Friday, November 30, 2012

A Real Winner

As society places less emphasis on winning and individual excellence, I still believe those who win deserve recognition.  That's why I want to talk today about UW Oshkosh Titans Quarterback Nate Wara.

It should come as no surprise that the resurgence in Titan Football has occurred with Nate running the offense.  Even as a freshman thrown into the mix as the starter four year ago, you could tell that he was going to excel at UWO--despite his team's struggles those first couple of seasons.  Now that Coach Pat Cerroni has been able to bring in better talent on both sides of the ball, the Titans stand just a couple of games away from playing for a National Championship.

Nate is one of those people who is a natural winner.  I've had the chance to see Nate progress through his athletic career officiating or doing play-by-play of games dating back to his grade school days.  More often than not, Nate's teams won those games--often thanks to his fine effort and leadership.  He also played a key role in one of my favorite high school sports moments ever.

Many of you likely recall the classic battle between the Oshkosh North and Oshkosh West Boys Basketball teams at the Kolf Sports Center back in 2009.  It was a multiple-overtime thriller eventually won by the Spartans.  You may also recall Nate Wara hit a shot from beyond half court to tie the game and force the extra periods.  We used my "wild man" call of that shot for a couple of seasons to promote our high school basketball coverage here on WOSH--much to the chagrin of Wildcat fans.

But the moment a lot of fans forget about came just a few seconds earlier, when Nate heaved up a turnaround desperation shot from near half court when there were still 8-seconds left in the contest.  I knew what happened right away--he had looked up at the scoreboard at the Kolf (which is very unusual for a high school player to have to deal with) and probably confused the 8 for a 2.  It looked as if Nate had cost his team a chance to pull out a miracle win.  But he didn't hang his head--or pull his jersey up over his face.  Instead, the Spartans fouled on the inbounds pass--West missed the free throws--and after the Spartans grabbed the rebound, the outlet pass came to Nate for his moment to shine again.

Now I thought that was going to be the end for my tribute to Nate Wara--until I heard Bob Burnell talking with John Morelli of Habitat For Humanity on WOSH yesterday--and I found out that there are even more ways that Nate is winning in life off the field.  Nate has been a long-time volunteer with Habitat--and helped move furniture from the former City Center Hotel to the ReStore for resale.  Nate also volunteers time for the Boys and Girls Club of Oshkosh.  He has helped out with the Old Glory Honor Flights--which allow World War Two veterans travel to Washington DC to see their memorials.  And Nate has also volunteered for the Oshkosh Community Food Pantry.  All of this from a full-time college student who also plays intercollegiate sports--and is NOT on any kind of scholarship.

So no matter what the scoreboard says at the end of UW Oshkosh's game against Linfield College on Saturday, Nate Wara will be walking off that field a winner.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Anchors Away!!

Wednesday was a very good day--as we learned that one of the scourges upon our society will be lifted in just three years.  I'm not talking about the Federal deficit--that will continue to grow no matter how much you tax the rich AND the middle class--and I'm not talking about poverty--which also continues to grow despite throwing more tax dollars at it.  I'm talking about the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Association in Britain announcing their plan to ban anchored putters starting in 2016.

I have been on the side that believes long and belly putters should be illegal.  By anchoring the shaft against your body, you eliminate a number of axes that the face of the putter can rotate--which is a factor in the swing of all other clubs in your bag.  I've been forced to grit my teeth when someone would use one of those clubs against me in a competitive round of golf--accepting the fact that the governing bodies of the game had deemed them legal.  However, that didn't stop me from jabbing them with backhanded compliments like "You roll it nice with that illegal putter" or "You look too young to be using that old man's club."

Now, I do have empathy for those who turned to the anchored putter to gain an advantage.  As recently as five years ago, I was a horrible putter--a three-putt machine who could turn a perfect drive and approach shot into a bogey or worse.  My specialty was to blow the first putt way past--then to hit the comebacker only halfway to the hole.  I could also push a putt and then severely pull the next one with the best of them as well.

And I have a confession to make: in my darkest days I gave serious thought to going to the longer putter.  I even spent the better part of an afternoon at Golf Galaxy trying them out--discussing shaft length, lie angle and face loft with one of the sales guys.  But as I rolled more balls wide of the mark and well past the holes on the practice green I realized that my problem wasn't that I was trying to do something that was too hard for me.  My problem was that I wasn't working hard enough to be good.  And thus began a year-long focus on improving my putting.  I spent hours on practice greens practicing short putts and medium putts and long putts over and over and over again.  And wouldn't you know it, those putts started going down in tournaments and matches!

I'm not saying that I'm Tiger-Woods-before-the-Thanksgiving-night-crash-make-every-pressure-putt-ever great--or Steve-Stricker-in-any-tournament-but-a-major-or-the-Ryder-Cup good.  But I roll in more than my fair share of putts now--without having to anchor my putter against my body.  And if I can do it--pretty much anyone can do it.

Now if we could just convince the Wisconsin State Golf Association to ban the use of riding carts in tournaments--so that it's more of an athletic competition...........

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Real Impact

As employees complete their annual benefits registration, we begin to learn some of the real impacts of the Affordable Care Act (or ObamaCare) on the fiscally responsible. 

The first new restriction actually went into effect at the start of this year--and I didn't even know it.  Were you aware that you are no longer allowed use Flex Accounts or Health Savings Accounts to purchase over-the-counter medications?  Looks like the wife and I will be spending a little time in Federal Prison soon--since we were both using those funds for cough and cold and headache medications--although I doubt we won't be alone in that violation.  Apparently there is a form that your doctor can fill out saying he is directing you to take those pills--thereby allowing you to use the funds--but isn't the point of over-the-counter medications to allow you to treat a minor problem WITHOUT going to see the doctor?  And how do such office visits to get a stupid form filled out lower the cost of health care?

