Monday, March 31, 2014

Play Ball.....For Four Hours

Major League Baseball starts a new season today, and I predict it is going to be a long one.  We already know that the World Series could stretch into November again, but what I'm talking about is the pace of play in a game already considered way too slow by many casual fans which is now going to get even slower.

This is the first season that MLB will be be using expanded instant replay.  Instead of determining just fair or foul calls and whether a ball cleared the fence or home run line, now plays on the bases and catches in the field can be reviewed as well.  For the first six innings, managers will have one challenge each.  If their first challenge is upheld, they get a second.  That means four challenges are possible each game.  Starting in the seventh inning, the umpires can request a replay review of their own.

Given the nature of baseball, with a small ball being used on a large field--and the number of bang-bang plays occurring on the bases--the possibilities for challenges and umpire-reviews are nearly endless.  And as we've seen in the NCAA Tournament--where every finger to the eye, last-minute shot and ball deflected out of bounds has led to momentum-killing video reviews courtside--watching umpires on the phone with the video command center in New York is not going to be must see television.

Pace of play was a big topic on the internet this weekend, with suggestions ranging from pitch clocks to home run derby to decide tie games after the 10th inning.  But here is a novel idea to speed up pace of play--and encourage more offense as well: CALL MORE STRIKES.

The strike zone in today's pro game is a joke.  A ball four inches above the belt is now "high".  And yet, you see the same pitch thrown to the same batter in his next at-bat and he drills it 450-feet out of the ballpark.  The tight strike zone has also played into the hands of the Sabermetrics crowd--who believe you want lineups filled with batters who take a lot of pitches and can foul off borderline pitches until they get a juicy hanging curve out over the plate to drive somewhere.  The Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals are masters of that technique--and they all play some of the longest games in the Majors--drawn out, four hour affairs with numerous pinch hitters, pitching changes to face one batter and 15-pitch at bats that end up with a walk.

If you went back to the bottom of the armpits to the bottom of the knees--and call strikes all the way out to the edges of the plate, hitters would go up there ready to swing, because they know they are going to see strikes and they need to be aggressive to avoid falling behind in the count.  You might also see more complete games and fewer three-pitchers-used-in-one-inning situations--as starters won't reach the 100-pitch mark in the 6th inning so often.

So enjoy the 2014 baseball season, fans.  You are going to be there awhile.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Ivory Tower Quandry

As the recent National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern University football players can unionize moves us toward the end of college athletics as we know it, it should be fun to watch those involved in academia twist themselves into philosophical knots trying to figure out who to support in the upcoming battle.

Many of those who patrol our halls of learning tend to lean left--VERY left.  They support efforts to unionize all forms of "labor"--right down to the high school dropout who is putting my Filet-O-Fish on a bun along the McDonald's production line.  They believe--and teach--that collective bargaining is the only form of "power" that employees have over their employers--and that all concessions by workers to maintain profitability should be met with a quid-pro-quo from the company as well.  So they should be jumping behind the idea of classifying college athletes as "employees" of the school--with "rights" to bargain for such things as salaries, health insurance and a share of all marketing based upon their likeness or name.

But many of those same Doctors and Professors also HATE athletics--especially the influence sports has on the campus culture.  They resent the big bucks pulled in by Athletic Directors and Head Coaches.  They detest the special treatment afforded athletes in the classroom.  They fume over reports showing some sports programs producing a graduation rate out of Animal House: ZERO-POINT-ZERO-ZERO.  And they envy the adulation placed upon those who do the menial tasks of putting a basketball in a hoop or catching a football--while they toil in anonymity in the lab doing work that "betters the human race".  How do you think Professor Peabody is going to feel parking his Prius with all of the Obama '08 and '12 bumper stickers on it in the lot outside the College of Letters and Sciences next to the Mustang Convertible with the 14-inch chrome rims that Johnny Football purchased with the money the school gave him for the uniforms with his number that sold in the University Bookstore last month?  And how will Doctor Knowitall treat the one-and-done, 19-year old freshman basketball star taking her first semester remedial English class just to stay eligible long enough to play into the NCAA Tournament--who is also getting paid as much as her?

Plus, the debates over how paying athletes advances the "Academic Mission" of the schools should be great theater as well.  A whole new class of "employee" will be added to college payrolls that will do no teaching or research--nor will it support the efforts to do either of those tasks.  All at a time when most schools are trimming the number of instructors on campus and asking those in the classroom to teach more kids.

