Friday, February 28, 2014

The N-(FL)Word

Usually, there is no way in Hades that I would be looking forward to the NFL season on February 28th.  In fact, most years I would already be sick of talk about the combine, free agency winners and losers, and mock drafts.  But next season is going to be much different because of Commissioner Roger Goodell's edict that use of the "N-word" on the field will be punishable by a fifteen yard penalty.

This will add a whole new "social element" to the game of football--as a number of people (within the media that regularly covers the game and those who champion the cause of "political correctness) keep track of who gets flagged for the new penalty.  And by "keeping track" I of course mean a "racial scoreboard".  It wouldn't surprise me if someone developed an "N-word" website for quick reference every Monday morning that will monitor not only the color of the "offending" player--but also that of the "offended" player.

For some reason, I have a tough time imagining Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Joe Thomas ever getting called for this penalty.  If I had to pick a position or two that would be most likely to get flagged, it would be Defensive Back and Wide Reciever.  If you have ever been down on the field for an NFL game, you know that those guys NEVER stop trash talking each other--and the "N-word" is a critical part of their vocabulary.  Linebackers would be another likely source of such "egregious language".

One of the pieces of advice that I give new reporters and anchors here at the Radio Ranch is to stop swearing in their ordinary conversations outside of the studio--because the more you say a word out there, the more likely you are to "accidentally" say it on the air.  And we have had some people drop the "F-bomb" and the "S-word" into a live mike.  And that is why African-American NFL players will likely be the ONLY ones called for on-field use of the "N-word".  It is used in the locker room, it is used on the practice field, they use it when talking with their friends, they hear it in the music they "chill out to" on the way to the stadium, before the game at the stadium and on the way home from the stadium.  So what is going to click in their heads when some player tries to cut their knees or blindsides them with a block to not use that same word in order to avoid a penalty?

The new rule is nothing more than a typical NFL over-reaction to a controversial occurrence--this time the embarrasing text and voice mail messages between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins--where the white player used the term toward a black player--and the subsequent claims by other Dolphins that Incognito was an "honorary 'N-word'".

Knowing Commissioner Goodell's usual MO, referees will not directly say "Personal Foul, use of the 'N-word'--number 27 on the defense."  Instead it will be disguised as a simple "unsportsmanlike conduct"--so tracking the "racial disparity" of the new penalty could be a challenge.  But it would be fun to hear the league's top over-explainer--Ed Hochuli--break it down at least one time: "After the play, but before the ball made the line to gain, we had a personal foul on number 27 of the defense for the use of derogatory, racial language directed at a member of the opposition.  However, because the foul occurred after the ball was dead and there was a change of possession involved with the play, we will enforce the penalty, reset the chains and it will be first and ten in the other direction.  Time out."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

History Repeating Itself--In Reverse

Remember how good everybody felt in the late 1980's when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union's empire in Eastern Europe collapsed?  We celebrated the victory of "freedom and democracy" over oppression and communism".  While we like to think that it was these simple principles held in men's hearts that brought down the wall and destroyed the Iron Curtain, the fact of the matter is it was actually increased US Military spending that beat the Soviets.  Mikhail Gorbachev himself admits that Ronald Reagan's refusal to limit weapons production and his plans to develop anti-missle technology (called "Star Wars" by his liberal critics at the time) forced the Soviets to commit so much of their government resources to keep pace that eventually they were unable to prop up their Socialist economy anymore--and the whole system collapsed upon itself.

Another key element to our Cold War victory was the US commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  NATO placed Western Europe under the protective umbrella of US Military might--as we covered the substantial majority (better than 80%) of the cost to not only arm our allies--but to also station our own troops along the Iron Curtain.  Freed from the responsibility of paying for their own military protection, those European nations chose to create Social Democracies that feature the Government paying for all health care, birth to 25 education, lifelong unemployment benefits, free daycare, subsidized housing and dozens of other ways to keep people on the dole.  Liberals here in the US see these as "perfect societies" that we should copy on this side of the pond.  Fiscal Conservatives see them as nanny states that go against the individual freedoms upon which our country was founded.

But now, that protective umbrella is about to shrink.  The Defense cuts proposed by the Obama Administration will take away those US troops posted around Western Europe, reduce the numbers of aircraft, missles and tanks provided to NATO, and will also limit the US ability to send sizable forces in response to an immediate crisis anywhere in the world.  Suddenly, the countries that didn't have to worry about Military spending will have to--if they want to enjoy the same security that they have since the end of World War II.

The only problem is, those countries are in no position to do that.  In a juxtaposition of the Soviet downfall, their socialized economic spending have left them unable to support a modern military force on their own.  Nations already borrowing billions to pay off public pensions, will find it very difficult to find more cash to purchase fighter jets, aircraft carriers and anti-missle technology (although, the Chinese may be more than happy to strengthen their financial grip on Europe as well).

