Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Thoughts

It's Super Bowl Sunday and here are my Super Thoughts about it:

Pre-game Show: Actually, if I my pre-game was the same relative to the actual coverage of the Super Bowl it would be four times longer than the game itself and I would have had to start it yesterday.  The NFL Network will be begin live, pre-game coverage at 6:00 AM our time.  That is 11-and-a-half hours of pre-game programing live from Arizona!  I don't think Admiral Yamamoto spent that much time plotting the attack on Pearl Harbor.  NBC is taking a "light" approach to pre-game programming.  They won't start the Today Show from the Super Bowl until 7:00 AM.

First Quarter: One of the hot topics during the two weeks leading up to the game has been "What will the New England Patriots' legacy be with the multiple 'cheating scandals' that have marred their long run of success?"  All of the talking heads want to draw the comparison to the records set by the steroid-fueled sluggers of Major League Baseball in the 1990's--and that the Pats will be treated the same way.  But here is how we will remember the Patriots: Not At All.  Honestly, when was the last time you "debated" the legacy of the 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers, or the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980's and '90's?  We likely won't think about "SpyGate and "Deflategate" until ESPN the Ocho does a 30 For 30 documentary on it 25-years from now--and our grandchildren laugh at how the highlights are in 1080p two-dimension broadcast instead of the 10,000p 3-D holographic broadcast that they will be watching.

Second Quarter: I find the public perception of the Seattle Seahawks fascinating.  Marshawn Lynch is seen as a "punk" for refusing to talk to the media.  Richard Sherman--who never passes up an opportunity to appear on camera and speak into a micro-phone--is considered a "thug" because he talks too much.  And then Russelll Wilson--who is always deferential and respectful whenever he is interviewed--is characterized as a "phony"--and allegedly causes a divide among his teammates because he "isn't Black enough".  When it comes to being an African-American athlete in the spotlight, you apparently can't win.

Halftime: Nothing exemplifies America's need to have in-your-face-at-all-times entertainment and action better than a Super Bowl Halftime Show.  Even though we spent 11&1/2 hours previewing this game, we can't take more than 3 minutes at the break to recap the action and analyze the results--because teenage girls are going to get bored.  The MVP of this game will actually be the computer technician that keeps Katy Perry's Auto-tuned, pre-recorded vocal track running properly during the show so that she doesn't actually have to sing into her microphone.

Third Quarter: Remember when you actually had to wait for the Super Bowl to see Super Bowl commercials?  There was actually some anticipation heading into each break to see what Madison Avenue was going to use to make us laugh (or sometimes cry).  But because we live in an instant gratification society now, every commercial is already available on-line for you to watch as many times as you want before the game starts.  For some people, this means they won't even have to watch the game.

Fourth Quarter: So who do I think will win?  New England has certainly looked more impressive in the post-season so far--and you can never bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady--but there is just something about Russell Wilson that is special and only Bret Bielema's horrible game management ever kept him from winning a big game late.  I'll go Seahawks over the Pats 26-24 on a late field goal.

Postgame: I'm really hoping that Marahawn Lynch wins Super Bowl MVP so that Dan Patrick has to conduct the most awkward post-game interview on the podium at mid-field before hundreds of millions on live television.

Enjoy the beer and wings!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Katrina Effect

Now that "Snowmageddon 2015" is behind us and the late night talk shows have finished mocking the TV coverage and hype of what turned out to be a storm that wasn't nearly as bad as expected, let's talk about the effects Hurricane Katrina continues to have on the United States.  That singular event has forever changed the way we in the media cover weather--and how government responds to the potential for any type of disaster.

First off, the mantra for all broadcast media outlets is Armageddon Weather Coverage Gets Ratings. Ask any news director at any of the major TV networks their greatest regret in covering Hurricane Katrina and they would tell you it was "Not making a bigger deal out of it before the storm hit".  You had the usual middle of the newscast stories about people nailing plywood over their windows and emptying the shelves of bottled water and bread.  Meteorologists waffled on just how severe the storm was going to be--realizing at the last minute that Category Five was in play--but not really being able to put into perspective just how powerful that was.

The Weather Channel and CNN were the big "winners" in Katrina--as they had "boots on the ground" during the brunt of the storm--and America became enamored with footage of grown men holding microphones being blown down the street.  That set the new standard for "storm reporting"--put people into harm's way so they can tell viewers not to go out into harm's way.  It's why we also get "live dashcams" of TV crews out cruising streets as snow creates whiteout conditions or floodwaters threaten to sweep the vehicle away.