For some reason, I think the Ivory Tower is going to win out over the Blue Fist in this ideological battle.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Good People Don't Get Into Politics Anymore

Ever wonder why there seems to be a lack of good people in politics nowadays?  All you have to do is look at the behavior of Brown County Board candidate Jason Wisneski.  Angry because the Green Bay Press-Gazette did a story about his conviction for misdemeanor animal mistreatment six years ago, Wisneski fired back on his Facebook page this incredibly petty, ignorant and mean-spirited post:


For those who are not familiar with the situation, Senator Hansen was backing out of his garage in 2007 when his two year old granddaughter ran behind the car.  Hansen was not able to see her and ran her over.  It was a tragic accident that resulted in NO criminal charges against the State Senator--and, based on Hansen's emotional response in an Action 2 News report yesterday, caused a permanent emotional scar on him and his family.

Wisneski's Facebook comments show an incredible lack of perspective in comparing the circumstances of him throwing his cat off his bed and it suffering a broken leg--and a grandfather accidentally running over his granddaughter.  It also shows a complete lack of understanding of the definition of "murder"--an intentional effort to take another person's life.

It also shows the lack of respect for others underlying the current political discourse in this country.  Jason Wisneski is running for a non-partisan, part-time County Board seat.  He's not even running against Dave Hansen.  Yet, the scorched earth policy established by Karl Rove has made its way into a race that will likely see all of a thousand people bother to cast a vote next Tuesday.

Now does that mean I think all political campaigns should feature smiley faces and singing together around the campfire?  Certainly not.  If Dave Hansen's next opponent wants to steal the line Senator Mike Ellis used about him here on WOSH years ago ("Dave Hansen can't got to the bathroom without direction from the unions") that's fine.  If they want to show pictures of him huddling with his fellow Democrats in Illinois instead of doing his job in Madison, that's fair as well.  But to continue to beat the man reminders that he bears responsibility for the tragic death of his granddaughter is WAY out of bounds.

And it's why finding a good man or woman in politics will continue to get harder in the future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Accountability Gap

If President Obama parents like he governs, we can expect Sasha and Malia to be living in the basement of the Presidential Library when they are in their 40's.  I say that because their Dad has (without Congressional approval) pushed back the deadline for meeting the requirements of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act AGAIN.  Now, you don't have to have paid for your health insurance policy by March 31st--or to have even applied for a health insurance policy by March 31st.  All you have to do by the end of the month is enter your name on page 2 of the federal exchange website and save the "application"--and you have a now open-ended timeline to actually enroll.

While the White House likes to pretend this is the "absolute last" extension that will be granted to those who have failed to enroll, we are more likely just at the beginning of what will be an endless (if Democrats retain the Presidency) series of delays in provisions contained in what President Obama likes to remind supporters of repeal is "THE LAW OF THE LAND" (unless we don't want it to be for our own political purposes).  Up next will be a Presidential directive delaying the IRS enforcement of failing to meet the individual mandate with the tax penalties that are clearly spelled out in the ACA.  That will be followed by the President ordering insurance companies to continue policies for people who fail to pay their share of the federally-subsidized monthly premiums.  And then health care providers will be barred from suing those who fail to pay the deductibles or co-pays clearly spelled out in the policies in which they are enrolling in the federal exchange.  Then we will have extended open enrollment periods again--another delay in the employer mandate because Democrats running for re-election are still fearful of millions of small businesses just cutting the benefit and sending all of their employees into the exchanges--and another delay in the IRS penalties as well.

But what will not be delayed, is enforcement of the provisions of the ACA that affect insurers themselves.  Blue Cross won't be able to claim it "forgot" that it has to provide coverage to someone with stage 4 lung cancer.  In fact, there will be a press conference by Attorney General Eric Holder to announce the federal lawsuit that will be filed in that "historic first case".  Kaiser won't be able to say that it "still can't afford" to provide free birth control pills to all of its female customers (including those over the age of 50).  And UnitedHealthCare isn't getting an extension to start covering those who did go through the entire enrollment process and paid their first month's premium.