And who is there waiting for the weakening of Europe?  Our old friends the Russians.  Unencumbered by the social programs of the West--and replete with natural resources that environmentalists haven't made more expensive to use--Vladimir Putin is looking to make his country the Number 1 military force (and influence) on the continent again.  If you don't think the threat is real, just ask the people in Crimea who went to bed last night a part of the Ukraine--and woke up this morning to find armed men raising Russian flags over their government buildings.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flip Flops Aren't Just For the Beach

Nothing gets politicians to change their stance on something faster than proposed Defense spending cuts.  The most peaceful of "Doves" in Washington suddenly want us to produce more "weapons of death" and to "maintain our preparedness" when those proposed cuts will mean the loss of high-paying jobs in their district or state.  Meanwhile, the most ardent opponents of "creating jobs through government spending" demand that funding not only continue--but be increased to "put more people to work".

That is the situation Wisconsin's Congressional delegation finds themselves in as President Obama decides to scale back the US Military to levels not seen since before World War II.  On the chopping block is the Littoral Combat Ship--which just happens to be made at Marinette Marine.  Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel went so far as to single out the LCS as an example of military hardware that the Navy really doesn't need--so there is no need to build as many of them as they first ordered.

That has left Senator Tammy Baldwin--a long-time proponent of cuts to Defense spending in favor of increased entitlement spending--in the awkward position of arguing in favor of weapons of war with debatable strategic importance.  It doesn't help your re-election chances when you fail to "bring home the bacon"--even if you are a staunch vegan who has been attacking the meatpacking industry for years (to stretch a metaphor to it breaking point).

On the flip side, you have Republicans like Congressman Reid Ribble--in whose district Marinette Marine sits.  Ribble is demanding that the Navy spend every single penny it committed to in the original order--plus more ships should be built because the contract supports so many good-paying jobs.  This argument comes after Ribble voted against Stimulus packages that were supposed to support "shovel ready" public works projects and put people back to work on the argument that "Government doesn't create jobs".

 Will the Defense cuts actually come to fruition?  It's highly unlikely.  The Defense industry is a mammoth, nationwide enterprise, meaning nearly every Senator and Congressman would see some negative effect in his or her area--making it doubtful they would voice much support for the effort.  But if somehow it did come to pass, all of those workers at Marinette Marine can rest assured that they will have government subsidized health insurance, extended unemployment benefits and expanded Food Stamps available to them.  And that is a lot more important that having a job, right?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Governance IS Campaigning

The release last week of the "John Doe Probe" emails is raising the question again of where does government work end--and campaign work begin?  I think part of the reason that Scott Walker didn't actually face any charges from a District Attorney hellbent on taking him down is that for all intents and purposes, the line between the two activities has been blurred beyond any and all recognition.

When Kelly Reindfleisch was told to clean up some talking points in a speech Walker was giving in 2010 was she doing that for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker talking about economic development in Southeast Wisconsin--or for Republican Candidate for Governor Scott Walker talking about economic development in Southeast Wisconsin?  Were daily schedules coordinated for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker or for Republican Candidate for Governor Scott Walker?

That's a difficult question to answer because everything that those involved in government do today is ONLY about the next election.  Today's proposed bills are all about appealing to one's electoral base.  Floor speeches aren't about debating the actual merits or detriments of an issue, they are a series of talking points--carefully crafted to fit into radio and TV stories about the debate--and into campaign ads further down the line.

Take it from someone who has been inside the factory and has seen how the sausage is made.  Legislative staffs that may at one time been in charge of handling constituent concerns and getting the legal language of draft bills just right, now concentrate fully on positioning their employer for the next election cycle.  And when election time comes around, they are given "leaves of absence" in order to work on the campaigns of other candidates (to avoid any appearance that they are just "political workers" for their own lawmaker) with the assurance that they can go back to their old jobs in their old offices after November.

In the late 1880's and early 1900's patronage was the norm in politics.  People were given government jobs for which they were not in any way qualified, simply because they were political supporters of the man who held office.  Today, those working in government are perfectly qualified for the jobs they are given--the only problem is those duties only involve getting and keeping their man or woman elected every couple of years.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Struggle Continues

The New York Times had an interesting article over the weekend about the tremendous struggle "community organizers" are having in getting people to sign up for health insurance--as required by the Affordable Care Act.  In case you didn't know, all of those people who went out and got people registered to vote--and signed up to receive absentee ballots--in President Obama's two campaigns for President have been given new jobs: find many of the same people and get them signed up for insurance.  I guess you could call it the "Campaign to Save President Obama's Legacy"--by boosting the number of newly-insured to something approaching the 30-million that was promised with the ACA.

One group working in Broward County, Florida was able to sign up just 0.95% of the people they were able to make contact with.  Some were already in health insurance plans, some were anti-ObamaCare, but most were just not that interested.  Remember, these were the 30-million that were desperate to get health insurance six years ago.  But now that the door is wide open to that--they aren't exactly rushing in to get it.

As I have mentioned before, there are several reasons for this.  One is that some of those Obama voters expected the health insurance to be completely free.  It's why the number of applicants and the number of enrollees in the Federal exchanges continues to see a wide gap.  Those folks get to the end of the process and find out that they will be paying out of pocket each month--and the desperation just seems to fade away.

You also have a large segment of the population that has a reason for the government not to know where they live.  They may owe back taxes, child support, court fines, they may have outstanding warrants for their arrests or they may be making their money in a way that the IRS (and local law enforcement) don't consider to be legal.  In the Times article one person who sent the "organizers" away wanted to know how they knew where she was.

