Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rooting For Disaster

Not having a team to root for in the NFL Playoffs this season, I've decided instead to pull for complete and utter mayhem and disaster caused by poor officiating.  I decided this after a full day of hearing about how the Pittsburgh Steelers got hosed out of a playoff spot by the officiating crew in the Kansas City-San Diego game who missed a violation of the new rule on defensive formations on field goal attempts (which would have given the Chiefs a second kick at the end of regulation to make a game winner) and then blew a call on a clear fumble that KC returned for a touchdown in overtime--ruling that forward progress had been stopped (as the scrum with the runner in it continued to move downfield even after the ball came loose) which of course is not reviewable by replay.  The NFL has since issued "apologies" for getting those game-blowing calls wrong.

Since the NFL is reactionary, the only hope for getting the game back under some semblance of control is to have a series of blown calls and misinterpretations of the rules that directly affect the outcome of these playoff games--and hopefully the Super Bowl--to get Roger Goodell to address the crisis in his league.  Remember what finally ended the lockout of the "regular" refs and sent the "replacement" refs into history?  Of course, the TouchCeption that gave Seattle the Monday Night Football win over the Packers last season.  You may recall, the "regular" refs were given standing ovations upon their return--which immediately turned to cascades of boos following the first incorrect pass interference penalty and "unneccesary roughness on a defenseless receiver" call.  Perhaps a myriad of high-profile obvious gaffes and further lack of knowledge of the rules will force the NFL to make some major changes.

1--Simplify the rules.  Get rid of the "complete the process of the catch all the way to the ground" garbage on receptions, and the "defenseless receiver" rule, and the "hitting the quarterback too high or too low" rule, or the "defensive illegal formation on a kick attempt" rule.  Let the refs go out there with fewer rules and infractions to enforce--and they might just have an easier time getting all the calls right.

2--Dump replay, or open it up to pretty much everything on the field.  This stems from the "replay cannot be used to establish possession in the field of play" call that negated the Steelers block of a Packers field goal attempt--before the "illegal batting" call gave the ball back to Green Bay.  If you can use replay to determine if a receiver had possession of the ball before he went out of bounds, why can't you use it to decide if a defender had picked it up before lateraling it?  And we also had a couple of calls that were correct on the field--and then reversed incorrectly by the ref that went under the hood.  Replay has led to a "well if it's wrong, the coach can challenge or the booth will buzz us and we can get it right on the replay" mentality on the field--which doesn't work so well when a coach has burned all of his challenges already.  In addition, all replays should go to Central Command at the NFL offices--not the ref who just blew the initial call on the field.

3--Hire full-time refs.  I realize that those guys will have six days between games every week, but that time can be spent reviewing the rules, film of their calls and positioning from the game before and working at practices around the league to see more plays.  It might cost more--but believe me, the NFL can afford it.

So when the TV commentators are questioning a horrible personal foul penalty the next few weeks--or a phantom pass interference call sets up a game-winning score to decide a Super Bowl berth--or we spend a month debating a missed call that determines the Lombardi Trophy winner, just picture me in the Man Cave cheering wildly.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Ben Franklin Strategy

Shortly after the Constitutional Congress finished work on the document creating the United States that we know and enjoy, Benjamin Franklin wrote about its potential fatal flaw:  

"When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."  

According to a New York Times article over the weekend, Democrats--who are unable to run on the success or popularity of the Affordable Care Act, job creation, economic recovery or a general good feeling about the country--are going to employ what we can call the Ben Franklin Strategy.

The Times has learned that the Obama Administration, Democratic Party leaders and union officials have been meeting in recent months to formulate a campaign message for the 2014 mid-term elections that will focus almost exclusively on raising the minimum wage.  It's a fairly keen strategy--an increase is favored by a majority of Americans--although most do not support taking it to the $10.10 level that Democrats have been floating in Washington.  In battleground states, efforts will also be undertaken to put local minimum wage increases on the ballots for November.

And it's a strategy that has proven to work. In 2006, Democrats won Senate seats in Missouri and Montana when minimum wage referenda were on the ballot as well--boosting what is usually poor turnout from young voters and minorities in mid-term elections--because who wants to miss out on a chance to vote themselves more money?

Republicans could usurp this strategy by voting in more modest minimum wage increases before November--but it's doubtful they would want to go as high as the pie-in-the-sky rates that Democrats are promising.  The $10.10 figure was probably crafted using census data showing that is the rate at which enough potential Democratic voters would get a raise to increase the chances of winning close Congressional races this year.  If the numbers had shown the minimum wage needed to go to $35,000 a year to boost election turnout enough to win, that would be the number everyone on the Left would be clamoring for.

So, this November we will find out if this great 237-year "experiment in democracy" can weather the greatest threat it's founders foresaw for it's success.

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's the Least Productive Time of the Year!

Want to really get my goat?  Tell me that something really important here at work that I need you to help me with will have "wait until after the holidays".  Since when did it become standard operating procedure in the business world to use two holidays in the space of eight days as an excuse to blow off an entire two weeks of productivity? I don't begrudge the people who take vacation the last two weeks of the year.  You get that time off and if you want to waste it at a time of year when it's too cold to do anything fun outside--knock yourself out.  My problem is with the people who still come into work these last two weeks--and treat it like a vacation.

Their first excuse is usually that so many people are on vacation, there's no one around to get anything done anyway--so why should I try to make up for their absence?  They also like to spend the days leading up to Christmas talking to each other about what gifts they bought their family members, or how hard it was to buy the gifts for their family members, or they are going around passing out the goodies they spent hours slaving in the kitchen to make, or they are sampling the goodies that some other co-worker made, or they are sharing recipes for goodies they may want to make next year, or they are doing some pre-post-Christmas shopping so they know how to use the gift cards they are getting, or they are "elfing" themselves in a video to post on their Facebook page.

