Thursday, February 28, 2013

No Way to Run a Country

It is times like these that I wish we had a Parliamentary system of government--where national elections could be called on short notice--and everyone could be voted out in an instant.  That way, all of the members of Congress currently involved in the standoff over the Sequester could be sent packing--while the issue is still top of mind.

We are at the latest deadline for the "Fiscal Cliff" and neither house of Congress is scheduled to hold a vote on anything today.  There's nothing scheduled for tomorrow either.  So it would be pretty safe to assume that the Sequester is going to happen--and nothing will be done about it.  And everyone in Washington is to blame for that.

We can start with President Obama.  What is his plan?  What specific details can you cite that the President has laid out that will move the US away from the current debt ceiling and toward deficit reduction?  Don't feel bad if you can't answer that--because there isn't a plan.  The President's plan has been: "Congress, come up with some solution here." 

And speaking of Congress, how many stories have you heard this week, this month or this year about party leaders getting together to hash out an agreement?  How many debates have been held on the floor of Congress going late into the night this month arguing the points of a potential solution?  Again, don't feel bad if you can't name any--because there haven't been any.  The past month has been spent making appearances on news channels and Sunday morning talk shows and making YouTube videos and Tweeting and Facebooking.

We as Americans deserve better than this.  We deserve representatives that actually make an effort to fix problems--rather than defend turf.  We deserve politicians that are willing to compromise on a few small things so that bigger issues can be resolved.  And we deserve leaders who will actually LEAD--who will confront problems head on and try to fix them as soon as possible--not at the absolute last minute.

Of  course, when you consider that just four months ago we sent the vast majority of the clowns who have acted like this for years right back to Washington, maybe we are getting what we deserve.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fear of a Black (Ink) Planet

We have another indication this week just how far we have to go to change the norms that have been accepted for far too long in our economy.  The Pew Research Group is out with a new study showing Americans under the age of 35 are carrying considerably less debt than previous generations following the "Great Recession".  As a devotee of Dave Ramsey and the debt-free lifestyle, this news warms my heart.  It would appear that the next generation is realizing that they cannot afford to overextend themselves like those before them did--leading us down the path of economic turmoil that we are now dealing with.

However, those grasping to the "conventional wisdom" of "borrow to the max and work the rest of your life to pay it off" are decrying this trend.  None other than Fortune Magazine (how ironic is that) says reduced debt among young consumers is a HORRIBLE thing for the economy.  Their argument is that if young adults "can't afford to borrow" when interest rates are practically zero--how will they ever be able to buy a house or new cars or all of those clothes at Macy's?

I would counter, that it was the myopic focus on getting young adults (and middle aged ones as well) to spend more than they make year after year after year that got us into our current malaise.  The "recovery" following 9/11 wasn't based on actual income growth of consumers--it was entirely an increase in the availability of credit--and people's willingness to dive head-first into the ocean of red ink.  But once all of those bills came due--especially the "creative home financing"--the entire system collapsed.

By putting off borrowing--either until they are more secure in their jobs or until they have paid off all of their current debt or until they see that Uncle Sam isn't saddling them with huge bills to pay further down the road--today's Young Americans are building the base for a (I can't believe I'm using this term) "more sustainable" economy in the future.  You know who doesn't default on their mortgages?  People who can actually afford the payments--even in a financial pinch.  You know who will have more money for retirement and health care?  People who don't pay 18% interest on every tank of gas, meal at a restaurant and article of clothing they buy.

Will such a financial strategy mean slower economic growth for the next few years?  It could.  But those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.  So if you're one of those people rejecting the temptations of debt, I applaud you for your strength and your wisdom.  We are all counting on you to stay the course--no matter what the "economic experts" may tell you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Another Thing to Add to the List of Things We Can Never Say or Do Again

Did you hear about the controversy a food ad in New York City created last week?  Whole Foods rolled out front window signs showing President Obama touting their fried chicken.  Several media outlets ran stories about how shoppers (no all African-American) were INSULTED that a black man was being used to promote fried chicken.

So I guess depicting people of African-American descent enjoying or advertising certain food products is the latest entry on the list of "THINGS WE CAN NEVER SAY OR DO AGAIN!!".  As one shopper in teh on-line story points out, watermelons are apparently off-limits as well.  Someone should probably alert Popeye's Chicken that the black woman featured in the "Lousiana Fast" TV and print ads is insulting and should be replaced immediately by a white guy.  The same goes for KFC and the African-American man decked out in the groovy 70's gear and an Afro in their current TV campaign--because that is obviously playing up painful stereotypes for viewers.  Thank goodness Colonel Sanders wasn't black or his image would have to come down too.

There are a couple of very ironic things in this "controversy". One, Whole Foods is one of those hippy-dippy, bleeding heart companies that the Left already supports (although the CEO did irritate liberals by calling ObamaCare "facism"--but that was obviously his inner businessman exposing itself).  Most shoppers call the chain "Whole Paycheck Foods" due to the exorbitant prices they charge--because all of their products are organic, free-range, wild-caught, pesticide-free, dolphin-friendly, fair-trade approved.  And that is important to their shoppers--who believe everyone should pay more for their food--instead of using genetically-altered crops to feed billions more people than so-called "natural" processes ever could.

The second irony here is that President Obama is used to shill tons of other stuff already.  As I pointed out a couple of months ago here, you can't log onto the internet without seeing "Obama orders credit card companies to forgive debt" or "President lowers re-fi rates".  And let's not forget the "limited edition" coins, plates, painted quarters and figurines that were sold to commemorate his "Historic First Inauguration".

