Monday, December 31, 2012

When the Shoe Is On the Other Foot

On April 28th, 1967, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Muhammad Ali violated Federal law by refusing induction into the US Army.  Ali cited his newly-converted-to religion of Islam's teaching of peace (which explains the 2000 years of peace in the Middle East) as grounds for his refusal.  He was summarily charged with Draft Evasion and was convicted by a Federal Court--but was not jailed while awaiting his appeal.  Ali was also stripped of his Heavyweight Title and was effectively banned from fighting in the United States.

Liberals--then calling themselves "The Counter Culture"--immediately embraced Ali and supported his effort to claim religious freedom in battling a Federal Law.  Ali was invited to speak on college campuses and at political rallies.  His fight was championed by Howard Cosell of ABC Sports--who used every opportunity to point out that Ali's religious beliefs superceded the powers of the US Government to make him serve in the military. 

Eventually, the US Supreme Court would overturn Ali's conviction--ruling that he could claim being a conciencious objector to war.  Ali was allowed to fight again, won the Heavyweight Title (twice).  He then lit the Olympic Flame at the Atlanta games and is generally revered as an American Hero--all thanks to standing up to the Federal Government to practice his religious beliefs.

Tomorrow, January 1st, 2013, Hobby Lobby Founder and President David Green will violate the Federal Affordable Care Act by refusing to pay for medically-induced abortions as part of his company's health insurance plan.  Green is citing his life-long Christian faith and it's teaching on the sanctity of life (which explains the 2000 years of peace in Northern Ireland, Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, South and Central Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America) as grounds for his refusal.  The Federal Government will now fine Green and Hobby Lobby $100 per employee--or $1.4 MILLION A DAY for non-compliance.  Such a fine will quickly put Hobby Lobby out of business--closing hundreds of retail stores throughout the country and costing 14-thousand people their jobs.

However, Liberals--now calling themselves "Progressives"--are not embracing Green and his effort to claim religious freedom in battling a Federal Law.  There will be no invitations to speak at college campuses or political rallies.  Rachel Maddow will not champion his fight on MSNBC--using every opportunity to point out that Green's religious rights supercede the powers of the US Government to tell him what health insurance benefits his company should provide.

One member of the Supreme Court (Justice Sonia Sotomayor--an appointee of President Obama) has already rejected Green's challenge to the law on the Appeals level--but it is still too early to tell if the entire Court will rule if there can be religious objectors to the abortion and birth control provisions of the ACA.  Either way, I doubt the public school history books will include chapters dedicated to David Green's fight for his Constitutional Rights.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Winners Of The Year

Yesterday we gave you the Biggest Losers of 2012--now here are the Biggest Winners of 2012:

5--The UW Oshkosh Titans Football Team--An undefeated regular season, a WIAC Conference title, a trip to the Division III Final Four, All-American honors for quarterback Nate Wara and Coach of the Year consideration for Pat Ceroni were all big wins on the field.  But the Titans also were big winners off the field as well.  In my previous 11-years here at WOSH, I had received ZERO calls from listeners wondering if we were going to have the UWO Football game on the air on Saturday.  After the win over Whitewater, such calls were a weekly occurrence.  And when the Titans got to the playoffs, we got calls every day from listeners wondering if they could catch the game on WOSH.  Our internet listenership also skyrocketed during the playoffs--as alumni across the country tuned in to follow the Titans.  It will be interesting to see if those alums open up the wallet more to support the program and the University in the coming few months as well.

4--Governor Scott Walker--Not only did Walker survive a recall effort backed by every major labor union in the country, he got a bigger percentage of the vote than he did in the 2010 election.  The victory instantly made him a rising star in the Republican Party--a status Democrats had guaranteed during the recall wouldn't happen.  In addition, the Governor saw immediate budget benefits from Act Ten in all levels of government and property taxes went up less than one-percent across the state.  Walker also got back a GOP majority in the State Senate--meaning relatively smooth sailing for legislation during the rest of his term.

3--New Guard Republicans--There's nothing like an embarrassing drubbing in the national elections to make a party reconsider it's direction and leadership.  From the ashes of 2012 will rise the next generation of leaders:  Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal--who realize that the economy, the budget and the deficit are the real problems that need to be addressed in this country--and not who is marrying whom.  This new generation will come out looking even better as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell continue to embarrass themselves in the Fiscal Cliff "negotiations".

2--President Barack Obama--Despite a continued economic malaise, increased long-term unemployment, further weakening of US influence in the world and a total inability to get anything done in Washington for most of his first term, the President still easily won re-election.  And by not offering any real solutions and just promising more of the same for another four years, he enjoys a very low bar for expected performance in the second term as well.

1--The Oaklawn Elementary School Community--Gone is the embarrassing dump that served as a learning institution for kids on the far north side of Oshkosh--as voters overwhelmingly approved construction of a modern facility on the existing location.  The Oshkosh School Board finally learned from past mistakes by listening to the people that would actually be served by the new school and giving up on trying to locate it in an area where nobody actually lives.  Then, lower-than-expected construction costs meant the kids get a CyberCafe as well--instead of taxpayer relief.  Perhaps the lure of a new school will help a decidedly downtrodden area new life.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 Losers of the Year

It's time for all of those "end of the year lists" so why don't we start today with the Biggest Losers of 2012 today.

5--SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS.  This summer's Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act means many small businesses will now be required to pay for health insurance for their employees--or pay the fine (I mean tax) for non-compliance.  Either way, that money will come out of the bottom line for what could have been the hiring engines for the economic recovery.  And then to make matters worse, President Obama's "solution" to the fiscal cliff includes higher taxes for those making 250-thousand dollars or more a year--which would include a good majority of "S" class corporations who claim their small business revenues as personal income.  The way things are going, Small Business Owners could be on this list for a very long time.

4--THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION.  This was a late riser in the rankings (knocking out the National Hockey League and its death wish lockout).  The Batman movie shooting, the Connecticut school shooting and the New York firefighter shooting have even the most ardent NRA supporters in Washington rethinking their positions.  Add to that the ridiculous suggestion that every school in the country hire armed guards to hopefully ward off attacks did nothing to rebuild public perception.  The group might be better off learning what battles to fight in order to win the overall war.