And apparently, the "glitches" on still haven't been worked out.  I had to chuckle when one of the people contacted at their door was interested in signing up--and three attempts to register them failed due to website issues.  That kind of stuff not only frustrates those actually hoping to benefit from the program--but it also leads them to question just how reliable this whole thing is going to be once they are in the system.

I think it's safe to say that all of the truly desperate people who didn't have health insurance before the ACA have signed up and are paying their premiums.  The question we have to ask now is how much time, effort and--most importantly--money are we the taxpayers going to spend to convince the indifferent to get on board too?

Friday, February 21, 2014

How To Really Honor a Legend

Sunday promises to be very emotional for some NASCAR fans, as something we have not seen since 2001 returns to track.  This year's Daytona 500 will feature the first race featuring the black Number 3 Chevrolet to race since the death of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  Austin Dillon has put the #3 in the pole position for the race--turning in the fastest qualifying time last weekend. 

The decision by Richard Childress Racing--which retains the right to use the #3 on its car in the Sprint Cup Series--has caused a deep division among NASCAR fans.  Hardcore Earnhardt fans consider someone else driving the black #3 to be an insult to their hero's legacy.  And to have some young, unproven guy running that car at the race where Dale was killed on the last lap is blasphemous.  They want the 3 car retired--forever--as the only fitting tribute.

But others--myself included--are glad to see the #3 back on the track.  The grieving period has been over for some time now.  I admit, that my interest in NASCAR waned (along with millions of other fans) after the death of Dale, Sr.  I compared it to what it would be like for football fans around here if the Packers just suddenly stopped playing.  Yes, the NFL would be going on--but would you care nearly as much without your team in there to cheer for? 

I've always had mixed feelings about retired numbers as being the "ultimate honor" for a sporting legend.  The practice began with the New York Yankees declaring that no one would ever wear #4 again, following the death of Lou Gehrig.  The Yanks have since retired so many numbers that their players now are all forced to wear football numbers like 71 and 53.  Major League Baseball made all teams "retire" the number 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson a few years ago.  Commissioner Bud Selig believed that no one else should wear that number for as long as the game is played.  But wouldn't Robinson's legacy be honored more if one of the dwindling number of African-American players in the Majors wore #42 on every team?  Kids, unaware of the Robinson story would learn more from seeing that number in action on TV every night (and hearing the players talk about why they wear it) than they would from NOT being able to see it.

Syracuse University Football has a very cool tradition where a select few running backs get to wear the number 44--made famous by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little.  A player cannot request 44--it can only be bestowed upon a back that coaches and players agree exemplifies the quality of player and person that has worn it before.  Last year, Michigan Football "unretired" all of its numbers and started a Heritage Jersey program--with special players "honored" by wearing the number of Wolverines legends before them (with patches on the jerseys detailing the all-time great who wore it first.)

The black #3 Chevrolet should not become a museum piece of NASCAR history.  It should be out there on the track--reminding people of the legend who guided it to so many great victories and 7 Winston Cup Championships.  Nothing will honor the legend of Dale Earnhardt more to see that car where it belongs--leading laps at Daytona.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Beyond the Call of Duty

I would just like to offer a sincere "thank you" to all of the municipal workers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty this winter.  The amount of extra work that these crews have had to put in this season has been outrageous already--and it looks like the latest "Snowmaggedon" we are getting today will be followed by another blast from the "Polar Vortex"--meaning more icy roads and broken water mains.

It would be easy to say "they are only doing what they are paid to do--I 'thank them' enough with my taxes."  But you have to admit that this winter has gone past the most that we should expect from those who quite honestly, do a lot of jobs the rest of us would really rather not do.  That warm shower you took when it was -25 on some of those mornings last month was only possible because some guys were getting showered with 32-degree water in the -25 to fix that water main.  And that day that you got to work despite the freezing rain was thanks to the guys who had to be out plowing and laying down the salt on those temporary skating rinks.

While I'm sure a hearty "thank you" from all of us would be appreciated by these public workers, a little something in the paycheck for the effort would probably be welcomed even more.  Sure, they got overtime pay for all of the overnight plowing and fixing--but that was just compensation for the additional time away from the family or for not being in bed at 2:30 am.  A little bonus on top of that would recognize the quality of the work--and the extreme conditions that had to be endured-- to provide us citizens with the services.

That's why I hope our municipalities will carve out a little extra room in the budget for merit-based bonuses.  Remember, this is now allowed under Act 10.  Under the old system where union contracts dictated every aspect of employee compensation, such bonuses were not allowed--unless every member of the unit got the same compensation--even if he or she wasn't the one freezing his or her behind off to get the pipeline fixed.  But now, outstanding personal achievement can be acknowledge--with more than some cheesy certificate given to a worker by the Mayor at the next City Council meeting.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

As Copernicus Spins In His Grave

Because it was released on a Friday afternoon, in the middle of the Olympics, before a holiday weekend--the latest survey results from the National Science Foundation on what Americans know about how the world works received very little media attention.  Perhaps that is why there hasn't been that much outrage about the study that finds 26% of Americans don't know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Maybe those 26% represent all of the Catholics old enough to have gone to school before Vatican II saw the Church accept the basic scientific principals that had been held by the rest of society since the time of Copernicus back in the early 1500's!