Then right after Christmas, these slackers are showing off their new jackets or sweaters or pants, or they are showing all the pictures from their family gatherings (which they had already posted to Facebook--where all of their co-workers had already seen them), or they are talking about how excited the kids were to open this gift and that gift, or they are complaining about how they need to take back the rinky dinky doo dad to Shopko because it didn't work when the kids took it out of the box, or they are checking the on-line ads and websites for post-Christmas deals to use all of their gift cards, or they are using the Apple help site to figure out the new electronic toys they got actually work.

Now next week, they will need to tell everyone their big plans for the big party on New Year's Eve, or they will discuss whether Dick Clark is still alive and will be on with Ryan Seacrest this year, or how they used to look so forward to New Years when they were younger, but now they can't stay up past 10:00, or they need to know what everyone else has planned for New Years--just in case they might want to crash the party, or they talk about the limo they rent so nobody has to drive home.

And then for the few days after the 1st, they talk about how drunk they were on New Year's eve, or how sober they were, or how they were in bed by 10:00 New Years Eve, or how sick they were the next day, or how they are never going out on New Years Eve ever again, or how they are going to host a party on New Years next year, or how they were yelling at the TV that the Badgers weren't giving the ball to Melvin Gordon enough the bowl game, or how they don't need to have the Rose Parade on six different tv channels, or how they look forward to things returning to "normal"--now that the holidays are over.

Some industries became so fed up with the whole wasted holiday season that they just shut down of the two weeks and tell everyone to just stay home.  I'm beginning to think that might be a good call for the rest of the workforce as well.  Except of course for retail--wouldn't want everyone to miss out on the 75% off sales on gift wrap and snowman decorations.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Not So Re-Distributive

THE buzzword of 2014 is going to be "redistribution"--as in income or wealth "redistribution".  Unable to run on the popularity of the Affordable Care Act or a reduction of unemployment, Democrats across the country will try to distract voters with the idea that they aren't getting ahead in life because the "evil rich" are hoarding all of the money.  Like modern day Robin Hoods, they will "take from the rich and give to the poor"--in order to make things more "fair".  But unlike 13th Century English peasants and serfs, modern low and moderate-income Americans won't hide away the "King's gold"--because they have a bad habit of giving their money right back to the rich.

Take for instance Food Stamps.  Care to guess who is the number one processor of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program transactions?  It's WalMart (run by the mega-rich Walton family).  Target is the second largest recipient of SNAP funds.  Between the two retail giants, they get about 50% of all Food Stamps money spent.  While you may think that WalMart and Target have added grocery departments to compete with local and regional grocery chains for the middle class shopper--the real growth has come with the incredible expansion of the SNAP program in the past six years--and the steady flow of government money that comes with it.

Another example would be Medicare Part D--the program that made sure the elderly didn't have to "choose between eating and taking their medicines".  The largest dispenser of prescriptions for Medicare Part D is Walgreen's drug stores (whose stock makes up the bulk of the portfolio of "Millionaire Congressman" Tom Petri).  Number Two is--again--WalMart.  And those rankings could reverse, as Humana--one of the largest providers of Medicare Part D drug programs--has named WalMart as its preferred pharmacy starting next year.  Again, WalMart may want Joe Middleclass to have his prescriptions filled at their pharmacy--but Uncle Sam is providing a very nice, steady income for the Walton's as well.

But what about raising salaries and the minimum wage for the lower and middle class masses?  Sounds great, until you consider that income is not the greatest deterrent to upward class mobility.  It's debt that is keeping most people from getting ahead in life.  The average American is $70,000 in debt (a combination of credit cards, student loans and mortgages)--nearly every penny of which is owed to big banks like CitiGroup and Bank of America or lending institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--who all make big money off of interest on that debt and fees imposed upon those who fail to pay it back on time.  Given the fact that American personal investment rates are at the lowest they have been since the 1930's, even if that debt was paid down through higher income, the average American would just borrow it away with more credit because "they could afford it now".

So when you hear the Robin Hoods come calling next year promising their "redistribution" of wealth, remember that anything they take we will gladly give right back to those from whom it was taken--rather than putting it away for ourselves--which would actually "redistribute" the wealth.  Minus, of course, Uncle Sam's cut to feed the burgeoning bureaucracy needed to give it to us.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

In December of 1863, already mourning the death of his wife in a fire earlier that year, the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow learned that his son--Charles Appleton Longfellow (who had joined the Union Army to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes)--had been seriously injured in a battle in Virginia the month before.  Overcome with the grief of perhaps losing not just his spouse but also his eldest son in the same year, Longfellow sat down 150-years ago today and penned what may be the greatest American Christmas carol: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.......

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

           and wild and sweet
           The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Five years ago, the band Casting Crowns recorded an arrangement of Wadsworth lyrics that I think best capture the spirit and the grace of song.  Consider it my Christmas gift to you....

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Festivus Airing of Grievances!!

Today is December 23rd, and you know what that means!

To the Sawdust Days Organizing Committee: You now know how much you will likely have to pay for your special events permit from the city next year.  Put that at the top of your budget and set your rates for vendor fees at a level to cover at least that expense.  And then require your vendors to pay UP FRONT--just like any other business in the world does--so that you can pay the fee IN FULL AND ON TIME FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER!!

To those who continue to believe that you can make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane in a roundabout: It has now been more than five years since these roundabouts opened in Oshkosh.  Learn the rules of the road for Pete's sake!  And those who continue to gun it in front of those already in the roundabout, I'm sure that the place you are going to in such a hurry is far more important than where I am trying to go safely.

