Thursday, June 30, 2011

While You Guys Aren't Doing Anything....

Despite ESPN's continuous reports that both sides are "very close to a deal", the NFL lockout continues.  We hear about workouts organized by players themselves--trying to stay in game shape and to work on offensive timing.  Well, if the two sides aren't as close as those who absolutely depend on having games every Sunday hope and pray they are, I have a suggestions for those idled NFL players:  Join Team USA for the Rugby World Cup.

Those of us who enjoy rugby here in the US have wondered for years what would happen if they guys tearing it up in the NFL gave up the helmets and pads and decided to take up rugby.  The US is considered a "sleeping giant" within the sport--but the lack of big money opportunities here--and practically no TV exposure of rugby--there doesn't appear to be much urgency to "wake up."

But the NFL lockout provides the perfect opportunity to show just how awesome we could be if our elite athletes took on the best of the rest of the world.  Think about the lineup Team USA could roll out.  Chris Johnson from the Tennessee Titans at Flanker.  The fastest man in the NFL would be practically untouchable on the rugby pitch--outrunning everyone to the outside and using lethal cutback moves to get into the clear for easy Touches.  Throw in guys like Maurice Jones-Drew from Jacksonville and Adrian Petersen from the Vikings (provided he can hang on to the ball and avoid knock-ons) at the wings and Team USA would spend much of the day running up and down the field racking up the points.

Add in about eight or nine linebackers to play as Centers, Scrum Halfs and Fullbacks and I doubt Team USA would ever be scored upon.  You think anyone not wearing protective equipment wants to get anywhere near Ray Lewis from the Ravens or James Harrison of the Steelers?  And think of the instant "sexiness" that will be attributed to rugby when the ladies get a look at Clay Matthews Jr's flowing blonde locks--unfettered by a helmet--as he runs down and punishes a Fly-Half from England forcing a turnover in their own end. 

With Team USA's unbeatable speed in the back and the outside, we can load up our Locks and Props with 380-pound offensive and defensive linemen and pretty much guarantee that we win possession in every ruck and maul.  Throw in Adam Vinatieri (the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the NFL) to handle all tries for goal and put Peyton Manning at Fly Half to direct the attack and I don't think anyone stays within 50 of the US.  Unfortunately, the best potential rugger in the NFL--Troy Polomalu--won't be able to join our team.  He's Samoan--meaning he would be joining one of the strongest teams in the world already.

So what do you say Locked Out NFL Stars, why don't you don the Red, White and Blue and show the rest of the world just how tough really you are by destroying the field at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand starting on September 1st?  Right now, it doesn't look like you'll being doing anything that month.

Oh, and Soon-To-Be-Locked Out NBA Stars, this might be a good time to call about USA Team Handball tryouts.  I'm getting a little tired of the Czechs and the Poles dominating in that sport.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

So Now What Happens?

Despite what many thought, the state's new collective bargaining law has gone into effect--and the sun still came up this morning.  The first day in the rest of the history of Wisconsin is here and the big question is: "Now what happens?"

I'll be interested to see just how "draconian" this law turns out to be.  I think the effect will be very parochial--with the determination coming from what kind of local leaders we elect.  We got a bit of a foreshadowing of that with the way many school boards, city councils and county boards rushed to sign one year extensions of current contracts with their unions--thereby voluntarily foregoing the "tools" included in the bill to lower expenses.

For county employees, much of the impact will be determined by County Executives and Administrators.  It's a pretty safe bet that Winnebago, Outagamie and Dane county employees will be "protected" by their left-leaning bosses--while more conservative leaders in Fond du Lac, Waukesha most of Northern Wisconsin will be even more frugal.

City employees will probaby face the tightest purse strings.  Most councils are made up of local business owners who are familiar with working with budgets and controlling expenses--while many Mayors worked in the private sector as well.  Here in Oshkosh, with the influence of the university and "political activists" currently on the Council, I doubt such cost-savings will be aggressively sought.

The safest harbor for public employees now will likely be school districts.  Let's just say that sympathy for the "plight" of the union worker runs strongest with superintendents and on school boards throughout the state.  Consider the Green Bay School Board earlier this week falling all over each other to "apologize" for requiring teachers to stay an extra half hour a day for collaboration.  Shouldn't they have learned from the far more "enlightened" Oshkosh School District that the way to improve education isn't to keep teachers in the building longer--but rather to send the kids home earlier?  And speaking of the Oshkosh School Board, it's a pretty safe bet that, again, with the University and union leadership influence it will make sure that things remain "fair" for 1400 "inside" the system--and not so much for the 70-thousand on the "outside".

So what will be the impact of the collective bargaining law for the vast majority of us in Wisconsin?  I guess we'll find out every December when we get our property tax bills--and every April 15th when we pay our state income taxes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Truth In Advertising

Last week, I talked about a couple of ads that I enjoyed and felt were very effective.  Today, I want to talk about an ad that is just plain wrong and is a joke.

Something called the "Agenda Project" is running an viral internet ad campaign in opposition to the Paul Ryan budget proposal.  It shows a boyish looking man with thick black hair (obviously a representation of Ryan) pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair over a cliff.  It then encourages you to call Paul Ryan and other Republicans to complain about efforts to rein in entitlement spending.