Anyway, I just hope that all of those "insulted" by President Obama selling fried chicken never read the novel or watch the movie "The Help".  By the way, Fuzzy Zoeller, you are still not off the hook either!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Health Care Supermarket

Imagine if you went to the supermarket one day and there were no prices on the shelves.  There were no in-store specials, no coupons, no special buys and no limited time offers.  When you went to the store's website to find out about any deals, the weekly ads were replaced by an interview with the Produce Manager talking about how important it is to him that you that you enjoy your broccoli and a testimonial from a woman who ate donuts from the bakery and how good she felt after that.

And when you went to check out, those at the registers wouldn't be able to tell you the price of anything you had put in your cart.  All they could do is record what you wanted and send it off to another person at an office not even in the same building--who would actually figure out your bill.  But even then, you wouldn't know your true costs, because that bill would first go to a third party who would pay--on average--88% of the tab.  You would finally get the bill from your "shopping trip" two or three months later--long after you have eaten the food.

How would that affect the way you shop?  Would you even consider what you purchase anymore?  Would you bother to review the weekly flyers or store websites--putting together a list of what to buy and at what store?  Would items that you used to consider a "luxury"--like steak or lobster or French wine--just become something you put in the cart without any thought--since it "feels good" to eat them, and they are no longer "expensive"?

I thought about this situation Sunday morning when I went shopping for ingredients for my deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza--right after watching George Stephanopolus and the gang on "This Week" debate the cover story in the latest issue of Time magazine on the ever-increasing price of health care.  Of course, the recommendation the reporter makes is that MORE people should be in the Medicare program to "increase the government's buying power" in the market.  While the Conservative talking heads argued for greater patient responsibility in order to increase demand for price competition among providers.

When was the last time you saw a clinic or a hospital advertise price or value?  I'm not talking about emergency care--where time cannot be taken to consider health care choices (that cost will require major tort reform to free doctors from having to order a battery of tests for every patient to "rule out" every possible medical condition in order to avoid "failure to diagnose" lawsuits).  But why don't you ever see ads for Quick Care centers as the "value" alternative to ER visits?  Or surgical centers touting a lower price for their services than competitors?  The only thing we ever hear is how the "experience" at Hospital A or with Doctor Feelgood is all that matters.  The only areas where you do see this is in Dentistry, Optometry and Plastic Surgery--fields where insurance coverage is usually limited and patients pay more out of pocket (and where premiums haven't exploded like they have for standard health coverage).

As long as "price is no object" in medical care, costs will never stop spiraling out of control.  And the more those of us who don't even go to the "supermarket" will have to pay for those who do.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Real Health Care Reform

Most Conservatives shy away from reading the Op-Ed Section of the New York Times, but every once in a while a golden nugget of well-reasoned logic shines through the usual slop of ivory tower, theoretical, overly-academic, liberalism.  One of those nuggets appeared this week in an article by media company CEO David Goldhill.

Goldhill writes about the enormous burden borne by today's young workers to pay for health care costs--most of which won't even be their own.  Goldhill estimates a 23-year old worker he just hired will pay at least $1.8 MILLION for health care over her career--including her portion of insurance premiums, the company's share of those premiums, deductibles, Medicare taxes and the percentage of state and federal taxes that fund health care programs.  $1.8 MILLION that could have otherwise found a way into her checking account over the next 40+ years.

There are two great passages from Goldhill's column I want to highlight here--dealing with how real health care reform would save more of us money.  The first deals with the ludicrous way health insurance currently operates--on the assumption that all of us are going to suffer a major medical condition every year and that policies should subsidize all of the most common medical procedures:

Try to imagine what homeowners’ insurance would look like if we expected everyone’s house to burn down and then added coverage for each homeowner’s utility bills and furniture wear-and-tear. This would be insanely expensive without meaningfully reducing anyone’s risk. That, in short, is how health insurance works.

And then Goldhill proposes a real way to bring health care costs back in line:

Here’s a completely different idea, one that might actually work. Let’s give every American health insurance, but only for truly rare, major and unpredictable illnesses. In other words, let’s cover everyone but not everything. It would take a generation to transition fully to such a system, but eventually the most routine and expected medical treatments, from checkups and minor illnesses all the way to common chronic conditions and expected end-of-life care, would be funded from our individual health savings; only the most major needs — for example, cancer, stroke and trauma — would be paid out of insurance.

I couldn't bring myself to check out the comments posted below Goldhill's column.  I already knew the average NYT reader would make the same old liberal argument that "people can't be trusted to save money that is provided to them--so the government should hold that money for them".  Anyway, I just thought everyone would enjoy a well-reasoned, well-argued point on health care reform.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taking the Long View

Something interesting that happens when you stop spending every dollar you make and you instead save for the future is that you start taking a "long view" approach to money.  I was thinking about that last night as I heard the Democratic response to Governor Walker's new budget proposal.  Almost to a person, the Left was saying that the proposed income tax cuts included in the budget will "only mean a couple hundred bucks to middle class families" and how that will "hardly make a difference".

Well let's take a look at how much of a "difference" $200 less in taxes to my middle class family.  Because my wife and I already budget for pretty much every expense already, that $200 will go into our retirement investments.  The mutual funds in which we invest have an average annual return of 10.2% over their "lives".  That means a one time investment stands a pretty good chance of growing to $2,167 by the time we reach the age of 65 (25 years).  Barring runaway inflation and devaluation of the dollar due to our profligate Federal spending of today, that should cover five to six months of groceries for a retired couple.

But keep in mind that the above example is based on paying $200 less in taxes for just one year.  If we are allowed to pay $200 less every year until our retirement--again putting that money into our mutual funds--that investment would grow to $24,606 by the time we are 65.  That would be almost an entire extra year of work (net income) for my wife.  And I'm sure she would like to be "rocking the retirement community" one year earlier.

And taking the long view works in the other direction as well, if you will.  When you hear politicians talk about paying "just a little bit more" for this program or that for that project that means the same amount that we were adding to our future security is coming out of that potential nest egg.