To Snowmobile Owners, Ice Fishermen and Skiers: You had better be spending every single second available on your sleds, your buckets and your skis because you spent all of the recent mild winters complaining about "not being able to get out".  Well now we are having an awful early winter--so you had better be happy--because the rest of us are miserable.

To the guy that stole the Salvation Army Red Kettle in Oshkosh: You sir, are the lowest form of life on the planet.  I may not have given to that red kettle, but taking that one is just like stealing from my donation at Festival Foods.  I sure hope the beer or cigarettes you bought with the stolen cash taste even better knowing that you took a hot meal from a homeless guy or clothes off the back of some kids.

To everyone who likes to flex their "Twitter muscles":  It's easy to be bold in 140-characters on your cellphone from the depths of your mother's basement.  Why don't you get out and try to perform on a sports field, or a stage, or run for office yourself before posting your snarky comments and making your anonymous threats.

To those who say they hate Festivus because "it's a made up holiday":  Really, you want to have a debate about historical accuracy?

Now, as Festivus rolls on, we have come to the feats of strength.  Until you pin me, Festivus is not over!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why Do We Care What These People Say?

We've apparently found the latest threat to American society: a sixty-something, bearded man who lives in a Louisiana swamp and who makes duck calls for a living.  He replaces the previous greatest threat: a reporter who once interviewed Michael Jackson about sleeping with little kids.  And of course, hat reporter replaced the old lady who makes food loaded with butter and lard as the person most likely to ruin this country with his or her personal beliefs and comments.

I have grown tired of the faux "outrage" that follows public comments from less-than-stellar examples of Americans as a whole.  Phil Robertson was a backwoods huckster until his marketing-savvy son realized that this "redneck" image could be amped up and sold to the general public through a "reality" TV show.  All those guys didn't always have those beards, you know.  Now for millions, he has somehow become a bastion of all that is "good and holy"--and should be above reproach for whatever his beliefs are on gays and blacks.

Martin Brashir got himself canned by MSNBC by insinuating that someone should "sh$t in Sarah Palin's mouth" after her comparison of high taxes to slavery.  Brashir was a nobody in American journalism until Michael Jackson agreed to allow him to do what had been sold to him as a "behind-the-scenes look at how he makes his music"--but was instead edited by Brashir to show MJ as this deranged middle-aged man obsessed with boys in a sexual manner.  He's not even an American citizen--yet his opinions on Sarah Palin are treated like blasphemy.

And Paula Deen's only discernible talents are baking and eating.  Yet her use of a word so common in Hip-Hop vernacular that it outnumbers "the" results in millions of dollars of products being pulled from store shelves across the country--and the cancellation of about half the programming on a TV network.

So here we get worked up by comments from people like this--while economists at the Congressional Budget Office keep telling us that Social Security will become insolvent by the year 2031 and we just shrug our shoulders and go back to TMZ.com.  Or when those same economists point out that the federal deficit will equal the entire output of the nation by 2038 and we respond with the blank stares of children who have just been asked to define Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Hey folks, how about we start listening to what actual, important people have to say for awhile--and worry about what the clowns are thinking a little bit later.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stealers Week

This morning, we have the story of a "grab and go" robbery at the Skiers Outlet here in Oshkosh where a group of women walked into the store Tuesday night--stuffed about a thousand dollars in merchandise in their bags and walked out without paying.  This may not be the isolated incident police believe it is--as an intern here at the Radio Ranch told an off-hand story yesterday about a group of women--with the same physical descriptions--stealing items from the store where she works this week as well.  The thieves in that heist acted the same way as at the outlet store--spread out, avoid contact with the sales clerks, stuff the items in your bag and run out to a waiting car to get away.

It's clear that shoplifters like that know how the system works.  Our intern expressed frustration that even though she knew those people were going steal--there was little she could do about it because of company policy.  In her case, she would have had to know exactly where the thieves were hiding the merchandise--because they do not have the power to search a person or their bags like a police officer does.  They are also told not to directly accost shoplifters--or attempt to prevent them from leaving the store.  And calling the cops to report the theft is not mandatory either (which I don't understand--because it would give us a greater understanding of the extent of such crime)--instead, the lost item boxes are just put on a shelf to be cataloged at a later date.

We weren't given a list of stolen item in the Skiers Outlet heist--but our intern says all of the items stolen from her store were children's sizes.  That leads me to believe that what the stealers took will likely end up under the tree next week as "gifts".  I'd be willing to bet that they even had a "shopping list" made out of things to "pick up at the store" for Christmas--and that is how they determined what stores to target.

I wonder if there will be even the slightest twinge of guilt in their minds when the kids tear open the wrapping paper to see their ill-gotten goods.  I tend to doubt it.  They probably have themselves convinced that they and their kids "deserve" to have the same nice stuff that the family in the suburbs have--even if they don't have the money to buy that stuff.  Besides, they probably think. the stores make money hand over fist--they should have some of that taken away to make it "fair" to the rest of us.  I wonder where they would get such an idea?

As is becoming more common nowadays, those of us who do the responsible thing will end up footing the bill for their thievery--by dealing with higher prices on the goods we actually pay for to make up for the loss.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reason I Can't Stand Christmas #8,564,282


Santa Claus is not a real person.  I think the vast majority of us adults know that.  And yet a national argument has broken out over whether he is or isn't a white guy.  It all started last week with Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly expressing her outrage over an article written by an African-American woman fed up with Santa being portrayed as white in all of the advertising and TV shows this time of year.  Kelly stated unequivocally that Santa Claus is as white as the driven snow through which flying reindeer--one with a red nose that lights up bright enough to guide the way--pull his sleigh.

That has led to a backlash from the folks at MSNBC and the Comedy Central duo of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report--not to mention about 6 BILLION Twitter comments angrily asserting the "fact" that Santa is white--or that Santa can be any color the person thinking about him wants him to be.