The second effect is a big one for us.  There is now a cap on the amount that you can designate to a Flex Account.  It's 25-hundred dollars--after previously being unlimited.  My wife has a rather expensive surgery coming up in the new calendar year--and we had hoped to save just a little bit of money by designating her out of pocket cost for that operation to Flex.  But now, that isn't going to happen.  Instead, most of our portion of the bill will be paid with after-tax dollars.  Again, I have to ask, how is that making health care more affordable?

And as we lose that Flex Account benefit, the ACA will increase the threshold to deduct medical expenses on our income taxes.  Starting next year, your total medical expenses will have to exceed ten percent of your gross income before you can write them off.  In the past, the threshold was 7.5%--there were a couple of years where we were able to claim that deduction--and there was a good chance we could have met that requirement again next year.  Now (barring an additional expensive procedure or emergency) we aren't going to make it.  I guess we just weren't supposed to enjoy more affordable health care.

On a positive note, we probably won't have to purchase any medical devices anytime soon.  The new 2.3% excise tax goes into effect on those items next year.  I'm sure that will make things like bed lifts and wheelchairs much more affordable.

I guess Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi really was right when she famously said that "We need to pass the bill, so we can find out what's in it".

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not So Super Fans

New York Jets fans will have a bit more enjoyable experience at Met Life Stadium for the rest of the season.  No, the Jets aren't going to play any better (trading for Tim Tebow pretty much guaranteed a disaster before game one this year)--but the idiot known as "Fireman Ed" is stepping down from his self-appointed role as "SuperFan".

For those of you who have never seen a Jets game on TV, or ESPN highlights or NFL Films videos, "Fireman Ed" is one of those guys who believe that it is up to him--and him alone--to get the crowd fired up during the games.  Ed's schtick was to get on a buddy's shoulders while wearing his old fireman's helmet and a Jets jersey to lead his section in a "J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!" chant.  All it took was a couple of appearances on the JumboTron, on the game broadcast and in the aforementioned NFL Films productions--and "Fireman Ed" came to see himself as an unofficial mascot of the team.

But following a pathetic blowout loss to New England on Thanksgiving night, "Fireman Ed" is hanging up the helmet and promises to no longer make himself the center of attention at the stadium.  He also claims (referring to himself in the 3rd person in a newspaper opinion piece) that Tim Tebow fans are threatening to beat him up because he wears starting QB Mark Sanchez's jersey during games (shocker there).

Well, allow me to speak for all fans of all teams when I say "Good riddance, Fireman Ed".

I hate these so-called "SuperFans"--because (a) they are not Super and (b) they really aren't fans.  Just because you dress in some stupid get up and get yourself on camera during a game doesn't make you any more passionate or knowledgeable about your team than the guy who paid for the same ticket right next to you and is only wearing a team sweatshirt. 

Plus, these "Fans" believe they are as much as an attraction as the team and the game itself.  Take for example Green Bay's "Saint Vince"--the guy who dresses like the Pope--but in Packers gear with a portrait of Vince Lombardi on his miter.  He parades around the parking lot before in after games, posing for pictures and even signing autographs.  The "Packalope" guy considers himself just as famous--since he was featured in the Packers Super Bowl XXXI video.  Hey guys, without the actual game going on behind you, you would have committed for mental treatment years ago.

One of the biggest days in Packers history in my family, is the day the team took away the season tickets of Oshkosh's own "Gang Green".  Because my family's seats are right next to one of the ramps from the concourse--and because they have a wide walkway in front of them--their area was a prime "cheering" spot for "Gang" during his "heydays".  Despite constant pleas to shut up, sit down or leave (usually in much more colorful language than that) "Mr. Green" would continue with his self-assigned duties of trying to fire up his fellow fans--who would have much rather just watched Randy Wright embarrass himself in peace and quiet.

So adios "Fireman Ed".  Feel free to take "Gang Green", "Saint Vince", "Big Dawg" in Cleveland, "Barrel Man" in Denver, and the "Hoggettes" in Washington with you.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Can't Make Out What You Wrote Here

I had to laugh at the Associated Press story this weekend about schools looking to save cursive handwriting.

I have not written anything in cursive--except for my signature--since I graduated from high school.  There are two reasons for that.  One, I want people to actually be able to read what I have written.  And two, there is no reason to write by hand anymore anyway.

I still remember the report I wrote for some assignment in 7th grade that should have received my usual "A" grade--but was marked down to a "C" because (as was printed in red across the top of the first page) the teacher couldn't read what I had written in several paragraphs.  I can also remember getting cards with little notes from one of my grandmothers who wrote left-handed in cursive--so that everything leaned the wrong way and I had to guess what was written in a few spots.

The rise of civilization coincides with man's development of written language.  For the first time, we could communicate not only with those who could hear our own voices--but with anyone who had learned to read the STANDARDIZED lettering of our language.  Cursive undermines that standardization by allowing people to "personalize" the form of the letters--opening the door once again for confusion and miscommunication.

And now, technology has rendered handwriting obsolete anyway.  Email, texts and instant messaging have permanently replaced letters and notes (just ask the post office).  While cell phones, push to talk and video chat capabilities have become the preferred forms of interpersonal communication.  Job applications are filled out on-line or at kiosks in the business itself (and when was the last time you saw a handwritten resume?) Contracts can be signed via the internet using electronic signatures and user id's

We don't teach our kids to chisel their words into stone tablets.  They don't use charcoal to write on papyrus or quill pens dipped in ink wells to write.  So why waste valuable classroom time teaching them another archaic form of communication?  Better to use that time to teach them the proper usage of "there, their and they're" along with correct usage of prepositions, punctuation and proper grammar.

And if you want to "express your individuality or creativity", Microsoft Word has about 200 different fonts you can use--including "Cursive".

