Thursday, January 30, 2014

Good Luck With That

So the football players at Northwestern University have formed a union--with plans to be designated as "employees" of the college--and to eventually demand to be paid for their services.  I've taken the liberty of writing the response Northwestern administrators should provide to these athletes:

Dear prospective Northwestern employee,

Thank you for your interest in working for this University.  Be advised that the position of ATHLETE pays $65,000 a year.  You will find that because of Federal Title IX and other anti-gender discrimination laws, this rate shall apply to football players who draw 50,000 fans per game as well as female field hockey players who draw 50 people a game.  All athletes--regardless of the sport--will share equally in bonuses paid to the school for tournament and bowl appearances beyond the end of the regular seasons.  The university shall cover the costs of your training (practice and workouts) along with all of your equipment and travel.

All positions are available only to Northwestern University students in good academic standing.  Tuition for this school just happens to be $65,000 a year.  We have attached financial aid applications should you think that you will qualify.  You will also be responsible for your own housing expenses--which average about $7500 a year for campus units.  Private, off-campus housing is also available--but as an upscale Chicago suburb, that is very expensive.  In addition, you will be responsible for all meals.  The "unlimited" plan--which is recommended for athletes and their high-caloric needs--is $7,000.  All textbooks, lab materials and miscellaneous expenses will also be the responsibility of the employee.  Failure to maintain good academic standing will result in termination of employment.  Tutoring is available for a fee--and all employees will be responsible for co-ordinating make up tests and other missed class time due to travel for the job.

All employees of Northwestern are eligible for health insurance through the school--with the employee paying a percentage of their monthly premium.  All services provided by the Athletic Department medical staff shall be billed to the employee and the insurer.  We also recommend purchasing short-term and long-term disability in order to continue to receive a portion of your salary should you become injured and unable to work.  Life insurance is also available at an additional cost.

Recently negotiated legal settlements provide you with the right to use your name and likeness as you see fit.  If you would like to market merchandise bearing the logo of Northwestern University or any our trademarked uniform designs through a third party vendor, please contact the marketing and legal departments for information on the cost and approved use of those images.  The employee will bear the cost of production and sale of any such items.

Finally, the University reserves the right to terminate any employee for poor performance or failure to adhere to work rules.  Said employee will be responsible for any and all costs still owed to the school at the time of termination.

We look forward to working with you.

Given the academic standards of Northwestern, I would think that the football players getting that letter might be able to figure out that "working for free" wasn't such a bad deal after all.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Investing With the Enemy

Unable to compete on price, efficiency and reliability, those who are pushing the "Green Energy" agenda are turning again to their only effective means of "leveling the playing field" with fossil fuels--government legislation.  The latest effort comes from the Oshkosh Sustainability Board, which is asking the Common Council to approve a measure that would bar the city from holding any investments in companies that make their money through the production or sale of oil, coal and natural gas.

The city doesn't actually own stocks in any companies like that--but it does hold corporate bonds (loans) with at least Exxon Mobil.  These are very safe investments in Blue Chip companies that provide the city with better returns on reserve funds than having them sit in a bank getting less than one-percent.  But for those on the Sustainability Board, those investments are like blood money--allowing these corporations to wreak havoc on the planet by drilling exploration wells, building pipelines, and performing much-needed upgrades to aging refineries--all of which will continue to make fossil fuels affordable for the masses.

The divestiture request (should it be approved) will almost certainly be followed by a similar resolution demanding that the City take that money it used to hold in oil bonds and instead invest it in "Green Companies" that will be "helping the planet heal".  Companies like Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, Beacon Power, Ener1, Abound Solar, A123 Systems, Willard and Kesley Solar Group, Raser Technologies, Energy Conversion Devices, Mountain Plaza Inc, Olsen's Mills Acquisitions Company, Range Fuels, Thompson River Power, Stirling Energy Systems, Azure Dynamics, Nordic Windpower, Satcon, and Konarka Technologies Inc.

Never heard of those companies?  Well, I wouldn't expect you to--they all went bankrupt.  And combined with everyone's favorite--Solyndra--took more than $1.6-BILLION in Federal Stimulus funding down the drain with them.  Now as a taxpayer here in Oshkosh you should ask yourself, "Do I want my tax dollars going to companies like that--or to good old Exxon and BP--who won't be going anywhere for a while?"

In the end, this is nothing but a "feel good" measure anyway.  It's not like losing the potential investment of Oshkosh is going to prevent the Big Oil companies from selling their bonds and funding their future operations.  Private investors (including the union pension funds providing the retirement income for a number of Sustainability Board Members) will be more than happy to snap up the notes--knowing they are a sure thing.  That is, until the Environmentalists pass laws to take away that freedom as well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why We Are Failing In Education

With the cancellation of classes in all area school districts again today, we will soon find out just how much of a priority we place on our children's education.  All of the districts have run out of "snow days" that were built into the calendar at the start of the year.  That would mean making up today's lost time at the end of the year in June--or holding classes on a day that was previously scheduled as off--like during Spring Break.  You would think that would be an easy decision for districts to make, since their own surveys show that education is a "top priority" for the community--and their goal is to provide kids with the most education possible.  But what will come of our extreme winter is a tidal wave of opposition to any plans to add days back into the calendar.

Action Two News already had a story last weekend about parents who DON"T want the lost class time made up.  "We have a family trip planned at the end of the school year" one mother complained.  "My kids usually go to a camp in June--so we wouldn't want them to miss that if they had to make up days", worried another.

In those two comments, what message is sent to kids, administrators and the "community"?  That my child's education is not as important as a trip to Wisconsin Dells, or Great America or to the cabin up north or to some youth camp.  And forget about making up a day during Spring Break, because there are all of those trips to Florida, or Arizona, or the Bahamas (or un-chaperoned excursions for high school girls who end up dead on Aruba)--some of which were booked through clubs at the schools themselves!