The second lasting effect of Hurricane Katrina is that every politician and bureaucrat now must Treat Everyone Like Helpless, Moronic Children.  This comes from the copious amount of blame that was spread around to President Bush, FEMA Director Michael Brown and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for "failing to properly warn people" about the impending storm.  Even though the Mayor held several news conferences encouraging people to evacuate and telling them how to take advantage of free transportation to evacuate.  Of course, we all remember the scenes of the people who ignored those warnings standing on their rooftops waiting for rescue--and blasting the President for not sending the armored personnel carriers and evacuation buses right to their house to pick them up.

So now, everybody in Government feels it is their duty to warn everyone about every possible situation that might arise in a storm.  The day before "Snowmageddon", CNN went from a press conference featuring New York Mayor Bill DiBlasio telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities, shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm to a press conference by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities, shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm to a press conference by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities, shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm--followed by a telephone interview with the Massachussetts Director of Emergency Management  telling people to stay off the streets, stock up on necessities, shelter in place and don't try to travel during the storm.

Nearly ten years after Katrina, it continues to color the way we view major weather events--and I don't see any change on the horizon--until we do start tuning it out.  That will be right around the time the next "real" disaster strikes--and everyone looks around and says "Why didn't anyone warn us?"

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Way To Go, Michelle!

I'd like to give credit today to First Lady Michelle Obama for the statement she made yesterday in Saudi Arabia.  While accompanying her husband on a visit to the Saudi royal family, Mrs Obama did not wear a scarf to cover her head.  In Saudi Arabia--along with many other Muslim countries--women are expected to remain "modest" in their dress.  That usually means showing no skin other than their face (and in some places, even that is not allowed).  There are no such "modesty" laws for men--who can wear short sleeves and short pants without repercussions.  So for the First Lady to go without a "naquib" was a statement that she is the equal of her husband--even if her hosts didn't think so.

Now Mrs Obama didn't go full-on "women's lib" in Saudi Arabia.  She still walked behind her husband--another cultural custom--and she did not offer to shake hands with the men in the reception--doing so only after they extended their hands first.  She also did not drive the President to the palace--as women are strictly prohibited from having a drivers license or operating a vehicle in Saudi Arabia (lest they become able to leave their husband's or father's control). 

Observing foreign cultural traditions is always a sensitive issue when traveling abroad.  In much of Asia and even in Hawaii, it is considered to be disrespectful to enter someone's home wearing your shoes.  I've learned the hard way that it's rude in some European countries to hand money directly to a cashier in a store--and that the cash should be placed in a tray atop the register or the counter to be picked up by the employee (who then puts your change in the tray for you to pick up).  But those practices are expected of both genders.  The Japanese don't say "Miss, you must remove your shoes--but Sir, you can keep yours on."  And those customs are not meant to keep one gender subjugated to the other.

Following initial reports that Saudi state television blurred out the First Lady's head when showing footage of the reception, we have found out that everyone living in the country was able to see Mrs Obama and her hair.  While it might be a small thing to us, perhaps it can further foster a belief in women across the Muslim world that they are the equal of their husbands and fathers and demand such treatment in their societies.  Because women could be a very powerful ally to the United States as we continue what could be an endless fight against Militant Islam.  Quite often, they prove to be the only adults in the room.  Like that time the First Lady looked disgusted and embarrassed while the President was taking selfies with European leaders at the funeral of Nelson Mandella.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Sharks Are Circling

There are sharks in the water--and it's not blood that they are after--it's your money.

As part of his plan to "simplify the tax code", President Obama wants to revoke the tax-exempt status of 529 investment accounts.  For those not familiar, 529's are "Educational IRA's"--usually run by states--that allow parents to save money for their children's college education.  Under current law, if that money is used for school expenses, the parents don't pay taxes on the distributions.  If parents start when a child is born and save religiously, they are rewarded with not having their kid saddled with student loan debt upon graduation.