This approach doesn't apply just to income or property taxes.  Is "unlimited minutes, data, and messaging" right now worth having to put in an extra year on the job?  Or is a Tall Venti Mocha Half Caf Chai Latte every morning now worth being only able to afford Sanka after you can't work anymore?

Yes, taking the long view requires a great deal of patience and discipline.  And in today's "I want it all and I want it now" society, it's much easier to just vote for politicians who promise to provide you all the "security" you need--at the greater expense of everyone behind you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why I Oppose School Vouchers

There is nothing that disappoints me more than Conservatives pushing for the expansion of the school voucher program.  I am vehemently opposed to the idea of school vouchers for several simple reasons.

1--The First Amendment.  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".  The vast majority of school vouchers go to private, Christian and Catholic schools.  Taxpayer money should not be used to fund promotion of religion.  Having gone to Catholic schools for 8 years, I can tell you that even if you are "excused" from religious activities during the school day (an argument used to refute the First Amendment argument), the prayers, crucifixes and pictures are still there in front of you all day.  And what do you think the reaction would be from the Religious Right if a Milwaukee or Madison mosque opened a school and vouchers were being used there?  I'm guessing there would be far less celebrating the "freedom of choice" being exercised by those families.

2--It's nothing more than petty politics.  School voucher supporters have an axe to grind with what they see as the "liberal control" of public schools.  What better way to subvert that control than to bleed off students and put them in classrooms where they will learn the "values" that I mentioned in item number one?  There is a reason this has been a Milwaukee and Racine program for such a long time.

3--Lack of accountability.  Democrats are 100% correct in saying that private schools are not held to the same academic standards as public schools.  For some reason, school voucher supporters believe that once a kid enters a religious school classroom they suddenly become smarter and more focused.  The limited testing that has been done show absolutely NO difference between kids taken from the public schools and put in the private schools and those left in their "failing" schools.

4--It runs counter to everything else Conservatives promote--All of us promoting smaller government roll our eyes at plans to increase funding for subsidized day care, ObamaPhones and mortgage assistance programs--arguing that people should manage their money better to afford those things.  We would never promote a program to use taxpayer dollars to buy cars for people so they don't have to use public transportation.  And Republicans have been arguing most vehemently for a Constitutional amendment preventing the use of gas taxes and transportation fees from being used for anything other than roads.  Yet, those same people want to take property taxes--which are constitutionally earmarked for City, County and PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION--and use them for another purpose!

Even if you disagree with my first three points, you have to agree with the fourth one--just for the sake of consistency.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why I Vote Every Time

The usual response to my reminders to get out and vote today has been "For what?"  And when I explain that there is a primary for State Supreme Court (and nothing else) on the ballot (at least here in Oshkosh), the reply has been "Why vote in just one race?"  Well, here is why I make sure to vote every time--in every election: Jesse Jackson, Jr.

For those not familiar, Jackson is a now-former Congressman from Chicago--and the son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson.  Jackson is currently facing federal charges after using $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle that included fancy cars, trips and sports memorabilia.  Jackson also garnered national attention when he basically disappeared for most of his last term in office--not casting a single vote on the fiscal cliff bill and not bothering to make campaign appearances in advance of the November election.  His office would only say that he was undergoing medical treatment.  It turns out that Jackson was in a mental ward at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota--being treated for bi-polar disorder.

You may have noticed that I used the term "former Congressman" in describing Jackson.  But it was not because he lost his seat in Washington in the last election.  Jackson resigned three weeks after easily winning re-election in his Chicago district.  And it's not like all of the news surrounding his legal and mental health issues came out AFTER the election.  It was widely publicized that Jackson and his wife (a member of the Chicago City Council) were misusing campaign funds, were facing federal charges and that he was suffering from severe mental disease.  Despite all of that, 71.7% of voters in his district still went to the polls on November 6th and said "This is the guy that I want representing me in Washington."  (And by technically "winning" that additional term--even without serving a single day--Jackson's federal pension increases to $45,000--if he is allowed to actually keep it).

And so I will brave the cold and the snow again today to get to my polling place and be one of the few dozen who casts a ballot there in an otherwise "meaningless" February primary.  Because I almost feel an obligation to somehow "cancel out" the stupidity of those who vote for people like former Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Real Threat From Nature

How about the show the Cosmos put on last week?  A meteor streaks across the sky in Russia, causing explosions that injured more than a thousand--AND an asteroid passes closer to the planet than some of our communications and weather satellites within days of each other.  Astronomers believe that the two events are likely not related.  But they do exemplify the very REAL threat to all life on our planet.

And yet, I am not hearing any calls from environmentalists, animal rights groups, the United Nations or Democrats to do anything about this.  The objects that struck and passed near planet Earth last week are dust bunnies and pebbles compared to some of the other objects floating around the solar system and the galaxy.  And NASA readily admits that they are unable to track more than 99% of those space rocks.  We got a couple weeks head notice about the asteroid--but there was no notice at all about the Russian meteor.  So where are the alarmists demanding immediate action to "protect the planet"?

This is a threat that we know IS going to happen again.  The dinosaurs flourished during one of the warmest periods in Earth's history (as did all of the plant life and fauna that now provides us with oil and coal).  But they didn't die off suddenly because the planet got "too hot".  They (along with nearly all other life on the planet) were killed by the after-effects of a giant meteor strike--which blocked out sunlight and caused severe global cooling.  A couple of other mass extinctions can be attributed to meteor and asteroid strikes as well in the billions of years of Earth's history.

So again, why the lack of outcry from those looking to "protect Mother Earth"?  Is it because this threat can't be blamed on the rich, or industry, or the United States?  Is it because the "industrial war complex" would actually be part of the solution?  Or is it because you would have to admit that one medium sized meteor strike would do enough to lower the temperature of the Earth far more than the uber-expensive green energy programs that you promote to retard the progress of mankind?