Administrators are just as guilty of shuffling actual education to the bottom of the priority list.  You may recall a few years back, the Oshkosh School District (which at the time had NO snow days built into their calendar) passed on adding days to the end of the year and instead went with the ludicrous idea of just adding a few minutes to each remaining school day in order to meet the minimum number of classroom hours--rather than the absolute minimum number of days in class.  I'd like to think that every teacher adjusted their curriculum, class plans and syllabuses to add .4% more learning to each of those extended classes--rather than just making the extra two minutes additional "getting ready to go back to your lockers with your books time."

Of course, we wouldn't have this problem if schools moved away from the 19th Century basis for their calendar--that kids need to have the summer off to help on the farm.  I wonder what percentage of Wisconsin students still need to have those three months away from the classroom to handle "chores" and "help bring in the crops"?

Just looking at the Oshkosh school calendar--with its weeks off for the Holidays and Spring Break and scattered days off for "teacher development" and early dismissals for "collaboration"-- leads you to wonder if we aren't just teaching our children when it's "convenient for us"--rather than as much as they need it.

Monday, January 27, 2014

This Weather is Killing Us

I'd sure like to know where the folks who complain about how it's "too hot" during the summer go during times like these.  I'm not seeing a lot of people walking around with just a light jacket and no gloves with big smiles on their faces.  Recent trips to the grocery store found more looks of pain and general misery--with expressed desires that the cold end as soon as possible.  Some even joke about "never complaining about how hot it is in July ever again."

There is good reason to hate weather like this--it is literally killing us.  With the return of "real winters" in North America, a lot of attention has been paid to a 2007 study that finds living in colder climes shortens your life span.  The researchers found people who spend their entire lives in parts with cold winters tend to live ten percent shorter lives than those who live down south.  They add, that the growing trend of "snowbirds" spending their winters in Florida and Arizona have contributed to the 3% increase in the American life expectancy over the past couple of decades.

What's more, the study finds that the effects are almost immediate for the elderly and the ill.  Both cold and heat waves cause increased death rates.  But after a heat spell ends, those rates return to normal.  But cold snaps see those higher death rates continue for weeks afterward.  Showing that the cold takes much more out of you than the heat.  The cold also tends to be harder on the poor--who cannot afford the energy expenses to keep their homes warm enough to ward off the effects of the temperatures.

I've felt that draining of energy the prolonged cold has on us.  It's tougher to get out of bed.  A few minutes out shoveling or just running from store to store feels like a full workout at the gym.  And no amount of sleep seems to replace that energy.  Conversely, the warmth and the sun of the summer seems to provide me with an endless supply of energy--not to mention a much better attitude.

So those of you who hate the summer--and celebrate that first frost or snowfall or formation of ice on the lake--go ahead and enjoy the weather you love so much.  Just keep in mind, it's killing you--literally.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Go Team NBC!!

The Olympics hasn't really been about "the spirit of sports and competition" since 1984--when Peter Ueberroth made record profits for the Los Angeles games by turning it into a giant corporate advertising event--but this year's Winter Games in Sochi, Russia have now moved into the realm of "reality TV programming".  Controversy has erupted over the inclusion of Lolo Jones on the USA Bobsled team--which was reportedly orchestrated by NBC Television to provide them with the "Face of the Games" they can use to promote their coverage.

NBC found itself in a tough spot this month after previous "it girl" Lindsey Vaughn--and Tiger Woods' Girlfriend (don't forget NBC's coverage of the US Open from Pinehurst coming up in June!) dropped off the downhill ski team due to a knee injury.  And this year's Ice Capades--I mean figure skating team--features a bunch of no-names that have failed to become breakout stars (more on that in a moment).  So NBC needed someone with a pretty face and an interesting backstory to carry its prime-time coverage.

Lolo Jones just happens to fit the bill.  She's young, attractive and will be just the sixth athlete to compete for the US in both the Summer and Winter Games.  You may recall, she was a total flameout in the London Games, failing to medal in any of her hurdles events.  The only problem is, she isn't the best pusher or brakeman in the US Bobsled program--or the second best or even the third best.  But there she will be in Sochi--glowing on the TV screen in the Opening Ceremonies, features, interviews, previews, tape-delayed coverage of actual runs, post-race analysis, more interviews and the Closing Ceremonies--while a far more experienced and deserving sledder sits home in Illinois and watches.

This decision by the USOC follows a controversial choice for the women's Ice Capades--I mean figure skating team--earlier this month, as attractive blonde Ashley Wagner was selected for the Games despite falling about a dozen times at the National Finals and admitting that she couldn't handle the pressure.  That will leave the less-TV-friendly Mirai Nagusa--who finished third in the finals--at home.  Interestingly enough, Wagner had been featured in a number of NBC promos for Winter Games coverage before her gagfest at Nationals--but I can't remember seeing Nagusa anywhere in those ads.

I haven't looked real closely at the hideous Polo Ralph Lauren Team USA Uniforms that were unveilled (On the NBC Today Show) yesterday--but I'd be willing to bet there are tiny little peacocks mixed in with all of the Red, White and Blue.

And fans attending the games should just leave the U-S-A! chants at home.  You're really rooting for Team N-B-C.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Who's the Victim Here?

Lost in all of the hoopla over budget surpluses and tax cuts in Madison, was the introduction last week of a bill that will require all new criminal laws to include a "minority impact statement".  Representative Nakiya Harris--a Democrat from Milwaukee--wants to Department of Justice to estimate how many more African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians will be put behind bars if a new crime is added to the code or if existing penalties are increased.