But the Obama Administration--and economists on the Left--think the "wrong people" are taking advantage of 529 plans.  They believe that most of the seven million accounts are held by parents who "could afford to save for college anyway"--and that the 529 is just a tax-shelter.  They may be right--the average 529 investor probably doesn't have a $400 smartphone sitting next to a $400 tablet with the same purchased apps on both of them, or subscriptions to ten different streaming video services, or the largest broadband internet package for freeze-free gaming, or unlimited data plans, or two $6 Mocha Grande Lattes every day and can "afford" to save for their kids' college.  What those "experts" fail to realize, however, is that by making 529 distributions "regular income" they also will cost middle class families money in financial aid for which they will no longer quality because they "make too much".

The fight over 529's is just a prelude to the real target of what will be President Obama's liberal successors in Washington--Roth IRA's.  There is $217 billion dollars currently held in 529 accounts.  But there is over $1-TRILLION sitting in Roth IRA's--all of it growing tax-free--and waiting to be distributed tax-free.  The President--again to "simplify the tax code"--is proposing a cap on the value of Roth's at $3.4 million dollars.  (That is apparently all the Government believes you should be allowed to save for retirement--so don't invest TOO well young savers).  Meanwhile, the calls are already coming from those at the Liberal think tanks to revoke the tax-free status of Roth's and tax the distributions not at the lower capital gains level--but again as regular income to "maximize Government revenues".  The argument being--again--that those who have been saving in Roth IRA's could have been putting that money away in other ways and don't "deserve" the tax break.

But there is still another pool of money that dwarfs even the Roth IRA sum--and that is the $12-TRILLION in wealth that Baby Boomers will be handing down to their Generation X and Gen Y children over the next couple of decades.  Economists are calling the "greatest transfer of wealth in human history"--and that isn't sitting well with those on the Left.  Remember, they want to "redistribute wealth"--not transfer it.  And that is why calls for increasing the inheritance tax and reducing the amount that is exempt from inheritance tax are already building.  And it's why Liberal pundits are sharpening their vocabulary with terms like "Genetic Lottery Winners" to describe those poised to get something from their dead parents.

So the sharks are out there--and they are getting hungrier by the day.  You might want to get a bigger boat.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The People of Few Alternatives

If there was ever a "Marie Antoinette moment" in the history of the United States, it was probably when the Federal Government said to our American Indian tribes "Let them have gambling".  It was a deseperate and short-sighted response to the problem of abject poverty and a lack of any economic development prospects on nearly all reservations.  And since there likely wouldn't be much support in "White America" for more taxes to support Government programs, why not let the tribes take that money through bingo halls and slot machines instead?

But the tribes were quick to learn that gamblers--as desperate and degenerate as they can be--didn't really want to visit such "exotic locales" like Keshena, Lac du Flambeau, Wabeno and Odanah.  So some wise nations came up with the idea of buying land in or near large metropolitan areas and applying to open casinos "off-reservation".  Political leaders--tempted by the Sirens' song of "new jobs" and "economic development corridors"--went along with the plans.  But there just weren't enough metropolitan areas to support casinos for all of the tribes--creating a group of "haves" and "have nots"--with the have nots coveting the revenues brought in by those fortunate enough to jump into markets like Milwaukee and Madison and the "haves" jealously guarding their "territory" and their cash flow.

In most businesses, Government doesn't get to decide how much competition you have to face.  But when it comes to gambling in Wisconsin, one man in government does get to decide.  And last week, Governor Scott Walker decided that the Forest County Potowatomi will get to protect their "territory" in Southeast Wisconsin by rejecting the Menominee Nation's plan to build another casino in Kenosha.  Whenever you look at poverty or lack of education or poor health rankings in Wisconsin, Menominee County always is at or near the top in the "bad" categories.  And that is unlikely to change anytime soon following the Governor's decision.

As much as I oppose increased casino gaming in Wisconsin, it is the only alternative we have given the Native Peoples to better their situation.  I don't see Amazon opening a new distribution center or Johnson Controls building a 50-story headquarters on a reservation anytime soon.  So to deny the Menominee their one and only viable economic development option is inherently unfair.  One option I might suggest for the tribes to "branch out" a little bit is "alternative" energy.  Perhaps they would consider turning their reservations into large windfarms or solar fields. They could become the "People of the Wind and the Sun"--instead of the "People of the Slots".

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not What Was Intended

Earlier this week, I got an email excitedly telling me that my local credit union was merging with another credit union again.  This is becoming a fairly common occurrence so I just made a note for a news story here on WOSH.  But then I noticed that the credit union about to be folded in with mine is located in La Crosse--and I have a problem with that.