Democrats like to address "gaps".  The "Income Gap", the "Wealth Gap", the "Education Gap", the "Technology Gap" and even "Transportation Access Gap".  But one "gap" they never seem to want to address is the "Accountability Gap".  Of course, expecting people to be responsible for themselves and their actions goes against everything they believe in politically.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

So What Is the Plan?

Back in my pre-Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover days--when I was incredibly foolish with my money--any raise, credit limit increase or "pre-approved" credit card application was treated like an opportunity to go out and spend and borrow more money.  Getting those few extra bucks allowed me to delay having to make some tough--but not debilitating--choices about how I was spending my money.  Eventually, the raises don't come as regularly (or never) and banks stop adding water to the pool of debt in which you are drowning--and the less-painful cuts that could have been made years ago suddenly become big life-altering options that you have no choice but to make.  What you find out is that just because you make more doesn't mean you still shouldn't look to lower your expenses.

Unfortunately, I see the Oshkosh School District heading in this same direction as formerly-money-foolish Me.  One thing I have not heard in any of the presentations, School Board workshops or media appearances by Superintendent Stan Mack is the plan for not needing to come back with an even bigger referendum request when the seven-year issue on the ballot next week expires.  I think the plan is to (like I did) just keep spending because now there is no longer a reason to cutback--and just hope that voters in 2021 will approve 38 or 48 or even 58-million dollars in additional spending.

We had Dale Knapp from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance on the WOSH Morning News Focus yesterday.  They just completed a study on school referenda--that found voters are far more amenable to temporary property tax increases--rather than permanently exceeding the state-mandated revenue cap.  And while that is good for the short-term (3-7 years) it sets those districts on an endless cycle of having to bring larger and larger referenda before the voters, until one day, those who used to say "yes" finally vote "no"--and the short list of cuts that were on that first ballot issue suddenly become HUGE cuts that likely could have been avoided with proper long-range planning.

Superintendent Mack will be in for his monthly WOSH Morning News Focus appearance on Friday at 8:30.  We'll be sure to ask him about the new Seven Year Plan that should accompany any request for a "yes" vote on April 1st. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

If It's Not Free--It's Not For Me

Back in January, we here at WOSH News attempted to do a story on the future of free and community health clinics in the Fox Valley following the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  With the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance, it seemed that the need for such facilities would go away--as everyone would be able to access the "regular" clinics and doctors provided by Aurora, Agnesian, ThedaCare and Affinity.  We contacted five clinics in all--and only Agnesian out of Fond du Lac returned any of our calls.  Their spokeswoman would not go on the record and would only say that they planned to continue their "charity care" programs.  She would not answer any questions about why--if every patient coming in should now have health insurance.

You could probably assume that these clinics and programs need to tone down the promotion of their services, since those coming in without health insurance are technically breaking the law (although the Obama Administration has made no announcement on how they plan to actually track down those "offenders"--other than to say the IRS will handle it.)  And who knows, the President could just unilaterally decide to push back the individual mandate (again) past the November mid-term elections to help Democrats dealing with "ObamaCare" blowback.

Well this weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal uncovered why the free clinics will remain open.  In their cleverly titled "Affordable Care Act's copays may become no-pays", the paper finds that even though many of the newly-enrolled will be getting federal subsidies and could pay as little as $8 a month for their coverage--they have no requirement to pay the deductibles and co-pays included in the plans.  John Bartkowski--who runs the 16th Street Health Center--flat out admits in the story "We will never collect that money". 

But Mr Bartkowski is not quite correct, you see that money will be collected eventually--from everyone else who buys health insurance and pays taxes.  And that is the same source of funding that existed before the Trillion-dollar ACA bureaucracy was put into place.  Note that many of the newly-insured are getting sizable federal subsidies to purchase their policies--and additional subsidies are in place to help with deductibles and co-pays as well.  I'll grant you that the money for that is just being printed and not really collected from taxpayers at this time--but eventually, there will be a need to back up all that spending with actual revenue--and those getting the subsidies and walking away from the deductibles and co-pays will not be the ones picking up the tab.

Those who represent the 6-million "newly enrolled" and the millions more that are now provided government health coverage through expanded Medicaid programs paid little to nothing for health care before and they will continue to pay little to nothing for it now.  So for whom did the Affordable Care Act make things "more affordable"?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Life in a Nutshell--At the Line

After watching North Carolina State blow a late 16-point lead by missing more than half of their free throws in a loss to St Louis in the NCAA Tournament last night, I've come to realize that futility at the line mirrors our societal decline off the court.  How else to explain the inability of so many high-level athletes to make an unchallenged 15-foot shot?