I find the bill fascinating, as we are somehow expected to predict the future bad behavior of just certain segments of the population.  If we are that good at making predictions about that, why don't we just create the "PreCrime" police division like they did in the movie Minority Report and arrest people before they can even attempt the offense they are "surely" going to commit.

Actually, Representative Harris has introduced her bill in an attempt to frame all future debate about crime and punishment in Wisconsin not in the context of "criminal justice"--but rather in the context of "social justice".  We all know that it's not bad behavior that lands people in prison--it's bad laws.  Laws that some believe were put on the books for the sole purpose of ensuring that people of certain colors end up behind bars--or brandished with the scarlet letter of "F" for convicted felon--ensuring they will never have a good job and will remain poor their entire lives.

The real "victims" of crime in the "social justice system" aren't those who see their kids get hooked on drugs sold by a local dealer, or the people who have their belongings or money stolen by the drug addict looking to buy his next fix, or the people who get shot in gang disputes, or the businesses that lose money when people steal items from them.  The "real victim" is the person "unfairly" sent to prison for committing those acts--even if it was of their own free will.  

Perhaps that is the way sponsors of new criminal bills can turn the focus back to "criminal justice".  You can put the number of minority criminals that will get locked away because of it, but you can also add the number of minority kids that won't be pressured to start using drugs or join gangs.  Or you can list the number of minority innocent bystanders that won't be shot by thugs "sending a message".  And you can include the number of minority businesses that might not have to hire armed security guards or put their employees behind bullet-proof glass to work the register.  In other words, remind everybody about why we have laws--and prisons for those who refuse to live by them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Now Booking Dates for 2016.....

I am a scheduler.  I like having things planned out as far in advance as possible.  I have one of those small two-year calendar books that I use as a backup for the schedule I have in my IPhone--and it is practically full--through 2015.  I've got my golf tournament schedule, officiating and umpiring schedule, work schedule, vacation schedule and major events schedule all set--and it doesn't leave many available dates.

I've always thought that long-range planning shows consideration for others--and I wish more people would do it.  How many times has someone thrown out a vague invitation to "do something" around a certain date, but then doesn't get back to you for weeks or even months?  What invariably happens is that you commit to some other event and then that person calls you up with the "You comin' over this weekend to do what we talked about doin'?"  And you're left with the awkward "Well you never gave me a firm date on that, so I planned to do something else."  Then you give them a list of dates for which you are still available and they always reply "Yeah, I'm not sure what we're doin' those days--I'll have to get back to ya about that."  And the cycle of missed opportunities rolls on.

There is nothing that drives me nuts more than people who ignore all of the schedules that are already out there.  I'm talking to you, brides who select a Badgers home football game Saturday in the fall to hold their weddings.  Ladies, the Big Ten schedule for every season through 2017 is now available at I would highly recommend going to that site right now and using it to put big X's through a number of Autumn Saturdays.  (I can also give you the dates for upcoming Masters and Final Fours if you would like them as well.)

Why do I bring this up?  Well, we heard from Oshkosh City Manager Mark Rohloff this week that one change that may come out of a review of the Special Events Permit Policy is no longer double- or triple- or quadruple booking events that require city resources in the future.  That means all of the fishing tournament organizers, concert promoters, conventioneers, marathon runners and pub crawlers are going to have to start scheduling a lot farther in advance to avoid being the odd-man left out.  And believe me, there is going to be a pecking order for events--with the big moneymakers like EAA Airventure, Country and Rock USA and Lifest getting priority--regardless of who else may have put the application in first. 

So if you want to join the party here in Event City, I would highly recommend buying a calendar--or downloading an app with a future calendar feature--and start plotting the dates of everything already going on around here--or you may end up on a Sunday with a home Packers game against the Bears competing for your customers' attentions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Few Things To Work On

You know who is going to be the busiest people in sports the next few months?  The NFL Competition Committee.  After what we saw on the field this season it is clear that the game--under the current rules--has become almost impossible to officiate correctly.

You can start with the game film of the NFC Championship Game for several instances of the rules either not being correctly interpreted, or preventing correct calls from being made even with the availability of replay.  The goal line fumble recovery that every human on the planet could see was made by the 49ers (plus the gruesome knee injury) is not reviewable because "possession in the field of play" doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of replay.  Of course, if the fumble was recovered half a yard away in the end zone--or along a sideline--it WOULD have been reviewable.  Where is the sense in that?  You may recall the Steelers almost got screwed on that same call against the Packers when possession of a blocked field goal could not be established before an Illegal Batting call against Pittsburgh gave the ball back to Green Bay.

And while we are on the topic, Illegal Batting can be revisited--as the Packers/Steelers play--and the batting of a ball 20-yards down the field after a blocked punt by the Seahawks cost the 49ers yardage EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN"T COMMIT THE PENALTY!

And then the entire "Defenseless Receiver" rule can be jettisoned.  Shoulder to shoulder hits, contact after a guy has started running with the ball and clean attempts to break up passes in the air were all flagged this year--as officials, already trying to determine possession and two feet down, also had to figure out of a defender's helmet touched the receiver's helmet.  The rule of thumb that was apparently adopted: If it looks bad, throw the flag.