OK Agenda Project, I'll admit I chuckled the first couple of times I watched the ad--but now let's make a real commercial:

The scene opens with a couple in their early sixties (the man is wearing an "I'm AARP and I Vote" t-shirt, the woman has on her peace symbol t-shirt).  They are driving along in a convertible with the top down.  The sun is shining, the wind is blowing through her hair and they look so happy.  Slowly, the camera pans out to show the front end of the vehicle--and we see that they are driving a beautiful 1965 Chevy Impala SS with the license plate "MY IRA".

Then the camera pans to the rear of the vehicle and we see a forty-something, a twenty something and a toddler in the back seat--all with a terrorized look on their face.  They are screaming for help and waving their arms--begging the couple up front to "TURN, TURN, TURN YOU IDIOTS!!!!!!!!!!!"

As the camera pans out further, we see the Impala is hurtling towards a cliff--and that there is no chance the car will be able to stop in time.  We then cut to the famous final scene from Thelma and Louise, as we hear the couple driving the Impala yell out "AT LEAST WE GOT OURS, SUCKERS!!!!!" and finish with the giant fireball explosion at the bottom of the canyon from pretty much any episode of the A-Team.

Now THAT, would be an ad that correctly sums up the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security situtation.  If you need someone to play the 40-somthing screaming in the backseat I'll volunteer to be in the commercial.  Like Buck Owens said "All I'll have to do is Act Naturally".

Monday, June 27, 2011

Disorder In the Court

What the hell is going on with the Wisconsin Supreme Court?  A Justice accused of choking another judge?  The alleged victim accused of charging the alleged offender?  The alleged attacker admitting to calling the alleged victim a "bitch"?  Is this State Supreme Court or WWE RAW?

As a sports fan, I know that sometimes a little clubhouse fight is actually good for a team--getting rid of some hard feelings and frustrations.  But the Supreme Court is not the 1978 New York Yankees with Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin duking it out in the shower.  It is a court of law and this behavior needs to stop immediately!!

Justice David Prosser is claiming that once the "facts come out" it will be found that he did not choke Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.  Unfortunately, Prosser is providing some conflicting accounts of what happened--as the initial version included "palyful hands to the throat" switching in later statements to "no contact at all". 

One thing should be clear, if there was any physical contact, Justice Prosser has to go.  Immediate resignation--do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  GONE.  There is absolutely no place for physical contact between two co-workers--especially contact that can construed as life-threatening.  And if Justice Prosser's initial version of the incident is true--"She came at me in a rage, I 'playfully' put my hands around her neck" then Justice Bradley has to go as well.  No matter how nasty the debate--rushing your opponent is unacceptable as well.  And if it turns out that none of this happened at all--then Justice Bradley still has to go--since she was the one who went running to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to level the accusations.  Even if she is "slightly exaggerating" the situation, her allegations have cast such doubt on the ability of the high court to do its job that she will have to step down to ensure public trust can be restored.

The Capitol Police Chief is scheduled to hold a press conference today to provide the details that his department has been able ascertain.  Let's hope that there is full disclosure--regardless of whom it might embarrass--so that we can rid the court of "problem children" and get back to doing what we actually elect them to do.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Know Your Americans

It's time to play a new game here on My Two Cents.  I like to call it "Know Your Americans".  I'll give you demographic information provided by the 2010 Census--and you try to guess what population group I'm talking about.

  • 43% of these Americans own their own homes
  • 31% own two or more vehicles
  • 25% own large screen High Definition TVs
  • 63% subscribe to cable or satellite TV service
  • 33% have both landline and cellular phones
  • 47% are overweight
So which population group do you think I'm talking about?  If you guessed African-Americans--you would be wrong.  If you think those numbers describe senior citizens or retirees--guess again.  Those are the actual census finding for Americans who are living below the "poverty line".

Kind of gives you a new perspective on what it means to be poor in the US doesn't it?  43% of families living in poverty own their own houses.  31% drive two vehicles.  25% were somehow able to come up with the cash for the kind of TV that I couldn't afford to buy until I had saved up birthday and Festivus gift money.  63% can afford cable or sattelite service--which in my household is over 70-bucks.  And 47% can afford to eat in excess.

If you want to go deeper into the numbers, the living space for poor families in the US is 439 square feet per person.  That is more spacious living quarters than high income earners enjoy in Great Britain, France and Germany.  The average American living in poverty also consumes 184% of the daily recommended allowance of the 15 main nutrients humans need in their diets to stay healthy.  And only 2.6% of American children suffer stunted growth due to lack of proper nutrition.

Now, does that mean poverty is not a real problem in the US--no it does not.  There are certainly a lot of people who do not have the means or the opportunity to garner even the most basic necessities.  But keep in mind that eligibility for many Federal and State assistance programs starts at 150% or even 250% of Federal poverty income levels--meaning just as many who can make do are draining away resources from those who cannot make do.