Free throws are neither exciting nor sexy--making them virtually useless to modern young adults.  Have you ever seen a Lebron James free throw in the Sportscenter Top 10?  Does Gus Johnson scream at the top of his lungs about a made free throw in the middle of the first quarter?  Do millions of people post and re-tweet .gifs of anybody making both ends of a one-and-one?  If it doesn't have the chance to "go viral" why bother doing it nowadays?

Being a good free throw shooter also requires time.  I'm not even talking about spending hours in the gym practicing the shots--but rather using more of the ten seconds you are given after being administered the ball to shoot.  Take the Badgers' Sam Dekker for instance--he should be one of those 90% free throw shooters--but instead he hovers around 70%--because he doesn't take his time. He dribbles once, looks up for a split second at the rim, and fires away.  The great free throw shooters of the past took seven to nine seconds to go through their routines--usually spending most of that time actually focusing on the target.  In today's "Ugh, this slow internet is driving me nuts, it took four seconds for my Google search to load" society, seven to ten seconds to do something right is just waaayyy too long.

Free throw shooting is also one of the most individualistic acts in sports.  No one has to pass you the ball or set a screen to get you wide open.  It's just you, the ball and the basket.  Of course, individual success is frowned upon in America today--and proving that you are better than someone else in a one-on-one basis is considered to create "achievement gaps"--so perhaps today's players are just trying to make their opponents feel better about themselves by choosing to fail.

And finally, there is a reduced value to a free throw.  It's worth just one point--as opposed to the two you get for a spectacular dunk or the three awarded for launching one from downtown.  And the word "free" is right there in it.  Ask officials in any city that has tried to provide "free bikes" for use around town--but has seen every one of them stolen or seriously damaged--how people value stuff that is free.  Or get Affordable Care Act supporters to explain the general lack of enthusiasm from people who were so "desperate" to get health insurance when it came to actually enrolling in the government-subsidized plans.  The less you have to work for something--the less you appreciate getting it.

Of course, in the direction we are heading a commentator 20-years from now will be wondering why the 3D hologram player controlled by the NC State student sitting on the couch in his dorm room is shooting free throws so poorly.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Madness Memories

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament "officially" tipping off this morning, I'd like to look back at my five favorite games from March Madness.

5--Navy vs Cleveland State, 1986 Regional Semi-Finals.  This little gem featured one of the greatest one on one battles between David "The Admiral" Robinson for the Midshipmen and Ken "Mouse" McFadden of the Vikings.  Cleveland State had become the darlings of the tournament becoming the first 14-seed to make the Sweet 16--beating Bobby Knight and Indiana in the first round.  Meanwhile, Robinson became a household name dominating through the first two games--and then hitting the last-second game winner in this win to put Navy a game away from the Final Four (a game they would unfortunately lose to Duke).

4--North Carolina State vs Houston, 1983 Championship Game.  This is really the game that coined the phrase "March Madness".  NC State had to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament just to make the field--while Houston was this high-flying, dunk-a-minute crews with future hall of famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.  The Wolfpack won a bunch of come-from-behind games to make it to the final--and then "won it on the dunk" by Lorenzo Charles--while Hakeem just stood there and watched.  Suddenly, Cinderella became the belle of the ball every March.

3--Georgetown vs Princeton 1989 East Regional First Round.  The game where a 16-seed from the Ivy League almost beat the 1-seed Big East Champions.  It was also the game where we all learned what a beautiful thing the Princeton High Post Offense was--designed by the mad genius Petey Carril--as the Tigers kept beating the Hoyas on the patented back door cuts for easy layups.  At halftime of the game, ESPN's Dick Vitale said he would serve as the ballboy for the next Princeton game if they ended up winning.  Unfortunately, Alonzo Mourning blocked a couple of shots at the end of the game and G-town got out of there with a lucky win.

2--Wisconsin vs Purdue, 2000 West Regional Final.  I'm going to try not to get choked up thinking about this one.  The most unlikely of all Wisconsin teams goes to the Final Four--despite eight and nine minute scoring droughts--as Mike Kelley, the embodiment of Dick Bennett basketball, thoroughly dominates on the defensive end--and Coach Bennett cuts down the nets.  It was the perfect high point to one of the finest coaching careers in basketball history. (Damn you Michigan State!!)

1--Duke vs Kentucky, 1991 Regional Final.  This is still the greatest game in the history of basketball as far as I'm concerned.  I remember the TV lounge in our dorm was packed even before tip-off--with the room divided between the Duke haters (who couldn't wait to see Christian Laettner get his come-uppance) and the bandwagon Dukies (who believed winning was a given).  Kentucky got off to a fast start.  Duke clawed their way back in front.  Kentucky rallied late to send it into overtime.  It looked like us Duke haters were going to get the last laugh after Sean Woods wild shot banked in with 2.1 seconds left to give the Wildcats the lead by one.  But of course, Rick Pitino didn't put anyone in Grant Hill's face to try and block the perfect 3/4's court pass--and he didn't have anyone front Laettner to challenge the catch.  You just knew that when he put up that shot--he hadn't missed one all night--it was going to go in.

Let's hope this year's edition of March Madness has some similar moments to savor forever.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lessons To Be Learned

One of the most incredible things to come out of the investigations into the 9/11 attacks is the amount of planning and preparation Al Qaeda put into the hijacking of the four planes that day.  In addition to living among us here in the US for months and years and securing basic flight training on commercial jets, the hijackers also took several "test flights" before their day of action.  Yes, some of the terrorists actually flew the routes they would later hijack in order to learn what they might face on 9/11.

They checked out the passenger loads on those trans-continental flights--realizing that most were lightly-traveled--meaning fewer potential threats to their operations.  They found out what potential weapons could be taken through security without raising concerns.  They observed the movements of the cabin crews--when service carts would not be blocking the aisle to the cockpit and when fewer stewards would be at the front of the plane.  They even noted the landmarks on the ground they would have to use to navigate the planes back to their intended targets--since they would not be able to reprogram the flight computers themselves.  Of course, all of that planning and preparation paid off--as the terrorists went four-for-four in taking over the planes--and three-for-four in reaching their targets.

And that is why we should be deeply disturbed by what has happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.  Even if there is no direct connection with anyone on-board the missing flight, what happened to the plane is providing those who might want to take over another flight in the future with a pretty good playbook.

We (and those with bad intent) have learned that it's not that hard to board a flight with a stolen passport (as the two Iranian nationals did).  We have learned that there are gaps in the air traffic control system (as flight 370 "disappeared" during the handoff from Malaysian controllers to Vietnamese controllers).  We have learned that turning off a plane's "radar and satellite signatures" is not that hard--while everyone has found out that there are still some systems that continue to maintain contact (much to the surprise of even veteran pilots).  However, we have learned that such data is not "instantaneous" and takes several days to decipher.  We have learned that evading radar detection is still possible (if you know what you are doing)--and even if you are picked up as an "unidentified aircraft", some countries won't do anything about it (and they won't even report it unless they are "asked to" after the fact).

And the biggest lesson we have learned is that despite all of the "No Fly Lists", the body scans, the taking off your shoes, the ban on liquids in carry-ons and extra pat-downs of 80-year old women--all it takes is one pilot with his own agenda to turn a commercial airliner into a guided missile.  Perhaps we should rethink those armored doors to the cockpit that were installed as the "last line of defense" after 9/11.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just Giving the People What They Wanted

In case you missed it yesterday, the King of Informercials--Kevin Trudeau--was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison yesterday for criminal contempt of court.  You may recall Mr Trudeau from his various half-hour TV "programs" as an "expert" on improving your memory, getting out of debt, getting free money from the government and banks, weight loss and curing every malady under the sun without having to see a doctor.  A pretty heady list of "expertise" for someone who never attended medical school, worked in the finance industry or did a single bit of scientific research.

But what Kevin Trudeau knew how to do was to market Americans their favorite product in the whole world: The Easy Way.  His "debt cure" was nothing more than challenging every account on your credit report--not setting up a system to pay off those debts.  His "weight lost cure" was a much-discredited old idea of using hormone therapy and simply not eating to "shed pounds quickly"--rather than developing a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition and exercise.  His way to "find money" was to apply for common college student grants or borrow money to buy forclosed homes and then flip them immediately--rather than actually developing marketable skills to make more money.  And his "cure for everything" was nothing more than common products that hold no medicinal benefit--rather than proper treatment and healthier living.  All of these things were "better explained" in his monthly newsletter--available for $75 a year.