Just off the top of my head, here are a "few" other rules that were not called correctly--leading in several cases to teams losing games:

Pass interference (on balls that Superman couldn't have caught in a single bound)
Roughing the Passer--Contact to the Head (which was actually contact to the shoulder pad and chest)
Illegal Defensive Formation on a Field Goal Attempt (Which cost the Steelers a spot in the Playoffs)
The Definition of Forward Progress is Stopped (Which also cost the Steelers a spot in the Playoffs)
The Definition of a Fumble
Completing the Process of the Catch (which is different if a receiver is going out of bounds than it is in the middle of the field)
Intentional Grounding (especially the definition of "in the tackle box")
And pretty much everything that can and cannot be reviewed--including penalties that can be clearly seen while reviewing for another element of a play that directly affect the outcome of the play)

Unfortunately, NFL insiders say the main focus for the competition committee will be to consider eliminating the extra point after touchdowns--because it's one more play where guys are hitting helmets against each other.  I guess the powers that be would rather have "safe chaos" on the field--instead of actual football.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Burning a Hole In Their Pockets

Remember when you were 7-years old and your grandmother gave you a crisp new $5 bill in your birthday card?  You wanted to run out and immediately spend that five bucks on candy, or baseball cards or comic books.  Perhaps you were like me and you were 7-years old during the Jimmy Carter presidency and you knew that the $5 was going to be quickly devalued by the 10% inflation rate during that era--but most likely, you were just immature and didn't realize that money doesn't have to be spent immediately after you get it.

Well nothing brings out the inner 7-year old in a politician like a projected budget surplus.  Everybody in Madison is talking about how to spend and/or return the $911-Million in higher-than-expected anticipated revenue by 2015.  Republicans are listing all of the taxes they want to cut (or eliminate).  Democrats have a laundry list of welfare programs and union employee groups to whom they want to give the money.  It's like the $911-Million is red hot and threatening to burn holes in everyone's pockets.  But maybe, our lawmakers could show a little maturity and hold off on spending all of that cash at once.

For starters, this is still a PROJECTED budget surplus.  Revenues were higher than anticipated for the first year of the budget cycle--so economists are taking that number and adding the original estimated growth for the second year to come up with the higher number.  But there is no guarantee that will actually happen.  The Fed is talking about scaling back quantatative easing and no longer artificially propping up the economy.   Unemployment remains high--especially among younger workers.  And the second half of 2014 will be handicapped by preparations for implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act--which will create a further drag on the economy and business growth.  So to assume that all of that money will actually be there at the end of the next fiscal year is no certain thing.

Our state lawmakers might also want to think back to the early 1980's and the Early 2000's when Wisconsin had similar budget surpluses.  In those times there were tax cuts, spending increases and even refund checks issued from Madison in the belief that the good times were just going to keep on rolling.  It would be just a few years later--in both cases--that the state would be deep in the red, and Legislators were left to look at each other and ask "What just happened here?"   Anyone who thinks revenues can't head in the opposite direction of where they are now is living in total denial.

What will likely hamper the prudent handling of the projected budget surplus the most is that it has popped up during an election year for almost everyone in Madison (surprise!).  What makes for a better TV or radio ad sound bite than "So-and-so returned more than 900-million dollars in tax money to you--the hard-working people of Wisconsin"?  Or "Representative Whats-his-name fought to increase funding for your local schools by 911-million dollars"?  You know, it's not just the third party groups and the political parties that try to buy your vote every couple of years.

So get ready for a bunch of "7-year old" politicians begging to spend their new-found "wealth" this spring--whether they actually have the money--or not.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why We Choose To Live Debt-Free

Last  weekend on one of the network programs here on WOSH I heard one of the hosts cite a new report claiming that paying off your mortgage early is a huge mistake.  The study recycled the financial myths of debt--"You can write off the interest to lower your taxes! (forgetting that you only get to deduct 28% of that when you are middle class) and  "You can use that money for so many other things!"  I smiled in my Jeep knowing that the host was absolutely dead wrong about everything that she was reading.

And the proof of that came this week as I participated in a conference call hosted by the liberal group Americans United For Change demanding an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.  Besides Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind, an unemployed former career counselor from Three Lakes--Candice Hemmerling--was on the call............

click here for audio

Candice would go on to say that she is in her 50's--and is at risk of losing her home because she can no longer make the mortgage payments.  She also says that she has a Masters degree--so employers think that she is "overqualified" for any of the menial jobs available in her area.

Because it was not the setting for such a discussion, I held off on using the question and answer session to ask Candice why she committed so many financial mistakes in the period since losing her job--namely: failing to admit that there is a financial problem, continuing to pay for an expense that doesn't cover a basic need, and why her son can't help pay for his own schooling.  I also wanted to ask why she didn't have six months of expenses saved up before the layoff, why she was in her 50's and didn't have enough money in her retirement accounts to cover six months of expenses, and why--at her age--she still had an unpaid mortgage.  I can only assume that Candice was told by those in the education system that she needed to keep going to classes and get a better degree to "make herself more valuable" in the job market--all at the expense of establishing her own "safety net" to deal with hard times.

It's too bad that Candice wasn't available to call in to our weekend program immediately after the host read her report about how "foolish" it is to be completely debt-free.  While it may seem "smart" to pay a bank $6000 a year in interest so you can write off $1700 on your adjusted income--and while the stocks you could have bought gain an average of 8% a year compared to the 4% interest you pay on a mortgage--it's far more reassuring to know that you will never have to participate in a liberal conference call to beg the government for more help.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You Are Watching What Greatness Is All About

I've heard several people say they will not be watching the NFL Playoffs games on Sunday because they are "Sick of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady."  I will never understand this mindset.  Why would you not want to watch the two best players at their positions in this generation play such an important, pressure-packed game?  You're telling me that if it was Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck out there throwing four interceptions each out there you would want to tune in?

Brady vs Manning has happened 14-times previously--three in the AFC Championship game--with Brady holding a 10-4 advantage in terms of team wins.  That's an average of one game head-to-head every year in their careers.  One game a season featuring two of the greatest QB's of all time is more than you can handle as a fan?  And nearly every one of those contests has actually been a "big game"--with playoff implications (or elimination) on the line.  That's not as entertaining as a match up of 6-8 teams in December?