If your definition of "Santa" is that of Saint Nicholas--then you are in for a big surprise.  Nicholas was born in Asia Minor--which is now part of Turkey.  That makes it highly unlikely that he is the "shade of white" that we associate with people of Germanic, Nordic or English descent.

The modern "American" version of Santa Claus is an amalgamation of the man described in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem A Visit From St Nicholas--where a large, rosy cheeked white guy is the main character--and the Coca-Cola ads of the 1920's and '30's featuring the fat white guy in a red suit enjoying a Coke with his plate of cookies instead of milk.

Regardless of how you think "Santa" came to be--the fact remains that he is a fictional character!  The argument over his race is the same as fighting over what color the Lilliputians were in Gulliver's Travels (which I think Jonathan Swift would find wonderfully ironic), or the race of Chief Brody in Peter Benchley's Jaws, or what color Lennie is in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter--because they don't exist.

All that being said, what do you think the reaction would be if the Fox River Mall next year hired an African-American, Asian of Hispanic Santa?  That would be top of the newscast huge--and the social media world would be in danger of implosion from all the posts from parents saying "I'm not racist--but I'm not taking my kids to see a Black Santa.  They need to hire a "Real Santa".

I'm surprised President Obama isn't trying to get ahead of this controversy and get it settled before next week.  Remember, we're supposed to use our holiday get-togethers to talk about getting signed up for health insurance.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

When Reality Comes Crashing Down

You may want to avoid making a doctor's appointment or going to the hospital in January--it's probably going to be crazy busy that month.  That prediction comes after an "under the radar" move by the Obama Administration last Thursday asking insurers taking part in the federal health care exchanges to begin providing coverage to enrollees--even if they haven't paid their premiums.

We are hearing a lot of talk about how many more people have been able to "sign up" at HealthCare.gov in the month or so since the Administration admitted that they had completely botched the website rollout.  "Signing up" merely involves putting your personal information into the easily-hacked database and selecting which plan you are going to purchase.  But what we aren't getting are the numbers of people who have actually "enrolled".  "Enrolling" involves actually paying at least the first month's premium.  Some estimates put the "enrollment" rate at just 15% of the "sign up" rate.

This is just the latest example of reality encroaching on the "fantasy" world of the Affordable Care Act.  To achieve this "everyone must have health insurance" requirement, you need people who can't save up enough money in 11 months of the year for their Christmas shopping to have cash on hand to buy an insurance policy by December 23rd.  Don't you think if most of those folks were able to budget responsibly, they would have been buying insurance already (not counting those who were buying cheaper insurance but just had their policies canceled because "If you like your plan, you can keep it" won the PolitiFact Lie of the Year title)?

In an effort to boost those "enrollment" numbers as much as possible as we head into the final few weeks of 2013, the White House "encouraged" those insurers in the exchange to issue policies without payment--for "just the first month". (Encouraged might be too kind a term, those who fail to comply face getting booted out of the exchanges next year and having to go back to competing in the open market for business again instead of having the government feed it to them.) 

What could possibly go wrong with giving some people free health insurance--so long as they "pinky swear" to pay the premium by the end of the month?  I'm sure nobody would rush right out and make appointments for procedures or get prescription discounts and stick an insurance company with the bill after not paying a single dollar of premiums and then disappearing back into the mass of humanity that manages to escape responsibilities like income taxes and child support payments. 

Well at least the responsible people who do pay their health insurance premiums on time won't get stuck with the bill.  Oh, wait a minute, I forgot we were talking about reality here.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ivy League Wilt

As I was watching Jason Garrett--a Princeton University graduate--be thoroughly out-coached yesterday by Mike McCarthy--a graduate of Baker University (1,000,000 trivia points if you can name where that school is located*) yesterday, I started thinking about how grossly overrated an Ivy League education is nowadays.

Consider our list of recent Presidents--none of whom will be considered for addition to Mount Rushmore.  George HW Bush went to Yale.  Bill Clinton went to Yale Law School (after attending Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship).  George W Bush graduated from Yale AND got an MBA from Harvard Business School.  And Barack Obama is also an Ivy League double-dipper, graduating from Columbia and Harvard Law.  President Obama even TAUGHT at Harvard Law (if by "taught" you mean writing your first of two memoirs before the age of 45)--which would lead you to believe that he is even smarter than the students attending that university.

And yet, there seemed to be a lot missing from their Ivy League educations.  In the case of the elder Bush it was keeping promises ("Read my lips, no new taxes").  For President Clinton it was proper inter-personal employee relationships.  For the junior Bush it was international diplomacy.  And for our current President, it has been Economics 101--along with website design and rollout.

Contrast that with the far more sucessful presidencies of Ronald Reagan--who attended Eureka College--or Harry S Truman--who will likely be the last President to never graduate from college. (Settle down Scott Walker supporters)  And consider the next crop of "frontrunners" for 2016.  Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley ("Harvard for women") and Yale Law.  Joe Biden went to Syracuse.  Chris Christie Monmouth and Rutgers--while Paul Ryan attended Miami of Ohio and American U.

Which brings me back to Sunday.  When it was so obvious to the entire world that the Dallas Cowboys just had to continue running the football in the second half--having averaged five yards per carry for the game--to hold onto their lead that even Indiana University graduate Joe Buck and "Captain Obvious" Troy Aikman who went to Oklahoma and UCLA kept wondering why Ivy Leaguer Jason Garrett couldn't figure that out.  Successful Strategies of Professional Football apparently isn't in the course catalog at Princeton.

