Friday, September 30, 2011

Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

I'm sure Oshkosh Corporation employees had a restless night--knowing they had to vote today on a new 5-year contract with the company.  Not only did they have to project their personal 5-year budgets based on the pay increases, bonus payment and rising health insurance premiums--they also had to figure out just where this economy is heading.  If things continue the way they are going, the deal offered to them will be well ahead of many other workers in the area.  If things finally turn around, then they might get left behind.  So in the space of one night, those workers need to come up with answers to a whole lot of questions.

For example, if the Obama Administration goes on for another five years there will be reductions in military spending.  Will that mean the huge FMTV contract will be scaled back as well?  Will the Pentagon continue to need reconditioned trucks for use in Afghanistan if the President decides to pull out before sustainable peace can be assured?

What if all the requirements of Obamacare stay in place?  If you think they will, then having an agreement that guarantees private health insurance for another five years is a huge bonus.  It would be so much cheaper for the corporation to just dump the benefit and just pay the $2000 fine per employee--forcing its workers onto Badgercare or higher rates in the insurance "exchanges".  That would make the doubling of the premiums contained in the new contract look like a real bargain.

Oshkosh is also a multi-national operation--with a large presence in Europe.  So those union workers also have to figure out if the Euro Zone members will continue on their current path to mutual economic destruction.  Countries in default don't buy a lot of garbage trucks, fire trucks or military vehicles.  And while sales to our new economic overlords in China represent a growing market now--how long until they have the infrastructure in place to make their own heavy-duty trucks (stealing the designs and technology patented by Oshkosh, of course)?

And let's not forget Oshkosh is an "evil corporation" doing business on Wall Street--so under another five years of Obamanomics they will be paying "their fair share" of taxes from now on.  That increases the cost of production and makes the company less competitive in bidding for contracts.  Will that mean less work and layoffs?  An eight percent pay increase doesn't mean much if you don't have that job anymore.

If I was in the union, I would have asked for just an 18-month contract.  Let's find out if we are getting four more years of talk about "hope and change"--or some actual economic hope and change.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Stop the Music!

It is time for the City of Oshkosh to end the silly little dance it does with downtown bar owners.  We hear ad nauseum that the City is committed to making the North Main Street district a viable, vibrant area--yet, when somebody tries to actually bring people to the businesses in the district they are made to feel like a bunch of criminals.

As usual, the City's hypocrisy is exposed by an event that will bring an estimated three-thousand people to North Main Street on October 8th--the Oshkosh Pub Crawl.  Based on personal experience and observation, the turnout for the Crawl will be approximately 15-times the turnout for the Farmers Market every Saturday and about 30-times the attendance for an average Gallery Walk held in the very same area.  And yet those snooze-fests are promoted as the "success stories" for downtown revitalization.

And how does the City "welcome" those three-thousand money-paying visitors?  Well, those who put together the event are slapped with a Special Event Permit fee higher than any other charged by the City.  While those actually attending the event are met with an overwhelming police presence and are treated like criminals-in-waiting.

The time has come for City officials and those who call themselves "community leaders" to come clean and admit they hate the fact the most successful businesses in the downtown district are the bars.  I've been here 11-years now--and I don't recall ever driving down North Main and thinking "Wow, they turned that bar into a vintage clothing store" or "When did that bar shut down--leaving behind an empty building again?"

If the majority of the City Councillors don't want people coming to the area to spend money on drinking, then man up and put that in writing.  Put together a development plan for the area that phases out the night clubs and replaces them with wine bars or coffee shops or bistros--you know, the type of niche businesses that make us look like we are a "more refined society" here in Oshkosh.  If you detest Pub Crawls so much, then follow the example of the Madison and pass an ordinance that bans drink specials that "promote overconsumption".

It is disingenuous to the bar owners along Main Street to hit them with a special assessment for the "improvements" to the street (that were supposed to make thing safer for pedestrians walking from business to business) or to encourage them to borrow money to improve the facades of their building--but then work to undermine their efforts to actually bring people into their businesses.  And these are customers who are definitely coming to spend money--not the average "browser" of the Farmers Market and Gallery Walk who have no intention of spending dollar one.

So what will it be City Hall?  More lip service about revitalizing Downtown Oshkosh or actually working to make sure that ALL businesses in the area are successful?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not So Ford Tough

I sure hope the Ford Motor Company is telling the truth when it says it didn't pull a new ad due to pressure from President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.  If you haven't heard, the Detroit News reported earlier this week that an ad featuring a Ford buyer denigrating the auto industry bailout was pulled from the air after the White House felt it would build further animosity toward the billions that were spent to bailout the two other major US automakers.  Here is the "script" from that supposedly "unscripted" ad.........

“I wasn’t going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government,” said a Ford owner identified as Chris.

“I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on their own: Win, lose or draw. “That’s what America is about, taking the chance to succeed and understanding when you fail that you gotta’ pick yourself up and go back to work. Ford is that company for me.”

Chris is buying a Ford F-150 pickup truck in the ad--so I'm guessing he probably wasn't planning on putting an "Obama 2012" sticker on the bumper anyway--and I'm sure he isn't alone in his choice to purchase based on the bailout.

In response to the initial report, Ford has issued statements claiming the ad was removed from the air as part of a regular rotation--and that it may or may not return.  Ford's CEO denied any pressure from the President or his campaign to pull the ad--and that he personally remains in full support of the auto industry bailout.  It has also been reported that GM and Chrysler executives were PO'ed by the ad as well.  If that was the case, then Chevy should have found someone who ponied up the down payment on a new Volt and had them say:

"I was happy to overpay for my electric vehicle--just like I'll be happy to pay a bunch more for the wind-generated electricity to re-charge it because that makes me feel like I'm doing something to save the planet from evil corporations like Ford."