Just keep those numbers in mind anytime someone tries to frame the debate on reduced government spending with the tired argument of "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hollywood Hypocrisy

I've given up on waiting for the Hollywood elite to come down hard on Tracy Morgan.  The commedian got himself in a bit of trouble last week for saying in a performance that he would stab his son if he ever said he was gay.  I see that Morgan is on the requisite "apology tour"--meeting with the person who posted details of the homophobic rant on-line to say he is "really sorry" and "didn't mean what I said" and "I was just trying to be funny".  Morgan has "Tweeted" and posted the same on Facebook.

I can't help but think about the controversy that effectively ended the career of Michael Richards--AKA "Kramer from Seinfeld"--who went on a racist rant during a performance in Los Angeles a few years ago.  You may recall, Richards was being heckled by an African-American in the audience--leading him to drop the "N-word" a few dozen times.  Richards did the same "apology tour"--claiming he is not a racist and that he was truly sorry for using that language and that he was just trying to be funny.  But that wasn't good enough for the Hollywood Left--to a "star", Richards was denounced--and you may have noticed that he hasn't done anything in show business since.

So that's why I was waiting for the hammer to drop on Tracy Morgan.  But I guess that just isn't going to happen.  In fact, the "stars" are coming out in his defense--saying they "know" he's not an homophobe and that he really is "sorry" for what he said.  Where was Morgan's "30 Rock" co-star Tina Fey--who has made a career out of mocking her "twin sister" Sarah Palin's own anti-gay beliefs?  I can flat out guarantee that if Palin said the same thing about her own son, they would have had a "special edition" of Saturday Night Live to air skits skewering her.

While we hear all the time that "words hurt" and that we need to be held accountable for our actions and beliefs--that must not apply in all situations.  To stick with the Morgan-Richards comparison, "Kramer" was on the downside of his career--since it appears that "Seinfeld" reunion show isn't happening anytime soon.  Morgan stars in one of the highest rated and critically acclaimed shows on TV.  I'm guessing that Morgan will not be written out of the show.  In fact, "30 Rock" will probably incorporate this into their storyline--so that it's star can "show he really does care about gays and lesbians".  And Morgan is Black--whereas Richards was white.  Perhaps the liberal left feels Morgan is allowed a free pass given that he himself is a "victim" of "institutional racism".

I actually think Tracy Morgan is funny, and I'm sure many in the audience that night laughed heartily at the jokes he was making.  And I certainly don't condone what he was saying was funny--violence against others never is.  I just want everyone who uses "words that hurt" to be held to the same standard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Clear Your Calendars

I'm not a big fan of "mandatory" anything when it come to government--but I am asking the State Legislature to call a special session this week to pass a law requiring everyone who lives in Oshkosh--or who drives through Oshkosh--or is thinking about ever coming to Oshkosh to attend the Department of Transportation's informational meeting about navigating roundabouts coming up on June 29th.

I can already hear some of you saying "Not another Two Cents about roundabouts!!  Jonathan, just let it go!!"  Well, having to drive through the two along Witzel several times a day, I can tell you that the problems created by the roundabouts--and the absolute idiocy and ignorance of those driving through them--are not going away.  There is some kind of accident in one of the two roundabouts EVERY DAY!!  I even saw a car hit a boat in the one along Koeller Street.  Yes, a boat was hit by a car in the roundabout.  A guy in a station wagon was towing a fishing boat through the roundabout when he cut off another driver legally going straight through the roundabout on Witzel.  I wonder if the Oshkosh Police had to call in the DNR to assist in the investigation?

Today's Two Cents was nearly turned over Bill Schultz--host of Answers to Energy Questions every Saturday morning on WOSH--as he was struck by a woman in the roundabout down the road while driving a loaner car from his mechanic.  The woman--who again cut him off while trying to make a left hand turn from the right hand lane--berated him for hitting her--before he pointed out to her that making a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane is ILLEGAL in a roundabout. 

So clear your calendar for the night of June 29th Mrs. I'm Turning Left From The Right Lane Even Though I Would Never Think Of Doing That At A Stop Light, and you too Mr I Didn't Know It's Legal To Drive Straight Through A Roundabout In The Left Lane So I'm Going To Cut In Front Of You And Then Flip You Off When You Correctly Blow Your Horn At Me For Being Such A Moron.  We should probably post a notice of the meeting at the Senior Center so Mr and Mrs I'm Going To Stop At All The Entry Points Because I Don't Realize They Are Supposed To Yield To Me are able to attend.  And someone might want to post it on Twitter and Facebook so young Mr I'm Tired Of Waiting For Everyone Else So I'm Just Gonna Gun It In There can get the night off from McDonalds.

Uh-oh.  I just noticed that meeting is going to be held at Oshkosh North High School--meaning most of the attendees will have to drive through the Murdock-Jackson roundabout to get there.  OPD might want to call in all the back up they can.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Effective Marketing

Working in an industry that relies on advertising and marketing for its existence, I tend to pay a little closer attention to the ads on the radio and television.  Right now, there are a couple of ads running that are very good--and deserve some credit.

One of the ads is the Johnson and Johnson campaign saluting nurses.  My favorite is the one where the male nurse is singing the "Name Game" with a little girl while administering her chemotherapy treatment.  There is another one where an African-American nurse is dealing with emergency patients and offering comfort to those who are obviously in pain and very scared.