Now don't think that we need some Hollywood solution to prevent an asteroid strike.  There's no need to build titanium Space Shuttles to land on the asteroid so crews of miners can blow it up by drilling a hole 500-feet deep and dropping in an atomic bomb to miraculously destroy the rock seconds before disaster.  (Armageddon is without a doubt, the most laughable sci-fi movie in the history of cinema.)  Most astrophysicists believe a laser or a proton ray could be used to "nudge" the threatening object on a different path while it is still millions of miles away from Earth--causing it to miss us (this time around).  Also needed would be a system of satellites and ground facilities facing out to track sudden changes in orbital patterns of objects in our neighborhood. 

If we have been so willing to waste billions of dollars to keep wind turbines functioning, I would think spending the same amount to actually protect the planet from a REAL threat might be a better use of our resources. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Stultior, Extorquendo, Rapacitate

We've known for decades that members of the International Olympic Committee are money-grubbing scum--interested only in lining their own pockets and those of their cronies.  But now they appear to be hell-bent on destroying the very spirit of the Games.  How else to explain the decision this week to put Wrestling on the chopping block for the 2020 Games. 

Wrestling is one of the core sports upon which not just the Modern Games were built--but the Ancient Olympics Games as well (insert naked Greek guys jokes here).  It captures one of the most basic nature of human competition--I think that I am stronger than you, and I'm about to prove it.

Some of America's greatest Olympians were wrestlers.  Dan Gable (the GREATEST WRESTLER OF ALL TIME) didn't give up a single point to his opponents in capturing the Freestyle Gold at the 1972 Games in Munich.  Rulon Gardner gave us the "Miracle On The Mat" in ending Russian Aleksandr Karelin's 13-YEAR undefeated streak to win Gold in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 2000 games in Sydney.  That same year Garrett Lowney from tiny Freedom, Wisconsin won Bronze in his weight class in Greco-Roman.  In 2004, Kurt Angle won Gold in Freestyle competing with BROKEN VETERBRAE IN HIS NECK!!  That same year, Cael Sanderson capped off an undefeated amateur career (with a record 4 UNDEFEATED NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS) with Freestyle Gold.  And in Beijing in 2008, Henry Cejudo--the son of illegal immigrants in South Central LA--became the youngest American wrestler EVER to win a Gold medal.

And those are just the stories of American glory.  There are hundreds of similar athletes with similar amazing tales from dozens of other countries over the years as well.  But that isn't good enough for the IOC.  Wrestling's biggest problem?  It doesn't make for good TV.  Better to have the "chick flick" equivalent of sports: Synchronized Swimming or Rhythmic Gymnastics in order to assure better ratings--and thus bigger TV contracts from NBC.

If the IOC needs to cut a sport to save Wrestling, could I offer up Golf as an option?  Golf needs the Olympics like it needs longer rounds and slower play.  Golf already has four major events (cleverly called "Majors") EVERY YEAR.  Plus, it already has heated international competitions like the Ryder Cup and President's Cup being contested on biennial cycles.  Besides, the British Open has qualifying events on every continent except Antarctica--making it a de facto "World Championship".  But the IOC decided a couple of years ago that it wanted in on the money that big-time golf can bring in.

2016 will be the first Olympic Golf Tournament (provided Rio de Janeiro can actually get the course built in time)--and the hope is that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will play--bringing with them the huge built-in TV audience and sponsors.  That is not a given however, as Tiger cares only about the Majors (and an Olympic Gold wouldn't count toward his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18) and Rory may sit out because he is worried about offending entire nations--since he is eligible to play for either Great Britain or Ireland.  So how many people would tune in if Team USA is Matt Kuchar and Keegan Bradley?

But golf will stay, if only for the giant dollar signs attached to it.  You don't think Titleist/Addidas, Taylor Made, Nike and all the other manufacturers aren't going to pony up big bucks to be the "Official Driver, Fairway Woods, Irons, Wedges, Putter, Ball, Tee, Bag, Shirt, Shoes, Spikes, Cap, Umbrella, Divot Repair, Towel and Gloves of the Olympic Games"?  It's too bad wrestlers only have shoes, singlets and those ear muffs to sell.

If sensibility is not restored by 2020 and Wrestling is not re-instated as a sport, it might be time to change the Olympic motto from "Citius, Altius, Fortius" ("Faster, Higher, Stronger) to "Stultior, Extorquendo, Rapacitate" (Dumber, Cockier, Greedier)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Making ObamaCare Stand On Its Own

There goes Governor Scott Walker undermining the Affordable Care Act again.  On Wednesday, the Governor rejected the "ObamaCare" requirement to add more people to the BadgerCare program--and said "No" to an additional $30-Million in Medicaid funding.  This follows Walker's decision to let the Federal Government to set up the Health Care Exchanges also required by the new law.  You know, it's almost like the Governor wants those responsible for foisting this monstrosity on us to take the fall when it ultimately fails miserably.

Let's start with Health Care Exchanges.  Washington mandated them--then tried to push off the cost and responsibility to set up and monitor them to the states.  Some governors--who love having even more bureaucracy and control jumped at the chance to set up yet another level of state government.  Others--like Governor Walker--told Washington "You are the experts at this--why don't you do all of the leg work and bear all of the expense?"  And Democrats howled that Wisconsin's exchanges won't be as good because they were going to be set up by the Obama Administration.  Excuse me, but the folks at Health and Human Services are the "architects" of "ObamaCare", how could they possibly not set up the most efficient system that will guarantee the best rates and coverages?

And now with the Governor's decision not to have the Badgercare program bear more of the brunt of the ACA expenses, Walker is again forcing Washington to put its money where its mouth is.  All the Governor's decision means is that fewer people will be using Federal funds filtered through the Badgercare program to get their health insurance coverage--and more will be taking their Federal vouchers to purchase health insurance through the Exchanges.  The two big differences is that those above the poverty line will likely have more "skin in the game" than those below the line on Badgercare (and having a stake in the game will likely lead to some better lifestyle choices)--and when Medicaid funding is cut in the future to deal with the Federal Deficit Crisis, state taxpayers won't get stuck with the cost of subsidizing the Badgercare program at an even higher level.