In the advertising world, you always want to stress what make you better than your competitor--that is called "differentiation".  And Ford should be proud to shout from the rooftops that they didn't take taxpayer dollars to prop up unsustainable UAW pension and health care plans.  In the eyes of many buyers like "Chris"--that is reason to buy a Ford--despite what a struggling politician might think.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Catching Hell

I don't usually recommend watching much television (outside of live sports coverage)--but there is a can't miss documentary on ESPN tonight.  "Catching Hell" tells the story of a real-life American Hero: Steve Bartman.  For those of you who vaguely remember the name--but can't quite place where you've heard of Steve Bartman before, maybe this will help.........

I call Bartman an American Hero because he spared us an interminable amount of bragging from insufferable Cubs fans by starting in motion a string of events that derailed what appeared to be the first Chicago appearance in the World Series since the end of World War Two.  Unfortunately, for his heroic actions--which probably prevented the Apocalypse that would have been unleashed by a Cubs World Series Championship--Bartman was subjected to the type of derision and hatred that would have been more suitable for one of the 9/11 hijackers if they had somehow survived the plane crashes.

And that is the basis of "Catching Hell"--the over-the-top reaction from Cubs fans, the national media and the late night comedians--which made life nearly impossible for a guy who only did what any other fan in any other stadium would have done if thrown into the same situation.  To his credit, Bartman has not lashed out at the buffoons who blamed him for what Cubs teams have been doing for more than 100-years now--choking in the biggest moments.  He continues to go to work, he hasn't written a book--he even refused to take part in tonight's documentary.

In a way, it's too bad Bartman hasn't tried to capitalize on his "infamy".  I'm guessing there would be a lot more pats on the back and high-fives than there would be death threats.  Of course, he'd probably be 500-pounds and an alcoholic from all the free lunches and free drinks all of us Cub Haters would still be buying him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same....Again

It baffles me why politicians have the biggest problem learning from their own mistakes--or the mistakes of others.  I ask this after news broke on Friday that three members of Governor Scott Walker's administration are granted immunity in a John Doe investigation into illegal campaign work done by Milwaukee County Employees working under Walker.

If this type of controversy sound familiar, it's because this is not the first time such alleged activity has taken place.  You may recall it was was called the "Capitol Caucus Scandal" the first time around--and some people actually went to jail because of their activities.  Long story short, state employees were directed to do campaign work on taxpayers time--in clear violation of state law.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was convicted on two felony counts and served nine months in jail.  State Senator Brian Burke spent six months in jail after he was found guilty of collecting contributions for his Attorney General campaign in his state office.  Both Chvala and Burke were booted from the Senate as well.

Now you would think that anyone working on any campaign anywhere in Wisconsin would look at what happened to Chvala and Burke and think "Holy cow, I don't want to go to jail and be a convicted felon just to win an election!"  But it's possible that was not the thought process employed in Milwaukee County.  Perhaps it was more along the lines of "Well they may have been caught--but we'll be 'smarter' than them."

The next step in the playbook will be the statement from the campaign that these were merely "overly eager workers going rogue on their own with no direction from any campaign officials or their boss" and then a few low-level people falling on their swords to protect those higher up.  As someone who tried to take on this career politician "I can't afford to lose at any cost" type attitude, it just makes me shake my head and say "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Kids Lose Again

Chalk up another win for the money counters at the WIAA--and another loss for the student-athletes they claim to care so much about.  The Association announced this week that Boys Basketball Sectionals will no longer be played at at college sites like the Kolf Sports Center or the Brown County Arena.  In a refreshing change, WIAA spokesman Todd Clark openly admitted that the only factor in this decision was that it would allow them to keep more of the money generated by ticket sales--rather than having to rent the gym.  So instead of having a unique opportunity to play before big crowds on college-sized courts, teams making it to sectionals now get to play in just another high school gym.

Even though we never had a prayer of making it there when I played at Bay Port, playing at the Brown County Arena was a really big deal.  That was where Dick Bennett and the UWGB Phoenix played, there were actual shot clocks and the hoops weren't connected to the ceiling.  It was a really neat thing to experience (for teams that actually made it there I mean).  If you had told me a regional title would mean another trip to Ashwaubenon High School, it would have been a bit of a disappointment.  As a broadcaster, I've done sectional doubleheaders at the Arena and let me tell you having four fan bases in the house at the same time really gets things rocking.

And let's not forget the fans lose out here as well.  I've been at a few sectional games at the Kolf featuring Oshkosh teams where it was standing room only--and the Kolf holds about five-thousand people.  Only about half of those fans would get in a game at Stevens Point.  Kind of makes you wonder how the WIAA expects to make more money if fewer fans are able to buy tickets.  I doubt, venue rental was so expensive as to make that trade off a break-even deal.

I understand the WIAA has to be self-sufficient--and that Boys Football and Basketball playoffs are the only moneymakers they have--so profits need to be maximized.  And let's not forget the Gannett Newspapers likely cost them thousands with their lawsuit to avoid paying $50 broadcast fees to stream playoff games--so that money has to be made back as well.  But at some point, the student-athletes and the fans have to be given some consideration.

So just add this to what is becoming a lengthy list of questionable decisions coming from the WIAA--along with the Valley Football Association (which no one wanted), the idea of everyone making the playoffs in football (which no one wants) and no more taking your shirt off at insde sporting events (OK, only the kids didn't want that one).  And you can also add another tick in the loss column for the kids--even though this is supposed to be "all about the children".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Bad Call

This is a tough morning for those of us who support the death penalty.  On the same day that a white supremacist who dragged a black man behind his pickup truck is put to death for his heinous crimes, a black man who very well may have been falsely accused in the death of a white police officer is also executed.