3--WISCONSIN DEMOCRATS.  It looked like 2012 would be a huge year for Wisconsin Dems.  They turned in more than a million signatures on their petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker (the Government Accountability Board would later certify about a quarter million less than that) and every major labor union got behind the recall effort with big bucks.  But in June, it all went wrong--as not only did Walker win--but he got a larger majority than he had just a year before in the general election.  Democrats did win a slim majority in the State Senate--but it was a pyrrhic victory, as the Legislature was already adjourned for the year--and the November elections gave solid majorities right back to Republicans.  With redistricting consolidating their power to small pockets in urban areas Dems face an uphill climb to ever getting back to control in Madison in the next decade.

2--OLD GUARD REPUBLICANS.  With the worst economy since Jimmy Carter was driving the country into the ground in 1980, President Barack Obama still won easy re-election last month--thanks in large part to the Far Right hijacking the national conversation.  Do you remember much talk about the root of our economic problems in the final few weeks of the campaign?  Instead, the conversation was all about rape, abortion and birth control thanks to undercard candidates taking the bait and running their mouths about stuff NOBODY cares about anymore.  Add to that the Election Night meltdowns of Karl Rove and Dick Morris and it was like watching the death throes of the dinosaurs after the big asteroid strike.

1--THE FUTURE "47 PERCENT".  You would think that Mitt Romney's so-called 47% were big winners in the 2012 election--they got their free health care, their extended unemployment benefits, their food stamps and they likely won't have to wait a couple of extra years to get their "retirement" benefits.  But the gains will be very short term in nature.  All of those programs remain on unsustainable expense paths--and despite what they were told this fall, the other 53% don't have the resources to pay for everything that has been promised--plus all of the other infrastructure and services required to keep our society working.  This will necessitate even bigger reductions in spending farther down the road--and breaking of all the "promises" made over the last four years.  Of course, what should we expect from a segment of the population that singlehandedly keeps Payday Lenders and Lotto outlets in business?

Tomorrow, the biggest winners of 2012.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You Cannot Be Serious

Was the call to place armed guards or police officers at all American schools really the best that the National Rifle Association could come up with in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting?  Honestly, I just wanted Wayne LaPierre to just stop talking during his press conference last week--since the "solution" was becoming more and more embarrassing the longer he spoke.

To put this into local terms, the Oshkosh School District has 19 buildings housing children.  Under the NRA plan, the district would have to hire at least 19 armed guards--with perhaps another three to four guards to fill in for vacations or sick days.  But, then you have to remember that some of the buildings also double as elementary and middle schools with separate entrances for the younger and older kids--entrances that would also have to be staffed all the time--meaning another five guards. 

And as any security expert would tell you, one security guard is not going to be able to monitor a building the size of an average school--with as many potential entrances (even though they are locked) by himself.  so you would either have to hire multiple guards per school--or install very expensive camera monitoring systems in every building.

And what happens if the security guard is seriously injured or killed--but fails to stop the shooter?  As I've pointed out in previous "My Two Cents", the assailants are showing up heavily armed and the idea of a guard or officer getting off one shot to put an end to an attack is a bit unreasonable.  So do our school guards need to be outfitted like army patrol soldiers in Afghanistan with the automatic rifles, body armor and helmets?  Not exactly the friendly image you want to project to those you are trying to protect.

And where is the money for this expenditure coming?  I don't remember LaPierre telling school districts or police departments to send the NRA the bill.  I'm sure than if you ask any principal, parent or even taxpayer where they would prefer to have the millions required to implement this "plan" they would all agree that the money would be much better spent on educational programs, general maintenance and technology--as opposed to measures you hope will prevent a once in a millenium event at one of your schools.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Confessions of a Gift Guesser

My name is Jonathan Krause, and I am a Gift Guesser.  A Gift Guesser is the annoying person who has the ability to guess correctly the contents of any and all wrapped gifts before opening them at the holidays--thus ruining any surprise the gift-giver hoped to achieve.

Having been opening gifts for almost 40-years now, most of the gift-guessing is relatively simple.  I know the weight of socks, golf shirts, dress pants, Rose Bowl t-shirts, golf balls, cd's, blu-rays, wallets, belts, power tools, cookware and underwear.  Add to that, the limited number of gift ideas that exist for middle-aged men--and the game really isn't that hard.  But nonetheless, it seems a lot of people don't really enjoy it when I do it.

One of those was my late mother-in-law--for whom Christmas was a gift giving extravaganza that was the highlight of the entire year.  She believed that my guessing all the gifts before opening them took away all of the fun--so one year she thought she would try and cross me up.

Many of you know that I collect Leinenkugel's barware and accessories.  Pint glasses, signs, liquor store display cases, coasters autographed canoe paddles, glasses and t-shirts from the Leinenkugel brothers themselves and more golf shirts, sweatshirts and bowling shirts than you can believes.  Well one year, my mother-in-law got me a set of display canoes featuring the Leinies brands to hang from one of my paddles.  It was one of the few pieces I did not have in the collection.

To make sure that I didn't guess what they were before unwrapping, she put the box in which the canoes came into another bigger box and then into a still bigger box--a common trick to try and throw off a good gift guesser.  So Christmas Eve came and we were at her apartment and I was told to open the "canoe box" last--as tradition held that the "most special" gift for each person was to wait until the very end.  As I lifted the box to my lap, my mother-in-law made the fatal mistake of saying "you're never going to guess what that one is"--a challenge that any good Gift Guesser is going to accept.