And don't buy the arguments that you will hear over the next few days from those upset with the Governor's decision.  First off, doing it "Walker's Way" will not mean any fewer people will have health insurance--because the Affordable Care Act REQUIRES EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN TO HAVE HEALTH INSRUANCE!!  This is why the Exchanges are there, to allow non-group buyers to purchase policies from all of those companies that will be "competing" for their business.  (Remember, that is going "drive down the cost of health insurance"--having to cover all of those people who under the old standards of risk assessment those insurers wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.)

And then there is my favorite argument: "That money is going to be spent elsewhere anyway".  We heard that after Walker told the Feds to keep their $300-Million for less-than-high-speed rail service in the state.  That money instead went to California--which needed it, since their moderate-speed rail projects are looking at going over budget by about 100%.  So let the Federal Medicaid dollars go to Illinois or California or Massachussetts--which are being buried by debt created by other government programs. 

Besides, we all know that "ObamaCare" is designed to fail anyway--so a Democrat somewhere in the future can make a "stronger case" for the ultimate liberal goal of a budget-crushing single-payer system.  So why don't we just end the charade sooner than later and just get to what you guys want in the first place?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Twitter--But For Radio

Since social media appears to be the only way to reach people about politics--here are my thoughts on the State of the Union address--180 characters at a time.

--Middle class Americans used to worry about outliving their retirement savings.  Now we have to try to outlive the taxes and debt we are creating in Washington every day.

--It's too bad the "shovel ready" jobs don't actually require the use of shovels anymore.  Hopefully all of those out of work accountants, retail clerks, and marketing specialists can get CDL's real quick.

--If every child has to attend, it's not "pre-school"--it is "school"

--I am now taking bets as to how soon we will have someone in front of the school board talking about the alarming number of 4-year olds who are "not ready to learn"--and how we need 3-year old kindergarten.

--I'm putting the over/under on that previous bet at ten minutes after the first day of "required pre-school".

--Remember how parents used to hold back five-year olds because they "weren't ready for school yet" and needed to spend a little more time at home?

--Has any Presidential message ever fallen on deafer ears than the "men need to stay with the mothers of their children"?

--How effective is the "men help raise your children" message anyway after you've just spent an hour talking about all of the free government programs you are going to provide to "needy kids"?

--What is the timeline before we have to send troops back to Afghanistan to deal with the Taliban and Al Qaeda resurgence there?  I'm putting the over/under at 5 years.

--What does it say about us that the number one most talked about topic from last night is that Senator Ricky Rubio drinks water while giving speeches?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Dreams

It took all of two minutes after yesterday's surprise announcement about the resignation of Pope Benedict for speculation to start in the electronic and social media about the possibility of Cardinal Timothy Dolan becoming the next Pontiff.  The former Milwaukee Arch-Bishop is out-going, engaging, well-spoken, knowledgeable on subjects far beyond theology and a natural leader.  He has become the face of the Catholic Church in the US, engaging the Obama Administration in the fight over mandatory coverage of contraceptives and abortion procedures in the Affordable Care Act.  He has just one thing going against him when it comes to consideration for Pope--he is an American.

The Vatican has no interest is selecting an American to lead the church.  Until recently, we were already the world leader in everything else--so why should we have that position of power as well?  And the Catholic Church in America is in a state of eclipse--with membership on the decline, a serious shortage of priests to serve congregations and an increasingly diminished role in society.  Furthermore, the sexual abuse coverup perpetrated across the country for decades has cost/will cost the Church millions and perhaps billions of dollars in settlements.  And the Vatican doesn't like to part with its money (to outsiders) easily.

There was plenty of talk yesterday about how a Dolan papacy would "re-invigorate" the Catholic faith in the US.  But would having an American Pope really change the attitudes that have led to its decline here?  Would ex-Catholics suddenly say "Oh, the Pope is an American?  I guess I don't care about the role of women in the hierarchy of the Church anymore."  Or "Since Timothy Dolan is the Pope now, I guess I do oppose gay marriage and contraception again."  And it's not like the "lip service" Catholics already in positions of power--like the Kennedys, the Cuomos and John Kerry are suddenly going to change their politics to fit church teachings.

It is far better for the Vatican to focus its attention on the areas where Catholicism is actually growing:  South America, Africa and Asia--societies where the Church's teachings and social stances still fit with societal norms.  And where religion is actually a part of the government structure--unlike the US, where the Founding Fathers clearly spelled out the separation of Church and State.  That being said, will the College of Cardinals actually be comfortable with watching a man of color don the Papal Mitre or the Fisherman's Ring?  I'd be willing they will not--meaning another European white man to head the Church.  I mean, they've only been in business for 2,013 years--no need to rush into any major changes too quickly.

Monday, February 11, 2013

When You Play With Anacondas......

Dave Ramsey (heard 2-5 weekdays here on News-Talk 1490 WOSH) has a saying about dealing with credit card companies "If you play with snakes long enough, eventually you are going to get bit."  That refers to the practices of huge late payment fees, jacked up interest rates and collection practices that border on bullying.  But after watching the 60 Minutes report last night on the three credit reporting bureaus, the little "snakes" you deal with at CitiBank and Capital One are apparently nothing compared to the "anacondas" that are apparently running TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

According to the report, 20% of all credit reports have major errors on them.  As Steve Kroft put it "a 20% error rate wouldn't be tolerated in many other businesses would it?"  And of those errors, half of them are preventing otherwise creditworthy people from getting loans.  To top it off, the bureaus--while they give you avenues to challenge errors--actually make NO EFFORT to remove incorrect information.  My favorite part of the report last night was Kroft sitting in a bar with the three "twenty-somethings" in Santiago, Chile who were the "executives" in charge of correcting information for Experian.  They admitted they weren't even allowed to call creditors to check on the information provided.  Their job was to merely read the complaints and put them into a numerical code that would be entered into a computer somewhere else.