Friday, November 23, 2012

The People Have Spoken

If you thought that Americans would respond to the spread of crass holiday commercialism to Thanksgiving with outrage and moral indignation--you would be 1000% wrong.  We served an early meal at the Krause house on Thursday--so the guests were gone by 5:30.  That's when I headed to the Radio Ranch to get stories ready for this morning.  That gave me a front row seat to the chaos unfolding at the neighboring Super Evil Empire starting at 6:00.

The lot was 2/3rds full by 6:30--completely full by 7:00 (with cars lined up on Washburn waiting to get in)--and it stayed that way until I left around 8:45.  I then made a quick swing past ShopKo on the way home to find the longest line to get into a store that I have seen in person since tickets for Paul McCartney at Milwaukee County Stadium went on sale at the TicketMaster in the Boston Store in Green Bay twenty years ago.  The ShopKo line started at the south entrance to the store--followed the entire length of the building and all the way back to the Cousin's Subs in the next building!  And then you had people still sitting in their cars in the parking lot as well.

So, while I certainly have empathy for the employees of these stores who were agitated about having to work on the holiday, it is VERY obvious that the retailers are only giving people what they want.  I talked with a few people for use in our stories this morning and they all said the same thing:  "We're done with dinner and we don't have anything else to do today--so we figured we would go shopping!"

Don't think that the response to the Thanksgiving doorbusters won't go unnoticed at the retailers that DIDN'T open yesterday.  And that includes the stores that mocked the others with the ads that touted the fact they weren't open "so their employees could spend time with their families".  Keep in mind that the "Shopping Season" will be a full week shorter next year--as Thanksgiving moves backward on the calendar again--and the need to maximize sales will be at a premium. It will also plant the seed in executives minds that maybe it would be worthwhile to open on Christmas Day as well.  Think of the crowd you could get as the ultimate last minute shoppers combine with those looking to spend the gift cards they got just ten minutes ago--and those who can't wait to exchange or return the unwanted gifts as soon as humanly possible!

Needless to say, yesterday's shopping frenzy proves once again that H.L. Mencken was absolutely correct when he said "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

Having given thanks already this year to those who have provided me so much, allow me today to express my gratitude (and that of countless thousands of other men) to the folks at Time Warner Cable for adding the NFL RedZone Channel to their sports tier package this fall.  I can unequivocally state that RedZone is the BEST THING ON TELEVISION--IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION!!

When I was working in TV sports in the Twin Cities, our production room featured 16 different monitors, recording 16 different games at one time.  At the time, I thought that was the greatest thing ever--and I got paid to sit there.  Well, RedZone is just like that (except this time I pay for it).

I always thought that RedZone was just for fantasy football geeks--because its claim to fame is that they show every scoring play.  But now that I can watch it, I find out that they show all sorts of plays from every game in action.  And this past Sunday may have been its greatest day ever.

We had three overtime games at once Sunday afternoon--and not only did RedZone show us the all the plays from the scoring drives that tied the games--it showed us EVERY PLAY FROM ALL THREE OVERTIMES!!  We flipped from play to play, game to game.  We had split screens, we had the famous Quad Box showing multiple plays at one time.  And as several of the late games had teams threatening to score, RedZone gave us SIX GAMES ON THE SCREEN AT THE SAME TIME!!!!!!!!

Forget comprehensive health insurance coverage, stealth aircraft, the moon landing, or representative democracy.  Putting up a six pack of NFL games simultaneously is the GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY!!  Do the Chinese do that?  The Socialists in France?  No way, baby.  Only in the USA will you get that!

And did I mention that RedZone is COMMERCIAL FREE?!?!?!?!  You turn it on at Noon and for the next 6 1/2 hours your football enjoyment is NEVER interrupted by a word from our sponsors.  (Just adding to its crack-like addictiveness.)  It also means that when your wife asks you to do something menial--like take out the garbage or bring up the laundry--you can tell her "at the next commercial break, Honey" and get away with never doing it, WITHOUT HAVING TO LIE!!

 So THANK YOU Time Warner Cable and NFL RedZone for bringing us the ONLY way to watch football every Sunday.  Now if we could just get the NHL to do the same thing for the playoffs.......

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Subtraction by Addition

The Presidents of the Big Ten universities are back for another money grab.  On Monday, the University of Maryland announced it was leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the even-more-incorrectly-named Big Ten in 2014.  Today, Rutgers (the State University of New Jersey) is expected to announce that it is leaving the Big East to join the soon-to-be-14-member-Big Ten.

When you look at the additions from a purely intercollegiate athletics standpoint, adding Maryland and Rutgers does absolutely nothing for the profile of the conference.  Maryland has had some success in college basketball and soccer--but they bring nothing to the table in terms of football (and they don't have a hockey team to bolster the new Big Ten league in that sport).  Rutgers is noted for women's basketball and not much else--despite being in one of the most fertile recruiting areas for both football and basketball (and they don't play hockey either).  So how exactly does this benefit the Big Ten?

Well, you need to look at all of the off-the-field stuff.  Namely, adding Maryland (and the Washington DC market as well) along with New York City to areas served by the Big Ten Network--you bring in millions more potential TV viewers that BTN can sell to advertisers.  And since the soon to be 14 members get to keep all of that revenue, the cash registers in the University Presidents' offices will be ringing up a storm.  That is also two more teams that can garner bowl game invites and NCAA Basketball tournament slots--meaning more ka-ching!

Coaches will go along with this expansion--not because it guarantees a spot in the BCS championship game every year like the SEC has--but because now you can showcase your team to high school kids in New Jersey, New York City and the Mid-Easter Seaboard a couple of times a year--expanding the potential talent pool even more.

The big losers in all of this is of course, the fans.  In the "good old days" of ten teams in the Big Ten, you could make a weekend road trip to any school in the conference.  In fact, the only campuses I have never visited are Penn State and Nebraska.  But a drive to College Park, Maryland or Rutgers, New Jersey would require a three day commitment minimum.  Unless you want to fly, and then you pretty much give up tailgating before and after the game--plus you'd have to rent a car to get to the campus, etc, etc.