The Manning-Brady rivalry reminds of the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson heydays of the NBA.  You wanted to see the Lakers play the Celtics--whether it was their two regular season matchups (always on a Sunday afternoon on CBS) and especially in the NBA Finals--because you knew that you were going to see greatness in action.  And two of the greatest of all time making each other even better through their sheer desire to win and hatred of losing produced the best basketball we have ever (and likely will ever) see.  Would it have been nice to have the Milwaukee Bucks sneak into one of those Finals series?  Sure.  But the hoops would not have been close to as spectacular as you got with Magic vs Bird.

And what became of the NBA after it's two saviors retired?  It turned into a giant shoe commercial.  Nobody was able to become a rival for Michael Jordan--much like LeBron James has no equal now--and interest has waned to the point now where arenas are once again half-empty every night.  Fans love to see the best take on the best, even if it is the same two guys 14 or 15 times.

Knowing FOX Sports, they will be trying to hype the NFC Championship game as a matchup of "the next great Quarterback Rivarly" in the NFL.  Nice try, FOX--but the numbers don't lie, Wilson and Kaepernick are a LONG WAY away from being Manning and Brady.  Although, we here in Wisconsin can treat it as a nice battle of young stars with Wisconsin roots (seeing as how Tony Romo is probably never making the playoffs as long as Jerry Jones is Owner/General Manager/Head Coach Puppetmaster in Dallas).

To those of who who choose to turn off the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and instead watch figure skating on NBC or the final round of the Humana Challenge in Association with the William J Clinton Foundation on Golf Channel I hope you enjoy the mediocrity.  The rest of us--as Brent Musburger so eloquently put it during an epic Larry Bird post-season effort--will be "watching what greatness is all about".

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The latest figures on enrollment in the health care exchange here in Wisconsin are creating all-out panic on the Left.  It turns out that younger, healthier Wisconsinites--upon whom the pyramid scheme of the Affordable Health Care Act is built--are staying away from signing up for policies in droves.  Wisconsin and West Virginia have the highest rates of older enrollees--meaning higher costs for the insurers, and ever increasing premiums for the policies in the exchanges--a phenomenon known as the "Death Spiral".

Our friends at Citizen Action of Wisconsin--one of the loudest champions of the ACA in the state--sent out a panicked press release yesterday claiming that not enough young people forking over their money should "raise alarm bells".  (Never mind that Conservatives sounded those same alarm bells five years ago when we started finding out "what was in the bill" after it was passed--that younger consumers were likely not going to go along with being nothing but a funding source for the entire structure--but we were just being "naysayers" back then)  And who does Citzen Action blame for the lack of action from the 20 and 30-somethings?  Of course, Governor Scott Walker.

According to Citizen Action, the ONLY reason young Wisconsinites aren't flocking to the exchange website is because Republicans are refusing to spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns to tell them about it.  Higher-than-they-want-to-pay premiums, being able to ride on their parents coverage until they are 26, the loss of their doctor, or the simple fact that they don't have the money to pay upfront are in NO WAY keeping people from enrolling for coverage.  If only someone would be spending taxpayer money to tell them that something that is REQUIRED BY LAW TO PURCHASE is so great for them, those ignorant....we mean uninformed...or rather disenfranchised people would be knocking down the doors to get their coverage.

As someone who works in a marketing-based industry, I would recommend that if Citizen Action wants to effectively get the message out that they find out where all of these "uninsured" young folks are--and figure out the media best suited to reaching them with the taxpayer-funded campaign they desire.  Since they seem to have no idea that they are REQUIRED BY LAW TO PURCHASE HEALTH INSURANCE they obviously aren't listening to News/Talk Radio, watching any of the cable news channels or logging on to any news websites.  Maybe the money should be spent to have Beyonce and Macklemore slip "buy health insurance, bro" into the lyrics of their new hit singles.

Or we can just admit that the economic model upon which the Affordable Care Act is based was doomed from the start.  Then we can pass on the million dollar advertising campaigns and let the people who will be riding the Death Spiral down use the money to pay for their inflated premiums instead.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

We Didn't Mean You Should Have To Work For "Fairness"

As I told you a few weeks ago, "income inequality" is going to be the catchphrase of 2014.  Democrats--unable to run on public support for the Affordable Care Act or an improved economy--are going to pound the message that it is blatantly unfair that some people make more than others.  And yet, the first opportunity to allow people here in Wisconsin to make more money has Democrats screaming bloody murder.

I'm talking about a bill that would repeal the state's current restriction on working more than six consecutive days.  Under the current law, if someone working in manufacturing or retail who needs the money wants to work seven days in a row their employer is strictly prohibited from allowing them to earn it.  That's right, the State says even if you want to work (or need to work) you must sit home on that seventh day "for your own good".  How that is supposed to help the poor and even the middle-class to to bridge the "income gap" defies logic.

Of course, many Wisconsinites do get around the six-day work limit by simply working two--and even three jobs.  It's the "old-fashioned, non-progressive" way of improving one's economic situation.  But if the same person supplementing their income with a part-time gig was able to commit as many days as they wanted to their primary job they would likely get even farther ahead.  While Democrats claim that employers will "force" people to work an eternal number of days in a row, overtime laws will still apply.  For those already working 40-hours a week, that extra day or two in a row would be on time-and-a-half--likely a higher pay rate than what they were going to make at a part-time position.  And if the position in question is just part-time, employers would still be forced to keep it under 29-and-a-half hours on average per week to avoid a "full time employment" designation under the new Affordable Care Act.

When Democrats talk about addressing "income inequality" they don't mean giving people opportunities to earn their way closer to the top.  They want to just waive their legislative wands and make putting fries into a cardboard container worth $3 an hour more than it was yesterday--even if it requires no more skill and there is no more demand for that "talent" than there was last week.  Or they want to make not working more lucrative--by "redistributing" the wealth gained by those who have been working.