As we watched the report, I told my wife "As soon as this is done, I'm getting all three of our credit reports".  But then, Kroft told us about a woman who was provided with "clean" reports, but was still being turned down for loans.  It turns out, the bureaus provide completely different reports to lenders than they do to consumers.  Furthermore, the lenders are not allowed to show the consumers those alternative reports (this woman snuck a peak when a banker left her alone in his office for a few minutes and found bad debts belonging to another woman had been put on her credit history).  So basically, the credit bureaus have circumvented the law requiring them to provide us with free reports every year--by creating these "alternative" reports that we are not allowed to see--but are the actual basis for our credit-worthiness in the eyes of lenders.

Now as someone who never plans to borrow money again, you would think that such a finding wouldn't get me that worked up.  But, there is an unfortunate trend in the business world that credit reports--and credit scores--are being used by insurers, employers and utilities to determine rates, hireability and service connection.  Why should the fact that I don't borrow money mean that I should pay more for car insurance?  Wouldn't an employer want a worker that isn't up to their eyeballs in debt to be in charge of handling money for them?  And wouldn't having a positive net worth make me more likely to pay my cell phone bill every month than someone swimming in red ink?

And since the bureaus aren't providing us with the "real" credit reports every year anyway, how can we really be sure that someone hasn't hijacked our identities--or that bad debts in other people's names are being put on our record?  Unfortunately, the only way to find out is to try and go into debt and see if you get rejected.

Hopefully, those non-credit businesses I mentioned before will consider the facts presented in the 60 Minutes report and drop the practice of doing credit checks for non-debt related items.  And hopefully those choosing to play the "credit game" realize that they will have no teammates with them on the field.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Don't Get It

In between reffing a high school game and playing in my own rec league basketball game last night, I was able to catch the Wisconsin Public Television documentary on Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing, "Under the Ice".  The video was shot during the 2010 opening day on the ice.  You had DNR Sturgeon "Guru" Ron Bruch, several local folks in their shanties and even a few lakeside business owners all discussing the phenomenon that is February on the lake.  It wasn't as good as the Wisconsin Supper Clubs documentary the WPT had a couple of years later--but it was fairly informative and didn't belittle the subjects in any way.

That being said, during the entire thing all I could think was "Holy cow, that looks INCREDIBLY boring".  Staring at a four foot by six foot hole in the ice for six hours a day?  I wouldn't last one hour on one day--much less an entire 16-day season. And I consider myself a pretty patient person--having sat through 7-hour city council, school board and county board meetings where they end up deciding to return the only interesting resolution back to committee for "further discussion".   And since an elusive sturgeon might spend only a few fleeting seconds in your hole, it's not like you can turn your attention away from the water--or risk losing your one chance.  Ron Bruch said the success rate averages about 13%--meaning you can expect to spear a sturgeon once every SEVEN YEARS. 

Now it may have been just the couple of shanties that the camera crews visited that day, but it seemed to me like the hole was a secondary--and in some cases even a tertiary concern for those out on the ice.  There were a number of shots that involved beer drinking--and there were a few liquor bottles in the background as well.  And I was surprised that they talked with so many female spearers as well.  You would think that being cooped up in a dark little shanty for hours on end trying to see an ugly fish wouldn't appeal that much to the ladies.

About the only "cringe-worthy" moment in the entire show was when they were talking with the folks driving out on the ice in full-size trucks--talking about how you "get to know" where the good ice and the bad ice is.  I almost had to turn away when they showed one couple driving over the fishing club bridges and there was open water underneath.

So best of luck to everyone hitting the ice tomorrow morning--and be safe.  I'd rather talk about how strange I find your love of staring at frozen water than telling our listeners about how you had to be fished out of that water.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How This Will End

Wednesday's announcement that the US Postal Service will discontinue Saturday delivery in August is just another step for a lumbering dinosaur into the tar pits of oblivion.  It is inevitable that the USPS will collapse under the weight of its pension obligations, infrastructure costs and general lack of interest in its service--forcing it cut delivery days to perhaps only four days or an every-other-day schedule--before finally becoming what it should be: a subscription or an on-demand service only.

But unlike the real dinosaurs, the Postal Service is unionized--and that means it has allies in halls of power that will do everything they can to preserve the current, over-bloated business model--no matter the cost to taxpayers.  However, they won't try to sell it to us a "pension, benefits and political spoils preservation effort"--they know that wouldn't fly with voters.  Instead, they will use the same arguments that have been used to successfully expand other government programs in recent years.

"Doing away with the mail will cost tens of thousands of jobs".  This is why we still have so many lighthouse-tenders, telegraph operators, blacksmiths, caboose attendants, lamplighters, trolleymen, and milkmen--because we just "couldn't afford to lose those jobs"--even if technology made them absolutely unneccesary.  Of course, most of those jobs were private-sector--and we know businessmen don't know how to do anything right.

"Doing away with the mail will unfairly impact the poor and the elderly".  Twenty percent of American households do not have internet access.  And yes, those people would be impacted the most by a reduced postal service.  But if you only need to serve one in five houses in every neighborhood only a couple of times a week, why would you keep in place the manpower and infrastructure to serve every house, every day? 

"Doing away with the mail will deny people their right to information".  This argument is also being used to justify public wi-fi access for inner cities and rural areas not currently served by broadband providers as well.  The "Right to Access to Information" is clearly spelled out in amendment--yeah, that's the ticket. 