I've never claimed to have premonitions or ESP, but at that moment the only idea that came to my mind was "Leinenkugel display canoes".  As soon as the words left my mouth, the look on my mother-in-law's face would have led you to believe that I had just told her that I had lost all of her retirement savings by betting on a three legged horse at the Kentucky Derby.  The shock and downright anger that I had--yet again--foiled her best efforts to surprise me with a gift was classic.  "HOW DID YOU GUESS THAT?!?!?  HOW COULD YOU HAVE GUESSED THAT?!?!"  She kept asking over and over again--as I just laughed the laugh of the victor.  "Did you tell him?" she asked my wife--and she honestly denied it.  It was a Christmas moment that lived on for years (sort of like the Leg Lamp in "A Christmas Story")

It's also a moment I will cherish even more--now that my mother-in-law is no longer with us to enjoy retelling the tale.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hurtling Toward Reality

Now that it appears more likely than ever to happen, can we please stop calling Sequestration the "Fiscal Cliff"--and give a more accurate moniker--like the "Great Reality Check"?  I ask this because on January 1st (barring a Hail Mary play by the President and Congress) Americans--for the first time in decades--will actually have to pay the true cost of their Government.

Washington DC has existed in a fantasy world for years--where spending increases did not have to offset by equal revenue increases--or at least guaranteed revenue increases.  There is a cable program called "Til Debt Do Us Part" where this Canadian woman comes in to help couples who have buried themselves in mountains of credit card debt, mortgages and extravagant spending habits.  Her first step is to always show the couple what they actually make and how much they spend--and how unsustainable it is. Call it a "Reality Check".   She then whips them into shape by ditching the credit cards, cutting back on their spending and encouraging ways to increase income.  Well today, we Americans are the "Couple In Debt" and Sequestration is the "Canadian Woman".

For those that get paid on a weekly basis, your slap in the face will come with your January 4th paycheck--as the Bush Era Tax Cuts your have enjoyed for the last ten years or so are gone--along with the Obama Era Payroll Tax Cut which will boost your Social Security and Medicare withholdings.  The rest of us will get our reality check on January 15th.  But as your anger builds, please keep in mind that we are only being asked to pay our REAL "fair share"--because Sequestration does not add anymore to the federal deficit.  In fact, it will reduce the deficit by a TRILLION DOLLARS over the next two years!

Which brings me to another point.  Failure to avoid Sequestration is being seen as failure of bi-partisanship and compromise.  But when you really look at what is going to happen, it appears both sides accomplish something that they wanted.  President Obama and Democrats get the tax increases they wanted (granted, they are on all workers--and not just the small minority of people they really want to punish) and Republicans get spending cuts and deficit reduction (however, the cuts also include military spending and corporate subsidy programs). 

Theoretical Economists (aka Keynsians) tell us there is absolutely no reason for the US to face reality.  They are the ones calling for continued business as usual in Washington:  Spend whatever you want, borrow whatever you have to and keep pushing the repayment as far into the future as possible.  Unfortunately for them, that little fantasy world is going to collide with reality on January 1--unless of course, those who need to continue the fantasy to keep their jobs on Capitol Hill panic--and sell us all out again.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day

Today's "My Two Cents" is brought to you by the Jeep Wrangler--The World's Most Capable Four-Wheel Drive.  This is one of those days when I chuckle at Prius and Smart car owners--thinking about how they are effectively trapped within their houses--unable to go anywhere today and possibly tomorrow as well.  (Actually I laugh at Prius and Smart car owners every day.)  You know those commercials were they show the Wrangler or the Grand Cherokee blasting its way through the wall of snow?  That will be me getting back into the driveway after work today (if they bother to plow our street today)--and I'll be doing it with a big smile on my face.  As the stickers say "It's a Jeep thing...You wouldn't understand".

I've owned Jeeps for about half the time since I got my driver's license.  I've gone to Camp Jeep and learned the operating limits of my vehicle and how to handle it in just about every situation that could arise on and off the road.  I wonder what our vehicle crash numbers would be if all of the other manufacturers put their owners through their paces after buying a car or a truck?

Today is also a very frustrating day to be at work.  Those of us who work on the air made it in--where is everybody else?  How do those people feel when they get the email that all "non-essential" staff do not have to report to the office?  This will also be a crazy busy day on the phones in the newsroom--as those calling in cancellations for events affecting four people mix with those calling to see if something has been canceled.  When people call in to ask "Is such-and-such closed today?" I always like to ask them "Did you call them?"  That is usually met with a moment of silence followed by "Oh, I guess I could do that."

Days like today also make me think about how much I am looking forward to early retirement.  I have NEVER enjoyed winter (save for the fact that it does bring us basketball and hockey seasons).  And since I've become obsessed with golf, the five months that we cant' play around here becomes even more frustrating.  So every time I consider busting the budget and not putting as much as I should into savings for the month, I picture playing myself playing a round under bright sunshine with shirt-sleeves and shorts on--while everyone back here is digging out from 15-inches of snow.  You'd be surprised how powerful an incentive that can be.

Finally, I would like to thank the people who still have to go out in this mess to keep us safe.  There will still be emergencies requiring police, fire and ambulances to respond.  And plow drivers will be putting in LONG hours the next two days in incredibly dangerous conditions--made even more unsafe by people blowing by them because they just can't wait the extra ten minutes to get where they needed to go safely.

So unless you are driving a Jeep, enjoy your day stuck in the house with the kids.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ain't Nothin' In the World For Free

Apparently, Instagram is backing down from its new policy of allowing advertisers to use pictures posted by its users without compensating them.  The outrage from users equaled and may have surpassed the reaction to the Connecticut Shooting--as everybody threatened to shut down their accounts and remove all of their pictures.  It reminds me of the disgust that users of Facebook and Twitter expressed when those social media sites started posting ads on their sites--and selling sponsored posts to clutter up our timelines.

The Instagram debacle makes me wonder, why do we think that everything on the internet should be free?  I remember how musicians were pilloried when they objected to Napster basically allowing everyone in the world to download songs and entire albums for free.  Up until the invention of Napster, we were more than willing to compensate the artists, producers and manufacturers of music products for their efforts--why did we all of a sudden think that expecting on-line acquisition of the same product should be free?