*--Baker University is in Baldwin, Kansas

Friday, December 13, 2013

A "Condition" For Everyone

As a regular observer of the criminal justice system, I can tell you that crime and punishment as it pertains to those who can afford a top-notch attorney--and those who are assigned an over-loaded public defender--are two very different experiences.  OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson showed us that you can get away with the most heinous of crimes--if you've got enough cash to hire an army of lawyers, experts and investigators that can dedicate hours to breaking down and debunking a prosecutor's case.  The latest example of this comes from Texas this week, where the son of millionaire parents was sentenced for the death of four people he ran over while driving drunk.  The defense for the 16-year old came up with a very unique argument against incarceration--they claim the boy "suffers" from "Affluenza".

If you aren't familiar with the term, "Affluenza" refers to the belief that if you are a rich kid, your parents will be able to buy your way out of any situation you might get yourself into.  A psychologist for the defense argued at sentencing that the boy really believed that there would be no personal consequences to getting liquored up and driving around that night, because Mom and Dad would flash some cash and find a way to keep Junior from having to face the music.  That doctor also claimed that psychiatric programs in the correctional system wouldn't be able to meet the needs of the boy--and that is why his parents should be allowed to send him to an "intensive" rehab center in Southern California--which will cost them 450-thousand dollars a year.

While you laugh and roll your eyes at this, the Texas judge apparently bought it--because he dismissed the state's argument for the maximum 20-year prison sentence and instead put the teen on probation for ten years.  That's right, the kid runs over and kills four people--and he gets to go home to the mansion with his folks.  In handing down the sentence, the judge claimed that the "Affluenza" argument didn't sway his position--and that by putting the teen on probation the state can "keep an eye on him better".  But all "His Honor" has done, is give credence to the argument that "Affluenza" is a real thing!  What message has just been sent to every rich kid not just in Texas, but across the country (and don't think that this isn't getting "shared" and "liked" a couple of million times on social media)?  "Act like an out-of-control moron and claim that you didn't think there would be any consequences and the judge will let you walk--just like the Texas kid!"

How do you suppose that judge would have reacted if the attorney for a poor, black kid who had been drunk and run over four people had argued that his client suffered from "Poverty-itus"--a belief that since I have nothing to lose--I can just act recklessly and the consequences don't matter?  I can guarantee, that kid would be spending every day of that maximum sentence behind bars--because he is a "danger to society". 

I think Lady Justice is wearing a blindfold in this case to cover up her tears.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Economy of Nothing

Have you ever thought about how much money we spend on nothing?  Call it a by-product of the Digital Age, or the Information Age or the New, New, New Ecomony, but we Americans spend a lot of cash every day--and really have nothing to show for it.

I came across a study on line that found one in five Americans spends more on their cell phone bills every month than they do on groceries.  21% place a greater importance on being able to talk, text and surf the web from anywhere on the planet than they do feeding themselves.  And given the rising cost of digital cable and broadband internet service, a good percentage of personal income is going toward those products as well.  Billions, if not trillions of dollars spent on something that is nothing more than a series of zeroes and ones.

What's even more disturbing, is that we don't even use most of what we are paying for.  Do you max out your cellular minutes or data plan every single month?  Are you watching all 1000 channels on your cable system 24-hours a day?  Few Americans do--and that means the rest of us are spending a ton of money on zeroes and ones that we don't even use!  At least with your electricity, natural gas and water, you only pay for what you actually consume.

And this economy of nothing is a big reason why we struggle now to create new jobs--or increase the wages of jobs currently in the system.  There is no factory at which MegaBytes are being created to be sent to your cellphone through a supply chain staffed by actual people.  There are no operators connecting your calls or routing your text messages to the correct numbers.  And there is nobody at a central command center switching network feeds to your cable box when you want to flip between Duck Dynasty and the Walking Dead.

Compare modern spending habits to those of the Baby Boomer generation.  Boomers made a lot of money--and they spent a lot of money.  But that cash went toward a lot more tangible items--like the lake house, or the classic sports car, or the Harley motorcycle, or the boat or the condo in Florida.  These were actual items that required someone to build, ship, repair and maintain.  And they were things that retained some resale value.  In the case of classic cars and lakefront property, they saw very handsome increases in value--which added to the buyers' wealth.  How does one go about re-selling your left over minutes and MB's at the end of every month?  Is there an iTunes exchange like the old used CD stores we had when I was younger?

I bring this up as talk heats up again about income and wealth disparities and the need for "re-distribution".  If we are going to insist on taking away from those at the top--let's make sure that those on the bottom and in the middle don't go wasting it all on nothing--again.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Value of Things

Democrats in the state Legislature have introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage in Wisconsin.  While recent union-backed (and staffed) protests against fast food outlets have demanded a $15 an hour wage, the proposal here is for a more modest increase of 35-cents--to $7.60 an hour.

Those who have proposed this increase aren't really that happy with it--Senator Nikya Harris is on record as saying as much--but they see it a way to score some cheap political points heading into an election year.  "Remember that 35-cent raise we got you?  Vote for us and we'll try to get you more!"  The hope is that a national Democratic effort to hike the wage to $10.10 an hour will somehow gain traction and make this state bill a moot point.

The one factor that seems to always be overlooked in talking about major hikes in the minimum wage is the value of the work actually being done--and the product that is being produced.  You know why pro athletes are paid tens of millions of dollars a year?  Because major TV networks sell a lot of advertising during sports broadcasts--and people pay a lot of good money to sit in stadiums and watch said players show off their skills.  It's also why Gary Anderson makes three times as much as the top administrators at UW Madison--80-thousand people pay to watch him work every Saturday.  At McDonald's, we are talking about the value of being able to put a hamburger patty on a bun and cover it with cheese and ketchup.

So what value do we place on the work done at Mickey D's.  The Big Mac Extra Value Meal is about $6.  The minimum wage increase proposed by state Democrats would push that up to maybe $6.25.  Is that still a price at which I would buy?  More than likely.  But the $10.10 wage being tossed around in Congress would make it nearly impossible to keep the Value Meal price around six bucks--and would more than likely cause it to go up to $9.  Is a Big Mac, fries and sweetened ice tea worth that much to me?  Only if I was starving--and there were no other options.  And the $15 the union protesters were calling for?  A $12 Big Mac?  Get outta here.