What makes these ads great is that they capture the passion and compassion that many in the nursing field have (and almost need to have) for those they serve.  I watch those spots and I think "Man, I wish so much of our health care spending wasn't going to breast augmentations, viagara, botox treatments, facelifts, holistic hokery, pills to make your eyelashes thicker, laser tooth whitening, abortions and lyposuction so that we could afford to pay these nurses more."

Another ad I like a lot is for the Special Olympics.  It begins with an empty gym with the sound of a bouncing basketball.  Then you see a heart and other internal organs--which develop into a skeleton--then muscles are added, followed by skin and clothes until you realize the basketball player is a young man with developmental disabilities.  The ad ends with the statement "See the athlete--not the person". 

The message there is pretty clear:  just because Special Olympians have challenges to deal with every day, these people really aren't that much different than the rest of us.  A message that President Obama didn't learn until his campaign three years ago.  You may recall the joke he tried to make after a disastrous bowling photo-op--where he quipped he bowled like "the Special Olympics."

I'm going to appreciate these effective, positive ad campaigns as much as possible over the next few days--before the millions of dollars worth of State Senate recall election ads begin airing and make me wish I didn't own a TV or a radio.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Despite promises of doing things differently than their Democratic predecessors, Legislative Republicans upheld what are becoming some disturbing traditions in passing the biennial budget.  Items added without debate or public hearing by the Joint Finance Committee, non-fiscal items added to the budget by the Legislature, and another vote by the Assembly in the wee hours of the morning.

Among the items "slipped in" without debate:  A measure that would have expanded the School Choice voucher program to the Green Bay School District and a provision that would bring back bail bondsmen to Wisconsin.  I know Green Bay school officials would have wanted to have some input into the decision process on the bill that affects them--since it would have cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding.  And wouldn't you have enjoyed a public hearing with Dog the Bounty Hunter making empassioned pleas to allow others in his field to do business in Wisconsin?

The bounty hunter bill was one example of non-fiscal items in the budget.  You can add a provision that changes charter rules for credit unions and banks which could open the door to the purchase of credit union assests by banks.  Not sure what that has to do with state spending.  No public hearing on that one either.  Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair Robin Vos had promised no non-budgetary items would be in the budget--since that is the way the Democrats enjoyed ramming through items like schools must teach the history of labor unions.  I guess that promise won't be upheld.

And finally, after criticizing Democrats for their "dark of the night" budget votes in the past that were "hiding credit card spending and huge tax increases" the Assembly this year voted on the budget at 3:00 am.  The only difference from the last couple of budget votes was there wasn't an unshaven Tom Nelson at his desk refusing to leave or shower until there was a new budget in place.  The Senate didn't do much better--their vote was after 10:30 pm.  Conveniently, both votes come after late TV newscasts and newspaper deadlines--limiting the public exposure of the actions taken.

I guess the old adage still holds true in Madison:  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Riot Act

Do you ever wonder why we don't have more riots in America?  I ask this after the video of the unruly mob that set cars on fire and looted downtown Vancouver stores got plenty of exposure after the Stanley Cup Final loss.  I'm not saying we should have more riots--I just wonder why we don't have more of them?

I ask that because the places you see these riots--Canada, Great Britain, France and Greece being the most recent--are always held up as these "utopias" of social progress and economic fairness.  These are the countries with free health care for all, free education and colleges for all, mass transit for all and early retirement benefits for all.  So what is there to riot about?

You would think that it would be Americans who should be turning over the police cars and over-running every department store to run off with all the merchandise.  If there is anyplace where things aren't "fair"--it's right here in the U-S-of-A.  And yet, you rarely see people turn to violence and anarchy.  Even public workers--outraged by having to pay about one-quarter of what private sector employees pay for health insurance and retirement benefits--have been loud but certainly not violent in their protests.  You don't see business owners on State Street standing outside their stores with shotguns to protect their property.

Could it be that here in America we still hold some respect for the concept of "earning" what someone has?  When you have everything handed to you--you tend not to appreciate the value of anything.  That makes it a lot easier to justify in your mind burning someone else's car--or stealing someone else's goods.  They don't "deserve" to have that stuff becomes the mindset--and no second thought is given to taking it away.

We hear all the time from the "elite" here in the US that we need to learn lessons from our European peers and our Neighbors to the North when it comes to "creating a better society."  Let's just make sure that we learn ALL of the lessons those countries can teach us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Last Hockey Blog....I Promise

Those of you who are regular listeners of the WOSH Morning News Focus know that I am a huge Boston Bruins fan.  Today, I am celebrating the end of 39-years of frustration--as the Big Bad Bruins dominated Vancouver in Game 7 of the Final last night--winning the Cup for the first time since 1972.  I'd like to thank a few people for bringing me this joy this morning.

First, thanks to my Dad for getting me interested in hockey.  Many a Friday and Saturday night was spent together watching Badger Hockey games on tape delay on Wisconsin Public Television.  Even though I never played organized hockey as a kid, those games instilled in me a love for the speed and physical nature of the sport.

I'd also like to thank NBC Sports for hiring Mike Emerick as their hockey play-by-play guy.  As a second-tier sport in the US hockey has received short-shrift from its previous network partners--meaning second-tier announcers working its premier events (I'm talking to you ESPN and Gary Thorne).  But "Doc" shares the same passion for the game as the fans who watch.  He doesn't do baseball in the offseason--he doesn't do football on Sunday.  Emerick is a hockey man through and through and win or lose he makes a broadcast a lot more fun.