Trudeau was also a master of the "conspiracy theory".  If you look at all of his books--and informercial titles--they contain the "they don't want to you to know about" phrase.  It played into people's fears that big companies are plotting to keep them poor, to keep them sick, and to keep them buying their government-regulated and tested-for-safety medicines.  The "conspiracy" angle also gave Trudeau great cover when the Federal Trade Commission tried to crack down on his claims--"See, the Government is trying to shut me up about these 'secrets' they have been keeping from you!"  And millions of Americans ate it up.  Trudeau had several New York Times bestsellers--and despite his conviction and now sentence--his books are STILL available for sale on several booksellers websites.

We occasionally hear about "victimless" crimes--when defense attorneys try to get leniency for their convicted clients--"nobody was really hurt by this, Your Honor, so why the need to throw the book at my guy?"  Personally, I think this is one of those cases.  Every person who bought Kevin Trudeau's books, DVD's and audio tapes is just as guilty of trying to "cheat the system" as he was.  And in the end, they all ended up with what they deserved--lighter wallets.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What A Difference A Day Will Make

At this time tomorrow, I'll be on a Southwest Airlines flight bound for Florida.  I can already tell you that my mood is going to be 1000-times better than it has been for any of the past 120-days.  That's because when we land, I know that I won't have to put on six layers of clothing just to step outside the terminal building.  People won't mistake me for an arctic explorer about to hitch up to my dog-sled team to to take on an unforgiving Mother Nature in a life-or-death battle to avoid frostbite and hypothermia just to pick up some milk at the store.

I will be greeted by this thing in the sky that we like to cal "the Sun."  We haven't seen it much around here lately.  Yes it's been out, but to venture outside to try and enjoy it has been a miserable experience for what, the last three months at least.  Down there, it will feel like a giant heat lamp, re-energizing me like the alligators that I'll see on the golf courses.

Did I mention golf?  There will be actual greens and fairways and tee boxes visible--and USABLE--not buried under a foot and a half of snow--leading some of us to wonder if we will be able to play around here before April 15th.  And I won't have to don my Under Armor Cold Gear to play a round comfortably.  I will wear out my arms and my back swinging clubs and rolling putts--instead of lifting shovelfuls of snow over piles along the driveway that threatening to bury the kids walking past to and from school each day.

In a further signal of rebellion against Old Man Winter, I've gone so far as to rent a convertible Mustang.  Give me more of that Sun--give me more of those Gulf breezes and the salty sea air as the wife and I cruise along the Oversees Highway and into the glowing sunset at Margaritaville.  It will be nice to have my prescription lenses darken because of actual bright sunlight--instead of just being so cold that it triggers the chemical reaction inside the plastic.

My poor pasty legs and arms and chest will get to see some UV rays--soaking up the Vitamin D--and proving that Brian Wilson was 100% right with everything he wrote for his fellow Beach Boys in "Warmth of the Sun".  It will almost be like a re-birth--a new shot at life, moving out of a dark, cold and dreary existence that has sapped away my "essence" for so long.

I'd send you a postcard--but that is so 20th century.  Look for the sun-splashed photos on Twitter and Facebook.  I'll be the guy with the biggest smile on the planet.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

ObamaCare's Biggest Obstructionist

When will these efforts to obstruct the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act finally end?  It was bad enough that 30-million people "desperate" to buy health insurance had to wait three years after the ACA was passed to finally have the "individual mandate" requiring coverage go into effect.  Then, those who worked for companies with between 50 and 100-employees saw the "employer mandate" get pushed back another year from its original implementation date.  To add insult to injury, no effort was made to guarantee that the national health insurance exchange website would work properly when it went online--even after three years of preparation.  Then, those "trapped" in health insurance plans that don't even meet the minimum standards of coverage required by the ACA were made to keep them for another year.  Then the deadline for the "individual mandate" was pushed back another three months.  And now, those "trapped" in existing health insurance plans that don't even meet the minimum standards of coverage required by the ACA are made to keep them until 2016.