Or perhaps they are the 26% of recent college and high school graduates who--I can tell you from experience in dealing with some of them--seem to come out of school with less and less knowledge of how thinks work.  Among the "concepts" that I have had to explain to people with Bachelors Degrees in the last ten years are: The difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives, the separation of powers spelled out by the Constitution, what a 401(k) retirement account is, when the last Ice Age occurred, the difference between a School Board, a County Board and a City Council, what a present tense verb is, what is taxed by a property tax, who the US fought in World War II and the difference between a primary election and a general election.

I was apparently at the tail end of the "old way" of learning things in school.  We used rote memorization to learn and remember important things like the order of the planets, the order of the Presidents, multiplication tables, the table of elements, the amendments to the Constitution and even propositions.  Was it "tedious and boring"--yes.  But 20+ years out of school, I still remember all of that stuff.

Compare that to the way children are "taught to learn" today.  One of the few articles I found about the NSF survey came from University of Texas Professor Sheril Kirschenbaum for  In it he writes that "Science literacy isn't remembering a bunch of facts. It's an appreciation and understanding of the scientific process and the ability to think critically."  In other words, it's OK to think that the Sun revolves around the Earth--so long as you understand that there are people working to figure out what is actually going on and that you trust what they say is "fact".

I'm actually surprised that Professor Kirschenbaum didn't roll out the tired excuse of "This is the result of continued cuts to education funding" for America's lack of basic knowledge.  We all know that an extra TRILLION DOLLARS a year would turn all of us into Albert Einsteins.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Following Your Customers Into Bankruptcy

Some of you may have been surprised by the announcement yesterday that American TV and Appliance is going out of business.  For those of us in our 40's "Crazy TV Lenny" was a fixture on our TV's during our youth--usually offering a FREE BIKE WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY TV!!

Company officials blame the "unrelenting economy" for the downfall of American.  But if there has been any place where Americans (the people) have been willing to spend their money--even during the "Great Recession"--it has been on electronic toys.  (Do you even know someone without a hi-def TV anymore?) Some think that they just weren't able to compete with bigger chains like Best Buy or HH Gregg--or that perhaps the increased presence of WalMart and Target in the Home Electronics and Furniture segment took away too much business.  But I think American started its descent into bankruptcy by basing way too much of its business on people who didn't have any money.

I mentioned that American's "shtick" used to be "Get a free bike with any purchase".  Then Crazy TV Lenny started doing the "BUY A COUCH--GET A FREE TV!!" or "BUY A TV--GET A FREE RECLINER!!"  deals.  And buyers ate that stuff up--thinking they were actually getting something for "free" (when anyone with the slightest bit of retail knowledge knew the cost of everything you got was included in the price you paid).

But somewhere in the 1990's, American moved toward the "SIX MONTHS SAME AS CASH!" and "NO MONEY DOWN--NO PAYMENTS FOR A YEAR" angle to get people (who no longer had the on-hand cash to buy something) into the store.  I had a friend who sold (on commission) at American during that time and he told me (after his time there was done, of course) that they were instructed to make sure everyone "took advantage" of the credit option--opening an American Card account with revolving interest--because they KNEW that NOBODY was going to pay it off during the interest-free period.  Then, rates of 18, 24 or even 29% would be tacked onto the price from the date of purchase--and that is where the store would really make its money.  As Dave Ramsey likes to say, American had become a credit card company with some stuff for sale out front.

Then came the recession and suddenly, American's customer base couldn't even afford "no payments for a year" to buy anything.  There was also likely a rash of defaults on existing credit accounts--as people were more than willing to give up the TV or the recliner than pay what had likely become double or triple the original cost on the credit card bill.  It was the national economy in a microcosm--with a house of cards built on a base of debt collapsing under its own weight.

As for Crazy TV Lenny, he got out years ago--selling his share of the company to the group that eventually ran it into the ground.  Ironically enough, he now sells bikes in the Madison area.  And I don't think he includes a "free" TV with every purchase.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Just Let Them Play

Desperate for the "emotional" storylines that are the hallmark of its Olympic coverage, NBC finally struck gold on Sunday as skier Bode Miller took Bronze in the Super G--becoming the oldest skier to ever win an Olympic medal.  However, that kind of historic achievement wasn't enough for the folks at NBC.  Instead, reporter Cristin Cooper repeatedly questioned Miller post-race about the death of his younger brother nearly a year ago from a seizure--until he finally broke down into tears on camera.  Hello top story for prime time coverage!!

It was nice to see others in the media who have also become fed up with this manipulation of sports into some sort of perverted reality TV--with a flurry of on-line articles taking Cooper (and NBC in general) to task for always trying to turn Olympic athletes into characters in Shakespearean tragedies.  I'm surprised that Dan Jansen--who is on the NBC announcing staff for these games--didn't come bursting into the control truck to demand an end to the Miller interview after he was crushed by ABC Television in not one but TWO Olympic games as "skating in memory of his dead sister".

Contrast that with the beauty of what played out at the end of the USA-Russia hockey game on Saturday morning.  A tie game after regulation time and four on four overtime (which I hate) became must-see TV in a shootout (which I hate even more than four on four overtime)--as Team USA Forward TJ Oshie scored goal after goal--and Jonathan Quick made just enough spectacular saves on the other end--until the Russians could no longer answer.