And how do you develop a rivalry with schools seven states away?  How many Maryland alums or Rutgers grads do you run into around here?  We have fans of four different Big Ten schools here in our office alone--and that makes game weeks even more fun.  I doubt Wisconsin fans will ever develop a rich "hatred" for the Scarlet Knights or the Terrapins.

We should also mention that taxpayers are going to take it in the shorts here as well (no surprise there), as the addition of two more schools in the more expensive Eastern Seaboard area will now be used to determine the "Conference average salaries" for faculty and adminstrators.  Never mind that the cost of living is exponentially higher in New Jersey and Maryland, the fact that "they are making far more than us" will be brought up every time professors and chancellors in Madison, Iowa City and Lincoln appear before their respective boards of regents.

So what do you say we finally get a name that accurately fits our ever-expanding conference.  I don't mean "The Big 14".  I was thinking more along the lines of the "Cash Cow Conference" or maybe "The Moneygrabbers".

Monday, November 19, 2012

Twinkies With Grandpa

Allow me to wax nostalgic about Twinkies.

When I was a kid, my sister and I would spend some weekends and a few weeks of our summer vacations every year staying with my grandparents.  As a creature of habit, my grandfather would usually wrap up the day (before going to bed at 9:00, even though he was retired) with a special treat: a Twinkie and a glass of warm Red, White and Blue Beer (I'll explain the warm beer some other time).  That meant that we kids got to have a Twinkie and cold milk as well.

So everynight--around 8:00 or so we'd go into the kitchen and sit down at the table (because my grandparents NEVER ate in the living room.  You ate at the kitchen table--unless it was a special occasion or a holiday and then you ate at the dining room table--but NEVER in the living room) and share that treat with Grandpa.  It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

And there was a bonus for boys that liked Twinkies and Ho-Ho's, back in the 1970's YOU GOT BASEBALL CARDS WITH THEM TOO!  Three cards were printed on the bottom of every box during baseball season.  Thanks to Grandpa--and our own family's consumption--I had hundreds of those cards.  Some of which even featured Brewers!!  Unfortunately as I would find out years later, the cards were far more valuable if they hadn't been cut out of the box.  Nonetheless, having those was a special treat as well.

And now, Twinkies are gone.  I joked about leaving work early Friday morning in order to stockpile as many Ho-Ho's (the real Breakfast of Champions) as I could before supplies ran out--but I didn't actually do that.  (Judging by the cleaned out shelves this weekend, some people actually did.)  I'm fairly confident that all of the Hostess Brand snacks will be back--and in relatively short order.

Another joke making the rounds Friday was that the Federal Government should step in with a "Twinkie Bailout"--but we all know that isn't going to happen.  First off, the Bakers Union (nice job voting yourself out of a job, folks) doesn't have huge pension funds that need to be protected--and they don't have large concentrations of potential voters in battleground states.  Secondly, Twinkies don't exactly fit into First Lady Michelle Obama's platform of "everybody should eat healthy like us (when we aren't running out for burgers or BBQ in Washington DC)".

While government action won't bring back Twinkies, the free market certainly will.  The product still sold--it was poor corporate management, rising expenses and labor trouble that brought down Hostess--not falling consumer demand--and other companies will notice that and pay for the product rights.  Over the weekend, a Mexican billionaire announced an interest in buying out Hostess and resuming production.  (Imagine, Twinkies and Ho-Ho's could be considered Mexican food.)

So don't fret, Americans, Twinkies will be back--and hopefully with them the good memories my family shares.  We just don't need to bring back Red, White and Blue Beer, thank you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Cornelian Dilemma

The Tea Party's descent into madness continues this week, as calls are underway to arrest federal officials who try to implement the Affordable Care Act in Wisconsin.  What's even crazier is that 9 Republican legislators have actually expressed support for the measure.  Can someone tell me when Wisconsin became Prohibition era backwoods Tennessee?  How are these arrested federal officials going to be punished?  Tar and feather them?  Run them out of town on a rail? 

Anyway, Governor Walker will announce his decision today in the Cornelian Dillema that is setting up the state's health insurance exchange.  The exchange is one of many new layers of bureaucracy created by the ACA--to regulate the insurance options available to the uninsured and their federal subisidies.  States have three options: run their own exchange (hiring their own bureaucrats), having the federal government set up and run the exchanges or a combination of both.

Many on the right want the Feds to run Wisconsin's exchange--ostensibly so nobody in Madison has to take the blame when costs inevitably explode--while those on the left want the state to set up their own.  What I find ironic is their argument is that "Wisconsin can do a much better job of administering the exchange than Washington can".  Aren't these the folks that believe that the Government is the solution for all social problems?  How can the geniuses in the Obama Administration NOT know more than us yokels here in Wisconsin?

Since nobody can actually predict the effect of the ACA on the health care industry, I think it would make more sense to maintain as much local control as possible.  If you were on-board a plane experiencing a major malfunction at altitude, would you rather the pilot try to handle the situation--instead of air traffic control telling him what to do?  (And believe me, this whole ObamaCare thing is going to be like a giant airplane crash.  It's just a question of how long will theterrifying freefall be--and what is the safest place to be in order to have some hope of surviving.)

In setting up the exchange on the state level, Governor Walker might be able to find a way to limit the local taxpayer exposure as much as possible.  Someone at the White House certainly isn't going to be concerned about that--and would prefer that as much cost as possible fall upon the states, so as not to fulfill the deficit projections that Paul Ryan likes to put on all of his charts and graphs.

Nobody is going to win regardless of what Governor Walker decides to do--but the least we can do is try control our own fate as much as possible.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Vanishing Holiday

A lot of Christians believe there is a "war on Christmas" going on in our society--because people are saying "Happy Holidays" and governments are correctly removing Christmas displays from public property.  I say they should consider themselves lucky--at least their holiday is still acknowledged.  For those of us who love Thanksgiving, our holiday seems to have vanished completely.