And who is leading this effort to block the will of Congress and the federal laws that it passed?  Why it is none other than the Affordable Care Act's architect and biggest champion: President Barack Obama.  On Wednesday, the President extended the effort to put off his "If you like your plan, you can keep it" Lie of the Year until 2016--even though Congress did not take a single vote to amend the law that it passed which required those plans to be cancelled by the start of this year.  It also extends the President's order from late last year that insurance companies could re-instate those policies--again without Congressional amendment of its previously approved law--after many of those customers had already received their cancellation notices and insurance companies had not done actuarial studies on continuing those policies.

You may notice a pattern in the dates that are selected for the eventual (but likely to be delayed again) implementation deadlines--each time they push the most unpopular provisions of the ACA beyond another election cycle.  The ACA individual mandate was conveniently placed well beyond President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.  So were most of the new taxes and fees contained in the ACA to pay for the new law.  The "employer mandate" was pushed back 2015 so as to prevent increased unemployment heading into the 2014 mid-term election cycle.  And now the "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan" CYA move will run until 2016, so Democrats don't have to worry about 1.5-million angry voters headling to the polls with cancellation notices in their pockets.

So the next time you hear an MSNBC talking head, or a Democratic candidate for office or a "community organizer" complain about Republican efforts to derail the Affordable Care Act remember, the GOP is doing nothing but talking--President Obama is the one taking all of the action.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

In Celebration of "Hard"

Whatever happened to the word "hard"?  It seems to have disappeared as a stand alone term in our lexicon.  We used to have degrees of difficulty for things in life: "easy", "medium" and "hard".  But nowadays things are only described as "really easy", "pretty easy" and "too hard".  Nothing is just plain "hard" anymore.

In sports we hear that kids are gravitating to soccer because baseball is "too hard".  Those of us involved in golf worry about the future of the game because beginners find it "too hard" to play.  Whenever a situation calls for people to do long addition, division or multiplication everyone reaches for their smartphones and brings up the Calculator function because doing math in your head is "too hard".

"Hard" has disappeared from our expected actions as Americans too.  It's now "too hard" to save anything for retirement.  It's now "too hard" to wait until you have a sizeable down payment to buy a house--or the full amount to buy a car.  It's "too hard" to teach more than 14 kids in a modern classroom.  College students can't work while at school anymore because it's "too hard" to balance everything going on in their lives.  And it's "too hard" to get proper state-issued ID to do things like vote or prove eligibility for entitlement programs.  The only person that I want to hear the words "too hard" from are the competitors who physically break down during the marathon portion of the IronMan Triathalon in Hawaii--where it takes every bit of physical strength they have left just to take one more step toward the finish line--but they just cannot bring themselves to give up. 

Even when people try to use the word "hard" nowadays, it's often in the wrong context.  Take President Obama every time he introduces a new Government initiative to spend more money to "help" the "Hard working Middle-Class"--like me.  My job is not "hard".  Yes, it's time-consuming, pressure-packed and sometimes mind-numbingly boring--but it is not "hard".  "Hard" work is done by the guys and gals I mentioned a couple of weeks ago who are out in -30 degree weather fixing broken water mains.

Once upon a time, we celebrated "hard" here in America.  I seem to remember a President issuing a challenge to the nation to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth:

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade--and do the other things--not because they are easy...but because they are hard!"

So what do you say we drop the "too" part, and go back to actually trying to do "hard" things.  It might amaze you what this country can accomplish again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Odds and Ends

Quick takes on a myriad of topics this morning:

--Kudos to Oshkosh School Board President Matt Wiedenhoeft for putting the brakes on planning for the expansion of Lakeside Elementary School last week.  The district was ready to plunge headfirst into a commitment it was not sure was actually supported by the parents involved and didn't yet have the money to undertake.  As Wiedenhoeft wisely pointed out in his appearance on the WOSH Morning News Focus on Friday, it looks like the School District is already spending an expected increase in property tax revenues in a few years a number of different ways.  Hopefully, some better explanations on financing will be available when the board revisits the topic at the end of April.