You may have noticed that there were no little vignettes before Oshie took all those shootout attempts.  No feature on tiny Warroad, Minnesota--which has sent a disproportionate number of players to the NHL over the past 60 years.  No tearful interviews with TJ about a sick/dying/dead family member/coach/special friend/former teammate that is "inspiring him for these games".  There wasn't even a semi-humorous look at the "art of the penalty shot" and Oshie's freakish ability to totally confound goaltenders with the widest array of breakaway moves that many long-time hockey fans have ever seen.  (By the way, how about a huge pat on the back to Team USA General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Dan Bylsma for selecting Oshie for the team for that very purpose--since he does lead the NHL in shootout success percentage.)  It was just pure competition and sport delivering the kind of drama, emotion and joy that only live competition can provide.

And you know what?  Just presenting the game as it is was still a huge ratings success!!  Saturday morning's USA-Russia contest provided NBC Sports Network with its highest ratings ever.  Imagine that--a record number of people turning in just to watch a game--not to "have their heartstrings tugged" or to be filled with "American pride".  It kind of makes you wish you could watch Canadian Broadcasting or the BBC Olympic feed--instead of the garbage NBC foists upon us every two years.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another Reminder of Why We Are In This Mess

As Oshkosh school leaders try to convince us that they need more money again, one of them decides to give us a little insight into his philosophy on spending cash.  Former Board President John Lemberger and current President Matt Wiedenhoeft were engaged in a conversation Wednesday night about the possibility of expanding Lakeside Elementary School--at a cost of $2.4-MILLION dollars.  Wiedenhoeft expressed concern about the District taking on even more debt at this time.  But, Lemberger brushed off those concerns with this comparison to his own financial situation:

Lemberger on his love for debt

As someone who is sharing a debt-free life with my wife, Lemberger's comment certainly caught my attention.  While we took out a mortgage to purchase our $122-thousand dollar home as well, we chose to pay it off in just six years.  During that period we paid $17,403 in interest (yes, I kept track)--or 14.3% of the home's value.  Based on property records available on the City of Oshkosh Assessor's site, Mr. Lemberger paid $68,000 for his house in 1996.  At the average rate of 5% on the 30-year loan that he brags about, he will pay $52,100 dollars in interest on his home--or 76.6% of its original value.

As for the car loan, my wife paid $24,000 cash for her current vehicle.  Under Mr. Lemberger's "borrow instead of save" philosophy that car (with a 10% down payment and interest at 7%) would cost a total of $28,138--or 15% more than paying cash up front.  Mulitply those ratios by the six to seven cars a married couple will own over their lives together and we're talking 24 to 28-thousand dollars lost to just interest payments.

And listen again to the way Lemberger says "I want a house NOW".  The tone reminds me of my three year old niece when she is told that she has to wait to do or get something.  Unfortunately, it's that attitude of instant gratification--no matter the cost--that has led many an American family to the front gates of the poor house in the past 20-years.

As a private citizen, John Lemberger has every right to run his finances however he wants.  If he wants to borrow money and limit his financial opportunities then he can go nuts--because he is only hurting his own family and children .  But when he applies the same financial philosophies to the finances of the School District--and chooses to limit the opportunities for tens of thousands of families and children--you have to question the logic in giving him any more money to spend.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why Ask Someone To Give, When You Can Just Take?

The old saying holds that you should "Never look a gift horse in the mouth".  It means that you should be thankful for any act of charity that you might receive.  However, today, Liberals have put an addendum onto that saying "When the government can force the owner to turn over more than half of his horses for us to give to other people".  How else to explain the criticism of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and the billions of dollars they contributed to charitable causes last year?  To those on the Left, a couple billion dollars from just a couple of people isn't nearly enough of a price to pay.

In his article, author Sean McElwee calls the act of philanthropy "insidious" because it "perpetuates the myth that social problems can be solved by the rich and powerful".  To McElwee and "Progressives" like him, the only way to attack any and all social ills (real and perceived) is through huge Government programs--funded by much higher tax rates than those currently in place here in the US.  My favorite line in the story is "Social democracy allows us to love humanity with our taxes".  This is the go-to angle for Liberals when talking about anything dealing with money--make it an emotional issue rather than an economic issue. Math is too regimented and fact-based to be used as an argument for economic policy. (And don't forget that they then get to decide how much you "love" your neighbor).

McElwee then attacks charitable organizations themselves, describing them as "too decentralized and inefficient" to provide proper aid to the poor.  Plus, they operate outside the realm of Government control--meaning they can make the decision on their own who will and will not receive help (like drunk or high people being turned away from homeless shelters--even though they represent a threat to the safety of others there.)  I'm sure that makes the folks over at the United Way and the Salvation Army feel real good about their efforts.  Better to make centralized Government programs bigger because they are "much more efficient" and have "very little fraud".  McElwee must have missed the recent audit reports on Medicaid enrollees in Illinois--where more than half were receiving benefits to which they were not entitled.

What is probably most interesting in the Salon article is that supporters of the "tax rather than donate" idea base their entire argument on the premise that the accumulation of wealth is inherently "evil".  McElwee quotes an old (and liberal) college professor as saying "before you can give all this away you have to take it"--meaning the rich person somehow used nefarious means to "steal" the money from the lower classes.  (In the case of Mark Zuckerberg, I guess that money was stolen by forcing billions of people to use his FREE website.)  But is what way is that any different than what the Government would be doing?  Are they not "taking" from the 51% that pay taxes to "give away" to the 49% that don't?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Let the REAL Games Begin!!!