I don't think we had given out the last piece of candy for Halloween, and the societal focus had already turned to Christmas.  All the TV ads featured Santa, everyone was worried about what gifts to get others and the neighbors replaced the deflated blow up witch laying in their yard with a a deflated blow up Santa that just lays in the yard.  Even the grocery stores skip right into Yuletide mood--with Santa and reindeer displays--instead of Pilgrims and turkeys.  It's like Thanksgiving doesn't even exist anymore.

Thanksgiving is my third favorite holiday--behind the 4th of July (when we celebrate Freedom with fireworks and beautiful warm weather) and Memorial Day (when we honor those who gave us the chance to celebrate all of that stuff on the 4th--and the entire summer lies ahead of us yet).  When I was a kid, both sets of grandparents lived in close proximity to us--which meant I got TWO Thanksgiving meals every year!  Two turkeys, two big bowls of mashed potatoes, two different stuffings (one bread, one meat dressing), two boats of gravy and two pumpkin pies!  For a 9-year old with a high metabolism, it was the greatest eating day of the year.  Throw in getting to see my cousins and getting to watch football games not involving the Packers--what's not to love?  And I keep the tradition alive by serving as the chef for our family get-together every year.

But now, Thanksgiving hardly even gets a mention.  Do you see any Butterball turkey ads on TV anymore?  Outside of the Charlie Brown special, do you seen a Thanksgiving-related show on TV (other than on the Cooking Channel)?  It's like the day doesn't even exist.

And retailers are taking even more away from the holiday.  Black Friday has now become Black Thanksgiving Night--as Christmas shopping season apparently was four hours too short.  Even Shopko--which at one point has employed nearly everyone in my family is getting in on the act this year--starting "doorbuster deals" when we should be spending quality time with our loved ones.  Of course, retailers are only giving people what they think we want.  If no one showed up for Thanksgiving night sales, they wouldn't offer them.

So what do you say we take back Thanksgiving this year by NOT "busting doors" at 8:00 or 6:00 or Noon next Thursday.  Even if you can't stand talking to your family members, the NFL did add that third football game that night--just sneak down to the basement and watch that until they go home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ehhh....What's Up Doc?

Now that it appears the Affordable Care Act will remain in place, I'd like to welcome the 38-million Americans that were supposedly unable to get health coverage before to the ranks of the insured.  Now, good luck finding a doctor.  As anyone who has been required by their insurance carrier to get an annual physical to maintain their lower premium rates can tell you, getting in to see a general practitioner isn't easy.

ABC News touched on the subject yesterday citing reports that the US will need to add 52-thousand family practice physicians over the next ten years or so just to keep up with additional demands of the newly-insured and the aging Baby Boomers.  Consider it the first (of what will be many) unintended consequence of the ACA--the current medical system can't handle the anticipated demand created by requirements in the law.

The study points out that in Massachusetts, where RomneyCare (the blueprint for ObamaCare) is in effect, it takes ONE YEAR to get in to see a primary care physician--despite the fact the state has the second highest physician-to-patient ratio in the country.  When those conditions come here to Wisconsin, I guess we will all just have to have a standing appointment date just to get that annual physical--and self-refer ourselves to a specialist in case anything else comes up the other 364 days.

And speaking of specialists, they are apparently the ones to blame for this.  Medical school graduates are flocking to specialized practices--featuring higher salaries and reduced patient loads--in order to pay off their student loans as soon as possible.  General practice has become the "WalMart Cashier" of the medical world--too much work for not enough pay.

An expert quoted in the ABC story has the answer--of course--more government spending.  Specifically, "incentives" for med school grads to become family doctors--including student loan forgiveness and income supplements immediately after graduation.  Plausible solutions, until you consider that the Affordable Care Act achieved its "budget savings" by further reducing Medicare and Medicaid re-imbursements--effectively guaranteeing that family doctors will get paid even LESS for seeing MORE patients.

And let's not forget, throwing around more government cash still doesn't provide an immediate fix to the problem.  Unlike tech school training for other high-demand fields like welding and machining--becoming a doctor is not a six-month program you can complete on Saturday afternoons.  There is a reason why it takes eight years of college to become a physician--and why new docs have to go through a residency program after that: because being a doctor is very hard.  Especially in a legal atmosphere where one misdiagnosis can result in multi-million dollar lawsuit awards (which is why the ACA didn't address tort reform).

At least we can all "feel good" that everyone will have health insurance now--even though it won't be any easier to actually use to really "feel good".

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Give It a Rest

Frustrated by their losses at the polls last week, Tea Party types are now turning their focus to secession from the United States.  The buzz is building for petitions on the White House website asking for the "peaceful secession" of dozens of states--with Texas getting the largest response so far.  Apparently, Texans have forgotten how things went for them the last time they were an independent nation.  Maybe John Tyler will rise from the grave to remind them.

I have a question for the "Secessionists": Where are you going to go?  Canada--with its single-payer medical system and its higher taxes?  I thought that was what you are trying to "escape"?  What will you use for currency?  Are you going to trade the gold you bought on the recommendation of G. Gordon Liddy and William DeVane?  Who will serve as your military?  Are you going to join the Posse Comitatus and train for battle with your hunting rifles out in the backwoods?

And is being forced to buy health insurance going to be what you base your entire "revolution"?  Granted, its not as heinous as southern Democrats seceeding to preserve slavery--but you do realize you are arguing the same "states" and "individual" rights that the Confederacy tried to use as well.