"Doing away with the mail will just drive up the cost of sending anything through the USPS competitors."  I'd buy that argument, if USPS was actually competitive in price with its competition.  Did you know, that when you send something overnight or priority through the mail, that it travels in the same airplanes that FedEx ships their customer's packages and envelopes?  Any difference in price is then "eaten" by USPS and made up for in regular postage.  Plus, if it cost more to send something through the competition don't you think we would get a lot less junk mail and political advertisements?

Should the previous arguments fail, the postal union sympathizers could also take the ObamaCare approach--and force those not using the service to still pick up the cost.  How does an "Email Tax" sound?  or perhaps a "PDF Attachment Surcharge"?  Or a "Tablet Reader Magazine Subscription Fee"?  It's the fault of those of us who have chosen the faster and more expedient technologies to handle much of the business that used to go through the mail--so its "only fair" that we subsidize those who don't.

We all know what fate awaits the Postal Service--it's just too bad there are some who want to make it as long and as expensive as possible to get there.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Let's Keep Things In Perspective

Accolades will pour in for Donald Driver today when he holds his retirement announcement at the Lambeau Field Atrium this morning.  Double D certainly deserves much of that praise, as he was always accommodating to fans, was involved in the community and never got into any kind of off the field trouble.  He raised a lot of money for charity after picking up the Brett Favre softball game in Appleton.  His wife was also committed to literacy programs in the Green Bay area as well.

But can we please refrain from calling Driver the "Greatest Packers Receiver Ever"?  I know modern fans don't think anything happened before they were born, but Donald Driver is not even close to being the best pass catcher in franchise history.  That title continues to be held by Don Hutson.

Hutson is widely considered the first "moden" wide receiver in NFL history.  His main role wasn't to block on the end of the line for running plays--but rather to get downfield for long passes and big plays.  He was big for time and fast as well.  Defenses were completely unprepared to handle him--as most cornerbacks and safeties were smaller, slower and trained to tackle ball carriers more than defend deep pass routes.  His first ever play in the NFL was an 83-yard touchdown reception.

Hutson once scored 4 touchdowns IN A SINGLE QUARTER--still an NFL record (he also kicked all four extra points and one more as well for another single quarter record of 29-points).  He was the first 1,000 yard receiver--in a ten game season.  And most of his career and season receiving records lasted well into the 1980's and 90's--even after the game became more pass-happy and seasons expanded to 16-games.  When Jerry Rice and Steve Largent and Art Monk were breaking all of those records--they were all Don Hutson records.  And despite the offensive explosion in the game, Hutson still holds 13 NFL Records:

  • Most seasons led league, scoring: 5
  • Most consecutive seasons led league, scoring: 5
  • Most points scored in a quarter: 29
  • Most touchdowns scored in a quarter: 4
  • Most touchdown receptions in a quarter: 4
  • Most seasons led league, touchdowns: 8
  • Most consecutive seasons led league, touchdowns: 4
  • Most seasons led league, receiving touchdowns: 9
  • Most consecutive seasons led league, receiving touchdowns: 5
  • Most seasons led league, receptions: 8
  • Most consecutive seasons led league, receptions: 5
  • Most seasons led league, receiving yards: 7
  • Most consecutive seasons led league, receiving yards: 4
So please, when speaking about Donald Driver today, let's not get too carried away with estimations of his place in the history of the game and of the Green Bay Packers.  I get the feeling that despite all of the love, his name will never appear on the side of any buildings 70 years after his retirement today.

PS--James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe would also like to debate all-time Packer receiver rankings as well--and they have some pretty good arguments.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I Thought It Felt a Bit Chilly In Here

Now that the important stuff is done (the NFL Playoffs), let's turn our attention to Global Warming--oops, I mean Global Climate Change.  You may have missed the story a few weeks ago that a leaked United Nations report shows that estimates of global warming were overstated for years.  The report also admits that solar activity and sunspots are tied more directly to global temperature patterns than researchers initially wanted to admit.

Ok, this is more of a "Fox News" story, so it didn't get a lot of exposure in other media outlets--but it still deserves some serious discussion.  Let's start with why the initial UN numbers and reports predicting certain doom were wrong.  The scientific answer is that it is impossible to accurately predict weather and climate patterns when there are so many variables beyond human control.  Those refuting the impact of the leaked report seem to blame Mount Pinatubo's eruption in 1991 for a "temporary cooling" of the planet by putting solar-ray-deflecting ash into the upper atmosphere.  I get the feeling that the Icelandic volcano eruption (I'm not even going to try to spell the name of that one) that grounded flights all over Europe a few years ago will "mess up" future climatological projections as well.  And then it will be another volcano and another volcano......

But even if those who prepared the initial UN climate projections could have factored in unpredictable volcanic, ocean current and solar activity, they were still going to paint a "worst possible case scenario"--because they know nobody is going to worry about a few one hundredths of a degree, or even a few tenths of a degree over decades.  But tell them we are on the verge of "out of control global warming" and they might panic, well slightly.

While the UN alarmists may have been off on their projections, the fact is the earth has been getting warmer.  In fact, that has been happening for about 12-thousand years now.  As I often like to say to those preaching gloom and doom, the very spot where I am typing this was buried beneath a sheet of ice TWO MILES THICK at that time.  So let's find out what early Homo Sapien man was doing to cause the "sudden" change in climate that started the "domino effect" and we can stop doing that as well.  Or, we can continue to develop the technology and food crops to deal with slightly warmer temperatures over the next few centuries. 

However, if you still believe that man should go back to the caves and forage for his meals in order to "protect the environment" I would recommend claiming some spots on the coasts of South Africa--since those glaciers are coming back--global warming reports or not.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Bet You Didn't See That Coming

The ad agency that has been doing the Chrysler Corporation Super Bowl ads the last three years, Wieden + Kennedy, are deserving of more praise than I or anyone else can give them.  They have been able to take an "art form" that has deteriorated into stupid animal tricks, fart jokes and locker room humor and managed to make Americans actually THINK about something serious--for at least a few minutes every year.