With all apologies to the Slopestyle Snowboarders, the Team Figure Skaters, the Biathletes and the Lugers, the REAL Olympic Games begin today.  Of course, I'm talking about the Men's Ice Hockey Tournament--which starts with preliminary pool play this morning.  The greatest athletes in the greatest winter sport will compete in a week-long All-Star game, except everyone actually tries hard and cares who wins.

The only thing in sports that I love more than Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey--is Olympic Medal Round Hockey.  There isn't an American kid who laces up the skates that hasn't seen the Team USA upset of the Soviet Union in Lake Placid in 1980 and that doesn't want that same Miracle on Ice moment.  Canadians derive their national identity from the success of their team in their sport.  Europeans like Sweden and the Czech Republic are far more invested in Olympic play and winning the gold than they are in winning The Cup.  And for the first time, Russia--with its history of international dominance--gets to play on home ice.

While Olympic "purists" may be disgusted by the inclusion of millionaire professionals in this tournament, having guys from everyone's favorite NHL teams spread out amongst all the countries makes every game a must-watch affair.  As a Bruins fan, I will root for Patrice Bergeron on Team Canada, Zdeno Chara on Team Slovakia, David Krejci on Team Czech Republic and Tuukka Rask on Team Finland--except when they are playing Team USA.  Unlike a lot of fans, I won't even have to set my alarm for the 4:00 am games--since I'm already an hour into my work day by then.

The tournament is returning to the larger International-sized rink this year--meaning we should see wide-open play and a lot of fancy passing and stickhandling.  It will likely be an advantage for the European teams--as they grew up in this style of play--whereas North Americans learn a much more physical, take the body, type of game.  And with so much talent on so many teams, the final outcome is anything but assured.  I've seen plenty of predictions on hard-core hockey websites and nobody has the same final medals predictions.  I'm going to root for Team USA to win Gold--but my mind says to pick Sweden (they are the most balanced team) to beat Canada in the finals--with the US beating Finland for the Bronze.

And if you needed one more reason to watch Olympic Men's Hockey this time around, there is a very good chance we won't see the NHL guys play next time around.  There is very little interest from the NHL league brass and owners to send players to South Korea in 2018.  Don't be surprised if there is a World Cup of Hockey played in the early fall of that year instead--which is also awesome--but not like getting the Gold Medal and singing along to your national anthem.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

And You Thought Tebow-Mania Was Bad

The most over-hyped, over-covered and over-analyzed event in sports is about to go into hyper-drive this year.  I'm talking about the NFL Draft in April--and the impact that Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is already having by declaring himself openly gay. 

Gone is any conversation about who is going to be the first overall pick in the Draft--or who will be the first quarterback taken.  The only topic the media--news and sports--will discuss from this point forward is where will Sam be picked--and what impact did his stated sexuality have on that selection.  It reminds me of the year Tim Tebow came out of Florida and completely overshadowed every other (and much better) player.

Those ready to paint NFL General Managers and Head Coaches with the broad brush of homophobia are already lining up their ammunition.  For the first time, the "round where a Southeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year was drafted" is an actual "important stat".  Most scouts had Sam projected in the 3rd to 5th rounds--being a bit undersized for a defensive end in the NFL--and a bit slow to be a linebacker at that level.  You can bet that when the third round of the Draft is over--and Sam is still on the board, there will be cries of "foul"--not from people who study football like Mel Kiper, Jr, Adam Schefter or Mike Mayock--but from the advocacy groups, the network news reporters assigned to a sports story for the first time in their lives, and all of the liberal talking heads on all of the news channels.  And if Sam is still on the board after the fourth round--look out, because there won't be a GM or Head Coach who will be safe.

And once Michael Sam is drafted, even more scrutiny will fall upon the team that takes him.  The questions won't be "How do you think he will help the team this year?" Instead it will be "Did his status as a gay man hurt him on your draft board?" "How do you think this will affect your team chemistry in the locker room?" And "Did you make this selection to perhaps appeal to a new fan base?"

We like to cannonize Dodgers President Branch Rickey as a crusader for equal rights for bringing Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball.  But Mr. Rickey had only one motive in integrating his team--he knew that having black ballplayers would give him a better chance to win over teams that refused to integrate.  If Jackie Robinson had hit .210 and been thrown out every time he tried to steal a base--that contract would have been voided in an instant.

And it will be the same with Michael Sam.  He will be drafted by a GM and a Head Coach that believes having him on the field will help them win--because they don't give the Lombardi Trophy to the team with the most "social diversity".

Monday, February 10, 2014

I'll Stay "Trapped", Thank You

I have decided to return to my indentured servitude here at the radio station for another day.  I really had to think about it after White House Spokesman Jay Carney informed us last week that the Affordable Care Act provides "an added choice that they have that allows them more freedom, to use a certain buzzword, more choice" not to work.  Carney then doubled down on that assertion with "Opportunity created by affordable, quality health insurance allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, or if they will work"

It's nice to know that the official mouthpiece for the Obama Administration considers the founding principal of this country--freedom--to be a "buzzword".  I often think of exercising one's rights as spelled out in the Constitution in the same context as "shifting paradigms" and "twerking".  As one Twitter user put it in channeling their inner Braveheart:  "They can take our lives, but they will never take our BUZZWORDS!"