There is this romanticized version of history that imagines Union armies marching upon the South in a great crusade to free the slaves.  In reality, the vast majority of the soldiers and their commanders didn't give a hoot about slavery--and most likely did not consider blacks, free or slave, to be their equals.  (And Abraham Lincoln took great steps to not include the slavery issue in his war rhetoric--until the Emancipation Proclamation--which he issued THREE YEARS INTO THE WAR!) But what they did believe was that the land between the 49th Parallel and the Rio Grande should be the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

And you know what?  There are still a lot of us who believe that same thing today.  Sure, we're going to be a little more Socialist than we were before--and we aren't going to be as rich as previous generations--but that was the (small "d") democratic decision of the people--and we all have to live with it, until the next time we exercise our right to decide our own fate.

If the Tea Party types want to start a "revolution" maybe they should follow the example of those they oppose so much--and really do it on the grassroots level.  Run for City Councils, School Boards and County Boards.  Work in education and social services fields.  Research what "community organizers" actually do--and do that too.  The victories of the Left are the results of concerted efforts 20, 30 even 50 years in the making--but there is no reason those on the Right can't do the same things to "save the country".

It sure beats thinking you can just quit and go somewhere else.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Leaders of the Leaders

I wasn't real happy with Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez a few years ago when he signed off on the Big Ten's divisional alignment plan.  Instead of splitting the conference along the logical geographic lines--which would have put the Badgers in the same division as their border rivals Minnesota and Iowa--Alvarez okayed the lame plan that was designed to allow Michigan and Ohio State to play in a Big Ten Championship Game as often as possible.

But the way things are playing out this year, Alvarez is looking like a genius.  Despite being the third place team in the....what is the stupid name of that division again, oh yeah, the Leaders Division (ugh)--the Badgers are going to their second consecutive Big Ten title game.  Thanks exclusively to the cheating and law-breaking Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions--both of whom are banned from post-season play this year.  I'm sure Barry didn't have a crystal ball in his office at Camp Randall Stadium to know that Ohio State players were trading their game jerseys and Golden Pants pins to get free tattoos in Columbus.  And he was probably just as surprised that the Penn State Athletic Department and School President were actively covering up the activities of a child molester on their campus--for the better part of two decades.

Nonetheless, Barry's "foresight" is allowing his Badgers to possibly steal the lamest Big Ten Championship since the conference did away with members voting on which team to send to the Rose Bowl back in the '60's. Now, Wisconsin could still "validate" their trip to Indianapolis by beating Ohio State and Penn State over the next two weeks, which--if Ohio State also loses to Michigan--would give the Badgers a share of the Meaningless Division Name title.

But you know what?  I want the Badgers to finish third.  While I won't openly root against them the next two weeks, I won't get into my usual foul mood if they do lose.  I want this because then Ohio State fans and Penn State boosters will have to look at those standings all off-season--and for years to come--and be reminded of cheating and law-breaking that cost them that league title.  (Knowing Urban Meyer--he'll still print up "2012 Made Up Division Name Champions" t-shirts.  And knowing Ohio State fans, they will purchase them and wear them with pride for decades).

In fact, I hope that next year's Big Ten Media Guide and Record Book has big asterisks next to OSU and PSU in the standings--with the asterisk explained at the bottom of the page as "Inelligible for league title due to covering up the fact that players were getting free tattoos in exchange for their game jerseys--and covering up the molestation of dozens of boys in the football locker room showers so as not to sully the reputation of the coach and the program".

Friday, November 9, 2012

The $6-Billion Bargain

First today, a Fun Fact:  According to the Wesleyen Media Project, all of the TV stations in Wisconsin aired an average of 1,615 ads pertaining to the Presidential or US Senate election EVERY DAY the last two months of the campaign.  That number does not include ads run for House of Representative races or any of the Legislative contest that were shoehorned in around the federal race ads.

According to our friend Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, SIX BILLION DOLLARS were spent on the Presidential and Congressional campaigns this year.  That easily sets a new record--and leading to howls of protest over how much is "wasted" on trying to convince citizens to vote in a certain way.  In fact, Mike no longer calls them "elections", but rather "auctions"--believing political power is going to the highest bidder.

But when you look closer at the numbers, you see that $6-Billion really isn't that much.  Consider that elected officials are in charge of the $3.8-TRILLION budget.  That means that what was spent on the campaigns represents LESS THAN 0.2% of the money that will be coming out of Washington next year.  And when you consider that the average term in office for Federal lawmakers is four years, that means control of $15.2-TRILLION was at stake on Tuesday.  That reduces the "cost" of the campaign to less than 0.04% of the potential payoff.  AND since there were two sides spending that campaign cash, the individual investment is cut in half to 0.02%.  

And we haven't even touched on the money at play outside of Washington.  Laws and policies set in Congress and the White House have huge impacts on private sector revenues as well.  How much money would Exxon make if more Federal lands were opened to oil and natural gas drilling?  And AARP stands to make a cool Billion dollars a year as changes to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act drive more people to Medi-Gap programs--which AARP just happens to provide!  

Now, if your financial planner called you tomorrow and said that he had an investment available to you that would possibly give you at least a 5,067% return on your money what would you do?  You would give serious thought to getting as much money in there as possible.

With apologies to Mike McCabe, elections aren't "auctions", they are now lotteries--with gigantic payoffs for relatively small investments.  And with a 50% chance of winning--the odds of picking a winning candidate are a whole hell of a lot better than picking the winning Powerball numbers.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Cliff

Between on-air sessions yesterday I was watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC (why not Fox News Channel you ask?  One thing you learn in covering sports is that the winning locker room is always a lot more fun after a game than the losing locker room.) and Mika Brzezinski gave me a much-needed chuckle.  Coming out of a commercial break she reset the discussion topic for the next segment by saying "Now that the elections are over, Americans are turning their attention to the deficit and Government spending."

Really?  After voting to send nearly all of the same people responsible for the deficits and the increased Government spending back to Washington, NOW people are going to start thinking about it?  Anyway, the topic turned to the so-called "Fiscal Cliff"--officially referred to as Sequestration under the 1985 Deficit Reduction Act (that law really made a difference, didn't it?)--and how Congress MUST reach a budget deal to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax hikes at the end of the year.