When they started and were initially chartered, credit unions were intended to be "owned and operated" by members who shared a commonality.  The first were usually employees of the same company with some being the ones who provide capital (the savers) and those who provide revenue (the borrowers).  Then credit unions started offering membership based on geography--people living or working in a certain county were elligible.  But the mega-credit unions forming with the recent rash of mergers seem to have blown the "commonality" format out of the water too.  Southwestern Wisconsin is in no way contiguous with the Fox Valley.

This merger-mania is transforming the local, community credit union into a slightly-modified version of the same mega-banks that so many of us chose to flee for our financial services.  Except the CU's are regulated differently and are taxed in a different way as well--which some in the banking industry see as an unfair advantage--especially as they move beyond the "two branches in one town" model that existed when the initial laws were put into place.

What's more, that "owner-member" aspect is continually diluted as more and more credit unions are folded into one.  Talking with a friend who works in the industry, there could be as few as 12 to 15 "mega-CU's" with at least a billion dollars in assets in Wisconsin in the not-too-distant future if the current trend holds.  And how will that be any different than the 5 or 6 "too big to fail banks" that dominate the financial landscape?

While it may be convenient to have branches every few blocks in every town--or free ATM's scattered around the state--let's not lose sight of what credit unions are supposed to be: smaller, better and more customer-friendly.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The "Gates" of Hell

The time has come for us to stop tagging every scandal with the word "gate".  I say that as the media starts to label the under-inflation of game balls by the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship as "Deflate-Gate". 

The term dates back to the Watergate Scandal of the '70's--and refers to an actual place: the Watergate Hotel and office building--which is where the Democratic National Party headquarters was located, and where G Gordon Liddy and his band of burglars went to steal documents to help the Nixon Re-election Campaign.  Nobody had to add "gate" to the end of the controversy--that was already in the name.

Since then, reporters and commentators think they are being clever by adding "Gate" to every other "scandal".  We've had "Monica-Gate", "Travel-Gate" "Iran-Contra-Gate" two "Trooper-Gates", "Bounty-Gate", "Gamer-Gate" and now "Deflate-Gate".  It's common use has become cliche, unoriginal and really just plain lazy.

Some people are trying to be creative in labeling this scandal.  Keith Olbermann on ESPN is calling is "Ball-ghazi"--a jab at the continuing Congressional probes into Hillary Clinton and the State Department having absolutely no idea what was going on during the attacks against the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Of course, "what difference does it make" if the balls were under-inflated or if the Patriots were "just out running around and decided to kill the Colts"?

Personally, I like the term "Deflatriots Scandal" which is gaining some traction on Twitter.  That actually combines the two elements of the scandal--deflation and Patriots--into a single name and shows some actual creativity.  Of course that would come from the social media realm--not the "traditional media".

So let's close this whole "gate" thing (see what I did there?) and start giving each scandal and controversy its own unique status.  Especially before kids today start referring to the 1972 break in as "Watergate-gate".

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Phil Doesn't Owe Me Anything

Today, I want to talk about my favorite member of the 1%: Pro golfer Phil Mickelson.

Last year, Phil made an estimated $54-million for playing golf, wearing sponsor logos on his shirt and hat, using his sponsors equipment, attending corporate events and giving speeches.  His current estimated net worth according to Forbes magazine is $180-million.  That's about 60-times what my wife and I will have as a net worth by the end of our working careers.

Here is what I expect of Phil Mickelson: To entertain me with unbelievable recovery shots, to frustrate me with wild shots that require unbelievable recovery shots, to sign a ton of autographs for fans at tournaments and to make me laugh with his brutal honesty at press conferences.  For that, I will watch the tournaments in which he plays--boosting ratings for those networks and building additional sponsorship for the PGA Tour and larger prize purses.  I will buy some of the equipment he endorses--boosting the sales of his sponsors--leading to additional sponsorship revenue.  And I will remind people who rip on Phil as being a "phony" that he does more to improve the image of professional athletes than a certain other high profile golfer who acts like the fans are the biggest annoyance on the planet.

Here is what I DON'T expect of Phil Mickelson: For him to pay for my retirement.  For him to pay for my health care.  For him to pay for me to go to college for free.  For him to pay for my childcare needs.  For him to pay for my transportation.  And for him to pay for my broadband internet service.