But let's take a look at the new "free" lives that those who choose to cut back on their personal income just so they can protect their taxpayer-funded Medicaid coverage--or their taxpayer-funded credit toward the purchase of an insurance policy through the federal or state exchange--will be living.  There will always be that reliance on Federal housing assistance to stay in the apartment or rental unit where they currently live--the "American Dream" of home-ownership being quashed by the need to retain eligibility for the "safety net".  Trips to the grocery store will also be dependent on how much is left on the Quest card from the Food Stamps program.  Child care will only be available through government subsidies.  Retirement will only become an option at age 65--when two more government programs--Social Security and Medicare make it possible (at least until the eligibility age is increase even more because of huge structural deficits in both programs). 

It's amazing how much of this "freedom" entails reliance on Uncle Sam to open up his wallet.  When you think about it, to even call it an "opportunity" is way off base--like saying a marionette has an "opportunity" to cut the strings and walk across the stage itself. 

So it's back to work for those of us who are apparently passing on exercising this new "freedom" that President Obama and his allies have bestowed upon us--as we foolishly earn enough money to choose not to work when we can finally afford it on our own.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lifestyles of the Rich and (Non)Famous

Something said in the debate over Governor Scott Walker's tax cut proposal yesterday in Madison caught my attention.  In an effort to discredit any efforts to lower income or property taxes, Democratic Representative Brett Hulsey tried to argue that they would not help the economy at all because "You know why rich people are rich? They don't spend money."  The statement conjures up images of Disney's Scrooge McDuck sitting atop a giant pile of money beating off anyone trying to touch it with his walking stick.

Apparently, Representative Hulsey doesn't watch Entertainment Tonight or E! Television or Bravo--because the celebrities and "The Real Housewives of (Insert Rich Gated Community Here)" tend to throw money around like it's going out of style.  But even if he was talking about the much more low-key, high-end earners here in Wisconsin he was still wrong.  He would have been more on-point if he had added the word "frivolously" to the end of his statement.

The rich don't spend their money on things like tattoos and piercings, meals at McDonald's, Subway, and Burger King five days a week, 24-packs of Busch Light, Beats headphones, 22-inch spinner rims, Ke$ha concert tickets, designer baggy jeans, lottery tickets, Friday and Saturday nights at the club or illegal drugs.

You know what the rich do tend to spend their money on?  Salaries and benefits for employees at small businesses, municipal bonds to fund the construction of new roads and schools, seed money for new businesses, the building of senior living centers, equipment used at the Boys and Girls Club, boats built at Cruisers in Pulaski with motors made by Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac, stocks in all kinds of American companies, college endowments for research and student scholarships, Harleys assembled in Milwaukee, meals at restaurants that pay more than the minimum wage, cancer centers at hospitals and (as has been pointed out here before) 106% of all federal personal income taxes paid.

Yes, much of that spending leads to the making of more money--a practice we like to call "building wealth".  It was something that nearly all Americans strived to do at one time--until many got distracted by all of the items in the first list.  However, if Representative Hulsey would like the rich to go all Atlas Shrugged and just sit on their piles of money--laughing at the plight of the "less fortunate"--I'm sure it could be arranged.  It might give the Madison Democrat some interesting insight into how things actually work in the real world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The European Way

Everybody is having a good laugh over the infrastructure problems at the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia this week.  Hotels without roofs, running water, operational toilets or light bulbs are mixed in with open manhole covers in the middle of sidewalks and stray dogs running wild in the streets to fill up everyone's Twitter timelines.  Apparently, a reported $81-BILLION of Russian government spending just doesn't buy as much as it used to.

The Sochi disaster still hasn't reached the proportions that Athens, Greece saw in 2004.  The International Olympic Committee was seriously considering having a back-up site ready to host the games on a moment's notice because it appeared that a number of venues in Athens were not going to be ready in time.  Worker strikes, cost overruns and a general lack of urgency on the part of pretty much everyone involved in the process put construction of everything behind schedule.  And once the Games were over, the Greek government was saddled with a $10-BILLION loss of taxpayer funds--which added to their economic collapse a few years later.

Compare those Games to the ones held here in the US--most of which have ended up making money--and spending far less in taxpayer cash.  Both the LA and Atlanta games netted about a quarter-billion dollars each--while spending less than a billion in public funds.  (Salt Lake City did suffer a $155-MILLION loss--and spent 1.2-BILLION in federal funds secured largely after Mitt Romney took over administration of the planning.) 

So why are US Olympics so much more financially successful than those staged in Europe?  Because Games here are largely a private sector enterprise--while the European model is based upon the central government doing all of the work.  When organizers in LA and Atlanta had to beg corporations and individual donors to pony up cash to pay for venues and other infrastructure, they tended to keep a very close eye on how it was spent.  But when its taxpayer dollars going into these projects overseas, far less concern is paid to getting the biggest bang for your buck.

All of this would be a moot point if not for all of the Progressives here in the US insisting that we become "more European" in the way we do things.  Their desire for more government control of healthcare, more government provided transportation, greater government regulation of industry and commerce, mass unionization of workers, wage controls, reduced work hours, and tighter environmental standards are all based on the "success" of similar practices in the Old World.