Thank you to Bruins owner John Jacobs for hiring one of my all-time favorite Bruins--Cam Neely--as Team President.  Cam was a stalwart on a lot of great B's teams in the '80's and '90's--none of whom could win it all.  Now he gets his name on the Stanley Cup--just like Ray Bourque did after his trade to Colorado at the end of his career.

Thank you to the NHL for assigning officials to the Cup Final who didn't get fooled by the continuous flopping and faking by Vancouver players.  You could tell that the former players in the NBC broadcast crew--Jeremy Roenick, Mike Milbury, Ed Olczyk--were getting fed up with the Canucks' antics, criticizing their attempts to draw penalties--rather than getting out there and battling like real men.

And finally, the biggest thank you goes to Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.  Every year since I started following the B's they have lost to the team with the "red hot goalie" (Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent, Patrick Roy, et al) or they had the goalie that melted down in the playoffs (Andy Moog, John Casey, Tuuka Rask).  But Timmy was great from game one against Montreal all the way to game seven against Vancouver.  Not bad for a guy that bounced around the minor leagues for years--and heard all the time he couldn't be successful being so aggressive in the net. 

I'm going to have to stop now--getting choked up again.  Those promos for the NHL with the speechless captains and the Cup are right.  There are no words to describe this feeling.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The First Painful Step

So, we are now close to taking the first, painful step toward fixing the financial crisis in Wisconsin.  A budget that eliminates structural deficits.  A budget that doesn't rely on one-time influxes of money to pay for continuing expenses.  A budget that represents what people living here can actually afford to pay.

All of that will become a moot point however, if financial restraint doesn't become a benchmark of public policy in the future.  The world of finance is littered with people, companies and governments that made tough, one-time moves to get out of the hole--but then gave up on the principals of balanced budgeting to get into an even deeper hole.  Sort of a "well I sacrificed a little bit there--so now I deserve to go spoil myself" kind of mentallity.

By getting back to "true zero", the state is now poised to grow along with the rest of the economy.  It might not come this year or the next (there is some hope for the economy after January of 2013)--but Americans are just too resilient to let the continued de-valuation of the dollar and attempts to get the government involved in as much of the economy as possible to keep them down too long.  We love shopping and buying too much to sit on our wallets forver.  With that increased activity--hopefully done with money we have earned not money we are borrowing--tax revenues will grow and we will have more money for the programs we "want" to have here in Wisconsin.

It was the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who coined the phrase "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  Now its up to Wisconsin residents to keep taking the steps necessary after this first one today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Battling the Unneccesary

I know we don't elect the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but I would like to nominate current Administrator David Strickland for a lifetime term in that position.  Strickland is getting ready to do battle with automakers who continue to load up their vehicles with unneccesary and distracting "infotainment" technologies.

Addressing a conference of engineers in Michigan last week, Strickland said: "I'm just putting everyone on notice.  A car is not a mobile device.  I'm not in the business of of helping people 'tweet' better.  I'm not in the business of helping people post on Facebook better." 

Strickland is refering to the growing trend of equipping cars with wireless internet access--like Ford's SYNC technology--which will read you your Twitter feed and Facebook wall as you drive--and will compose your own posts as you speak them.  Not to mention the influx of in-car home-theater systems with multiple DVD players and screens available for just about every passenger.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think of a vehicle as a machine designed for a single purpose--to get me from Point A to Point B safely and quickly.  If you can throw a little heat on me during the winter and provide me with a little Beatles to sing along to--that is good enough.  But more and more, American drivers have come to expect their vehicles to be miniature versions of their living rooms or home offices.

Believe me, the kids will survive a one-hour road trip without Spongebob in front of their face--and for long trips, they still make Car Bingo--which actually forces kids (and their parents) to pay attention to what they are driving past.  And Mr Businessman, you are not the President of the United States, you can actually be out of touch for the 15-minutes needed to run out and get your $5 cappucino.

I used to applaud the "Hang Up and Drive" bumper stickers that came out during the initial cell phone explosion of the 1990's.  Maybe David Strickland can work with someone to come up with "Log Off and Drive" stickers for the 21st Century.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sometimes These Write Themselves

Capitol Police are bracing for another round of protests in Madison this week--as the Legislature begins debate on the new state budget.  Missing from the groups of drum-beaters, chanters and epithet-hurlers will be the Wisconsin Education Association Coucil--the state's largest teachers union.  WEAC President Mary Bell says her group has no plans for organized protests this week.

What is incredibly interesting is the reason why WEAC won't be bringing busloads of teachers to the Capitol.  According an interview Bell conducted with reporters last week, teachers "have already committed to part-time jobs or have gone back to school themselves"--and therefore don't have time to protest. 