Now, McDonald's wouldn't necessarily have to hike the price at the same percentage at the wage increase.  We have two restaurants within a couple of miles of each other here on the westside of Oshkosh.  What if McDonald's could offer me that same Big Mac Meal for about the same price--but at only one of those locations?  Would I be willing to wait a little bit longer in the drive-thru because the customers who used the other site are now all using just a single restaurant?  I probably would.  And believe me, Mickey D's has people in charge of determining if other people would feel the same way and wouldn't think twice about closing up shop over at the gas station.

Now corporation haters would say that McDonald's and all of the Yum! Brands restaturants and WalMart wouldn't have to raise any prices to provide a $10 or $15 minimum wage because all of that added expense could come out of their "obscene" profits.  But this is where we get into another discussion about value.  As a savvy investor for retirement, I own stock in McDonald's, Yum! Brands and the Super Evil Empire--and when they make money, I make money--through dividends and higher share prices.  And the more money they make, the sooner I can worry about a tee time in 75 degree sunny weather in Florida this week--instead of worrying about whether my Jeep is going to start in the -9 weather in the morning.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When Giving 106% Just Isn't Enough

There is a cliche in sports that you only win when you "give 110%"--that must apply to taxation as well.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is out with its latest report on who pays taxes--and how much they pay--in America.  The study finds that in 2010 (the latest year that data was available) those with the highest 40% of incomes in the US paid 106% of the federal income taxes.  At first you might think "how is it possible to pay more than 100% of the taxes?"  Well, the same study finds that the bottom 40% of Americans pay -9% of the federal income taxes.

I bet you are thoroughly confused now. "How can you pay 'negative' income tax?"  You have to consider that low-income filers qualify for several tax credits--like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit--which can exceed any income tax that the filer may have had withheld from their paychecks (or pension payments).  When that happens, those filers get back more than they paid in--meaning a negative impact on the total tax collection.

For those in the lowest 20% of wage earners (those making up to $24,000 a year), they paid -9.2% of federal income taxes collected.  Those in the second-lowest 20% (many of whom would not be considered to be 'living in poverty' at up to $41,000 annually) paid -2.3%  Those in the second highest 20% (which would include a majority of the middle class with family incomes starting $81,000) paid 13.3% of the taxes while those in the top 20% (making over $182,000) paid 92.9 percent of the taxes.

The biggest problem with what should be a progressive system like the income tax is that we are seeing "bottom creep"--namely, the number of payers at the lower end of the scale are shrinking--putting more pressure on the declining number of payers at the middle and top end of the scale.  That is likely the result of higher unemployment, more retirees and stagnation of incomes at both the lower and middle section of the spectrum.  Also keep in mind, that the numbers are from 2010--when the economy was in worse shape than it is right now.  Perhaps 2012 or 2013 numbers might look a little bit better.

Does that mean that we should have a big tax increase on the poor or end the EIC or Child Credits?  No, the revenue possibilities are very limited from that end of the income scale.  What it should mean is a reconsideration in Washington as to how much money we are going to spend going forward--as the number of payers falls--and the number of "payees" continues to rise.

It should also silence those on the Left who drone on and on about how those at the top "don't pay their fair share".  If your liberal aunt brings that up at the dinner table during the holidays again you can chime in with "Yeah, 106% is clearly not enough."

Monday, December 9, 2013

Football--The Way It Should Be

I would like to thank Mother Nature for contributing to the most entertaining day of NFL football in recent memory.  The heavy snow at stadiums in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh brought the game back to the NFL Films-style of play that reminded me of my childhood.

You can't tell me that there was something that just felt "right" when you saw the big snowflakes falling and blowing past those purple Vikings helmets.  December games against the Purple People Eaters were epic battles not just against the opposing team--but the worst weather in the league at Metropolitan Stadium.  When was the last time you saw the Vikes play in real weather like that?  The same went for the snow covering the field in Pittsburgh--where the Steel Curtain would use the elements to their advantage in slowing down and stuffing high powered offenses like Air Coryell with Dan Fouts or Luv Ya Blue with Earl Campbell slip-sliding all over the place. 

The best watch of the day was Detroit at Philadelphia--where you couldn't even tell where the play on the field was.  The shot of Megatron--Calvin Johnson--being tackled on a long catch and coming up with his facemask completely filled with snow--that is the essence of football.

Fans who attend games like that talk about it for generations.  It almost becomes a badge of honor.  I was at the Snow Bowl game against Tampa Bay at Lambeau Field in 1985.

My friend Eric and I rode into Green Bay on his snowmobile through a foot of snow that morning.  We didn't stay for the entire game--it was two horrible teams playing--but at least I can claim to be one of the 20-thousand or so that "braved the elements".

And did you notice the exciting football that was produced in those snow games yesterday?  Even without 5-receiver sets and the spread pistol read-option, teams were still able to move the ball by running it.  You had a bunch of kick returns for touchdowns--and Pittsburgh almost had a Cal-Stanford "The Band Is On The Field" miracle final play to win it against Miami.

Yesterday's weather is the nightmare scenario for the NFL as it gets ready to host its first "cold weather" Super Bowl in New Jersey in February.  The talking heads who think they know the game better than anyone will be full of gloom and doom predictions this morning--that snow during the Big Game will "ruin the purity of the contest" or be an "unfair advantage" for a team that still plays cold weather games outside.  But based on what we saw yesterday, I'll take the Super Snow Bowl over the "perfect conditions", antiseptic, video-game style of football we've had to endure the last few years.