Americans tend to be slow learners.  It took the bombings of two African embassies, the USS Cole and the World Trade Center TWICE before we realized that we needed to fight Al Qaeda where it lives and operates--rather than over here.  It took the complete collapse of the housing market before we realized that giving out no-money-down, interest-only, jumbo mortgages to people who couldn't even prove they had an income to purchase overpriced properties was a bad economic model.  And it took increased job loss and reduced incomes to realize that racking up tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt may not be the best way to manage your money.

So maybe it would be a good idea to "go over" the Fiscal Cliff--if for no other reason than to make people realize just how much it would cost to actually pay for all of the Government that has been accumulating for the past few decades.  Gone would be the Bush Tax Cuts and the Obama Pay Roll Tax Cut--none of which were accompanied by equal reductions in spending (in reality, they were paired with greater increases in expenditures).  Gone too would be thousands of defense industry jobs--as some of the military budget is not exempted from sequestration.  The Oshkosh Corporation said that its already-announced layoffs were not related to sequestration--so I'm guessing there would be additional job losses there as well.  Most economists agree that there would be a huge sell off on Wall Street (not to be confused with the huge post-election sell off yesterday) and most assuredly a second recession. 

Combine that with a refusal to lift the deficit ceiling and Washington would REALLY have to come clean with the public.  How high do you think taxes would have to go to cover the 43% of the budget currently paid for by borrowing?  You think the street riots in Greece and Spain (ironically, dealing with this same exact problem) were ugly?  Just wait 'til Joe Sixpack starts paying for his REAL "fair share".

There was a reason the Fiscal Cliff was pushed past the 2012 elections--and as far away as possible from 2014 mid-term and the 2016 Presidential elections as possible.  So you conveniently "forget" about those who got us in this mess.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We'll Still Be Here When You Are Ready

Hey voters, Fiscal Conservative guy here.  Sorry I didn't convince you of the mounting dangers facing our country right now.   I know that you got distracted by a lot of other things the last few weeks, like whether rape is "God's Plan", who should be allowed to marry whom, and what celebrities thought about the election.  But don't worry, I'll keep hanging around trying to convince you what is really important around here.

I know you don't want me in your life right now.  You made that clear yesterday.  You want free birth control pills, free day care, free college tuition, free health care, and free prescription drugs.  You want more food stamps, more unemployment benefits, more homeless shelters and more high speed trains.  You also want less religion in your politics (can't blame you for that one) and you want to smoke pot without the cops hassling you.

And most of all--you want someone else to pay for all of that.  I enjoy a good challenge, but unfortunately I and my hard-working brethren aren't going to be pick up the tab.  I know you were promised that the "rich" were going to foot the bill--but they can only cover about 10% of the added spending going forward.  So that doesn't really leave us a lot of alternatives.  And let's stop trying to ignore the 17-trillion pound elephant that was already in the room--and is apparently going to be eating well for at least the next two years.

So celebrate in the streets just like the voters in Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have in the past.  Those of us keeping an eye on the money will sit quietly over here in the corner until you are ready to ask for our help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I have some numbers I want you to consider on this Election Day:

25,000--That was the estimated number of Americans killed in the Revolutionary War.  The men and women who gave up their lives so that we could be free of Monarchy, to choose our own leaders and to live in a free-market society.

17,000--That was the estimated number of Americans killed in the War of 1812.  The men and women who died to cement the United States' independence and set forth our destiny to expand from sea to shining sea upon the American continent.

625,000--That was the estimated number of Americans killed in the Civil War.  The men and women who died to ensure that we would remain the UNITED STATES of America--and that all people would eventually be free and treated as equals.

405,399--That was the number of Americans killed in World War II.  The men and women who died to ensure than not just the United States but much of Europe and the Far East could be free of fascism, genocide, and occupation--and to have their own right to decide the fate and future of their nations.

3--That was the number of Council of Federated Organizations workers killed in Neshoba County, Mississippi in 1964.  The men who died trying to help Blacks in the Jim Crow South to exercise their Constitutional right to vote and to be part of their government in the face of institutional racism.

6,518--That is the number--to date--of Americans killed in the War On Terror.  The men and women who died on 9/11 and those who have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect us from religious zealotry and fear,

I want you to think about those numbers when you consider NOT voting today.  When you think that the line is too long, or your vote doesn't matter, or you didn't pay attention to what races are on the ballot today or you are just "too busy" to get to the polls.  Think about the sacrifice those people made so that we can enjoy this incredible privilege to be able to craft our own government, our own society and our own freedoms.

Get out and vote.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Looking Back

With Election Day almost here, I've been thinking about this same time two years ago--when my own name was on the ballot.  When I run into people I haven't seen for awhile who ask how things turned out, I always like to say "I came in 2nd".  Last week, I finally got rid of all the campaign stuff that had been sitting in the basement since then.  I think of it as the final step toward closure--and clearing more space for the stuff we moved out of my late mother-in-law's apartment.

As disappointed as I was that night, looking back at how things have transpired since then, losing may have been the much better thing for me in the long run.

I got the opportunity to get back on air here at the Radio Ranch--doing what I love: informing people, making people laugh and spouting off about everything that's going on.  And it's a whole heck of a lot easier than selling advertising in this economy.

While the Legislature was conducting 54-hour marathon sessions and the State Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to sit in a Rockford hotel, I was visiting my parents in Florida, playing golf and going to Disney World.  I know my neighbors appreciated not having union protesters parking up and down the street and trampling across their yards to yell their chants and wave their signs outside of my house.  Nobody threatened to kill me, nobody vandalized my house and the phone didn't ring constantly with complaints.  Besides, the budget changes need to get the state back on track took place anyway.

And this past summer, when every day was perfect for golfing, I was out there on the links--lowering my handicap to its lowest point since when I was back in college--instead of walking down every street in the city of Oshkosh knocking on doors and handing out campaign literature.  I also got to attend the Ryder Cup with my best friends this fall and have a fantastic weekend full of great (and some not so great) memories.  Plus, I didn't have to make the impossible choice of dedicating time to campaigning or being there to support my wife after the last-minute loss of our adoption--and the death of her mother.

Add to that the subsequent behavior of a couple of area lawmakers--from both parties--that make you wonder if that is really the type of people you want to be associated with anyway?  I think having to get up at 2:30 in the morning to go to work every day keeps you out of trouble--instead of having all of that free time away from home on your hands.

I'll always be proud of the campaign that I ran.  I didn't have to pretend to be something or someone that I'm not.  That included pissing off my campaign manager by returning about a thousand dollars worth of contribution checks from owners of payday lending outlets.  (If you are going to talk about living debt-free, you can't support outlets that help people rack up debt).  I never had to remember what I promised to certain groups around town--because my message was always the same and always what I believed.

As life sometimes proves, you can actually win big sometimes by losing.

Friday, November 2, 2012

An Incredible Gift

I have been waiting to write today's "My Two Cents" for six years, two months and 24 days.  That is how long ago my wife and I started our Total Money Makeover--$19,612 in debt.  In that time, we have both lost a job (mine by choice), undergone some major medical expenses and we have even bought a house with a sizeable down payment.  But today, we pay off our mortgage--making us--at the ages of 40 and 41-- COMPLETELY DEBT FREE!

Unfortunately, this day is bittersweet for us.  While we complete the most difficult hurdle in the Dave Ramsey Plan--Babystep Six, the money comes from the inheritance my wife is getting following the death of her Mom about two months ago.  Believe me, we would much rather continue our five-year payoff plan for the mortgage and still have her here.  But in her passing, she has given us the greatest gift we have ever received: (Yes, better than the basketball hoop I got for Christmas when I was 8 or the glove, the bat and the Brewers tickets I got for my 10th birthday) Financial Freedom.

The single largest expense in our budget is suddenly gone.  The monthly expenditures are now just food, gas, utilities and the other miscellaneous stuff of life--along with a whole lot more going into savings.  Gone is the fear of how to make that payment if we were to lose a job again.  So too the dread associated with a potential sickness or injury wiping us out--because we can now put money away to deal with such possibilities.  And the interest that we were paying someone else, now goes to work for us--making us more money.

Baby Step Seven--Build Wealth Like Crazy is our next goal.  Followed by Baby Step Eight: Live Like No One Else.  The next great milestone will be our "Pinnacle Point"--where our investments and savings start making more for us than our jobs.  At that point, early retirement becomes a very real possibility.  We also can't wait to increase our charitable giving, sharing with others the amazing gift that we have received.

Having a paid for house makes my wife and I members of the 30% Club.  But I'd be willing to bet that we are on the very young end of the age scale--with most clear titleholders being in their 50's and 60's.  What's more, 48% of homeowners our age are actually "under water"--meaning they still owe more than the house is worth.  But I want us to be 1%ers--despite all of the attempts to make the fiscally responsible into some kind of monsters hellbent on destroying our neighbors. 

So thank you, Dawn for the incredible gift that you have given your daughter and me.  We will do our best to show our appreciation every day by using what you left us responsibly and pass along to the next generation of our family the values that you taught us.  We love you and we miss you.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Big Question

I've been giving some thought to what I expected would be the main campaign point this year: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"  Why the Romney strategists have gone away from this one key talking point is beyond me.  It seems a far more personal issue for voters to consider than "who will be tougher on China?" or even "why did the President do nothing to help the embassy staff in Benghazi?"  It seems to be a winner for Romney when you consider the latest Marquette Law School poll shows 50% of Wisconsin respondents are saying "NO".

Because I'm a "numbers guy" and like tracking my personal finances, it's pretty easy to figure out if my wife and I are doing better or not.  I can tell you that my salary has not increased during the last four years.  What's more, staff cuts caused by poor corporate performance mean I'm having to work more hours--effectively reducing my per/hour income.  Fortunately, my wife has seen her pay rate increase by three percent over the last four years--so we haven't been completely stuck in terms of personal income.

Of course, prices haven't stayed in place the last four years.  We are paying twice as much for gas.  About 12% more for food and other necessities.  Our utitily expenses are up just over 5%.  My wife's health insurance premiums are up 13%--while mine actually went down--because we can now opt into a High Deductible/Health Savings Account plan.  The HSA now gets to count as an "asset"--rather than premiums just being written off as an "expense".

Our personal wealth is virtually unchanged (however a big change is on the way--more on that in the near future).  Our retirement investments are finally back to the values they held four years ago.  The only growth over this period has been our continuing contributions.  In refinancing our house last year, we found out that we had lost about 8% of our assessed value--and based on some of the sales figures I've seen recently, we likely haven't gotten that value back yet.  And let's not forget, that we are still getting less than 1% interest on our savings--so that irresponsible borrowers can barely stay afloat.

The 4% reduction in Federal with-holdings from our paychecks is not due to a decrease in personal income taxes--but rather less being taken out for Social Security.  Which brings up another issue:  I am no more confident that SSI or MediCare will be available in 25 years from now when I am eligible for those programs.  Fortunately, my wife and I are planning our retirement under that assumption--and will be financially able to support ourselves for decades after we stop working.

With my health insurance carrier now required to cover more high-risk people, I expect that cost will increase substantially in the future--and knowing the executives in charge in Atlanta--we will be one of the first companies to drop the benefit and just pay the ObamaCare fee--I mean "tax".  And being someone who lives a debt-free lifestyle--and believing that overspending today only limits your ability to be successful in the future--the doubling of the national debt the last four years gives me far less confidence in the direction of our country. 

So if someone was to ask me--and they should be--"Are you better off than you were four years ago?"  I can definitely say "NO".