Newspapers are coming under the same attacks now for putting up paywalls to view their content.  I see social media posts and bloggers who rant about how "information should be free"--some even posting "workaround" ways to still access the content without paying.  (Yes, we poke a little fun at the ink-stained wretches as well with a couple of promos that run here on the radio station.)  But for 350-years, Americans were more than willing to hand over a few cents every day to get brief recap of history in printed form.  Why do you suddenly think that the reporters who actually gather the content to put on those pages (printed and virtual) don't deserve to get paid for their efforts anymore?  You know that if we weren't keeping an eye on them, you wouldn't hear anything from the Oshkosh School Board for the rest of time.  And those bloggers who consider themselves "News Outlets" because they re-post links to actual news sources would find themselves hurting for content if they actually had to go out and cover stuff or do their own interviews.

I often make the point that people place more value on things that they actually have to pay for.  It's why private school parents keep closer tabs on their kids academic performance.  It's why you see garbage laying around in parks--but not on golf courses.  And it's why the Green Bay "Bike Sharing Program" ended with all of the free-to-use bikes being stolen or damaged. 

I hear all the time about how "social media" has forever changed the way we communicate and live--but I'm pretty sure that if Facebook or Twitter or Skype started charging even a penny a post or a nickel a minute to chat--nearly all of us would leave it behind in an instant.  Maybe we should change our national motto from "In God We Trust" to "If It Ain't Free, It Ain't For Me."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Real Shocker

You may want to sit down for this one: A new study shows Republicans start saving for retirement earlier--and save more for retirement--than Democrats.  In a nutshell, Fiscal Conservatives start saving for their old age starting in their 20's and early thirties--while those on the Left tend to wait until later in life, when the opportunity to have more saved up is lost.

The study doesn't list specific reasons for this trend.  They toss out the usual factors: Republicans are "rich to being with", Conservatives tend to be more organized than Liberals and that the retirement savings trends match the individual belief in the role of government in our lives.  Personally, I feel the last of those reasons is the most likely explanation.

We should really give both sides credit for practicing what they preach.  Those of us in the Personal Responsibility camp would look pretty foolish if we were all reaching retirement completely dependent on Social Security and Medicare to get us through our Golden Years.  And those in the Government Can Solve All of Your Problems group would appear hypocritical if they didn't actually need those monthly checks to get by.

Imagine how different the Fiscal Cliff debate would be if early retirement savings were the norm for all Americans--and not just those of us on the Dave Ramsey plan.  Would increasing the Medicare eligibility age threaten to "kill people" as some alarmists on the Left would have you believe if all of those daily $4 Latte Mocha Grandes had been converted into mutual fund shares for all of those years?  How many people would be howling over limits on cost of living adjustments for Social Security payments if all those new car payments had instead been able to go into 401(k)'s?

What you would actually have is outrage over the proposed increases in Capital Gains taxes as more Americans would see that retirement savings eaten away by Uncle Sam.  And those who put away just 300-dollars a month starting at the age of 25 would be faced with their heirs getting hit by the new lower qualifying standards of the estate tax, because they would multi-millionaires by the time they hit 65.

Actually, we probably wouldn't be at the Fiscal Cliff to begin with--because early retirement savings would have given more people the financial cushion they would have needed to weather the "Great Recession" without government programs.  Of course, there wouldn't have been a "Great Recession" either, because you wouldn't have had the over-borrowing to purchase over-priced real estate that was bundled into the derivatives that bombed when people who didn't have any money to begin with couldn't pay their mortgages anymore.

So enough of talking about Fiscal Responsibility.  I'll let you get back to working on your budget--or picking up your $5 cup of coffee--whichever you choose.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Over-Reaction Bingo

It took all of two days following the shootings in Connecticut Friday to fill up my "Over-Reaction Bingo" card.  It's a sheet that lists the all of the statements, demands and explanations that come up every time something like this happens.

My first square marked off was "BAN ALL GUNS!!!".  There are a reported 310-million firearms in the United States--nearly one for every man woman and child--making the task of confiscating and destroying each of them nearly impossible.  Add to that the fact that the legal owner of every one of those guns has a pretty good basis for a civil lawsuit, and the process becomes even more impossible.  Even a semi-automatic weapons ban will be very difficult to enforce, as there are millions of those in private hands--who will not be willing to part with them easily.

Next up was the "WE NEED MORE GUNS FOR PROTECTION!!" box.  This is the common over-reaction to the first over-reaction.  The belief being that armed teachers and administrators would be able to stop assailants dead in their tracks by engaging in a firefight either in the classroom or out in the hallway.  As police officers trained in tactical situations will tell you, unless you are packing the same firepower as your opponent, your odds of winning aren't good.  In the case of the Connecticut shooting, the school staff would have needed semi-automatic weapons and body armor--just like the shooter.

Another winning square was "WE NEED TO IMPROVE SCHOOL SECURITY!!"  Ideas tossed around this weekend included armed guards at all entrances, metal detectors, locked buildings and security fencing and gates.  At a time of tight school budgets, how much money do you want to divert from actual classroom instruction to man entrances and security stations?  And is turning a school into an impenetrable fortress really creating a positive learning environment?

And then we had the "WE NEED TO TEACH KIDS TO TREAT EVERYONE WITH RESPECT!!"  This one was marked off after it was learned that the Connecticut shooter was described as a "loner" with "few friends in high school".  Schools have been trying to teach "inclusiveness" for years now--and yet "nerds", "outcasts" and "social awkwardness" persists?  What's next--requiring kids to have a certain number of friends?  Mandatory dating?

We scored our "Bingo!!" with "WE NEED TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT!!"  This one followed stories from friends of the shooter's mother that she had feared for her son's mental state.  For centuries, we dealt with such "dangerous people" by committing them against their will in "Insane Asylums".  That went out of style in the 60's and 70's, however, as behavior modification drugs became available and the consensus was that people with such conditions were better left in society under treatment.  Now, an involuntary committal is a difficult legal process--unless of course, said "disturbed person" has committed a serious crime.  And while doctors can prescribe medications, they can't be there 24/7 to make sure the patient is taking them.