Oh and by the way, there are about 10,000 Wisconsin farmers on the line wondering where they can sign up for that "only work six days in a row" deal.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hollywood's Best, Shining Brightly

One of the great things about the proliferation of live sports on television and social media on the internet is that we are no longer so dependent upon Hollywood to entertain us.  NFL Playoff games and final round golf from Hawaii kept anything having to do with the Golden Globes off my television--while Twitter provided all of the "highlights" without having to sit through self-congratulatory acceptance speeches or any song and dance numbers.

The night apparently got off to a smashing start when a water or sewer line ruptured on the Red Carpet (the latter would have been far more fitting I'm sure).  Then E! Entertainment Network (who is single-handedly responsible for the inclusion of the vapid question "Who are you wearing?" in our vocabulary) posted this "Fun Fact" about Michael J Fox during their Red Carpet coverage:

I bet having a debilitating neuro-muscular disease is nothing but fun for Mr. Fox!  (E! has since apologized)

Several conservative Twitterphiles pointed out that show hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler--who made their names skewering Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live made no mention of President Obama in their opening monologue or between-awards segments.  No mention of NSA spying, no website glitch jokes, no references to miserable jobs reports.  Apparently, the Shoe of Abject Failure isn't so funny when it's on the other foot.

And then to make things super awkward for everyone involved, Woody Allen was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.  Woody has made a ton of movies--all of which are not the least bit funny if you don't live in New York or Hollywood.  Add to that his "complicated" personal life--which includes being married to his adopted step-daughter (which was alluded to jokingly by Diane Keaton in her "tribute" speech) and this bombshell tweet from his estranged step-son Ronan Farrow:

Ronan Farrow         @RonanFarrow
Missed the Woody Allen tribute - did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?

Kind of makes you wonder why Woody didn't show up to accept the award in person doesn't it?  Of course, the "honor" comes from the same group that nominated Roman Polanski recently and wanted the director's arrest and extradition orders for his own rape of a teenage girl lifted so he could come back to Hollywood without fear of going to prison.

And then I get up this morning and find that Jared Leto and Michael Douglas are being called "homophobic" after winning awards for their portrayal of transgender and gay characters.  The folks at the ULTRA-Liberal website are upset that Leto and Douglas didn't use their three minutes in the national spotlight to make impassioned pleas for LGBTQ rights.  That is apparently what now passes for "homophobia" these days, the refusal to talk about gay issues 24/7.

Unfortunately, we are just at the beginning of Hollywood (and the music industry's) self-congratulatory period.  We've got another couple months of this garbage being treated as "National News!".  Good thing there is NFL Playoffs, college basketball and the Olympics coming up to distract us.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Next Big Thing

I have a challenge for the entrepreneurs and inventors of today: Make the "next big thing" something that a lot of people will have to make.  All of the talk this week about the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson launching the "War on Poverty" led to the usual accusations that the rich "don't pay enough in taxes" to support the poor.  I would rather see the rich invest in people again.

Following the industrial revolution, every technological advance helped to expand the American workforce.  Mechanized plants, the continental railroad system, the telegraph and telephone system, and the growth of the auto industry all added huge numbers of jobs to the economy--and helped raise the standard of living for nearly all Americans in the process.  But since the dawn of the "Microprocessor Age", every new advance in technology has served to reduce the number of Americans required to produce it.

At the height of its powers, General Motors directly employed more than 600,000 workers.  Compare that to Apple--which is now a bigger company than GM--which directly employs 47,000.  (Apple likes to claim they "create" more than a half-million jobs--but they count UPS drivers, workers at suppliers who make components shared across the phone industry and everyone who ever created an app as "employees"). 

GM plants--and it's headquarters--were located in the gritty heart of cities across the Midwest and the East Coast--and their dealerships could be found on Main Streets in even the smallest towns--employing salesmen, receptionists, mechanics and parts room workers.  Apple is located in the upscale suburb of Cupertino, California--and Apple Stores are found in larger urban areas, usually in mega-malls or upscale shopping area.  Most of it's sales are done on-line--which requires little infrastructure (and fewer employees) to operate.  And of course, the vast majority of its manufacturing is done in China and elsewhere in Asia.

When GM employees went to work back in the day, guys with advanced engineering degrees parked next to high school dropouts.  And while they may have gone to very different positions in the plant, both jobs paid enough to live the comfortable middle-class lifestyle of the 50's, 60's and 70's.  At Apple, the electric cars in the parking lot belong to a bunch of people with multiple degrees--and that probably goes for the janitors and the lunchroom folks as well.  Not a lot of work for eighth-grade educated folks in designing IOS software.

So if we really want the rich to help us win the "War on Poverty" let's get them to make the "next big thing" a technology or manfactured product that will require large numbers of people to go to work to make--rather than something that will make it easier for large numbers of people to just sit around.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

That is Sooooo Illinois!

A while back I mentioned an independent audit that found 60% of Medicaid enrollees in the state of Illinois were found to be either ineligible for benefits--or were receiving more in benefits than they were eligible for.  The auditors found that errors by state workers processing the initial applications, and failure to review those cases on an annual basis--had cost taxpayers $350-million dollars a year!  The report--which covered only half the files of Medicaid recipients in Illinois so far--blew a big hole in the eternal Democratic talking points that welfare fraud is "rare" and that there is nowhere to cut any funding in the Medicaid program.

Well, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn has now taken decisive action in the wake of the first report from the independent audit and the revelations of state worker incompetence and downright malfeasance: he has fired..........the independent auditor.  In a move reminiscent of Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre"--where the embattled President fired the special investigator who was uncovering too much information about Watergate--Governor Quinn is cutting off the head of the bearer of his own bad news.  Meanwhile, I'm yet to find reports anywhere about the firing of the state employees who failed to do their duties properly--and cost taxpayers $350-million dollars a year!

