Thursday, December 8, 2016

Street Sense

The belief that Republicans in the State Legislature can "railroad through" anything they want may be challenged next year.  There is deep intra-party division developing over how to address the looming shortfall in transportation funding in the next two-year budget.  On one side you have Governor Scott Walker, who is placing a premium on campaign promises he made not to raise gas taxes and registration fees without equal tax reductions elsewhere in the budget--and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and some of his caucus members who believe such additional revenues need to be on the table.

There are two seeds that were planted years ago that have us where we are now.  The first was sown by Governor Jim Doyle who took money from the transportation fund to pay for schools in the early 2000's.  That set us on the course of needing to borrow more and more to complete major highway projects and to pay for local maintenance.  That won't happen again because the Legislature passed a law banning raids on the transportation fund.

The second root cause of our predicament was a repeal of the an indexed gas tax.  Until the start of Governor Walker's term, the gas tax automatically went up each year by the rate of inflation.  While we would all agree that tax increases should not be automatic--and that lawmakers should be held accountable by having to vote on those annual increases--it is still beholden upon those lawmakers to actually vote on raising the tax.

And so now here we sit between two dogmatic forces--both of whom refuse to give.  Personally, I would have no problem with an increase in the gas tax in the next budget.  When indexing was eliminated, we were paying over three dollars a gallon.  Now we are down to two-bucks and the "pain at the pump" wouldn't be so great.  The argument you hear against that logic is that "prices could always jump again!"--but given long-range economic predictions for Europe and Asia--along with the installation of a much more energy-friendly administration in Washington, a doubling of gas prices doesn't appear to be on the horizon.  Of course, this should be coupled with registration surcharges on electric and hybrid vehicles--since their use of roads aren't currently reimbursed with as much in gas taxes--and increases in public transit fares so that all road users are picking up the extra costs associated with maintenance and repair.

A simple bit of give and take in Madison should ensure a smooth road ahead for the State.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

In some ways, it's hard to believe that it has been 75-years since the attack on Pearl Harbor.  When I was a kid, that was just part of the "modern history" that we covered in about two days at the end of the of the school year because we had spent entire weeks covering the "XYZ Affair" and the "Tea Pot Dome Scandal" during the fall and the winter.  There were so many people still around that remembered where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about it.  Now there are just a handful of people who were actually there during the attack--and for most of us, it's just black and white film or poorly-made Hollywood blockbusters.

I asked a couple of folks that work with veterans groups yesterday if they fear that future generations will "forget" about Pearl Harbor--and that December 7th will go from a "date which will live in infamy" to just another day on the calendar.  They hoped that ensuing generations would continue to hold memorial services and learn in school what happened and why--even after the last person who may have been alive at the time passes away.

My greatest concern is that the historical context of Pearl Harbor will be re-written as time passes--and social mores change.  Already, "truthism" is sneaking into our conversations about the attack.  Entire books have been written claiming to "prove" that President Franklin Roosevelt and Navy commanders knew that the Japanese were going to attack--and did nothing to stop it--just so Americans would back entering the war and that the "military industrial complex" could profit from it.

And the Japanese will be painted in a more "forgiving and understanding" light.  The Empire had a list of "excuses" for engaging in a sneak attack--including US intervention in the Japanese quest to conquer China and Indo-China, increased military presence and build up in the Central and Southern Pacific, and providing of aid to European countries fighting Japan's Axis Powers ally Germany.  Future history books will no doubt ask students to "consider the Japanese point of view" on December 6th, 1941 in order to "better understand what happened".

And let's not forget that Japan is a "nation of color"--and they were striking a blow against and "imperial white nation".  In his visit to Hiroshima this year, President Obama was told by some "social justice warriors" that he should apologize for the US using nuclear weapons to end World War II without a bloody invasion of the Home Islands.  Yet those same people would never demand that Japan issue personal apologies to the families of all those people that died in Pearl Harbor--BEFORE ANY DECLARATION OF WAR WAS EVER ISSUED!

So on this 75th anniversary of the attack, let's all pledge to never let the memory of our "darkest day" fade--or be "re-positioned" to make a few people feel better about themselves.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Retail America is giving us a new "reason for the season" this year: Inclusiveness.

I've noticed a couple of high-profile ad campaigns that feature little in the way of product promotion and plenty of social messaging instead.  The first ad was Apple's "Frankie's Holiday" that ran during the Thanksgiving Day NFL football games. 

That's the one were Frankenstein's monster comes into town to sing a non-denominational song for the townsfolk who are--of course--terrified of him because he is different than them--until a little girl helps to fix one of his colored light bulbs and sings the song with him.  Then--magically--the rest of the townsfolk realize the error of their ways and join in to make us all feel good about ourselves as the message comes on the screen "Open your heart to everyone".

Then last night I saw Microsoft's "Celebrate" ad which features a montage of people it says are "making a difference in the world". 

It shows a little girl waving a rainbow gay pride flag, a Muslim couple offering conversations and free coffee or flowers for people, an African-American girl concerned about violence marches in the streets of her neighborhood, a police officer playing basketball with citizens of color, a Pakistani woman fighting for equal rights for women, and a guy who helps rescue refugees from the ocean--all using some of the largest computer screens I have ever seen to create pictures and art work.  It ends with "When the world seems divided, coming together can be a great thing".

I guess we should be happy that Apple and Microsoft are deviating from the usual "You must spend all of your money on gifts for others or you don't actually love them" message that retailers usually blast out at this time of year.  But these ads still feature no images or music connected in any way with the Christian aspect of the holiday of Christmas.  I guess they aren't ready for that much "inclusiveness".

Monday, December 5, 2016

Telling it Like it Is

I don't usually do this, but I am turning over today's My Two Cents to Louisville Women's Basketball Coach Jeff Walz.  Coach Walz was asked why his team struggled against Maryland on Thursday night--and he provided an answer that those of us who have to deal with anyone under the age of thirty would probably have given ourselves:

We in Generation X could not have said it any better ourselves, Coach.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Still No Solution

Remember a few years ago when the College Football Playoff system was formed to replace the old Bowl Championship Series in determining the National Champion?  We were told the four-team playoff would end the controversy of who should be playing for a title by doubling the number of teams in the running.  Well it has taken all of three years to prove that the CFP is just as useless as the BCS was.

Consider if you will that the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night--either Wisconsin or Penn State--will likely NOT make the College Football Playoff--despite winning what all experts agree is the toughest conference in the country this year.  Instead, at least one and possibly two teams that didn't even play for the conference title WILL get in the CFP.  Ohio State at number two in the rankings is all but assured of a spot--while Michigan at number five would need Washington or Clemson to lose in their respective conference championship games this weekend to sneak in as the last team.

Yes, you can argue that Wisconsin lost to both Ohio State and to Michigan this year--both by late touchdowns--and that Penn State was blown out by Michigan early in the year.  But to take two non-title teams to make up half the championship field makes you wonder why we even bother having conferences anymore?  Why not just have everyone play independent schedules like Notre Dame and pick the teams you think are the best.

Another thing to watch this weekend in the American Athletic Conference title game--where Navy takes on Temple.  The headlines on sports sites this week claimed that ESPN will be openly rooting against Navy in that game--because their winning the AAC would make them eligible for a New Year's Day bowl game--if they beat Army next week.  The only problem with that is if Navy loses to Army (which they haven't 14-years) then they would NOT be eligible for the New Year's game.  But ESPN--which owns most of the useless bowls played in December--needs to know Navy's status by Sunday so that all of those useless bowl matchups can be selected.  Army-Navy is December 10th, the first bowl game is the 17th--not enough time for teams to make travel plans, sell tickets and "soak up the experience" of going to New Mexico to play a .500 team in a meaningless game just so The Worldwide Leader In Sports has something to put on the air that night.

I remain a proponent of having a 16-team playoff--with all 10 conference champions getting automatic bids--and the remaining six slots being filled by at-large teams selected by a committee--with all of the other bowl games being eliminated.  Do teams from the Sun Belt or American Athletic conferences really have a chance to win?  No.  But what makes the NCAA Basketball tournament so much fun in March?  It's the little guys taking down a major power in the first round--or at least producing a dramatic contest.  And isn't that better than watching 6-6 Washington State beat 6-6 Indiana in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Just Out For a Little Cruise, Officer?

I had an interesting experience the other night.  After leaving our Radio Play practice at the Grand Opera House Tuesday around 8:15 pm, I was followed closely by an Oshkosh Police Squad car for several miles.  I pulled out from the stop sign at Pearl Avenue and Division Street and the officer pulled in behind me.  He (or she--I couldn't tell in my rearview mirror at night) followed me as I took a left onto Jackson Street and then over the Oregon Street Bridge.

I started to get a bit suspicious when the squad car followed me as I made a right hand turn onto Sixth Avenue right after the bridge.  I wasn't sure if the speed limit there was 25, 30 or 35 so I made sure to keep it at a "safe" 27. 

The officer continued to follow right behind me through a couple of stop signs on 6th--and eventually to a right hand turn onto Sawyer Street.  That's where another vehicle at the four-way stop got between me and the squad car.  After sitting through the light at 9th Ave, I continued north on Sawyer and had to stop to make my left-hand turn onto Southland Avenue.  The officer pulled right back up behind me and signaled to make the same turn.

After again having to guess on the speed limit on Southland I signaled for a right-hand turn onto Lark Street--where I live--and so did the officer.  "If that guy is going to turn on the lights and stop me in front of my own house so that all of the neighbors can see, I am going to be really PO'ed" I thought.  But as I flipped on the signal and turned into my driveway, the officer slowly drove on by--and then turned at the next street.

So I have to wonder, why was I being followed?  I guess I could have turned on my police scanner app on my cellphone to see if he was radioing back to dispatch what my possible violation might be (although monitoring a police frequency in a vehicle is against the law).  There is no way that could be a routine patrol route.  "Yeah, I just finished my drive by at the Town Motel, now I'm going to make sure nothing's going on along one block of Lark Street.  I'm going to take the route with the most right-hand turns and fewest stoplights too."

Anyway, I hope the officer enjoyed trailing after Mr Law Abiding Citizen on his way home.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Be Careful What You Wish For

You may have missed it last week with the holiday and deer hunting going on, but a Federal Judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to have Democrats living in highly-concentrated areas in Wisconsin.  That is the gist of a ruling that finds the current legislative districts drawn up after the 2010 census are illegal. 

The term "gerrymandering" was used to described the drawing of the district lines by Republicans in the Democratic suit.  The "mander" part of the word comes from "salamander"--which is what was used to describe districts drawn up by Democrats in Massachusetts in the 1800's to protect their candidates:

When you look at the current Wisconsin district map, you don't see narrow strips of one district winding around others to capture the voters Republicans want:


As I have mentioned before, it is very easy to place Democrats into just a handful of districts in the state.  They tend to live close to their Government jobs so they can take Government-provided transportation or use public bike share programs to ride Government-provided trails while sending their kids to Government-run magnet schools.  Or perhaps they are stuck in Government-supported housing in areas where Democrats have been in power for 50-years and there are no economic opportunities.  Republicans tend to like having more space and they prefer to drive directly to wherever they want to go whenever they want to do it.

Political watchdogs have long decried the lack of "competitive elections" in Wisconsin.  They think that if the lines are redrawn--usually by a "non-partisan" non-elected committee--balance will be brought to the system.  But I think Republicans should engage in some real gerrymandering instead.  Redraw districts that will break up the cities of Madison and Milwaukee into dozens of little pieces--pairing them with outlying, heavily-Republican areas.  Let's see what happens when some representatives from Milwaukee who haven't faced a challenger in years, have to go up against well-funded candidates from the WOW (Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington) counties.  And it would be interesting to see a self-identifying trans-gender vegan from the UW Madison campus area have to visit a Monroe dairy farmer and spend ten minutes lecturing him on how his operation is torturing animals--and then ask for his vote.

So Republicans should make an effort to make sure there are NO safe seats for Democrats anymore--and make it a "fair contest" in every district.  Remember, they asked for it.