Now that you have stopped rolling on the floor laughing, let's take a closer look at that statement.  First off, the claim that many teachers have started their part-time jobs.  I'm sure Bell mentioned that looking for a bit of sympathy--"teachers need to work during their two-and-a-half month break from the classroom just to make ends meet" is likely the underlying message.  But let's keep in mind, these are people who left their full-time jobs back in March--forcing some districts to shut down for as many as four days.  Not to mention they found UW Madison medical instructors willing to write them fake sick notes in an effort to avoid punishment by their employers.  Now you're telling me they feel a responsibility to stay on the job for their part-time employers?  Isn't everyone "Standing with Wisconsin's working families"?  I would think those private-sector bosses would be encouraging to their educator employees to take as much time off as they need to make sure their "rights" are preserved.

As for the second part of Bell's excuse, that is just a big ole' middle finger in the face of families with kids in schools.  It's great that teachers spend their summers improving their educations--but isn't it ironic that those who took off to protest back in March denied the children the same opportunity?  Kind of makes the "it's all about the kids" argument ring even more hollow than it did before.

I guess none of this should come as a surprise, since WEAC is the union that cancelled its annual convention next October--because without the hammer of collective bargaining, it couldn't force districts to include two school days off for teachers to "attend".  Apparently, it's difficult to be "passionate" on your own time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trivia Time!!

I know that most of you probably don't read a lot of David McCullough biographies or watch the actual "history" shows that History Channel airs when it's not carrying "Pawn Stars" or "Swamp People"--but I thought it might be fun to play a little History Trivia this morning.  We'll review the answers at the end.

--What famous Abolitionist shouted at fellow lawmakers who had just approved the Missouri Compromise--extending slavery to the West and bringing the US closer to civil war--"You're f---ing dead!!"?
A--John Quincy Adams
B--No one would have done such a thing--no matter how heated the debate on the floor was

--How many Wisconsin State Senators were recalled after voting to ban the death penalty in 1853?
B--No State Senators were recalled over that controversial vote.

--Where did beer lovers set up tent cities to protest the passage of Prohibition?
A--All around the US Capitol
B--People were too busy working to feed their families to set up tent cities anywhere

--How many Special Olympics events did Ghandi interrupt to make his point about British oppression of the Indians?
B--Ghandi never crashed a Special Olympics event

--In what year did Martin Luther King lead his famous "Zombie March" in Selma, Alabama?
B--Martin Luther King never led a "Zombie March"--he probably didn't even know what a zombie was.

--To what country did Republican members of Congress flee to prevent a vote on Obamacare last year?
B--None--as Republicans stayed in Washington, voted against the Health Care Bill and accepted their defeat on the issue

If you answered "B" to all of the questions above, Congratulations!  You win today's History Quiz and are obviously wise and you probably have your personal finances in order as well.

If you answered "A" to any of the questions above you are probably one of those involved in the myriad of sign-toting, chant-intoning, Zombie-infested protests who can't figure out why no one is taking you seriously.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oh So Close!!

It was almost safe for serious sports fans to watch the Olympics again.  ESPN/ABC was in the running for US broadcast rights of the next four Olympic Games.  Unfortunately, they were outbid by NBC--meaning a continued tradition of coverage geared to people who couldn't care less about sports.

That means we can look forward to any important event being shown "plausibly live" in American prime time--rather than live, regardless of the time it might air here in the US.  Some of you may say "What does it matter if you see it live or on tape--at least you get to see it."  That attitude might have been fine in the 50's and 60's when information sources were far more limited.  But in the 21st century, I can know any results instantly--and I want to see it as it happens.  If you don't care about experience history in the moment--then we can replay it for you on some other network later in the day.  (By the way, the greatest moment in Olympic history--the Miracle on Ice hockey victory over the USSR was shown on tape delay by ABC.  The Russians refused to move the game time back a couple of hours that Friday--and ABC officials didn't want to commit two hours of prime time to the game, believing Team USA was going to get blown out anyway.)

NBC coverage also means we get to learn about the "struggles" that every member of the US gymnastics and figure skating teams have overcome to make it to the Games.  In fact, the NBC Sports executive I saw in a TV clip last night was touting the "storytelling" tradition that he was going to uphold starting next year in London.  There is a reason I don't watch the countless hours of NFL pre-game, NHL Playoffs Preview or NBA Countdown to Tipoff coverage--I only want to watch games.  Spare me the "background" on the grandma who loved skating--but just couldn't make it see her grandchild compete at Sochi.

I thought with ESPN/ABC coverage, we would have sports people programming the games for sports fans.  Hockey, basketball, baseball and golf shown in real time--even if it means getting up at 1:30 am--and something other than the aforementioned gymnastics and figure skating featured EVERY NIGHT in prime time coverage.

Now there could actually be one positive with NBC getting the games.  With the NHL having a long-term contract in place with NBC already, the network may pressure Commissioner Gary Bettman into letting his stars continue to play in the Olympics.  Bettman has cooled to the idea--since it blows a hole in the middle of the regular season--and NBC wasn't really giving the game the exposure Bettman wanted.  Maybe he can convince the folks at NBC to show the games on something other than CNBC--and perhaps putting virtual all-star games like Canada-Russia and Sweden-Czech Republic on the main network as well.