Now, the Governor had some incentive in making his decision--you see AFSCME (the nation's largest public sector employees' union) was threatening to sue Illinois--claiming that only state employees should review state records--not an independent third party.  So now the state will hire 500 more full-time employees (500 AFSCME member employees--mind you) to do the work that the independent auditor was doing--except at a higher cost, with state-provided benefits and a state-provided pension.  (Good thing Illinois only has $100-BILLION in unfunded liabilities in that pension fund!)

And just how diligent do you think the new employees are going to be in reviewing the work of their "union brothers and sisters"?  Do you really think AFSCME is going to allow its own to embarrass each other by pointing out they weren't doing their jobs?  And do you think the State will be as forthcoming with the results of the audit process now that it's doing the job in-house--instead of through a company that is going to point to its success in uncovering $350-million dollars a year waste with pride?

Illinois taxpayers could always look on the bright side, if the new state employees do their jobs as well as the original state employees, they will find 40% of the fraud and the errors in the Medicaid program--which would save about $140-million a year.  That would cover .14% of their unfunded pension liability--before the hiring of the new employees, that is.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

So Many Mixed Messages

Could the two political parties in Wisconsin get all of their members on the same page when it comes to talking about tax reform?  My head is still spinning from all of the mixed messages put out there on Tuesday.  Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch held a roundtable discussion in Green Bay yesterday--where the hot topic was doing away with the state income tax and replacing that lost revenue with a higher sales tax.  At the same time, an Assembly committee was holding a hearing on a Republican bill to established two sales tax holiday weekends.

Republican supporters of the no income tax/higher sales tax idea believe that basing taxation more on consumption--rather than just income--is a more fair way to distribute the tax burden.  (And as a "save more than we spend" household, I would certainly be in favor of that idea--so long as food remains exempt.)  But then Senator Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac tells the committee yesterday that Wisconsin shoppers need a break from the sales tax (at least when it comes to buying school supplies and energy efficient appliances).  Further complicating the message is Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald calling Gudex's bill a "gimmick".

Democrats were also speaking out of both sides of their mouths yesterday.  When asked about the elimination of the income tax and increasing the sales tax, State Party Chairman Mike Tate called it "an attack on the working poor" because (as we have discussed in previous My Two Cents) the poor don't pay income tax--but they do pay sales taxes.  However, if you zipped down to the Assembly committee meeting again, you would have heard the Democrats claiming the sales tax holidays would be unfair to the poor, because it would further reduce funding for programs like Medicaid and public schools--and that retailers would just "jack up the prices" during the tax holiday weekends.  (Obviously they don't get the dozens of Sunday inserts or on-line pop up ads from every retailer under the sun in August promising the "LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON ON ALL YOUR BACK TO SCHOOL NEEDS!!)

While discussion of tax reform is good and should be an on-going subject, the parties need to get themselves in line so that today's uninformed voters can make up their minds based on what the "Republican guy" says--or what the "Democratic guy" says.  Thank you.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Faking Success in the New Economy

I often like to poke fun at the "New Economy" as the buying and selling of "nothing" (e.g.: "unlimited" talk, text and data) but we have reached a new level of non-productivity with firms selling fake popularity on social media sites.  The Associated Press posted an article yesterday about so-called "click farms" where people are paid to simply "like" things on Facebook, "retweet" and "favorite" things on Twitter or "view" videos on YouTube.

The idea is to make your business, website, band or "celebrity brand" appear to be more popular than it really is.  That's right, you can now buy "popularity" (I know what all of you former high school nerds are thinking: "where was this when I was in school?").  The premise is based on the "new economic reality" that "success" in business isn't so much about putting actual money in the till--but rather, making it look like you are doing well.

The AP article sites an example from the music industry--where bands and artists artificially boosted the number of video views on YouTube to court record labels to sign them.  And here I thought the music industry only cared about whether a female artist had big enough ahem "lungs" to look good in a video--or that a band actually sounded good when they performed.  But today, all you need is a lot of "fake popularity" on the internet and someone is apparently willing to give you a contract.

The article goes on to mention large corporations that have even bought Facebook likes--because having "too few" can make it look like you are terrible and nobody wants to buy your product.  Heaven forbid you actually produce a high-quality good or service that people are demanding--and putting cash in your pocket for--instead of going to a website just to click "like".  There are plenty of popular places here in Oshkosh of which I am not a fan--and there are places that have no Facebook page to "like" that I frequently visit.

To add insult to injury, it turns out that many of these "click farms" are located overseas--in Bangladesh and Indonesia.  No wonder today's recent college graduates who specialized in "Social Media Integration" can't find jobs--they have all been outsourced to people willing to click a mouse for less than a penny per "like"! 

I have an idea on how to make the "New Economy" more like the "Old Economy" that supported more jobs and provided more income for workers.  How about instead of just "liking" a business--which the last time I checked doesn't make anyone any money--we actually buy what they are selling, and let them be "successful" where it really counts: on the bottom line.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Get Used To It, Folks

For those old enough to remember the winters of the 70's and early 80's, this week's bitter cold is a blast from the past.  Those were miserable years, when winters were longer, snowier and certainly much colder than what we have experienced here in the Upper Midwest in recent decades.  Some of the biggest blizzards on record in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and New York came in that period.  And three of the top eleven coldest winters in US history took place from 1976 to 1979.  You may recall, President Jimmy Carter hastened his electoral defeat by telling Americans struggling to pay their rising home-heating bills to "Put on another sweater". 

The brutal winters of the Seventies and early Eighties came at the end of a forty-year cooling trend in global temperatures.  That decline led some alarmists to predict that we were at the beginning of another Ice Age.  Others claimed that man-made pollution was reflecting solar energy back into space--causing the global cooling.  And some pointed out that global temperatures are cyclical--and that things would warm up again over the next forty years.

