video, you see the lead official--working along the baseline under the basket--immediately signal that the block was clean and they should play on.  I can't quite tell if he was looking at the ball and the three sets of hands around it at the time of the goaltend, or if he was looking low for body contact between the shooter and the defender.

You can't see the other two officials in the video of the play, but the offside ref--working just below the free-throw line on the near side of the court--should have also had an unobstructed view of the basket to see the hand come up through the net, inside the rim, to get the block.  The trail official--working on the ball side from beyond the three-point line should have been able to see the rim in front of the Gonzaga player's wrist--but again, I have no idea where he may have been looking.

Like the professional leagues, the NCAA uses "All-Star" crews for the basketball tournaments.  Officials who grade out the highest in the regular season are brought together with partners they may not have ever worked with before.  Perhaps this crew didn't communicate to each other in their pre-game meetings who would be responsible for watching what on plays around the rim.  Or perhaps each thought the other had a better view and nobody ended up making a call.  Or somehow, all three guys never saw the hand--and the net--go above the rim to illegally knock the ball away.

The obvious next questions is "Why didn't they go to replay to see if the hand was inside the basket?"  The simple answer is that such a play is not reviewable under college basketball rules.  We can stop the clock 15-times in the last minute to review every ball that is tipped out of bounds or to see if we should add two-tenths of a second back onto the clock because the timer didn't hear the whistle on a foul--but to overturn an obviously-blown call that could affect the outcome of a game is off-limits.

Then, the situation gets compounded by Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins storming onto the court demanding a goaltending call--which necessitated a technical foul call--killing all momentum for the Wildcats.  While a number of "experts" said that Collins should have kept his cool and this his "T" actually cost his team the game, I give him a ton of credit.  If I was coaching Northwestern, I would have received two technical and been ejected immediately--but not before I threw half the chairs from my bench on the court--along with my suit jacket, tie, both shoes and the video replay equipment from the scorer's table.

Of course, the NCAA issues a statement the next morning that the call was clearly blown--but that Collins was wrong to protest in the way that he did.  Needless to say, the three "all-stars" working that game won't be on the floor for anymore tournament action this year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pay the Ladies

We don't usually talk about women's ice hockey here, but a situation has come up that deserves some attention.  The United States Women's team is planning to boycott the upcoming World Championships--where they are the defending champions.  Team USA is one of the two superpowers in women's hockey.  We and Canada have won all of the World Championships and all of the gold medals in the Winter Olympics.  But for the US women, that success has come with surprisingly little support from USA Hockey--which is in charge of the national team program.

And that is why the ladies are planning to sit out the Worlds--which are being held in Michigan later this month.  They want to be treated equally as the men.  Team USA on the men's side is made up of NHL players--who make big money.  USA Hockey gets off cheap with the men's team--as paying them for their time only during Olympic years doesn't put those players in any financial hardship.  But for the women, getting paid a $1000 a month for six months every four years really doesn't make ends meet.

But it's not just about pay for USA Women.  USA Hockey treats the ladies like the proverbial step-child when it comes to behind-the-scenes aspects as well.  The Women's team stays in lesser-quality hotels when they travel.  They aren't provided with the same top-of-the-line equipment as the men's team.  Promotional and support staff is kept at a minimal level.  And perhaps most-egregiously, USA Hockey spends more than $3-million on its boys' developmental program--while it has no girls developmental program at all.  The organization argues that there are no World Junior Championships for women--so they rely exclusively on high school programs in Minnesota and Massachusetts and US colleges to act as a "pipeline" for talent to the national team.

I went to the USA Hockey website to do a Rachel Maddow-like "probe" into the organization's finances and I found that they made $42-million in revenues for 2015.  Their expenditures for the year were just over $34-million--making it appear that more could be provided to the women's program and its players.