--I have to give it up for ESPN talking head Bomani Jones, who had the best reaction to John Travolta blowing the name of the Song of the Year performer at the Academy Awards Sunday night.  Mr Saturday Night Fever mangled Idina Menzel's name into "Adelle Dazeem" in a moment that just about broke Twitter and launched a billion "My John Travolta Name is....." social media posts.  Bomani says that Ms. Menzel should have just stood there on stage and not started her song because "I didn't hear my name called to be performing next.  I'm not going on until I hear 'Idina Menzel'".  How great would it have been to force Travota (who is considered to be of "higher intelligence" in the cult of Scientology) to come back out there--apologize for being a moron and properly introduce the next act.  In a related note, the lack of reading ability displayed by nearly all of the presenters Sunday night shows why it requires hundreds of takes and sometimes years to film movies nowadays.

--Speaking of actors, much was made last week of Seth Rogan appearing before a Senate committee to testify about Alzheimers Disease and research.  Members of the committee were taken to task because only two of them actually showed up for the hearing.  It was made to sound like every other Senator "didn't care about Alzheimers research"--or else they would have been there.  Maybe they just didn't care to hear about Alzheimer's research from a person who makes his living playing stoners and making fart jokes in movies.  (Rogan did manage to drop a joke about pot use in his "testimony".)

--And while we are on the topic of "Arts and Entertainment", did you see that Cosmos is coming back?  FOX Television is actually going to take a break from killing our brain cells and will try to grow a few instead.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson (who has never met a TV camera he didn't love) will be hosting the latest version--promising a new look at the origins, mysteries and the future of our universe and our planet.  Since the Science Channel, History and Nat Geo have abandoned actual science-based programming in exchange for Pawn Stars, Cajun Pawn Stars, Ghost Hunters, Cajun Ghost Hunters, Nazi Aliens, and Swamp People it will be nice to enjoy some "real" reality TV.  Unfortunately, I'm sure the ratings will come in lower than The Batchelor After the Final Rose, and Cosmos will be cancelled after four episodes.  Oh well, at least they tried.

Monday, March 3, 2014

When Evil Fills the Vacuum

As Russia continues its unabated takeover of Ukraine today (with "secret soldiers" wearing no Russian army markers--but using all Russian military equipment) Conservatives are bashing President Obama for not standing up to Vladimir Putin.  By all accounts, the 90-minute phone conversation over the weekend between the two heads of state consisted of Putin putting Obama in his place--stating that Russia will do whatever it so chooses in Ukraine to "protect its interests".

While the sight of an American President being treated like a lapdog dismays some of us, for the majority in the US, that is exactly what they are looking for.  The latest CBS News/New York Times poll finds the vast majority of Americans--65%--believe the US should NOT take the lead when it comes to international affairs.  That compares to 49% of people who held that world view after the 9/11 attacks.

Americans have long been isolationists.  In his farewell speech, President George Washington warned of becoming entangled in European wars and affairs.  The two oceans separating us from most of the other world powers gave us a certain sense of security--as any attempt to attack us from the outside would require vast resources and effort.  But as technology has made the world smaller, our enemies only get closer.

Pearl Harbor and 9/11 have shown that oceans are no longer a real barrier to attack.  The rise of Fascism and Communism in Europe and Asia--along with the proliferation of militant Islam in nearly every other part of the world shows how lack of American influence in a region can lead to the vacuum being filled by those who seek to do us--and millions of others--harm.

Those of us who like to study 20th century European history can find plenty of similarities between the current Ukrainian situation and that of the Sudetenland area of the Czech Republic and Austria of the 1930's.  Back then, a German-speaking minority in those sovereign nations "demanded" an alliance with Nazi Germany--or so Hitler claimed to the rest of the world.  The Germans rolled in the tanks to "protect" their brethren--and it appeared that the continent was on the brink of war. 

Here in the US, isolationists implored President Franklin Roosevelt to stay out of the controversy--saying the US had no business sticking its nose into European affairs.  And Roosevelt complied.  Instead, it was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who went to Berlin to meet with Hitler.  His capitulation--and allowance of Germany to basically "steal" entire sections of other nations--was hailed by the rest of Europe as "securing peace in our time".  That time would last less than two years--when the Germans invaded Poland (again to "protect" Germans living there) and World War II would be underway.

The question that will always remain unanswered is what would have happened if the US and her European allies had stood up to Hitler in 1938?  How many fewer people would have died?  And how much shorter would the war have been?  It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks and months if President Obama will give Putin what he wants to "secure peace in our time".