Believe me, as someone who lived through those winters, we would have gladly taken the the "mild" winters of the 90's and 2000's in a heartbeat.  The best winter ever may have been two years ago, when I was able to play golf in shorts in Oshkosh on the day before Thanksgiving--and I could play golf in shorts in Oshkosh again on St Patrick's Day.  If that is going to be the new norm in Northeast Wisconsin--then sign me up!

But we may have to savor whatever mild winter seasons we have coming our way the next few decades--because the Global Climate Change alarmists want to take us back to the brutal winters of the 70's and the 80's.  Based on their belief that weather patterns are dictated almost solely on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, their targets are to get back to the CO2 levels seen in the 70's and the early 80's: 300 to 350 parts per million.

One of my favorite questions to ask those who push for reductions in the advancement of human technology to "save the planet" has always been "So when did we have the 'perfect climate'?"  If you are to base it on the target carbon dioxide levels, that is apparently the period of time when the US suffered through the worst winters in its history.  That may be a great deal for the polar bears--but it doesn't sound like a treat for those of us here on the "other Frozen Tundra".

Friday, January 3, 2014

Up In Smoke

Can I make a request of social researchers in America?  Would it be possible to dedicate all of your resources and time over the next few weeks to looking into the makeup of the people who are lining up to buy "legal" marijuana in Colorado?

New Year's Day brought reports of long lines of people waiting to get into the two-dozen or so pot shops that had been licensed by the state.  The first thing I found interesting is that in ABC's story, both of the people they interviewed while waiting to make their purchase weren't even from Colorado!  These two dopers drove all the way from Ohio and Michigan respectively to buy their pot.  They must have planned to do some serious smoking in the time before they had to head home--as the Federal Government is banning the transportation of the marijuana sold in Colorado from leaving the state.  (We can't keep hundreds of thousands of people from sneaking into the country illegally every year--but the Feds expect to keep potheads from transporting their weed out of Colorado?)

I would really like to know more about the legal marijuana buyer.  How much money do they make?  Is legalized pot going to be like the lottery--a "stupid tax" on the poor and middle class--that few, if any, high earners will pay?  And what is their employment status?  How many corporate executives are taking days off of work to stand in line to buy weed?  How many of those pot buyers are among the millions of "long term unemployed" who "just can't seem to hold a job for some reason"?

How many of the marijuana smokers will be taking their baggies home to an environment with kids present?  How many will be toking in front of their kids? (Pipe down you two, Mommy's trying to get high over here!)  Will they encourage their children to be potheads too?  What percentage of dope buyers are in deferment of their student loans, or are behind in their rent or mortgage, or are among the 50% of Affordable Care Act enrollees who still haven't paid their first month's premium for their new health insurance policies--yet can afford what many are calling "overpriced" weed?  And are these the very same people who were using the drug illicitly and getting busted for years--showing up for their court appearances in their Metallica t-shirts and worn out jeans?

I think a "snapshot" of the average legalized marijuana user would be very interesting.  I'm guessing they will be very different from those who spend their "recreational" time and money on golf, fishing or cross-country skiing.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Packed Out

In the early days of underground mining, workers would take a canary with them into the tunnels to detect the presence of deadly gasses.  If the canary dropped dead, it was probably a good idea to head back to the surface.  The NFL may have it's own canary in the mineshaft with the potential blackout of a home playoff game at Lambeau Field.

I've mocked Packers fans' single-mindedness and obsession with the team in the past.  But it is that blind devotion to the organization that makes the potential failure to sell out a playoff game that concerning.  You can understand Cincinnati or Indianapolis struggling to sell out, there are other things to do there--but when Green Bay can't fill Lambeau, that should be cause for concern at the League offices.

This will be the first playoff game at Lambeau with the extra 10,000 seats in the upper deck of the south endzone.  Nearly all of those seats were sold on a seasonal basis--to those who had been on the waiting list for 40-years and didn't want to lose their spots--even if the seats aren't that great.  But when asked to pony up more for the playoffs (and not get that money back if the Packers didn't make it) many of those people weren't interested.  The same went for 40-thousand regular attendees who had a chance to gobble up the tickets starting on Monday--without the "down payment" requirement--but still didn't take the team up on the offer.  So what's going on?

The Lambeau Blackout would be a symptom of a larger problem affecting the NFL: the in-game experience really isn't that great.  Prices for everything from tickets to beer to food at the stadium are outrageous.  At Lambeau, despite two major renovations in the past 20-years, you still sit on a hard, aluminum bench (and with the growing "width" of Packers fans, the people on the ends--like my father--get about one-bun's worth of room).  The weather for the playoffs is usually miserably cold, or wet, or both.  But most importantly, the way fans follow the NFL is different that it was in the past.

I'm one of the millions who watch NFL RedZone Channel exclusively on Sundays.  Most of the viewers are Fantasy Football nerds who want to see every score in every game.  But I like being taken to the best action going on at any one time--regardless of who's playing.  You will never get that at the stadium itself.  And speaking of Fantasy Football--with those seasons now wrapped up, those "fans" have had their interest in the games reduced greatly--now that money and bragging rights are no longer on the line.

Is the NFL on the verge of becoming strictly a "made for TV event"?  Not in the immediate future.  But there is talk of doing away with the Blackout Rule--with members of Congress poking their noses into the issue.  And the proliferation of internet streaming allowing fans to choose their own games, camera angles, and stat trackers makes the at-home experience even better than being at the game itself.  If the NFL isn't careful, a partially empty Lambeau Field could become the norm--and not the rare exception.

Of course, with the billions of dollars they are getting from Fox, CBS and ESPN, TV ratings are probably more important than actual attendance anyway.