Friday, December 6, 2013


As we mark his passing on Thursday, I will always remember Nelson Mandella for two things: transformation and forgiveness.  The transformation refers to Mandella's journey from being a Communist terrorist to a champion of democracy and peace.

Oh, you didn't know that Mandella was a Communist?  In the late 50's and early 60's he wrote and spoke about his admiration of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro--and hoped to model the African National Congress's overthrow of the Apartheid government in South Africa after their Communist revolution in Cuba.  And as the leader of the "MK" (or "Spear of the Nation"), Mandella authorized the bombings of a number of South African civilian facilities--including a crowded train station in Johannesburg.  It was for these bombings that Mandella was sentenced to life in prison.

But while spending time in the notorius Robben's Island prison, Nelson Mandella realized that fighting the violence of the white government against the majority blacks with more violence would not achieve his goal or freedom for all South Africans.  Pressure from the rest of the world--along with economic sanctions--eventually brought a peaceful end to Apartheid rule--and won Mandella his freedom.

Following his election as the first black South African President, it would have been very easy for Mandella to exact a measure of "revenge" against the Afrikaaners who had engaged in the suppression of "his people" for so many decades.  Mandella could have seized the assets of white South African businesses as "ill-gotten gains" or forced white farmers off their fertile lands to "redistribute more fairly" to Blacks.  (Which was done in neighboring Zimbabwe--causing the complete destabilization of the country's economy) And it certainly would have been popular to take the former leaders who had imprisoned him for so long and to throw them into the same small cells in which he had been captive.

But Mandella didn't do any of that.  He worked with the Afrikaaners to incorporate Blacks into the economy, into the schools and into the halls of government to share power.  A process that still has a long way to go.  And it is that forgiveness and tolerance that we should most respect in the man.

Nelson Mandella says that during his time in prison he found greatest inspiration from a poem by William Ernest Henley entitled Invictus--which is Latin for "not conquered".  It's message could certainly apply to those of us in America today as well:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Too Many Events City (Part Two)

In a town that promotes itself as a mecca for special events, the natives are growing restless.  They are beginning to tire of outsiders clogging up their streets.  They are sick of not being able to access their parks.  They are questioning the value of spending more than necessary on police and emergency protection for people who are leaving in a few hours time.  And they want their lawmakers to start returning their city to their use.

I bet you thought I was talking about Oshkosh--"Event City"--didn't you?  Well, I'm actually referring to Traverse City, Michigan--which now bills itself as the "City of Festivals".  Every week there is a different event in TC--art shows, film festivals, bike rallies, car shows, the National Cherry Festival--all of which bring a new load of visitors to town.  At first, residents welcomed the tourists--and their cash in a bad economy--with open arms.  But now a growing number of people are getting fed up with not being able to access the lakeshore, park on the street or get a table at a popular restaurant--and they would like more time for Traverse City to be about Traverse Citians.  It's even gained its own catch phrase: "Festival Fatigue".

The Convention and Visitors Bureau folks are trying to shout down this anti-tourism sentiment, tossing around their economic impact figures--but even city supervisors are beginning to wonder if that really makes up for the added expense and strain on municipal services and the aggravation endured by residents.  Those commissioners are now considering a "festival limit" to give people a break.

While I may not have been talking about Oshkosh in the open, Traverse City should serve as a "canary in the mine" for our city.  Already, we are seeing some of our own "festival fatigue" here.  City Manager Mark Rohloff has publicly expressed his concern that the number of events around town is already straining police and first responder resources.  You can't have officers and EMT's on overtime every weekend.  City Councillors have tossed out the idea of increasing the Special Event Permit Fee even more to not only cover those rising costs--but to also serve as a greater revenue source for other departments.  We've been telling you for months now about one event that can't even pay the event fee it is currently being charged.  And don't event think about trying to use Highway 41 on any of the nights that Country USA is going on--which is a huge safety issue for those just trying to drive to Fond du Lac or Appleton.

And these issues are only going to be exacerbated in the future.  It is an open secret that a third multi-day music event is coming to Ford Festival Park next year.  The DNR recently eased the limits on fishing tournaments in the state--meaning the Lake Winnebago system could host even more events.  The EAA is moving up the date for Airventure starting in 2015--compacting the event schedule for June and July even more.  And don't forget that the renovated Convention Center and downtown hotel are supposed to be bringing in thousands of more people on a regular basis as well.

If Oshkosh isn't careful, we could start "over-booking" ourselves as well.  Instead of "Festival Fatigue" we'll have to call it "Event Exasperation".

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What We Celebrate Today

It seemed like a harmless enough tweet when it showed up on my Twitter timeline yesterday.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wanted her followers to know:

Good news: 1.46 million people have been found eligible for Medicaid and CHIP in the 1st month of open enrollment.

(In case you are wondering, CHIP is the Children's Health Insurance Program--an extension of Medicaid.)

I'm sure that what the HHS Secretary is wanting to "celebrate" is that nearly 1.5 million people will be getting some form of health insurance coverage at the start of the new year.  But what Ms Sebelius is forgetting in calling this "Good news" is the underlying situation that forced these people to require Medicaid or CHIP coverage in the first place.

How would it look if the tweet went like this?

Good news: 1.46 million adults and children are too poor to buy their own health insurance.

 Wouldn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and bring a smile to your face knowing that many people were facing that type of situation?  Would this tweet make you feel any better:

Good news: 1.46 million people lost jobs that provided them with health insurance.

Woo Hoo, Madame Secretary!  That really is worth celebrating!  And where is the tweet announcing the other option for providing people with health insurance coverage--which doesn't seem to be as high a priority in the Obama Administration:

Good news: 1.46 million people found employment that provides them with health insurance last month.