If we want to play a "blackout game"--you can mark off "BAN ALL VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES AND MOVIES!!"  and "BRING BACK PRAYER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND GOVERNMENT!!" on your card as well.  Let's hope we can go awhile before we have to play again.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Herb Kohl--In Retrospect

With Senator Herb Kohl having delivered his final speech on the floor of the Senate (he apparently doesn't anticipate having anything to say about a bill to avoid the "fiscal cliff") I thought it would be a good time to look back on the career of second-longest serving Sentator from Wisconsin.

Let's first review the influential pieces of legislation that Senator Kohl sponsored and helped to write while in Washington:

OK, now that we are done with that, I thought I would play back some of the strongest comments Senator Kohl provided to the media about the major issues during his terms:

Alright, now that we are done with that, let's spend the rest of our time together talking about what Senator Kohl is actually good at: philanthropy.

I don't think most Wisconsinites grasp just how rich Herb Kohl is.  In a room full of millionaires known as the US Senate, Herb had all but a handful of those guys covered.  Not bad for someone whose best business decision was to sell off his parents' grocery chain before it got buried by the big boxes.  Senator Kohl then set about to giving away a good amount of that cash to help the people of Wisconsin.

He bought the Bucks to "keep them in Milwaukee".  However, aside from one season where they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson, the Bucks really haven't generated any buzz with Wisconsin sports fans during the Kohl tenure.  And the team consistently loses money due to declining attendance and (a point that can certainly be disputed) an "aging" Bradley Center.  Outside of a few businesses around the arena itself, how much would Wisconsin actually miss the Bucks?

Speaking of arenas, Senator Kohl's most conspicuous contribution to the state is the University of Wisconsin-Madison facility that bears his name.  As much as we like to romanticize about our historic buildings, the UW Fieldhouse is a dump.  Uncomfortable seating, bad sight lines and not enough bathrooms to accommodate a small group outing--much less 11-thousand people to watch a basketball game.  Senator Kohl stepped up with $25-MILLION for the project--which covered about 80% of the total costs.  It remains the largest single gift to the UW System in its history.  Suddenly, the Badgers went from one of the worst to one of the best Basketball and Hockey facilities in the countries--and Wisconsin had another top-notch concert venue as well.  Every year at the WIAA Basketball Tournament when I can just walk in and use the restroom right away, I give a little thanks to Herb Kohl.

As nice a gift as the Kohl Center is, the Senator's most lasting contribution to Wisconsin will be the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.  This non-profit has provided $8.2-MILLION in scholarships to college-bound students, along with grants to K-12 teachers and schools over the last 22-years--along with presenting honors to those who excel in all roles in the classroom.  I'm fairly sure that when the Senator does pass on, the foundation will be the main beneficiary of his estate--and the scholarships and grants will only get bigger.

Like everyone else in the "1%" Senator Kohl gives away a lot of money to other causes that don't bear his name--but also serve to better our communities and our state.  So I hope in his retirement Herb Kohl will find new ways to voluntarily share his wealth with the less fortunate--now that he is done voting for bills that force the rest of us to do the same.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Behind the Numbers

There is a Biblical verse that Dave Ramsey (2-5 weekdays on WOSH) likes to quote all of the time:  "The borrower is slave to the lender."  In Biblical times, that had very literal meaning, as those who owed someone could be forced into slavery to repay a debt.  This week, the folks at the activist group One Wisconsin took it nearly that far, comparing student loan borrowers to "indentured servants"

The group conducted a small amount of research and found that the average college graduate takes 19-years to pay off their student loans--at monthly payments of $388.  My calculator tells me that is a total repayment of more than 88-thousand dollars over the life of the loans.  The only problem is, that doesn't jibe with the national averages cited in dozens of other locations:  that the average college debt is $26,600 dollars--and the average time to pay that off is 11-years.  As the Left often likes to do, it appears One Wisconsin made sure to find as many people in the deepest possible holes to make the situation look as dire as possible.

What the One Wisconsin study also fails to tell us is what other economic factors are playing a role in their study group's inability to repay their loans.  What is the average credit card debt carried by these "servants"?  And what were those charges spent on?  Basic needs or, shall we say, things that wouldn't be considered necessities (e.g.: spring break trips, pizza and student section football tickets)?  What is the average car loan payment for these borrowers?  Are these "poor" people all driving "Hoopdees" (another Dave Term) And when were these car purchases made?  Immediately after graduation--before their student loan payments kicked in and it seemed like there was plenty of room in the budget?  And how big a data package are they buying for their cellphones, tablets and laptops?

And what were the fields of study for these "struggling" masses?  Are they in the fields of business, science and industry that have always provided job opportunities?  Or are these graduates sitting around with degrees in the Arts and Social Sciences--which usually depend upon more disposable income for consumers--or increasing numbers of children in need of education?

Where are the parents in all of this?  $26,600 divided over the 22-years from birth to graduation would require a parent to put away $1,209 a year into a college savings account--or about $101 a month.  And those numbers are based on the money being put into an account that draws no interest or investment income for those 22-years.  You're telling me the generation of Middle-Class Americans that enjoyed some of the longest, sustained periods of economic growth in US history was totally incapable of putting away that amount of money?

One thing that stands out in the One Wisconsin recommendations to "fix" the student loan "problem" is to have governments spend more money on college systems to lower the cost of tuition.  Perhaps these folks would like the 5% interest (which is tax deductible by the way) that student loan borrowers pay just added to 18 to 24% in income taxes that the graduates are already paying.  We all know it's more "fair" to give Uncle Sam your money to "redistribute" than it is to give it to the "Greedy Wall Street Banks".

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Did We Do That?

Back in the days when people still read newspapers, yesterday would have been a "Stop The Presses!!" day--but now, I guess the term to describe shocking news would be "Congress Blows Up Twitter!"  I'm talking about the story that even Democrats are now calling for a halt to the taxes included in the Affordable Care Act:

The specific concern raised this time is the 2.3% tax on medical devices that will go into effect on January 1st.  It would affect things like dialysis machines, respirators, artificial hearts--you know, only things that the 1% use.  And it would lower the cost of health care by making the equipment upon which modern medicine relies more expensive for hospitals and clinics to purchase--or maybe not.