The case of Lawrence Brewer in Texas represents the very reason capital punishment needs to be an option in the US.  Brewer is one of three men who picked up James Byrd, Jr along a country road back in 1998--chained him to the back bumper of his pickup truck--and dragged him behind the vehicle for two miles--leaving a trail of body parts and blood.  Even as he faced the lethal injection, Brewer had no apology to offer for what he had done.  Tell me, how would we be a better society for having Lawrence Brewer still alive and sitting in a prison cell eating three square meals a day, watching TV and interacting with other hardcore racists in a Texas prison?  I don't think we would be any better than we are for having put him to death.

And then you have the much more ballyhooed case of Troy Davis--an African-American man found guilty of killing a white off-duty police officer in Georgia back in 1989.  Seven of the nine people who testified against Davis have since recanted or changed their versions of what happened that night--leading many to question whether the death penalty is fair punishment in the case.  And I happen to agree.

I'm sure those who took more than just a few pre-law classes will tell me this isn't the way things work, but I would have preferred seeing those who have recanted or changed their stories charged with perjury or obstruction of justice--beacuse isn't that what they are admitting to have done?  If in those seven trials convictions are brought back by juries, that should provide compelling evidence to appeals courts that perhaps a new trial is warranted--with the "corrected versions of the facts" being presented.  Unfortunately, affidavits of now-admitted-liars were all that appeals attorneys had to use and a number of courts rejected them.

Juries are instructed to convict only if they feel a defendant is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt".  In death penalty cases the standard for the punishment itself needs to be "beyond a shadow of a doubt".  Yes, it will mean fewer executions I'm sure--but that is much better than the possibility of putting an innocent man to death.  The lone solace we can take from last night is that even the most liberal members of the Supreme Court--Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor--did not dissent to the denial of Davis's last minute plea for clemency--and how many times have we been told they have the best grasp of the law in the land?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So THAT'S Who Is To Blame!

According to President Obama, 234,000 people are to blame for our current federal budget crisis.  Those 234-thousand people are the households that reported incomes of at least $1-million dollars last year.  And--according to the President--they are the ones who did not pay their "fair share" of taxes.

Those 234-thousand people are the one's targeted by the so-called "Buffett Rule" that the President is including in his new tax increase proposal.  The "Buffett" referred to there is Warren Buffett, who claims his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.  However, the "Oracle of Omaha" actually doesn't need a change in the Federal Tax Code to rectify that situation.  He just needs to raise his salary from Berkshire Hathaway--which is taxed at a rate much higher than what his secretary would pay--and decrease what he claims as income from capital gains and dividends--which are taxed at a lower rate.  Voila, Buffett is paying 35% in federal taxes--while his secretary (assuming she makes between 40- and 50-thousand dollars a year) will continue paying 15%.

According to an Associated Press "Fact Check" story,

the top 10% of wage earners in the US pay 70% of all federal income taxes.  The rest is picked up by those of us in the next 44% of wage earners.  46% of all Americans pay nothing in federal income taxes.  And that final group is growing every year.  Kind of makes you wonder who isn't paying their fair share.  Of course, I'm not part of that 46% President Obama needs to scare/placate/over-promise to have any chance of winning election in 2012.

Now, back to work to support my family--and one other one too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Even Bother?

I'm not going to try and re-fight the battle over high school mascots--those of us who believe in freedom of expression have pretty much accepted defeat on this issue--but I do have raise some questions as to the process the Department of Public Instruction uses to strip schools of their nicknames.  After reading through the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" in the Berlin High School case, it's clear that there is absolutely no way for a school district to win a challenge to a complaint--so why even bother?

When Democrats in the Legislature and Governor Doyle passed this law back in 2009 the clear intent was to eliminate all Native American-related mascots--but rather than taking responsibility for this unpopular move and writing the bill to just make the nicknames illegal--lawmakers instead chose to have the Department of Public Instruction do their dirty work.

The deck is immediately stacked against districts by requiring them to provide the burden of proof that the mascot is NOT racist.  As any criminal defense attorney will tell you, proving a negative is much harder than proving a positive.  That is why in our criminal system the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendent DID commit a crime--rather than the suspect having to prove beyond a reasonalbe doubt that he or she DIDN'T do it.  Add to that, the DPI is to take at face-value anyone's testimony that they are "offended" by the mascot.

In the Berlin hearing, one district resident testified that he saw students at games wearing a headress twice--once in 2001 and once in 2009.  A couple of witnesses claiming to represent Wisconsin Indian Tribes--but not Berlin residents (and who have testified at other such hearings for districts where they do not reside)--testified to incidents they saw years ago as children--but again, not in Berlin--and how it traumatized them.
Meanwhile, a longer list of witnesses for the district were dismissed as failing to provide "convincing" evidence that the logo and mascot do not promote stereotyping.  The expenses associated with removing all references to the current logo and mascot from buildings and jerseys was also dismissed as "irrelevant".

While there is support in the new-look Legislature for doing away with this dog-and-pony show process--it is not a top priority right now--so we are stuck with what we've got.  Therefore, I propose that we use the same process for redress of other school-related grievances. 

Imagine if one senior citizen here in Oshkosh this past year had filed a complaint about the 10% property tax increase--claiming it was an "undue hardship" upon them with their fixed incomes.  AARP could have brought in "experts" on the negative impact such tax increases have on all retirees everywhere else.  I'm guessing six members of the Oshkosh Board of Education would be testifying at the hearing claiming it really isn't "that much of a hardship"--and that the vast majority of district residents had "no problem" with tax hike.  The Oshkosh Education Association would be there as well detailing the expenses their members would incur to make up for the lost tax revenue.  But the DPI would be required to ignore all of those arguments--and would really have no choice but to overturn the tax increase--not just for the retiree who couldn't afford it--but for EVERYONE in the district!!