In the meantime, real sports fans will have to keep scouring the upper end of the cable spectrum to get our curling and team handball fixes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lost Perspective

This is one of those days when I wish Einstein and Hawking were wrong and we could actually travel backwards and forwards in time.  I would like to go back to the early 1930's and bring back to today someone who was living in the "Hooverville" shanty towns of that era to see the "Walkerville" tent city set up around the State Capitol this month.  The pro-union forces who have set up the makeshift "protest" say they chose the name in reference to the Depression era accomodations of the poor.

I would just like to see the look on the face of that dirt poor, unemployed American as he checks out the "honor" erected to him in Madison.  What kind of sympathy would he have for the protesters who have full-time jobs that pay in a year what he could only have hoped to have made in the better part of his lifetime?  And who can go to their air-conditioned, three bedroom homes any time they want.

His only meal for the day was likely a bowl of soup and a portion of bread handed out to him after standing in a long line.  What would he think about the protesters getting three squares a day from Dottie Dumpling's Dowry or delivered right to their tent by Jimmy Johns?

Would our Hooverville resident nod in acknowledgement as a member of WEAC describes the hardship of having to teach more than 20 kids at a time due to budget cuts--when he himself probably didn't go to school past the third grade?  And that his kids were likely taught in a one-room schoolhouse where one teacher taught ALL EIGHT GRADES?  And that the teacher in that schoolhouse had to supplement her income by teaching Sunday School at the local church AND take in laundry or knitting from some of the "more well to do" in the town?

Would the Hooverville Man raise his fist in solidarity, outraged by the mere notion of paying 12.5% toward health care insurance and 5% toward retirement.  He more than likely would never see a doctor in his life--even if he could have afforded to trade the fresh meat or dairy that physicians accepted for payment from hard-up clients.  And he likely would have to be explained the concept of not working until the day you die.

For some reason, I doubt our Depression Era friend would tell the Walkerville protesters "I thought I had it bad--but clearly have it much worse than me."  I tend to think he would instead tell the drama queens "Go home you dang fools--and appreciate just how good you still have it." 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Football Is Dead To Me

Usually, I ignore all things football at this time of year.  I don't listen to ESPN Radio, don't watch Sportscenter (motto: All NFL All The Time) because they seem to think that people care about football in June--when all I want are baseball scores and highlights of great defensive plays.  But this year, it's been harder than usual to tune out the off-season noise.

Let's start in the NFL.  I am weary of those complaining about the lockout.  Fans worried about games getting cancelled, business owners thinking they may have to shut the doors without Packers games or practices or training camp to bring people to their area, players comparing themselves to slaves.  I've had enough.  Most of the time, I'm "football-ed out" by Sunday anyway so I don't watch much NFL--especially in early fall when tee times at courses are easy to get on Packer days.

Then college football had to start hogging the spotlight.  Jim Tressel's cheating, lying and covering up have sullied the reputation of a once-pround program at Ohio State.  Then you get the Big Ten offering to pay players above and beyond the tuition, books, food, room and board already provided to them for playing a game.  And now the Big Ten sticks it to the fans by putting their "money grab"--I mean Conference Championship Game--at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis for the next five years.  Nothing embodies the tradition of Big Ten football like two teams from meaningless divisions with joke names (remember Leaders and Legends?) playing in a sterile dome on artificial turf in a city that cares only about basketball.  Did no one at the Big Ten offices think that the fans wouldn't enjoy a title game at Lambeau Field?  Or even Soldier Field?

Even high school football is killing us.  The new conference alignment means Oshkosh fans will be traveling to Stevens Point and Marshfield to play games against their new "rivals".  And then there is the ludicrous WIAA idea of putting all teams in the playoffs--and shortening the regular season.

So let's just all agree to put football on the back burner--permanently.  Think of it as an economic stimulus effort.  Consider how much more work will get done by guys who aren't using the office computer to check out fantasy stats and set their lineups for next week--and how many more hours will be dedicated to actual productivity instead of three hour recaps of Sunday's three hour Packers game.  We might even be able to avoid a triple dip recession before 2012.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Little Slice of Wisconsin

I would like to thank Wisconsin Public Television for airing the documentary "Wisconsin Supper Clubs" last night.  Yes, I do find a show about small, family-owned restaurants in the backwoods of Wisconsin more interesting than the NBA Finals--Featuring LeBron James and All Those Other Guys.

The film takes you on a tour of some of the neatest little places to eat.  Those little places that "only the locals" know about--because they don't have billboards along the major highways--and they aren't located at any interchanges.  They don't have all-you-can eat Sunday buffets or lunch specials.  These are places that only serve Supper (hence the name)--usually some outrageously huge cut of beef, maybe some ribs and a fish dinner or two.  Most of the regulars have standing reservations for weekend nights and the wait can be an hour or 90-minutes--even though it looks like dining room is pretty much empty.  But the wait is fine--because they will pour you a very stiff drink in the bar--while you enjoy the cheese and crackers and actual conversation.

I love Supper Clubs.  George's Steak House in Appleton and Brick's Club 42 in Black Creek are two of my favorites.  At George's the steaks are just as good as you would get at a fancy big-city chop house--and they are about half the price.  Brick's is just the ultimate experience.  I believe the most recent song on the jukebox in the bar is something Sinatra recorded right after he got home from The War.  You get about half a stick of butter on top of your steak--which is always served sizzling hot on one of those metal plates.  And you are not allowed to tip the wait staff!!!  The ambience in the dining room isn't the greatest (my mother compares it to eating at a bowling alley)--but for the prices of the meals, who needs ambience?

One of the most poignant moments of the film comes at the very end as one of the Supper Club owners talks about his fears that he is part of a dying breed.  That the family-owned, independent supper club won't be around for his kids and grandkids.  He pointed out that people today want their food on the go as quickly as possible.  Committing two or three hours to dinner and drinks is just too much for today's busy lifestyles.  He also observed that there are really no new supper clubs being built--it's all fast food, chain restaurants or high-end "fru-fru" places that cater to the new "Top Chef"-watching clientele. 

That really made me sad to think that we might lose that little bit of charm and character.  So the next time you go out for dinner--or you have friends in town looking for someplace new to go--consider heading out that little Supper Club you'd heard about and give it a try.  It's something special from Wisconsin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Dreaded Double Dip

More economic indicators are pointing to a double dip recession heading our way.  That hard reality hit Wall Street yesterday--meaning most of us can look forward to another couple of years of work before retirement now (if retirement is still an option in the post-"Obamacare" US economy).

So you would think that now would be a good time for the folks in Washington to start preparing a plan to bring some long-term recovery and growth--not the short-term solutions that have been tried recently.  Unfortunately, the powers that be right now are steadfast in their beliefs that "theoretical" economics will work the "real world"--despite repeated results that show they do not.

Want some examples?  How about all of those mortgage "rescue" plans that were going to stem the tide of foreclosures and protect home values?  Those who enrolled in those programs and got refinancing are still defaulting at better than a two-thirds rate.  And home values have dropped by another five percent in the first quarter of the year.  If you bought your house after 2002, it is almost certainly now worth less than it was when you moved in.  (By the way, can I expect the Oshkosh Assessment Department to be around soon so that I can pay the "correct" amount of property taxes for the what the true value of my property is now?)

How about Stimulus II or was that III...or was that Stimulus IV?  Anyway, unemployment considerably lower yet?  Got more money in your pocket now?  You don't, because the resulting increases in oil and gas prices--due to the devalued dollar--and higher prices for food have erased it all--and then some. 

So let's hear from the Keynsian Economists now.  The people you have trusted with continued debt they can't handle--and whom you have "helped" and "helped" and "helped" just can't get it together.  If you continue to artificially "stimulate" the economy with more Federal spending, you will further devalue the dollar, drive gas prices over five bucks a gallon nationwide and spur even worse inflation.  And with the Debt Ceiling now limiting how much of today's "recovery" you can place on the backs of tomorrow's taxpayers you have absolutely no wiggle room.

In the meantime, those of us with a plan will continue to sit tight, make do with less and ride out the storm--at least until the triple dip....and the quadruple dip.  Suddenly, I'm really hungry for an ice cream cone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vacation Postcards

I'm back from my extended holiday weekend and I've got a few postcards to send out.

To the crazy Illinois driver heading south in his Lexus SUV on Highway 45 Monday afternoon:  Dear Idiot,  Thank you for endangering the lives of so many people along the road.  Obviously, the need for you to save five minutes on your drive home required you to try and pass 15-vehicles at once--in a no-passing zone I might add--veering back into your own lane, cutting off people and probably causing two on-coming drivers to soil themselves after it appeared you would not get out of the passing lane in time to avoid a head-on collision.  It's a good thing my wife was sleeping at the time--or she'd have several more lines to add to his postcard.  Please stay home from now on.

To the City of Marion Police Department:  Dear Sirs, I must compliment you on another fine effort in enforcing our speed limits along Highway 45 Monday afternoon.  I was impressed by how you and your State Patrol brethren had three drivers pulled over at each end of town!  I'm sure the people of Marion sleep well at night knowing that no one is going more than 60-miles an hour on a stretch of road that has a handful of businesses and no homes on it.  PS:  How did you miss the Illinois driver in his white, Lexus SUV doing about 100-miles an hour just a few minutes earlier passing 15-cars in a no passing zone?

To Former Ohio State Football Coach Jim Tressel:  Dear Jim,  Thank you for finally seeing the light and leaving the cesspool of cheating and lying that you have created in Columbus.  Little did we realize that when you started bringing Southeastern Conference-type athletes and success to the Big Ten that you were also bringing the SEC-type cheating and recruiting violations that have dragged ourconference down to the same level.  Before you, when the Big Ten was losing in BCS games we could at least hold on to the belief that our athletes were actually "students" and that most of our teams were abiding by the NCAA rules.  So much for that.  Just get your sweater vest and get out.

To Joanne Kloppenberg:  Thank you for resisting the calls from the Democratic Party officials who pull your strings to challenge the election and recount results in court.  Yes, the recount was warranted--but the still 7-thousand vote gap was not going to be made up without mass ballot challenges that would just serve to anger even more people.  Nice job in the farewell press conference in trying to call into question the validity of pretty much every ballot cast in the state that didn't have your name checked off--I'm sure the handful of conspiracy theorists out there still side with you on those points.  Now feel free to return to whatever job Jim Doyle appointed you to that you are probably unqualified to hold as well.

You know, vacation is nice--but it is good to get back to work.