What is particularly startling about this call to delay the implementation of the tax is that is it being led by Senators Al Franken of Minnesota and John Kerry of Massachusetts.  In fact, Franken describes it as a "Job-killing tax".  Now if Al Franken has come to believe that any tax actually hurts business and kills jobs, perhaps its time to start thinking that the Mayans were correct about December 21st.  Of course, all of the Senators now calling for the delay of the taxes needed to pay for this behemoth public program were the most ardent supporters of the law and voted in favor of it in 2009.  Perhaps Senator Franken should have talked to his good friend Former Senator Russ Feingold about the medical device tax--since Russ was the only Senator to actually read the bill (as he told everyone who would listen over and over again)--rather than take Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's approach of "We need to pass the bill so we can find out what is in it."  (In fairness, Franken did know about the tax--and demanded that it be lowered from an even higher level--since he has some big device manufacturers in Minnesota.  But still....)

So now this leaves Republicans with a bit of a Sophie's Choice.  Do you back the effort to delay implementation of the taxes that are needed to pay for ObamaCare (thus increasing the deficit created by it) in order to save jobs--but then provide Democrats with political cover in the process?  Or do you let Democrats live with the consequences of their decisions--while the American people continue to suffer?  Personally, I think the Left made their bed--now they should have to lie in it.

Either way, this serves as a nice preview for the next four years--as the real impact of the Affordable Care Act takes effect.  Why do you think all of the "good stuff" and "freebies" were front-loaded before the 2012 election?  Kind of reminds you of the old "Take it home today, pay for it next year" sales that furniture stores used to run--knowing full well that it would sucker more buyers into paying even more than they expected down the road.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Real Lombardi Time

Anyone who knows me knows that my number one pet peeve is when people are late.  To me, there is no greater sign of disrespect that you can show by failing to show up on time for an appointment or a deadline.  In effect you are saying to the offended party "I don't consider your time to be nearly as valuable as mine."

That is why I am perpetually early.  It always makes my wife uncomfortable when we are the first to arrive for parties or other social events.  And it is why that when someone else makes me late for something, I spend the first few minutes after arriving profusely apologizing to the host (and of course, throwing the tardy party under the bus).

So that is why I find the hubbub over the discovery of the "Lombardi Time" clock at Lambeau Field so humorous.  In case you missed it, Michelle Tafoya of NBC "broke" the story that the new clock above the Oneida Nation Gate is intentionally set 15-minutes fast.  It is done as a "tribute" to Vince Lombardi--who demanded that his players always be 15-minutes early for meetings, bus rides and practices.  Tafoya even related the story of a rookie who showed up 7 minutes before a team meeting--and was informed that he was 8-minutes "late".

While the story is cute, the "Lombardi Time" clock actually misses the point.  You see, "Lombardi Time" isn't about what the face of the time piece says.  (It's not like Vince ordered all of the clocks at the team offices to be kept 15-minutes fast).  "Lombardi Time" is about a mindset: "I know what time I need to be there--but I am going to be early anyway because this is something that is important--and I want to be prepared."

I know plenty of people who keep their clocks fast--and yet they are never early for anything.  That is because they know that the clock is fast and that they aren't actually "late".  So what is the point of keeping the clock fast? 

We've had employees here at the Radio Ranch who have lived five minutes away from the studio--and yet they were five to eight minutes late EVERY DAY.  And every day they had an excuse:  I overslept, my errands took longer than expected, I couldn't get my hair to do anything today--all met with the same "I don't care" expression on my face.  Some places even "reward" tardiness--giving workers credit for a full 15-minutes so long as they punch in at least seven minutes after the top of the hour--and believe me, there are plenty of people who take advantage of that break.

The ultimate irony about the "Lombardi Time" clock is that it was set that way back in August--but few people noticed until this week.  That's probably because nobody really cares what time it is--and that they certainly didn't worry that they might be running late.

Monday, December 10, 2012

New and NOT So Improved

You now what is my least favorite phrase in the English language (after "New government program" of course)?  "New and Improved!"  Because as things become "newer" they usually fail to be "improved".  In fact, I find that usually the product or service is worse than it was before.

Such is the case with the "New and Improved" ITunes program from Apple.  First, downloading the new program only crashed my computer three times this weekend as I tried to update it.  Then, it wouldn't allow me to sync my IPhone for a couple of hours, until I went to a non-Apple site to find the actual fix to the problem.  (Apple is under the belief that my problem doesn't exist because ITunes is "New and Improved!!"). 

And once you finally get into the program you find that it is certainly easier to find ads for songs and artists that I would never download for free in a million years--much less pay to have that crap infect my IPhone.  However, finding all of the features I actually need has become much more difficult.  Of course, I could always sit through the Kindergarten-teacher-type "Tutorial" to find out how "easy" the new ITunes is to use.  Um...If it's that easy, you wouldn't have to show me how to do it, would you?

I do my banking with a financial institution here in town that has gone to a "New and Improved" form of customer service.  Gone are the counters behind which tellers would stand waiting for your deposit or withdrawal.  That has been replaced with a bunch of small tables spread out haphazardly throughout the lobby.  Since there is no nice organized line to stand in, you are forced to kind of wander in the midst of the "teller stands" waiting for someone to call you over to help you.  In the meantime, you wonder if you are entitled to be the next person to step up, or if the lady over by the TV was here before you and should be the one to be served next.  My only guess to the advantage of this layout is that it confuses would-be bank robbers who have absolutely no idea where they have to go to hand over their threatening note.

Said financial institution has also done away with deposit and withdrawal slips as well--meaning you have to explain the sometimes complex distribution of multiple checks being deposited into multiple accounts--or multiple withdrawals from multiple accounts.  I'm guessing the incredibly poor math skills of today's American led to errors at the teller window as the numbers customers added up on the slips never matched up with the totals of the checks or cash presented with them.  Must be the result of "New and Improved" teaching techniques in the classroom.

I certainly don't want to quash innovation in the world of business and technology--just don't tell me something with more bells and whistles--but less functionality--is "improved".

Friday, December 7, 2012

Let's Not Start Tearing Down the Goalposts Just Yet

Barry is back and all is well with the world!  I have to admit I found myself thinking the sun was shining a little brighter yesterday, the air seemed a little warmer yesterday--and I would have sworn the sound of the Badger Band was wafting through the air all day yesterday.  And everywhere I went, people could barely contain the same enthusiasm.  It was almost like the word "hello" had been replaced by "Hey, Barry is back!"

And such is the power that Wisconsin's all-time winningest football coach still has on the fan base.  As I watched yesterday's press conference, I couldn't help but think of that January 2nd, 1990 presser when a younger Barry Alvarez told fans to "get their season tickets now, because you won't be able to get them soon"--and everyone responded with "yeah, right".  And his comment that "the Rose Bowl is our only goal"--that elicited the usual eye roll from those of us who had heard the same thing from Jim Hilles and Don Morton just a few seasons before.

But Barry proved all of us doubters wrong.  Camp Randall did sell out every game.  And there wasn't just one fluke Rose Bowl trip--there were three.  AND THE BADGERS WON EVERY ONE OF THEM!!  College GameDay came to Madison every year.  There was another Heisman Trophy winner and we started beating Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa regularly.  You could actually include Wisconsin in the discussion for a National Championship and not get laughed out of the room.

And that is why so many of us are so willing to believe Barry when he said yesterday "We're going out there (Pasadena) to win.  He's done it before--obviously he's going to do it again.

But as the euphoria of Thursday morning wears off, the reality of the situation sets in.  Barry is not going to the Rose Bowl with a team nearly as talented as the ones he took there in the past.  Joe Panos, Aaron Gibson and Mark Tauscher won't be putting on the Cardinal and White on January 1st.  Neither will Darrell Bevel or Brooks Bollinger.  Ron Dayne won't beating the defense into submission with bruising run after bruising run.  And Chris Chambers and Owen Daniels won't be out there catching passes against a "D" keying on the run.

I'd be willing to bet Barry doesn't even know the offensive terminology anymore, or have a copy of the playbook for that matter.  The assistant coaches upon whom he will have to lean heavily are still young and relatively inexperienced.  And those guys face a very uncertain future as well--since anyone Barry hires is going to want to bring in "his own people".  So the weeks between now and game day will also include getting some applications out and calling some of the other new head coaches in college to see if anyone is interested.  Add to that, the Stanford team that Wisconsin plays January 1 is much better than the Cardinal team they beat in 2000.

There is one thing I do feel better about with Barry at the helm--the kids on that team will play their guts out for him.  The Badger training facilities are shrines not only to Alvarez, but all of the kids that he brought in to build that program up from the junk pile 22-years ago.  The guys from Wisconsin now grew up watching those Badgers teams and Barry grind down opponents and win big game after big game--and that is part of the reason they wanted to come to Madison as well.  And given the difference that emotion can make in college sports, perhaps that desire to win one more for The Legend could give this underdog a fighting chance.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Which Gun Culture?

Thanks to Bob Costas using halftime of Sunday Night Football to pontificate on the Kansas City Chiefs murder/suicide case, there is plenty of talk about guns again--or should I say the "Gun Culture in America". Whenever I hear that phrase used I always ask "Which Gun Culture?"--because their certainly isn't one overriding set of beliefs or practices involving weapons in the US.  In fact, I would say there are at least FOUR "Gun Cultures".

The first "Gun Culture" (which Mr. Costas is apparently a member) sees guns as inherently evil--and despite being inanimate objects--capable of committing crimes and killing people on their own.  They believe that the elimination of guns in the country would instantly reduce crime and prevent anyone from dying.

The second "Gun Culture" (to which I belong) sees guns as mechanical tools.  Tools that can be used to harvest wild game, to provide personal protection, and to facilitate competition and sport.  And that like any tool, requires proper training, use and storage to be safe.

The third "Gun Culture" (to which many of Bob Costas's loudest critics belong) see guns as the embodiment of liberty and freedom.  To them, any effort to prevent any American from buying any kind of firearm is the greatest affront to the Constitution imaginable and must be opposed at all costs.

And then you have the fourth "Gun Culture" (which included the perpetrator of the Kansas City tragedy) which sees guns as the ultimate symbol of power.  A symbol that not only demands respect but punishes those who fail to show that respect.  The gun also serves as an "equalizer" between those that have--and those that have not--by allowing those without to more easily take from those who have.

So now we have the four cultures clashing again--with those in the first group trying to convince those in the second that everyone in the third are just as dangerous as those in the fourth.  And those in the third are left trying to explain away the actions of those in the fourth while trying to convince those in the second that the everyone in the first are out to destroy the country.  And those in the fourth laugh at those in the first knowing that if they were to succeed in their efforts, nothing will change for them--while those in the second and the third become more vulnerable.

So the next time you hear someone mention "eliminating the Gun Culture" in conversation, ask them which one they are talking about--so you know if they are actually serious about fixing the problem.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why Would He Leave?

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you would know that over the weekend I retweeted a post from a CBS Sports reporter in Chicago claiming that Bret Bielema had been approached by the University of Tennessee for its vacant head coaching position.  It turns out another SEC school--Arkansas--was actually pursuing Bielema (not to say UT may not have been interested as well)--but it did not come as that big a surprise to me yesterday when the Coach announced he was leaving Madison for Fayetteville. 

The leaked information did catch plenty of people off guard, with sports call in shows inundated with listeners wondering "How could he leave Wisconsin?  It's the best job in all of sports!  He'll never be as successful anywhere else as he has been here!"  Well, if you are able to put the homerism aside for a minute, you can see why Bielema's move makes all the sense in the world.

The first--and the most important reason he's leaving--is cash.  Bielema will be getting a pay raise in excess of a half million dollars a year to coach the Razorbacks.  Six years, $3.2 million annually is a deal that he probably wasn't going to get at Wisconsin.  And he can take that money without being reminded by every professor on campus, state employee union leader or Democrat in the Legislature that he is the "Highest Paid State Employee in Arkansas" as he was reminded constantly in Madison.

Secondly, the SEC is just a better football conference.  This of course is a double-edged sword.  Sure, you can afford to lose a conference game and still have a shot to make the BCS Championship--or the new four-team playoff on the horizon--but you are also competing every week against a team ranked in the top ten in the country.  And SEC fans take their football a little more seriously than us Big Ten folks do.  8-5 won't sit well with the boosters helping to pay off your players for very long (oops, did I say that out loud?).  However, it is easier to get "less academically gifted" players who can run 4.3 40's into your program in the SEC than it is in the Big Ten.

And finally, Bielema gets to be his own man at Arkansas.  He's not "the guy who replaced the legend (Barry Alvarez) that turned the program around from a national laughingstock into a national powerhouse".  And that "legend" won't be his boss in Fayetteville either--reminding you that he went 3-0 in Rose Bowls while your record is 0-2.  Instead, Bret will be "the guy who replaced the crazy man (John L. Smith) who was the emergency replacement for the guy (Bobby Petrino) who crashed his motorcycle and nearly killed himself and his 20-something year old mistress whom he also helped to land a high-paying position within the Athletic Department".

Unlike some of the haters, I'm not going to say "good riddance" to Bret Bielema.  I thought he did a good job of maintaining many of the traditions of Wisconsin football.  He didn't bring in a spread offense and throw the ball around 75 times a game to "establish his own program".  He took the fundamentals established by Barry Alvarez--big, talented offensive linemen, a tandem of workhorse, explosive running backs, and a ball control style of offense that always kept the Badgers in the game.  And perhaps most importantly to me: HE NEVER LOST PAUL BUNYAN'S AXE TO MINNESOTA!!!!!  9-0!!!  USUALLY RUNNING UP THE SCORE IN THE PROCESS!!!!

Hopefully, his replacement just does a better job of coaching special teams, managing end-of-game situations and winning in Pasadena.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Not So Charitable Future

After dropping coins in the Red Kettles last week and driving past the "thermometer" tracking the donations to the United Way, I've come to the realization that I am going to miss charity.  I'm not talking about those seasonal campaigns, but the overall role that charity has played in our society for centuries-- and a role that will be shrinking in the future.

2013 will be the final year of non-profits as we have known them for generations.  Starting in 2014--with the Individual Mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act going into effect--we will no longer need free medical clinics, like the one at Father Carr's Place 2 B here in Oshkosh.  All of those served at Saint Francis will now have health insurance (paid for with federal subsidies) that they can use at the same clinics, hospitals and pharmacies that the "more fortunate" of us have been using for decades.  The Tri-County Dental Clinic can retire their almost-brand-new $250-thousand mobile clinic--as the ACA mandates dental coverage for those under the age of 21.  Those kids currently being served by the charity program at school, can now get excused absences to go the dentist's office just like their other classmates.

The days of the food pantry are numbered as well.  The expansion of the Food Stamps program included in the latest version of the Farm Bill will give more of those currently needing food donated to them Quest Cards they can use at the grocery store--just like the rest of us.  And with more kids enrolling in the Free and Reduced School Lunch and Breakfast program (which is now being run during summer vacation as well in some districts), low-income families have less need to cook meals at home.

Toys for Tots and the annual Oshkosh Fire Department Toy Drive will eventually wind down--as free contraceptives and guaranteed access to abortions decrease the number of children born out of wedlock to single mothers and families that can't afford to buy Christmas gifts.  That is if Christmas is even still being celebrated a couple of generations from now.

And the biggest blow to charities will come in the inevitable tax code reform needed to fund our growing Federal and State Governments.  The charitable donation write off is one of the items on the table for elimination as we look to close "the loopholes that the rich and corporations use to avoid paying taxes".  I know it might sound callous, but a tax write off serves as a motivator for making charitable donations--and without it, many will be inclined to give less.  Of course, we will be able to rationalize it by pointing to all of the programs I mentioned before and saying "I gave at the office".

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Grasshoppers Are Killing the Ants

It's beginning to look like "My Two Cents" is going to become an on-going series of reactions to the War On Personal Responsibility being waged in Washington.  First, it was increased health insurance premiums so your co-workers' 25-year old "kids" can be included on your company's plan, and so that those who absolutely cannot contain their urges can get free contraceptives and so that those with cirrhosis of the liver from excess drinking and lung cancer from smoking can be guaranteed coverage for their self-inflicted chronic conditions.  Then it was the use of tax dollars to keep people in houses they can't afford and never should have thought about buying.  Then it was new lower limits on Flex Accounts and increased taxes on Health Savings Accounts.

Now the next front will be opened on our retirement funds.  The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (doesn't that sound like a bunch of fun people to hang out with?) is out with a warning that the Fiscal Cliff agreement could include an end to the tax-exempt status of 401(k)'s.

Currently, 401(k) contributions are pre-tax.  It was set up that way as an incentive for people to save for their own retirement--rather than depend on Social Security and Medicare to provide for their every need beyond the age of 65.  But the ASPPA fears (and rightfully so) that Democrats will take away that tax exempt status as it sees a giant pot of money available for "redistribution".  And we can pretty much assume that the tax code won't be changed to make the 401k) withdrawals in retirement tax-free, meaning that we will be DOUBLE TAXED on our contributions!  What's more, most 401(k) contributions are made during our periods of highest income, meaning we are paying the highest tax rates we'll ever pay--as opposed to the lower rates many of us will pay in retirement.

The unfortunate reality is that this "new revenue stream"--as this tax increase will be sold to us--still won't come close to offset the increased spending already approved in Washington--so Democrats will have to look for other options.  The next logical choice would be to end the tax-exemption on Roth IRA distributions.  Here is another giant pot of money just waiting to be "redistributed".  The logic will be "these are capital gains that aren't being taxed--and that's not 'fair'"  And with increased capital gains taxes already on the table from the Obama Administration, the incentive to put money away for the future becomes less and less powerful for every generation.

It's obvious that Aesop wasn't living in a period of Democratic control of government--otherwise his fable about the "Ant and the Grasshopper" would have finished with jackasses taking the food away from the Ants to "redistribute" to the Grasshoppers.