You know what, this "social justice" way of doing things might actually be better than the old "equal justice" way we used to do things.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Please Stop, My Brain Hurts

I used to think that the proliferation of live sports programming on TV was a good thing.  It wasn't so long ago that all of these pennant chase Brewers games would not have been televised locally--and forget about a home game ever being on TV.  Remember when the only way to see a Badgers football game on TV was to wait for the replay on Wisconsin Public Television Saturday night?  And being a fan of other "out-of-town" teams in the NFL, NHL and NBA--the more games broadcast, the better the chance of one of my teams being shown here.

But now I'm wondering if maybe it might be time to start scaling back--not because I don't want to watch so many games--but rather because there are clearly not enough quality play-by-play crews to call all of the action.  (Why else would the insufferable Gus Johnson be considered a "top-tier" play-by-play guy?) Never was that more evident than in the Badgers and Packers games this weekend.

Thanks to the MAC'S contract arrangement with ESPN, the Wisconsin-Northern Illinois game was relegated to ESPN3--an internet-only channel.  I'll give credit to Time Warner Cable for putting the show on one of its sports tier channels (not in HiDef)--so we didn't have to deal with stop-and-go-action and "buffering" messages trying to watch it on-line.  But given the production work and the call of the game--I would have rather just been kept in the dark.

The broadcast featured some of the worst camera angles ever, sloppily-edited replays and the worst call of a game I have ever seen outside of public access television.  For awhile, I thought maybe the crew was watching the contest on-line as well--and was surfing some other sites during the game.  And then Christian Fauria provided insightful color commentary like "Uhhhh" on a long run by Montee Ball.

The Packers were broadcast on FOX Sunday--so you would expect at least a more professional effort (I'll skip the rant about fighting robots this time).  But the call from Charles Davis and Jim Mora, Junior made me want to stick meat thermometers in my ears to find some relief from the pain.  I've been in TV meetings where the broadcast crew and the producers decide what the "storylines" are going to be coming into the game.  Obviously, the "storyline" for the Packers-Panthers game was going to be "Cam Newton is going to be the next big thing in the NFL so we need to be on his bandwagon as soon as possible."

You would have thought it was Tim Tebow at quarterback and Evangelical Christians in the booth the way Davis and Mora were slurping on Newton.  He was the greatest runner they'd ever seen, he has the strongest arm, the greatest downfield vision, etc, etc.  Mora elicited the biggest groan by blaming the Panthers offensive coordinator for the three interception thrown by Newton in the 2nd half--as it was obvious that a guy sitting in a booth was responsible for overthrowing wide open receivers and throwing into double coverage several times.

Yes, I could have listened to Matt and Mike during the Badgers game--but the stream from our Green Bay sister station would not have matched up with the game action--so it would have sounded like they were doing an old-school recreation of a road game.  The Packers game was on the radio as well--but I don't need Wayne Larivee yelling about every three yard run like it just won the Super Bowl in overtime--with color commentary by Chewbacca--I mean Larry McCarren--groaning and grunting in reaction to the play on the field.

So maybe the time has come to admit there is a limited number of quality broadcast crews available for games--and as a service to the fans, the networks will air only the games they can work every week.  My intelligence as a sports fan can't take anymore.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Boycott Idiocy

Those "fighting for Wisconsin's working families" are once again turning their guns on those they claim to support.  Democratic State Senator Lena Taylor is encouraging her Facebook "friends" and constituents to boycott Georgia-Pacific products made right here in Wisconsin. 

The company's great sin: Moving jobs to China or Mexico?  Nope.  Eliminating health insurance coverage for employees?  Not that either.  G-P is drawing this attack from the left because the corporation is under the majority control of the Koch Brothers.  And because the Koch Brothers provided campaign money to Governor Scott Walker and other Repoublicans who voted for changes to the collective bargaining law--anything they are associated with is automatically "evil" and needs to be boycotted.

Not surprisingly, Taylor is finding ZERO support for her boycott--even from her fellow Democratic lawmakers.  Organized Labor's biggest puppet--Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay--laughed off the idea--knowing that any support for such a ludicrous idea would require him to stay permanently in Illinois the next time he decides to abscond from his elected duties.  His comment was "we need to be focusing on job creation."

And there is the irony in all of the Democratic rhetoric.  People like the Koch Brothers, and the owners of Johnsonville Brats and Menards (other Democratic boycott targets) are the actual "job creators" in our economy.  Without their financial backing, and their focus on maintaining profitable operations, several thousand more people here in Wisconsin would be looking for gainful employment.  But people like Senator Lena Taylor don't think about that.  All they know is those people have a bunch of money and therefore must be villified for political purposes.

Since Senator Taylor's district covers many of the decaying northside Milwaukee neighborhoods, it might better serve Wisconsin's "working families" if she encouraged her constituents to "boycott" drugs...or drinking alcohol to excess...or illegal weapons...or dropping out of high school...or having unprotected sex.   Maybe we could afford to pick up more than 88% of state emloyees health insurance premiums--or 95% of their retirement benefits--if we didn't have to pay for the actions of so many of Senator Taylor's supporters.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tough Business

I'm glad I'm not a business owner right now. You're facing a dwindling customer base with less money to spend, rising expenses and now, people in Washington who have never run a private business in their lives pressuring you to make really bad decisions--all in the name of "saving the economy."

Americans are falling into two groups: Those with no money to spend because they un- or under-employed and didn't put enough away while working to make it through a downturn--and those who have money, but are choosing to sit on it because it looks like things will be getting much more expensive for them in the future--or they fear falling into the other category. No matter how low you go with your prices, it's hard to convince people to part with their cash if what you are selling is not a necessity.

Adding to the struggle is the increase in energy costs as utilities are hog-tied and forced to abandon the cheapest forms of electricity in favor of more expensive renewable sources--and continued de-valuation of the US Dollar increases the price of oil and gasoline. And not only are you paying for your increase in energy costs--but you are also picking up the increase in your suppliers and manufacturers power and gas bills as well.

And now, the President is trying to tempt you into expanding your workforce by offering short-lived tax breaks. It's funny how Mr. Obama touts the temporary reduction in payroll taxes--but conveniently forgets to mention the increased rates that would take effect after the 2012 election. And the only way to get the highly-touted tax credits is to hire someone who has been unemployed for more than a year. Yes, some of those long-term unemployed are in situations where the specialized job they are qualified to do just isn't available in the "New, New, New Economy"--but more are people who lack the basic education and work skills to keep a job. That makes a business owner have to decide if the guy who misses a day of work every week because he is "sick again" is worth the cost of a tax-break.

i know most business owners in our area didn't study Keynsian Economics while attending Harvard--so they aren't qualified to know how things work--but those I do know don't hire or increase production in hopes that more people will start pouring through the doors. Usually in the real economy, you wait for demand to increase beyond the point where you can meet it economically--then you bring in more staff and ramp up production. If no one is buying snowthrowers, you don't keep making snowthrowers thinking that if they see enough sitting around for sale Joe Homeowner is going to suddenly want a new one.

And let's not forget about the "ObamaCare Penalties" waiting around the corner. For companies that do provide private health insurance, premiums will skyrocket at providers are required to take on high-risk, more-expensive employees that they could exclude in the past--while small firms not offering health insurance can look forward to the $2000 penalty. Every new employee added now is another two-grand to Uncle Sam down the road.

Of course, those business owners who pass on the short-sighted incentives and make fiscally-sound decisions face villainization as "not being willing to help the economy recover." Just look at the treatment banks are getting for not lending enough money after the TARP bailouts. "Greedy" and "Unpatriotic" are the terms being thrown around to describe them. Nevermind the fact pointed out by a friend of mine at a local credit union--that those coming in looking to borrow money right now are terrible credit risks--and giving money to them just puts us on the path to the same situation we were in before. Meanwhile, those of us who can actually afford to borrow money aren't doing it--because we realize that doing so in this economy is brining unnecessary risk into our lives.

So that is the decision Mr and Mrs Small Business Owner faces now: Take a giant leap of faith that things are suddenly going to turn around because Uncle Sam is going to spend even more money--and risk losing everything you worked hard to build....or exercise sound business judgement and hang on until people are ready to spend again and ride the wave back to success. Glad I don't have to face that decision.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Worst of Minnesota

After a day of watery eyes, a raw throat and smelling like I was just sitting around a campfire in my office--it might be time to amend my Top Ten List of the Worst Things to Ever Come Out of Minnesota.

#10--Wildfire Smoke.  I'll put this at the bottom of the list for now--as it's possible it could be a one-day thing--unlike every other item on the list which has plagued us for years.

#9--The Mall of America.  Yes, mega-malls are the norm now--but this was the original monument to materialism and finding ways to waste as much of your money as possible.    I mean, do we really need to have four different Foot Locker stores in one building?  I'm still ashamed to admit that I worked there for almost a year.

#8--Michelle Bachman.  She is still early in her political career so her ranking could "improve" in the future.  I can't think of anything that I have heard her say that hasn't made me roll my eyes and want to crawl under a rock.  Fortunately, her "media darling" status appears to be fading as far more qualified candidates for President have entered the race.

#7--Hamm's Beer.  You have to give a lot of credit to the marketing guys that came up with the cute Hamm's Bear mascot and the Indian-themed "Land of Sky Blue Waters" ad jingle for making this one of the most popular Midwest beers back in the day.  It certainly didn't attain that status based on taste or quality.

#6--Paul Wellstone.  The only Senator who could make Russ Feingold look like a moderate.  Nonetheless, his death in a plane crash remains a real tragedy.

#5--Brett Favre's 2nd Comeback.  Was it the continuous press coverage of the move, the former Packer teammates flying to Mississippi to "convince Brett to come back", "Chilly" going to pick him up at the airport, or the hype surrounding the two games against the Packers that made everyone the sickest?  All I will remember is an old, broken-down man huddled under a parka along the sidelines as his non-playoff team was getting pounded by the Bears in his "final, final game" in the NFL.

#4--Lutefisk.  Rotten fish soaked in lye--then spread on crackers or bread.  It's even more disgusting than it sounds.

#3--Al Franken.  It amazes me that someone with such contempt for every other human being on the planet can win election to a major post like the US Senate.  It must be his smugness that wins everyone over.

#2--Walter Mondale.  Where to begin here?  His early efforts to kill the Apollo Space Program because it was taking money away from programs for the poor?  His disastrous turn as Vice President during the first Obama--I mean Carter Administration?  The idea that voters in 1984 would want to return to those failed economic policies?  Or his "We don't negotiate with terrorists--so I'll go over there and do it myself" efforts in the 1990's.  (BTW, how many Minnesota politicians is that on the list now?  4 out of 10?)

And finally, the clear and forever choice at #1--University of Minnesota sports teams.  Your football team stinks.  You win Paul Bunyon's ax so infrequently that the "red side" of the thing is beginning to fade because its the only side that sees any light in the Badgers trophy case.  Your basketball team stinks.  Clem Haskins had to cheat to get you to the Final Four that one year.  And after Doug Woog got caught paying players, your hockey team hasn't won diddly poo.  The Badgers could lose every other game in every sport--but if they beat the Gophers in those one or two contests I would still consider it to be a very successful season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The China Syndrome

Is anyone noticing how much debt the Chinese are racking up?  I don't mean the people of China or the Chinese government going into hock--but rather the amount of money that other countries around the globe are borrowing from China.  Their latest "investment" is going to be in Italy--which needs to come up with billions of dollars to head off the same debt crisis that threatens to engulf nearly all of the European economies.

The fact that China is entering into the Euro disaster zone must mean that Germany is tapped out in trying to help keep its neighbors afloat.  I know the German bailout of several other countries had to be approved by the nation's Supreme Court--as the conservative political minority was fed up with being the Continental ATM Machine.  And how could you blame them for having that attitude?  You don't see Germans taking the entire month of August off of work like Spain and Italy.  German seniors don't get full retirement benefits at 55 like in Greece and there is no acceptance of permanent unemployment for the younger generations like in Britain.  The term "German work ethic" didn't come about by accident--it was earned.

Anyway, a Chinese bailout of a European country is another sign of the decline of the US economic power in the world.  The US has always been Western Europe's security blanket, first with the Marshall Plan after World War Two and then by picking up the lion's share of operation expenses for NATO.  But now, the countries that we helped to free from facism and whom we protected from Communism for decades are turning to the very Socialists they once feared for help.

Maybe the Chinese will be benevolent creditors.  I know the Keynsian economists defending our own major borrowing insist that it is in China's best interest to see all of the countries that owe it money do well--since that is how they will get their money back.  But for some reason, I have my suspicions about a regime that still holds political prisoners--and has turned tanks on its own people more than once.

My brother-in-law does a lot of business in China--and he strongly believes they will be the economic leaders of the 21st century.  Already, Chinese companies are farming out their work to countries like India and Vietnam--where the labor pool is even cheaper than in their own country--thereby increasing the profits they see in selling items to companies and retailers here in the US.    It's just a matter of time before they don't need Apple or Microsoft or Boeing to develop the new cutting edge (and most profitable) technology--they will have the resources to do it themselves.  And that is when the US will be pushed to the side--to join its European counterparts on the downward slide into secondary economic status.

Maybe it really was a good idea to start teaching our children Mandarin in elementary school.

Monday, September 12, 2011


The big question yesterday was "Do you remember where you were ten years ago today?"  Well today, I have another question for you: "Do you remember how you felt on this day ten years ago?"  9/12/01--the day after.  The day when the reality of what happened on 9/11 set in.  The day when we figured out who was responsible for what had just happened--and the day we vowed as Americans to stick together to get through this.

So, do you remember how you felt a decade ago today?  Were you angry?  Were you among those who said "We need to fight them over there--so we don't have to fight them over here."  Were you committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure that A) we find the people responsible for making this happen and either bringing them to justice or killing them and B) making sure that this never, ever happens again.

How does that compare to how you feel today?  Are you still committed to tracking down all of those involved in the plot?  Do you remain committed to eradicating terrorism and religious extremism wherever it might be breeding and creating a threat to the US?  If polls are any indication--then probably not.

When did you lose that resolve?  Was it after the first attacks in Afghanistan?  Was it after the first dead soldiers were brought back home?  Was it after we invaded Iraq?  Was it after we captured Saddam Hussein?  Was it after "Mission Accomplished"?  Was it after we opened Guantanamo Bay?  Was it after the Abu Graib prison pictures were released?  Was it on the first anniversary of 9/11?  The fifth anniversary?  Was it after we elected a candidate who promised to bring the troops home in his first 90 days in office?  Was it after we killed Osama Bin Laden?

I realize it is hard to remain committed to what has to be done--when it takes as long as this effort has.  There were many in America who wanted the US to settle for peace with Japan right after victory in Europe just to end the fighting after more than four years.  But President Truman knew that a job half-done in the Pacific would only lead to further problems--and American bloodshed--in the future.

77 soldiers were injured in a truck bombing in Afghanistan yesterday--further proof that the enemy is still out there.  And the tensions of yesterday's memorial services was heightened by reports of terror suspects in the US with the intent to detonate similar devices in cities here.  We didn't start this fight--but we sure as hell need to make sure we end it once and for all.   If we owe the 2,752 killed on 9/11 and the more than 4000 US soldiers killed in the War on Terror anything--it would be to make their sacrifice worth it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Packer Predictions

Last week I gave you my picks for the entire Wisconsin Badgers schedule (can I point out my 45-17 victory prediction against UNLV didn't miss the actual 51-17 score by much!).  Today, I've got my Packers predictions for the year.

Week 1 vs New Orleans--I know everyone is expecting an offensive shootout tonight--but I think the abbreviated off-season and training camp will set that side of the ball back early in the season.  I'll take the Packers winning on a late FG over the Saints 20-17.  1-0

Week 2 at Carolina--The Panthers will be starting over-rated rookie quarterback Cam Newton.  I'll take the Pack 38-10.  2-0

Week 3 at Chicago--I know Lovie Smith and the Bears will be talking all big and bad that week--but they still have Jay Cutler at quarterback--and we all know how small he plays in big games.  Packers win 23-17.  3-0

Week 4 vs Denver--I don't see Kyle Orton lighting up the Packers in this one.  Green Bay wins 27-10.  4-0

Week 5 at Atlanta--A rematch of last year's divisional playoff game--where the Packers steamrolled the Falcons at the Georgia Dome.  I don't think Atlanta is any better this year.  Packers win 30-21.  5-0

Week 6 vs St Louis--Aren't defending Super Bowl Champions supposed to have the toughest schedule the next season?  Packers roll again 38-3.  6-0

Week 7 at Minnesota--Assuming the Metrodome is still inflated, the energy level will be high--but the Vikings talent level will still be low.  McNabb chokes again on a potential game-winning drive and the Packers escape with a 28-24 win.  7-0.

Week 8--Bye week.--Needless to say at 7-0, Packers fans are already booking hotel rooms in Indianapolis.

Week 9--at San Diego--Finally, the Packers play another serious title contender--and they lose.  The Chargers will a shootout 41-38 in overtime.  7-1

Week 10--versus Minnesota--I'm assuming here that Brett Favre has not returned to supplant Donovan McNabb at quarterback in purple.  Packers get back on the winning track 31-17.  8-1

Week 11--versus Tampa Bay--Last year the Bucs challenged for a playoff spot.  This year they go back to being the Yucks--Green Bay wins 24-6.  9-1

Week 12--at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day--In 1962, an undefeated Green Bay Packers came into a Turkey Day matchup with the Lions and lost to Detroit in what was known as the "Thanksgiving Day Massacre"--with Bart Starr being sacked 10 TIMES--and Lombardi's bunch suffering their only loss of the season.  I'll take Ndomukong Suh to dish out the same punishment to Aaron Rogers and for Detroit to win by the same 26-14 final.  9-2

Week 13--at the New York Football Giants--The Pack recovers from their beating at Detroit and use the extra rest to roll the vastly over-rated G-men--40-14.  10-2

Week 14--versus Oakland--The Raiders will be slightly better this year--but they still get whipped at Lambeau--38-13.  11-2

Week 15--at Kansas City--The meaningless pre-season finale may have been close--but the Packers cruise in this one 27-10.  12-2

Week 16--versus Chicago--Santa delivers another Packers win over their rivals 17-0.  Jay Cutler misses the second half with strained mistletoe.  13-2

Week 17--versus Detroit--The Packers will have nothing to play for--having clinched the best record in the NFC and home field throughout the playoffs--while the Lions will be fighting for a playoff spot.  Detroit wins a snoozer 13-9, and finish 13-3.

After a bye in the first round, the Packers get the Lions for the third time at Lambeau in the Divisional Playoff at Lambeau.  It's ugly, but the Packers get the win 13-7.

In the NFC Championship game, Green Bay hosts Atlanta on a freezing night at Lambeau.  Both offenses stall in the elements and the Packers lack of a running game hurts them as Atlanta controls the clock and field position and gets out of Green Bay with an upset victory 13-10 on a last-minute field goal.  The Falcons then get taken behind the woodshed by the Steelers in the Super Bowl--and order is restored to the Universe.

As with my Badger picks, if the Packers lose Aaron Rodgers for an extended period of time due to injury--this 13-3 prediction could easily change to 5-11 and out of playoffs.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

For Your Viewing Pleasure

I have a new money-making idea for someone looking to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps in this down economy:  Sell bumper stickers that say "My President is Mark Murphy".  I'm guessing you can sell them to all of the people who will be tuning into the NBC NFL Kickoff Pre-Game Show instead of the--ahem--"Major Jobs Speech" from President Obama.

The two NBC affiliates here in Packers Country have decided to stick with the pre-game show instead of airing the President's address to a joint session of Congress.  I'm sure a few of my journalistic peers will be raking WGBA and WTMJ over the coals for "abdicating their duty to cover such an important, newsworthy event"--but I will be very interested to see the ratings that come out of Tuesday's decision.  I get the sneaking suspicion that even though most of the show will be NBC talking heads and three overrated musical acts, the viewership will be more than the cumulative audience for the President's speech on all of the other outlets.

Let's be honest, tomorrow night's speech will be anything but "a major announcement".  It will start with a series of "America is facing a crisis" generalities.  Next comes the "I heard from Billie Mae Dawson of Waycross, Georgia--who has been without a job for nearly three years now--despite having a bachelors degree and putting out more than 500 resumes" line the speechwriters got by choosing one letter from the thousands that come in to the White House that the President never actually reads.  That will be followed by the real purpose of the speech: Candidate For Re-Election Barack Obama blaming Republicans in Congress and Former President George W Bush for the economy not turning around in the last three years.  The speech will wrap up with a proposal to borrow another $300-Billion dollars to pay for projects that will be required to hire union workers only--along with the usual "hope and change" platitudes and we're out of here right before kickoff of the Packers game.  The other networks will follow with their liberal talking heads calling it a "watershed event in American history sure to turn things around in time for the 2012 elections" and their conservative talking heads calling it "a complete failure of vision that will only deepen the hole Rick Perry will have to dig out of in 2013."

If Republicans really wanted to make the President squirm, they should do all they can to guarantee the speech goes past game time.  As the President enters the House Chambers, stop him for a conversation as often as possible as he walks down the aisle.  Welcome the President to the podium with a five-minute standing ovation.  Cheer wildly--and for as long as you can--after every single sentence.  And feel free to point out errors in fact as often as possible with outbursts from the gallery.  I can already see the consultants in the production booth telling the Teleprompter operator to increase the speed of the scroll to make sure the President is done by 7:30--to the point where he sounds like the speed-talking guy who did the Federal Express ads back in the 1980's.

I should probably mention that you can hear President Obama's Address to the Joint Session of Congress live here on WOSH--with ABC Radio coverage beginning at 6:00 Thursday night....if you can tear yourself away from the three hours of Packers GameDay coverage on all of the other AM stations.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dinosaurs Walking

Today, we find out just how bad things are for the US Postal Service.  By all accounts, the USPS is on the verge of insolvancy--unable to make a $5.5 Billion payment to its retirees if Congress doesn't provide a major bailout--and approve reduction in services. 

According to the New York Times, personnel costs account for more than 70% of the Post Office's operating expenses.  That compares to less than 50% for its main competitors--UPS and FedEx.  If you consider the average public sector employee's health insurance plan to be a "Cadillac"--then the folks at USPS have the "Bentley" packages--and you can imagine what that costs.

So Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe heads up to Capitol Hill today to propose a solution: a big federal subsidy, cutting Saturday delivery, closing smaller post offices and combining sorting facilities across the country.  Sounds like a good plan--considering the sharp reductions in mail volume in the electronic age.  But here comes Cliff Guffey--the head of the American Postal Workers Union--to derail the whole thing.  Guffey points out their contracts have no layoff guarantees in them (there is a fine example of long-sited negotiation). 

Guffey is backed by the head of the Association of Letter Carriers--Frederic Rolando--who predicts "disaster" if service is cut back.  The Times quotes Rolando as saying "This is about one of America's oldest institutions.  It survived the telegraph, it survived the telephone and we have to do everything we can to preserve it and adapt."

So Mr. Rolando, did AT&T continue to operate telegraph offices in every town and city across the country when people stopped sending telegrams?  Were there protests in the streets when those telegraph offices closed?  Does AT&T still have operators in every town and city to work switchboards--helping to connect landline phone calls?  If everyone dumps their landline phones someday and goes exclusively to cell phones, will AT&T continue to spend billions to maintain phone lines and poles?  Of course, the answer is "NO" because AT&T was willing to adapt to the changing times--and provide services that people actually wanted.

The time has come to admit that the Postal Service is a dinosaur still roaming the earth.  Unless there is a major devolution of technology on the horizon, it will become as relevant to our lives as the telegraph and the printed newspaper.  Now is the time to plan for a graceful (and economical) demise.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Bucky Blitz

The Wisconsin Badger open defense of their Big Ten Championship tonight. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season.

Week 1 tonight versus UNLV. You may recall the Rebels hung with the Badgers in a game at Vegas last season. But that had a game time temp of over 100 degrees. I think the Badgers pull away again in the second half tonight and roll to a 45-17 win. 1-0

Week 2 versus Oregon State. This game was set up after the Beavers went to a BCS Bowl Game. Like the rest of the Pac-12 (hey! a conference that knows how to count!!), they have gone downhill since then. Plus, game time is set for 11:00 our time--so the OSU players will feel like its 9:00 am. Expect the Badgers to roll again--38-13. 2-0

Week 3 aginst Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. There is already some concern about the quality of field conditions for this one. One thing that can be guaranteed: Soldier Field will look more like Camp Randall as the Badgers overwhelm the Huskies 40-14. 3-0

Week 4 versus $outh Dakota $tate. When I become Czar of the NCAA my first move will be to ban these games involving Fooball Playoff Sub-Division teams. The dollar signs represent the cash payment the Jackrabbits get for being scrificial lambs at Camp Randall--and the millions the Badgers make for getting another home game on the schedule. 56-13. 4-0

Week 5 versus Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are now officially my second most hated team in the Big Ten. It's not because of any great rivalry with the Badgers--but rather because their addition to the conference lead to the stupid divisions, with the stupid names and the stupid championship game in a sterile NFL dome. I'll hate the 'Shuckers even more after they beat the Badgers 27-23. 4-1

Week 6 versus Indiana. Big Red gets a week off to lick its wounds after its first loss and rolls the pathetic Hoosiers 48-23. 5-1

Week 7 at Michigan State. This is the first real road game for the Badgers--and the Spartans beat Wisconsin at home last year--but I think Wisconsin plays better on special teams and holds down the score this time 27-21. 6-1

Week 8 at Ohio State. Until Terelle Pryor and Jim Tressel combined to bring the Buckeyes program to its knees, this was the game of the year on the schedule--as it would probably decide who wins the (insert stupid name here) division. But I think THE Ohio State University comes into the game with a couple of losses already and some real doubt in the new head coach. The Badgers get a big road win 33-24. 7-1

Week 9 versus Purdue. The Boilermakers stink. 45-20. 8-1

Week 10 at Minnesota. The Gophers are due for their one win per decade in the Ax Game--but it ain't this year. 77-21. 9-1

Week 11 at Illinois. This is one of those "danger games"--second in a row on the road--a middle of the pack team. But the Badger running game grinds out a win over the Illini 32-27. 10-1

Week 12 versus Penn State. With a (insert stupid name here) Division championship on the line--and an ailing Joe Paterno back in Happy Valley, the Badgers roll the Nittany Lions 37-21. 11-1

Big Ten Championship versus Nebraska. In the biggest game of the year, the Badgers rise to the occasion and avenge their week 5 loss to the Cornhuskers 31-27. 12-1

THE ROSE BOWL!!! Bucky makes his second back-to-back appearance in Pasadena in school history taking on Stanford and Heisman Trophy winner Andrew Luck. Bret Bielema and his coaching staff learn from their mistakes in last year's Rose Bowl and run the ball on every single play--until a play-action pass to the tight end late in the 4th quarter scores the winning touchdown 44-38. 13-1

Of course, now I have scared myself--because the Badgers have a history of falling flat in seasons where big things are expected of them. Honestly, they are an injury to quarterback Russell Wilson away from finishing 5-7 and staying home for the holidays. But let's stay positive and get ready for another great run. ON WISCONSIN!!