But I also noticed that the address for USA Hockey is Bob Johnson Drive--named after the former Wisconsin Badgers, Team USA and Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins coach--and whose son, Mark, was on the Miracle on Ice team and is leading the Badgers Women's team in pursuit of another national championship at the Frozen Four this weekend.  But "Badger Bob" is best known for his favorite saying, "It's a great day for hockey!  Perhaps the folks at USA Hockey should take those words to heart again--and make it great for all of its players.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


You have just a few hours left to turn in your NCAA bracket for the office pool.  For those of you who picked Wisconsin to win it all (or more foolishly, Marquette), we thank you for your donation to the prize fund--and better luck next year.  For those who think they are going to the be the one that finally turns in the perfect bracket to win the million dollar on-line prize, know that you will be cancelling your retirement plans by the end of the work day--because that is never, ever going to happen.

Please notice that I said bracket and not brackets there.  You do not want to be Multiple Brackets Guy at this time of year.  I'm not saying you can't play in a number of pools and on-line contests--but when you do so, your picks should be the same in all of them.

For years I ran NCAA Tournament pools, and there would always be a couple of guys that would turn in two, three or as many as five sheets--all with different permutations of winners each round and separate national champions.  Here's what I can tell you about those guys: they never won.  Todd 1, Todd 2 and Todd 3 would always end up in the middle of the pack--because none of the brackets ever had the correct mix of upsets and top seeds making it deep into the tourney to set their entry apart from all the rest.

What's more, Multiple Brackets Guy can usually take false credit for correctly predicting the biggest upset of the tournament.  When a 14 beats a 3 in the opening round, he's the guy that comes in the next morning "Yep, I had that one".  Yes, he did have it, on one of the four entries in turned in.  But on the three other sheets, he had that Cinderella losing--and that 3-seed going to the Elite Eight. 

I don't know how Multiple Brackets Guy even enjoys the tournament.  He's like In Four Fantasy Football Leagues Guy--who can't cheer for anything on Sundays because the wide receiver having a huge day for him in one matchup is killing him in two other leagues.  And that's why Multiple Brackets Guy always ends up in the middle of the pack--one team that helps him on one sheet, hurts him on the other two.

So be a man and pare down those multiple entries to one bracket that you believe in.  And don't get discouraged when the woman in accounting wins by picking each game by which mascot sounds "tougher".

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Drinking Town With an Event Problem

While he doesn't mean to be, Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings is a really funny guy.  Almost every Common Council meeting he says something that just makes me laugh--even though he intends to be very serious in making those comments.  You may recall the Mayor demanding that the name of the Oshkosh Senior Center be changed because the term "Senior" makes him and people his generation feel old.  He is also the man that claimed the organizer of the Downtown Pub Crawl was "holding the city hostage" by refusing to pay special event permit fees.  He's the guy that decided that a Mayor's Breakfast not tied to the EAA Airventure would be much more popular with "the locals"--resulting in the immediate (and not surprising) death of the event.  And he continues to push for the "celebration of the lakefly" with public art displays and festivals.

The Mayor had me laughing again during last night's council meeting.  As discussion turned to forming a "working group" to discuss special event fees (not a "committee" which would require a quorum to meet, public posting of meeting times, holding open meetings and publishing minutes of what was discussed for public inspection) Cummings asked that the group take look at alcohol service at special events and "events that revolve around drinking".

Obviously, Hizzoner is referring to the two days a year of Pub Crawl--but I would put MOST of what goes on in "Event City" as "revolving around drinking".  When you go to Waterfest, what are the two longest lines?  One is for the women's bathrooms, the other is for the beer stands.  The same goes for Irishfest and Oktoberfest--I mean, who's going to outdrink the Irish and the Germans?  Consider that even though the ice was too dangerous to hold an actual fishing tournament this year, Battle on Bago still fired up the beer tent in Menominee Park last month.  To be perfectly honest, who is going to the non-fireworks nights of Sawdust Days to not drink?  And what is always the largest tent at every church picnic in Oshkosh?  The one that serves the beer.

Heck, two of the most popular events in the city "for locals" exclusively deal with alcohol--Hops and Props and Winefeast.  And as anyone that has attended them can tell you, at Country USA and Rock USA the music on the stage is of a secondary--or tertiary--concern to those in attendance.  All they care about is getting drunk and staying drunk for the entire run of the festival.  If he were to tour the campground at Ford Festival Park, I'm pretty sure Mayor Cummings would want that place condemned and shut down.

To steal a line from Billy Currington, Oshkosh is "A drinkin' town with an event problem".