Three years ago it was the Eminem "Imported From Detroit" ad that tried to dispel the notion that the Motor City was dead and had been left to rot.  Then it was the Clint Eastwood "Halftime In America" Jeep ad that took the same message to the rest of the country that feared that it too is dead and decaying.  And then this year, the company gave us not one but TWO reasons to actually think about ourselves.

The first was the Jeep ad narrated by Oprah Winfrey welcoming troops home from overseas.  The ad once again reinforces the special bond Jeep has had with the military for decades--and reminds us that there were a lot of people who made huge sacrifices so that we could sit on our couches and stuff our faces while watching a football game.

And it seemed like that was going to be it for "thinking persons" television for the night.  And then Chrysler came back with the Paul Harvey "God Made a Farmer" Ram Truck ad.  As the great-grandson of a farmer, the grandson of a farmer and a husband to a farmer's daughter, I was blown away by the powerful message.  And as a radio broadcaster, it was nice to hear the dulcet tone of Paul Harvey's voice one more time.  (In case you are wondering, Paul delivered that speech to the national FFA convention in Chicago back in 1978.)

The social media reaction was exactly what I expected.  Mid-Westerners--who are still close to the farm and who interact with those men and women every day could not say enough about how proud it made them feel--and what a tribute it was to a "forgotten class" of people in America.  Those from the East and West Coasts responded with snark--cracking jokes about odors, illegal immigrant workers and growing pot.  To them, milk will always come from a carton, vegetables from a produce display and burgers from McDonalds. 

And those farm fields with interesting designs will just be bastions of "God and Guns" in Red Flyover States--while those who do little more than talk for a living will go on believing that they are the ones who make America, "America".  I'm glad I know that will never be the case.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Super Bold Predictions

Time for the Annual Super BOLD Predictions for the big game on Sunday!

I predict that when NFL Network begins its 12 hours of pre-game coverage at 5:30 am, the first feature will be on the retirement of Ray Lewis.

I predict that when ESPN begins their 8 hours of pre-game coverage at 9:30 am, the first feature will be on the retirement of Ray Lewis.

I predict that when CBS begins its 6 hours of pre-game coverage at 11:30 am, the first feature will be on the retirement of Ray Lewis.

I predict that 60% of pre-game coverage will focus on Ray Lewis' retirement, 25% will be on the Brothers Harbaugh, 10% will cover everything you need to know about Deer Antler Velvet Spray and 5% will focus on actual matchups and strategies for the game itself.

I predict that Ray Lewis will do such an over-the-top introduction dance coming out of the tunnel that non-football-watching-wives will ask their husbands "Does that player have epilepsy?"

I predict the CBS technician in charge of editing out the profanity from field microphones will collapse in exhaustion while working on the tape of Ray Lewis' rambling pre-game rant to his teammates.

I predict that CBS will show five seconds of flag-waving during Alicia Key's National Anthem--and two-and-a-half minutes of Ray Lewis crying while listening to the song.

I predict that when the Ravens win the coin toss, Ray Lewis will collapse to the ground, kissing the field and crying while thanking God.

I predict the nation's phone and internet services will crash as millions of people try to contact their local Papa John's pizza to order the free medium one topping that they just won thanks to predicting the coin flip correctly.

I predict the kickoff will be a minimum 20-minutes later than the 5:30 time the NFL said it would be.

I predict Packers fans will want to throw their beer bottles through the TV as CBS shows highlights of Colin Kaepernick running wild in the NFC Divisional Playoff game.

I predict panic will sweep over the CBS production truck when on the third play of the game, Ray Lewis re-tears his Deer Antler Velvet Spray-repaired triceps muscle and is forced to head to the locker room.

I predict order will be restored in the CBS production truck when the producer tells everyone to switch to plan B--show Jack and Jackie Harbaugh's reaction to every play for the rest of the game.

I predict moments after the "racist" Volkswagen "Be Happy" ad airs, the CBS offices in New York will be flooded with calls from thousands of "offended" white liberals--there will be no calls from African-Americans or Jamaicans.

I predict that there will be MULITIPLE reports from MULTIPLE reporters on the status of Ray Lewis inside the locker room.

I predict that at halftime, Beyonce will NOT lip sync her performance--not that anyone would have noticed with the skimpy dress she will be wearing.

I predict that a tearful Ray Lewis will return to the Ravens sideline in street clothes for the second half--prompting Phil Simms to say "this will really inspire Baltimore to pull this game out" (like they had ZERO incentive to win before).

I predict that by the middle of the 3rd quarter, Jack Harbaugh will take to flashing the camera "the bird" so that they aren't shown after EVERY SINGLE PLAY!!

I predict that by the start of the 4th quarter, Frank Gore will be closing in on the Super Bowl rushing record of 204 yards held by Timmy Smith of all people--and Colin Kaepernick will be over the quarterback rushing record of 64 yard held by Steve McNair of all people.

I predict that non-football watching wives will complain about how "boring" the 49ers are--"because all they do is run the ball".

I predict CBS will forego showing any of the final two minutes of the game on the field--to focus exclusively on Ray Lewis hugging his teammates on the sidelines.

I predict a final score of San Francisco 31, Baltimore 10.

I predict NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be greeted with deafening BOOOOOOS from the New Orleans crowd for the post-game ceremonies.

I predict CBS will miss the Super Bowl trophy presentation to get a live report from several reporters standing outside the Ravens locker room hoping to get an interview with Ray Lewis.

I predict Frank Gore will be the Super Bowl MVP.

I predict that Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will admit post-game that John is their favorite--and they are disappointed that Jim won tonight.

I predict members of Ray Lewis' posse will kill Roger Goodell in the parking lot after the game--in retaliation for "disrespecting their boy".

And finally, I predict 80% of those watching the game will not be able to give you the correct final score the next morning.