We won't see that tweet from anybody in the White House anytime soon because A) This economy will never produce that kind of job growth and B) The Obama Administration measures its success by the number of additional people that it can put onto government assistance. When you think about it, we should really be getting a bunch of "good news" tweets on a regular basis:

Good news: A new record number of people are on Food Stamps--47 million!

Good news: Fewer Americans are working--just 63.8%--the lowest since 1978!

Good news: The poverty rate didn't go down this year--still 50-million people!

I guess that in an era where success is vilified and that which is earned by a few should be "shared" with the rest--we should expect such celebration of failure.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Carnival Barker In Chief

President Obama will be doing a new infomercial for the Affordable Care Act today.  Expect to hear a little bit about the "New and Improved" HealthCare.gov website (Now functioning properly 80% of the time--yes you heard right, 80% of the time!)--but more about all of the "great" features already in place--that the vast majority of Americans are apparently too ignorant to notice and therefore must be reminded of every few weeks. 

The cancelled policies, rate hikes and decreased plan options will be conspicuously absent from the sales pitch (Problems? Uh what problems? Hey, look at the great features!!) or just poo-pooed as things that had to happen to make things "fair" for everyone else.  And expect the President to renew his ludicrous call to have families talk about signing up for health care during their holiday gatherings (Tell your friends! Tell your neighbors! Tell everyone you know about the great deals we are running down here at Barry's Health Insurance Emporium and Free Benefits Supercenter!)

This all leads me to wonder, why does so much marketing effort have to go into something that we were told repeatedly for the last six years that people "desperately wanted and needed"--and which is now required by law to purchase?  If the "benefits" of the Affordable Care Act were as in demand as we have been told, the Health Insurance Exchanges should sell themselves.  Does the Oshkosh Wastewater Treatment facility have to run ads or issue press releases reminding people to flush their toilets?  It costs us money (and soon to be more money) to do that--but the benefits provided by the service far outweigh the cost.

And yet, of the 10-million people that needed to sign up through HealthCare.gov, fewer that 200-thousand have done so through the first two months.  Yes there have been website problems--but the more likely cause is that people are getting through all the way to the part where they pick their plan and finally get to see what it costs--and they realize that what they are being asked to pay isn't worth it.  If you believe some surveys, these "dissastified customers" thought what they were about to get was free--while many others failed to understand that they will have to pay their premiums up front--before they can cash in on the federal tax subsidy.  And that is when the find out that the Carnival Barker In Chief has been selling them an overpriced bottle of "firewater" that isn't going to cure a thing.

If the President was smart, he would move from "salesman" to "bad cop" and remind all of these "scofflaws" that they are about to be in violation of federal law. (Health Care Reform is the LAW OF THE LAND--and if you won't buy into it, then I will have no choice but to come down on your HARD with my legion of IRS agents and fines--I mean "taxes" for constitutionality purposes!!)  You could call that going with a "hard sell" if you will.  Because without those young, healthy Americans buying those overpriced policies--the next ad campaign for ObamaCare will be for the "Going Out Of Business Sale".

Monday, December 2, 2013

Give the Gift of Childhood Obesity This Holiday Season

After spending the weekend perusing sales flyers and viewing endless TV commercials, it appears to me that few--if any--of this year's "hottest toys" require children to engage in any physical activity or leave the house.  I doubt any parent will allow Junior to take his $150 Leapfrog Tablet outside.  I don't see much activity involved in getting your Furby to interact with you.  And none of the ten pages of video game-related items will get your kid off the couch anytime soon.  Heck, with the headphone attachment, your kids won't even have to see their friends in person anymore to "play" with them.

I will grant you that I come from a totally different generation of kids.  We didn't have 550 cable TV channels and on-demand programming to watch whatever we wanted--or YouTube or Hulu for that matter.  What passed for video games were lame, and took about two days to "solve"--so they got pretty boring after that.  So we had to do a lot more "self entertaining" in those days.  And our toys reflected that.

For me, sports equipment was always big.  Best Christmas gift ever? My basketball hoop and backboard.  It started a life-long love for the game--which I still play a couple of times a week, at the age of 41.  Baseball gloves and bats were huge too.  And a bike was like the ultimate gift you could get--because of the freedom it represented.  A kid with a bike could go to more friends' houses, or down to the river or the park or just have races with his buddies to see who was the fastest.

Kids who weren't into sports when I was a kid got BB guns to shoot in the fields or the woods--or Star Wars stuff that you could chase each around with both in the house and outside.  Plus, sleds and those aluminum saucers were popular at Christmastime because you could actually use those right away--instead of having to wait for the warm weather to come back.

Unfortunately, kids don't get those experiences from their gifts anymore.  Madden NFL 25 is the way today's boys (and full-grown men) "play football".  Why argue over who is going to be "Terry Bradshaw" or "Franco Harris" like when I was a kid--when a certain gameplay option can allow you to both be Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson--at the same time.  Plus, who ever suffered a concussion pretending to be Clay Matthews and delivering a huge pixelated hit to an animated opponent?  Why have a plastic light sabre that makes the cool "whoom" noise when you and your buddy recreate Luke versus Darth Vader on the Death Star (minus the loss of a hand part) when Star Wars the Force Unleashed lets you kill each other as many times as you want with the use of a controller--and no one has to worry about knocking over a lamp.  There's also no need to try and chase down butterflies or other insects in the yard when your Leapfrog has an app that can show you hundreds of pictures and videos detailing the life cycle of a bug in just two minutes--plus, you never get dirt on your designer-brand pants that way.

So as you wrap those "interactive" toys, the Ipod accessories and the video games for "Santa" to leave under the tree--keep in mind your not just substituting love and affection with an object--you're also giving the "gifts" of childhood obesity and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  That must be what educators are talking about when they say that today's kids are "more well-rounded" than those of us from the '70's and '80's.