But isn't funny that when we get a close-up look every four or six years into how those systems really work, they don't seem all that "successful"?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How the Government "Creates" Jobs

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is out with a report on the impact implementation of the Affordable Care Act will have on the labor market.  The CBO estimates that there will be 2-million fewer workers due to the law.  That "headline" had the crew at FOX News Channel going into BREAKING NEWS mode yesterday and exclaiming that "ObamaCare will be putting people out of work!"

That however, is not quite accurate.  You see, what the CBO has found is that 2-million people are just simply going to stop working--some because they have been added to the rolls of taxpayer-funded Medicaid programs--while others are now receiving taxpayer-funded credits to purchase their health insurance.  To continue to work full-time and pay for that coverage out-of-pocket is no longer necessary, so why put in all of that effort?  It's really the "grand vision" that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted for the ACA right after she encouraged Congress to "pass the bill to find out what's in it".....

"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."

The CBO report also exemplifies the Democratic philosophy on "job creation": If we pay enough people NOT to work, the private sector will eventually have to hire everybody who does want to work!  You know full well that when the 2-million "dropouts" from the workforce are replaced by those currently unemployed, the Obama Administration will be quick to take credit for "creating new jobs"--even though the net effect is zero.

This is also the same strategy Keynsian economists like Paul Krugman at the New York Times espouse all the time as a panacea for high rates of unemployment among recent college graduates: move up the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 62 or even 60 and pay those people not to work sooner.  Voila! Unemployment crisis solved! (Nevermind that it greatly speeds up the insolvency of the two programs--we can just print more money to solve that problem!)

Now we just need the Congressional Budget Office to do a study on how much more the rest of us still choosing to remain in the labor force get to pay to make sure those 2-million people don't have to work so hard.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why President Obama CAN"T Tell the Truth

Many a conservative talk show host accuses President Obama of lying about everything--the need for the Affordable Care Act, the success of the Affordable Care Act, the costs of the Affordable Care Act, what actually happened in Benghazi, etc, etc.  But all you have to do is look at the blowback he receives when he does wander off message and allows a little nugget of the truth to escape to see why the facts are hard to come by.

In his visit to Waukesha last week, the President discussed--quite frankly, I thought--the benefits of picking your college major wisely.....

So what response did this little bit of candor from the President generate?  A thoughtful conversation about the value of blue-collar labor?  The importance of understanding the role supply and demand has on wages and career earnings?  Nope.  All the President got was rebuked for pointing out that there is more need today for people that can operate a press machine than there is for people who can tell the difference between a Renoir and a Degas.

(As an aside, is a society that fails to learn its art history doomed to repeat it?  Are we looking at a future where all painters will be like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock--and we won't be able to tell museums from graffiti vandalism sites?)

So if we want more honesty from President Obama, let's stop attacking him when he gives it to us.  Otherwise we can just look forward to three more years of the "Everybody is great.  Nobody is to blame for any of their problems.  Big Government can make you life perfect" baloney we've had the last five years.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Waste $4-Million in 30 Seconds

Can we all agree that the era of the Must See Super Bowl commercial is over?  Yesterday's broadcast continued the trend of ads that are neither funny nor informative.  Did anyone really laugh at Arnold Schwarzenegger in a blonde wig playing ping-pong?  Or a guy hugging Bruce Willis?  I'm the biggest Seinfeld fan in the world--but I could only come up with a chuckle for the much-ballyhooed "reunion" ad featuring Jerry, George and Newman.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news for the companies that spent $4-MILLION dollars for their 30 seconds of Super Bowl fame--but you completely wasted your money.  The on-line chatter and office talk today will mention your ads--but they will always be framed by what happened in the commerical--not the actual product that was supposed to be promoted.  "That ad with the big dog's head on the little dog's body was hilarious--anyone remember what that was for?"

And that is where what has become Super Bowl ads fail the companies who pay for them.  Dog-riding girls, chihuahuas with doberman heads and horses playing with dogs are cute and all--but how exactly do they help you differentiate your product from all of its competition?  And if your actual product never shows up in the ad itself, how is the viewer supposed to even associate what they just saw with what you are trying to sell?

Super Bowl advertising--save for a few exceptions like Chrysler Corporation--has devolved into nothing more than New York and Los Angeles marketing firms trying to win the coveted USA Today "Ad Meter Contest" the Monday after the game.  When you read the article today, notice that the ad agency gets just as much mention as the advertiser that actually ponies up the big cash.  Those same ad execs then get to spend the next 11-months beating their chests and bragging up to a new crop of potential advertisers about how they "won last year's Super Bowl--and we can do the same for you".  But they don't ever seem to come back with actual sales numbers that would show getting the biggest laughs on Super Sunday led to ANY additional sales the other 364-days of the year.

And remember, the four-mill price tag just gets you on the air.  The Terminator, CGI-generated mutant dogs and stunt performances featuring flying cars and big explosions don't come cheap.  So the actual cost of 30-seconds of air time last night was probably closer to $5-MILLION--all to be completely forgotten by the time Paul Allen (whose MicroSoft ad featured people actually using his product to better their lives, rather than trying to win some stupid newspaper contest with cheap laughs) was handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy.