Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thursday 5-29

I have decided that must be the most dangerous place in the world.

Yesterday, in just one day of news, we had four stories about predators and drug dealers meeting their victims through the internet "social" site. In one case, a forty-plus year old man met a teenage girl on the site--claimed to fall in love with her--and convinced her to come to Wisconsin to have sex with him. In another case, a man traveled from Wisconsin Dells to this area to have sex with two girls he met on MySpace. In a third case, an accused drug dealer met a teenager from Mayville on MySpace--had discussions about heroin--and met her to sell her some of the drug. Luckily, she survived the subsequent overdose.

The most high profile case involves an Oshkosh woman who met a 13-year old boy on MySpace--fell in love with him--and started a sexual relationship. The boy's parents tried to get a restraining order against her--but the on-line and physical relationship allegedly continued.

Perhaps its time MySpace start blocking access to minors. I know this is almost impossible given the difficulty in verifying age--but its obvious that parents aren't going to take the steps necessary to protect their kids. I can imagine in all four of the cases I mentioned, the kids have internet access in their bedrooms--always logging on with the door closed or locked so mom and dad don't know where they are going. 99-percent of parents wouldn't have the slightest idea on how to check an internet history or search a computer for image files that might contain inappropriate pictures. If we can't ensure safety on the user end--perhaps the folks at MySpace can do something at the source.

Another problem--and in no way am I defending the actions of the adults in any of these cases--but the kids themselves are making themselves easy victims. I do not have a MySpace page. The only time I use it is to see if people mentioned in some of our news items post anything about themselves that are pertinent to the story. The only "social" site I do frequent is a music site that allows people to post "play only" playlists that users can listen to on their computers. The site is very popular with teenagers--who can add a picture that comes up with their playlist. You can not imagine what some of the teenagers post as those pictures. Many feature little in the way of clothing--with some of the poses being very suggestive. Right below those is the users profile listing their age as 14 or 15. Most of the pictures have obviously been taken with a digital camera by the child themselves (you know the arm extending into the corner of the picutre) and I'm guessing that his or her parents have no idea that image is on the internet for all to see.

Back in the "good old days", perverts and child molesters were just a threat to the neighborhood in which they lived--it wasn't like they could call from house to house across the country asking if there were any kids there. But now, the internet opens up a veritable "smorgasboard" for these predators. Obviously, we can't put the genie back in the bottle--but parents should step up and do a better job of protecting their kids.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday 5-23

How will you mark Memorial Day?

Will you be one of the millions who try to cram as much outdoor fun into a three day weekend? Fishing, golfing, camping, hiking and biking with the kids and the grandparents and maybe even the in-laws? Or will you be among the dwindling minority that take time on Monday to think about the soldiers who have given their lives to give us the freedom to do almost whatever we want on the holiday?

Fewer communities hold Memorial Day parades every year. Probably because it gets harder to find people willing to give up time to plan, stage and clean up after the event. Attendance at Memorial Day events at local cemetaries is dwindling as well. The sacrifice for freedom direcly touches fewer families nowadays. In my family for example, just one great-uncle--Aloyous Roskom--was killed in action. He died fighting in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium as part of the Battle of the Bulge on January 4th of 1945. I hate to admit that my family hasn't marked that sacrifice ever. In fact, I had to Google him just to find out the date and place of his death. I'm not even sure where "Loy" is buried.

So this Memorial Day, why not ask the older generation if anyone in your family died for his or her country. Take a minute to get off the highway home from the cottage and make a short stop at that person's final resting place. If that's not possible, just pause from the fun for few minutes to consider all of the benefits provided by those who aren't around to enjoy them themselves. To help you, all of the stations in the Cumulus group here in Oshkosh will air "Taps" at 3:00 Monday afternoon. Why not tune in and give silent thanks to the people who gave you more than just a three day weekend.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday 5-21

After a couple of written warnings, the wife and I finally got our economic stimulus rebate check in the mail this week. Most of it is now safely NOT stimulating the economy in our money market account. Regular listeners may recall the wife and I are saving up to pay cash for our next vehicle--which we won't be buying until we have a baby. And since the wife isn't pregnant this month, it means we won't be buying that vehicle until at least February of 2009.

And even then, the check really isn't doing its job. We had every intention of buying a nice used vehicle to accomodate a growing family--so the rebate really isn't getting us to spend any extra. Sure, it's helping us to our savings goal faster--but it's not creating any "extra" spending. Since we are getting to our car-saving goal faster, that does speed up the timetable for the next major expense we'll be saving for--a new driveway. But that likely won't happen until next spring--and will the economy still need stimulating then?

In a way, I feel a bit un-patriotic by not spending the check on a new hi-def TV that I would really LIKE to have--but don't NEED to have right now. We Americans save less than one-percent of our income so the wife and I are just two of the "wierd" ones as Dave Ramsey likes to call us. Of course, the Federal Reserve is punishing us for our frugality by keeping interest rates artificially low so that our savings doesn't generate the additional revenue it could.

The other portion of the check is on its way to our Roth IRAs--where again it will not be stimulating the economy--but it will be growing tax-free to ensure a relaxing retirement. Hopefully, then we'll be ready to "stimulate" the economy--which will likely be slumping again under the crushing weight of universal health care, infant kindergarten programs and year 45 of the Iraq war under President Chelsea Clinton.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday 5-20

Here's a depressing little tid-bit: American families are now saddled with 531-thousand dollars in government debt per household. That's the combination of the federal and state deficits--along with the promises those governments have made to future enrollees in social programs.

The number one drag on US households will be Social Security. Each family owes 150-thousand dollars for that program. That's up 15 percent from 2005--and is only going up with more baby boomers reaching retirement age. It may almost be a relief to working Americans if that program goes broke--so we don't have that debt hanging over us any more.

The next biggest debt is Medicare--with each US household owing 110-thousand dollars for just the hospitalization program. Part "B"--the supplemental insurance plan we all owe 101-thousand dollars per household. And then there is Part "D"--the prescription drug plan--adds another 51-thousand dollars per family. Believe it or not--that's actually down 17-percent from 2005.

Your actual share of the federal debt is 45-thousand dollars--that's up nine percent. State and local government debts add another 19-thousand dollars--up 18-percent from just two years ago.

Since it appears that lawmakers at all levels refuse to change their spending habits--or continue to make promises to people it cannot hope to pay for--you may want to work a few extra hours every day...the next few you can afford to pay your fair share.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday 5-19

Just a few random thoughts today:

I rode my bike to work this morning. A little chilly, but it's amazing how much more "alive" you feel when you get a quick little workout at the start of the day. Now if our building owners would just put a bike rack around here somewhere I wouldn't have to hide my bike in the back stairwell. There are more than a few places around town that need to add bike racks as well. Especially as the price of gas keeps going up. Maybe the city of Oshkosh could extend a TIF district somewhere to get money for installation of racks throughout the area.

The Sunday Chicago Tribune had an interesting article in its Arts and Entertainment section about the "demonization" of Hillary Clinton in the mainstream media. I find it interesting that some of the cheapest shots delivered came from the most "liberal" of the talking heads like Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman of MSNBC. "The vast right wing conspiracy" gets a lot of the blame for Hillary's public persona and high negative image numbers with voters--but it seems to me the "left wing" is the one lobbing all of the hand grenades this time around. Has Rush Limbaugh ever suggested Hillary be "taken to the vet and put down"? Has O'Reilly called for Clinton to be "locked away in a room"? Sounds like some of the boys on the left believe piling on a woman is okay--so long as you give womens' rights issues lip service in the next segment.

Can the Brewers just fire Ned Yost right now? The Crew has lost five in a row for the third time this season. They are now dead last in the National League Central--seven games out of first. And outside of Ryan Braun--who might earn his 45-million dollar contract all in this season alone--no one is hitting. And the pitching hasn't been much better.

Yost's supporters say the team just isn't hitting and that when they do the Brewers will race back up the standings. Do you wait until the team is 15-games out for that to happen? Why aren't changes being made in the lineup right now to get the few guys who are hitting a bit in front of Braun? The Fox Network guys made a big deal Saturday about how loyal Yost is to Rickie Weeks as a leadoff hitter--despite the fact he is below .200. The same thing for "steroid suspension" Mike Cameron--who is also below .200. Perhaps when Braun sets the National League record for solo home runs, Ned will see the wisdom of putting some real hitters ahead of him in the lineup.

And if Ned goes, then pitching coach Mike Maddux needs to go as well. Let's get someone in there who teaches pitchers to throw strikes. I need to look up the record for most bases-loaded walks allowed by a team in a season--because the Brewers have to be on pace to break that mark. If he and Ned go early this season--maybe the new manager can start building a base for a return to the playoffs next year.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wednesday 5-14

I would like to turn your attention to the case of Daniel Ligen versus the Bloomer Board of Education. Ligen is a senior at Bloomer High School who completed his courses early and enrolled in the Marines. He is returning to Bloomer at the end of the month to attend graduation and requested that he be allowed to wear his Marine dress blue uniform during the ceremony--instead of the tradition cap and gown.

This week, the Bloomer school board rejected Ligen's request and adopted a policy that requires only cap and gown at graduation. One members attempt to allow military uniforms was defeated. So here we will have a man who willing accepted the challenge of defending our freedoms and rights denied to wear the uniform of his country during one of the most important days of his life.

One of the school board members who voted against the military exception says she wasn't being un-patriotic--she just thinks graduation should celebrate education. And there you have the root of my problem with this: the elitist attitude those affiliated with the educational system have toward the military.

It started with the protests of ROTC programs and Junior ROTC programs on college and high school campuses. It has since spread to protests over military recruiters being allowed to speak to students at assemblies and guidance counselor offices. It was present in Senator John Kerry's remarks to college students about how those who don't do well in the classroom "Get stuck in Iraq."

What do educators have against the military? More people have gone to college thanks to the GI bill than any student loan program. And the GI bill doesn't leave students tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And do college courses teach the kind of real world problem solving and team building that military service does?

We always hear educators talking about how students need "service-based learning." How Americorps or other foreign service programs are such great experiences and how kids should see the benefits of helping those who can't help themselves. They usually like to call it a "higher calling." So why is helping a village dig a new well a "higher calling" but trying to oust the fascist thugs who are terrorizing that village and quashing their human rights is less admirable? The Bloomer School District should be celebrating the fact Daniel Ligen is volunteering to put his life on the line to help others--and honor him at the graduation for that decision. Either allow him to wear the dress blues--or invite him to give a short speech explaining his decision to serve all of us.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday 5-12

I got an envelope from the Department of the Treasury in the mail on Saturday. I thought it would be my economic stimulus rebate check--but instead, it was a letter telling me how much my ecomonic stimulus rebate check would be--and that it would be in the mail soon.

This would be the second mailing warning me a rebate check would be in the mail. We got one just a few weeks after Congress intially approved this boondoggle. So how much is the Federal Government spending just to warn me that a check is coming my way? Was this factored into the total cost of the rebate program? Or are we wasting more taxpayer money to send out all of these letters? Is the plan to stimulate the economy through the US Postal Service? At least they sent these letters out before the postage rate went up. Maybe they wouldn't need the increase in the price of stamps if the Fed didn't overload the system with its own junk mail.

And who isn't aware we are getting a rebate check? Every single news outlet in the nation has made a big deal about the program for five months now. Do lawmakers think we are that ignorant that we have no idea what's going on? Were there people calling their congressman or the IRS in a panic because $600 showed up in their bank accounts last week and they didn't know why?

One thing I noticed in the letter sent this weekend was no address to return the check if I don't want it. Shouldn't there be an "opt out" procedure for those of us who would prefer the government be more responsible with its tax dollars? Maybe that's coming with the check itself...or in a follow up letter to make sure we got our check...or the survey asking us to detail how we spent our check.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wednesday 5-07

The Ron Heilmann investigation controversy is one of those journalism ethics quandries we sometimes have to wrestle with here in the newsroom. I'm sure many of you are wondering why an Eau Claire television station is breaking the story that the Oshkosh School Board conducted an investigation into Heilmann's conduct--instead of WOSH or some other local news source. Today I will try to answer your questions.

Let's start with what we knew. Did we know that allegations had been leveled against Dr Heilmann? Yes. Did we know the nature of the allegations? Yes. Did we know that the school board discussed the allegations in closed session back in March? Yes. Did we know that the school board got the results of the investigation that same month and found there was no basis to the allegations? Yes.

So why then did we not do a story? Well here's what we did not know: Who was the person leveling the allegations? We never got a straight answer on that from any of our sources. What were the details of the allegations? Those varied depending upon who you talked to--and that sends up a red flag, as wildly different stories on what may have happened lead you to believe this is rumor and not fact. And since the nobody was able to tell us the source of the original allegation, it's a bit difficult to get the correct story. Add to that the fact that not a single person wanted to go on the record or be quoted for a possible story and you are left with no ethical legs to stand on.

The Eau Claire TV story itself contains little in the way of actual factual matter on the investigation itself. Their angle was more toward the fact that the Eau Claire school board was not aware of the investigation while it was interviewing Heilmann for Superintendent--and that Oshkosh School Boardmembers didn't say anything about it either.

There are some who will claim that the local media was trying to cover up for Heilmann--keeping a possibly embarrassing story out of the public eye. I can assure you that was not the case here in the WOSH newsroom. We have more than a few awards hanging on the wall for stories that did more than just embarrass local officials. I had a similar situation come up while I was working in the Marinette-Menominee area--an accusation leveled by students against a superintendent. In that case, I did go with the story--as the two girls claiming the Menominee Superintendent was verbally and physically abusive toward them made their accusations just inches away from my microphone during the Public Comment session of the School Board meeting. In that case the board found no grounds for the accusations and cleared the superintendent--who left for another job a few months later. But there we had people willing to go on the record with their accusations and the alleged details--not just whispers and innuendo that are the grist mill for the tabloids and the blogs.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday 5-05

Thoroughbred horse racing may be sowing the seeds of its own demise. The filly Eight Belles became the latest horse to die from a race-related injury in the Triple Crown series. The problem was dragged into the spotlight two years ago when Barbaro--who had won the first two legs of the series, broke a back leg at the start of the Belmont Stakes. Much was made of the efforts to save the leg--but the horse just wouldn't heal--and had to be destroyed a few months later.

Those involved in the sport say injuries like those suffered by Eight Belles and Barbaro are freak occurances. But if casual racing fans who tune in to just three races a year see a horse die every time, are they going to believe its a rarity? Or will they begin to believe the animal rights extremists who claim the sport is inhumane? I'm one of those casual fans and I still remember one of the first years of the Breeders Cup when three horses had to be put down on the same day.

Americans love horses and they don't want to see them suffer just for sport and gambling. That's the other unsavory element here. How many people would have been at Churchill downs on Saturday if you couldn't bet on the race? For that matter, how many people would show up at any of the horse racing tracks in America if there was no betting?

Experts blame the racing injuries on poor breeding practices. The horse leg is a marvel of evolution--supporting a heavy body on relatively thin bones. As human intervention in the breeding and evolution process continues, those delicate bones, tendons and muscles are becoming less able to withstand the pressure put on them by the rigors of racing. People wonder why there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in more than 30-years? It's because the animals just can't handle the strain anymore.

One solution would be to install rubberized surfaces on the Triple Crown tracks--and all tracks for that matter. For some of the horses in Saturday's Derby, it was the first time they had run on something other than rubber. Owners and trainers could help by spreading out the horses' race schedules and scaling back distances. NASCAR put on restrictor plates to slow down cars and make their sports safer. Maybe horse racing should consider the same thing to save their sport.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday 5-02

I would like to take credit for the Brewers exciting win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field yesterday. Granted, I did not get the game winning double like Ryan Braun did, and I did not make the exciting defensive plays that got the Crew out of dire situations all afternoon--but I did make the crucial move of putting on my "Rally Cap" in the top of the ninth inning.

Laugh all you want--but I don't think you understand the power of the Rally Cap. Helping boost that power was the Cubs decision to put in their "closer" Kerry Wood in the same inning. All of the Cubs fans around us groaned as Wood came to the mound in the ninth knowing that their fates had been sealed. As those who were sitting around me will attest, I had loudly been predicting that Wood would come in and blow it. They were also loudly reminded of that same prediction after it came true.

Actually, my powers of prediction were on display all day. I predicted Carlos Zambrano would hit a home run not a minute before he took Yovani Guillardo deep for the first run of the game. I also guessed right on just about every hit and run situation and the call that Ryan Braun would be the hero in the ninth. The eeriest moment came right at the end of the game as I pointed out to my friend Gordy how far up the middle shortstop Craig Counsell was playing for Felix Pie. Two pitches later, Pie hit a two hopper to Counsell who turned a game-ending 6-4-3 double play to seal the win. Why am I never in Las Vegas when I get these premonitions?

A few other news and notes from the game:

For at least yesterday, law enforcement was serious about that "Summer Heat" crackdown on speeders. There were at least seven people pulled over along the side of 41 on our way down. Didn't see any cops on the way back.

Wrigley Field was not built for someone over 6'3". My knees are bruised today from slamming against the seat ahead of me all afternoon.

If you need to drive to Chicago this summer, put an extra hour or two into your travel time. The Tri-state tollway and the Edens Expressway are all under construction and the traffic moves along at snail's pace. We almost missed the first pitch having to take surface streets just to get the Purple Line train in the northern suburbs.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thursday 5-01

As soon as the Morning News Focus is done today, I will be heading down to Chicago for the Brewers-Cubs game at Wrigley Field. One of the best parts of going to Chicago is getting to use the public transportation system to go pretty much anywhere I need to in the Metro area. I've traveled to a number of big cities over the years and have used their local buses and trains with little problem. It's save me plenty of money not having to rent cars in Los Angeles, Toronto and Washington DC.

So why then haven't I ever been on an Oshkosh or Valley transit bus? With gas at 3.64 a gallon today I would love to take public transportation--but it just doesn't work out for me. When I first moved to Oshkosh, I lived in an area where I would have had to walk as far to the bus stop as I would have actually rode the bus--so that didn't make much sense. We have since moved to a house right on the bus line--but I still haven't used it. To ride it to work, I would need the bus to come by at 3:45 am--and that service just isn't provided right now.

There has been a lot of talk about extending commuter rail to the Fox Valley from Milwaukee. I would love to see that--but I think we are still a long ways from it ever being successful. The expansion of 41 over the next decade should increase capacity on the highway--and ease the few traffic backups we have to deal with daily. And right now, people in this area aren't ready to give up the control they enjoy by driving themselves everywhere. When you use public transportation, you can't just make a stop at the grocery store if the bus or train you are on doesn't run past the store. And on those cold days, the bus or train don't come to the station right at the moment you are arriving there.

For some things, a Fox Valley rail line would be fantastic. Wouldn't you rather hop on a train here in Oshkosh and get dropped off a few blocks away from Lambeau Field for Packers games? Or be able to hop a train and maybe transfer to a bus for flights in and out of Mitchell airport?

If we are going to have commuter train service here in the Valley it had also better be high speed. I don't think most people would be too keen to see the traffic on 41 cruising past them at 65--while they are stuck doing 50 on the rails. And the support systems on both ends will have to improve as well. Cities will have to offer more bus routes to more parts of the Fox Valley. There will also have to be construction of more park and ride lots.

Between congestion and gas prices, commuter rail and public transporation is in our future. Now would be the time to establish the infrastructure and to make sure the system is ready to go when demand finally makes it at least a break-even proposition.