Some people you heard talking between 8:00 and 9:30 last night think Phil should pay for all of that stuff I just mentioned.  They think that is Phil's "fair share".  They want me to be jealous of Phil's success and they want Phil to give back the money that quite honestly, he got from me and other golf fans voluntarily.

If you disagree with me--and you believe that Phil Mickelson does owe you that stuff--might I suggest that when the PGA Championship comes to Whistling Straits near Kohler in August that you sneak onto the grounds (because I know you are opposed to paying for anything yourself) and instead of yelling "GET IN THE HOLE!!" when Phil hits his tee shot on a 580-yard par five, you instead shout "PAY FOR MY KIDS' COLLEGE!!"  If golf is "too elite" for you, you could always attend your next Packers game with a sign that reads "AARON: BUY MY BIRTH CONTROL"  Or if music is your thing, why not demand that Beyonce or Madonna or Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift provide free babysitting services for your kids while you enjoy the concert?

Again, we just want everyone to "do their fair share".

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Sun Rose in the East, Water is Wet

Why do we still get so worked up over comments from Michael Moore?  Condemnation is raining down upon the propagandist for a tweet over the weekend calling military snipers "cowards" and "not heroes".  While he insists that the tweet had nothing to do with the film American Sniper setting weekend box office records, it did hit the web right after it was announced that American Sniper had set weekend box office records.

Moore re-took to social media yesterday to "explain" his tweet--saying that his uncle was killed by a Japanese sniper in the South Pacific during World War II and that his father had always said that snipers shoot people in the back and don't fight fair.  It almost makes you feel some empathy for him.  But in his typical style, Moore added that "invaders are worse" and that people who "shoot invaders from the roof of their house are good neighbors".  Moore then goes even deeper into Snarkville by commending American Sniper for its "great editing, costumes, hair and makeup".

We all know Michael Moore hates George W Bush, and George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower and probably Abraham Lincoln.  And anything those men did or supported was in his opinion among the most evil things ever done by human beings in the history of the world.  He has established his base.  We know where he stands.  So let him rage all he wants from his post on the far left--we will just turn a deaf ear to it.

Of course, Moore is not alone in wading into the Sniper controversy.  Pot-head actor Seth Rogen started his own Twitter beef this week by comparing the movie to a Nazi propaganda film used in the movie Inglorius Basterds.  Rogen obviously forgetting Godwin's Law, that anyone who compares something to Nazism automatically loses a debate.  Again, we all know Seth Rogen hates Republicans and anything they do and say, so when he takes to public domain to remind us of that--it should be greet with a yawn and a "Whatever, Dude".

American Sniper is not a propaganda film trying to justify the US invasion of Iraq.  It is a dramatized story of one man who happened to take part in that fighting in a role that took its toll on him both physically and psychologically.  And unlike "America is always wrong", it's a statement that is actually rather refreshing and worth a listen.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seconds From Disaster

I think that I have mentioned before that one of my favorite TV show's is National Geographic's Seconds From Disaster.  The show looks at notable plane crashes, gas line explosions and building collapses using the forensic method to show that an epic disaster like that is most often the result of a series of small mistakes or failures that build upon each other.  Next season they may want to do a show on the Packers' collapse in the final few minutes of Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Seattle.

It would be easy to say that all the Packers needed was for Brandon Bostick to handle the on-side kick late in the 4th quarter and Green Bay is on its way to the Super Bowl--but the Pack never should have been in the position to need that recovery.  There is plenty of blame to go around--and here is how it breaks down:

  • Poor linebacker play Green Bay continues to be clueless when it comes to defending the Read Option play--which Russell Wilson used to score the second Seahawks touchdown and to break off a twenty yard run on the first play following the botched on-side kick.  In addition, the Seahawks picked up big yardage on wheel routes to Marshawn Lynch and the fullback with the impossible name as Packers LB's trailed in coverage.  Bonus points to AJ Hawk, who on the fake field goal that got Seattle back into the game was faced with the choice of either pressuring holder Jon Ryan or covering the tackle-eligible downfield and decided to do neither.
  •  Poor clock management At 22-7, Seattle punted from midfield with about 6:30 left in the ballgame.  Green Bay ran the ball twice (both "just running to force them to use their timeouts" plays instead of let's attack and try to gain a few first downs to seal this thing type of plays) and threw incomplete on 3rd down to save the Seahawks their final timeout.  Having that timeout on both the second touchdown drive and on the drive after the on-side kick allowed Seattle to continue to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch knowing they could stop the clock if necessary.  Without that TO, Seattle would have been in all-out-desperation mode having to throw on every down.
  •  Red zone inefficiency It was a questionable aspect of the Packers offense all year--which is confusing given the smashmouth nature of Eddie Lacy's running style.  They ended the season 11th in the category--but scored touchdowns just 55% percent of the time on the road.  Turn the Aaron Rodgers interception in the endzone and the two FG's following Seattle turnovers in the first quarter into touchdowns and it's 21-0 and this game looks more like the AFC Championship game ended up.
  • Aaron Rodgers' calf injury There is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers at 75% is better than Matt Flynn at 100% every day of the year--but #12's reduced mobility hurt the Packers offense.  They couldn't use their favorite play: roll right and throw back deep left.  In addition, concern about protecting Rodgers led to a game plan Sunday that included a lot of quick, short to medium range passes--and few deep balls that usually draw interference flags and instant field position.
So while Brandon Bostick may be getting all of the hate and death threats on Twitter this morning, his bonehead play came at the end of a long line of miscues and misfortunes that put Green Bay seconds from disaster.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Re-Treads

One of the risks of a two-year Presidential Election Cycle is that by the time you get to the actual year of the election, people are sick of the candidates.  But what if voters are tired of the candidates before they even get into the race?  There is a very real possibility of that here in 2015 as the same old candidates are talking about the White House.  Everybody knows Hillary Clinton is running again.  Everybody knows Jeb Bush will try to make it three members of the family to occupy the White House.  And now it looks like we are in for Mitt Romney 3.0.  All viable candidates--all being met with yawns from the general populace.

When you think about it, having the same old candidates over and over again is rather fitting for today's society--since there is a real dearth of originality.  Hip Hop music heavily samples 70's funk and 80's pop for its melodies.  Hawaii Five-O is one of the most popular shows on TV.  Movie fans flock to see a remake of Annie, or Fast and Furious 7--and they can't wait for Star Wars Episode 7.  The most popular news sites on the internet just re-post stories from other news outlets--they don't develop their own content.  It's like we are in this whirlpool (or toilet bowl) where the same things just keep coming back around again and again and again.

There could have been some real excitement and some candidates with real new ideas in this race--but they are already backing out.  On the Republican side, Paul Ryan is definitely sitting this one out--while on the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren is doing all she can to quash efforts to basically draft her as the "Anti-Hillary".  That would have been a very entertaining race, as we would be forced to choose whether to move back toward the American ideal of self-sufficiency and self-determination or to go full speed ahead toward European Social Democracy.  Instead, we'll likely get the usual wishy-washy "moderate" that really stands for nothing.

Of course, maybe people don't want "original" in their politics anymore.  Barrack Obama was "original" and "fresh" when he got into the race against Hillary in 2008.  Everyone was so excited to have someone "different" to vote for--and boy didn't that feel good to bring about that kind of "change".  But look where that ended up--with a 37% approval rating and criticism of the White House coming from every direction.

And so we turn back to our "familiar" and "safe" candidates that come "pre-branded" and eliminate the need for us to actually think about who we want to vote for.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Things We Could Really Use

The recent announcements of new big box retailers in Oshkosh is fueling another round of "What businesses would you like to see come to town?" polls again.  I have to admit, I wasn't that enthused with the plan to build a Sam's Club at the site of the former WalMart.  I'm a Costco member and would rather they had built here.  Fortunately, Costco has decided to locate in Grand Chute--which isn't that far away.  Dick's Sporting Goods gets me more excited--as we will have an outlet now for new, top-line golf equipment in Oshkosh.  Unfortunately, Dick's fired all of its golf professionals last year--leaving me to wonder how good their fitting program is now.  Plus, they don't sell Titleist clubs--so I'll still be going to Golf Galaxy in Grand Chute for my gear.

As for what do I want to see "come to Oshkosh"?  My list would include very few big boxes and chains--and more Mom and Pop type places.  Number one on my list would be a "real" BBQ joint.  I'm talking about the kind of place that you see Down South or in Texas--kind of a ramshackle place that always has smoke coming from out in the back where the pit is located.  The kind of place that has cooks working all night smoking brisket and pork shoulder and sausages.  And the kind of place that will close when they run out of food for that day--instead of having stuff in the freezer ready for re-heating at anytime. Places like THAT are the best eating you will ever do in your life.

I'd also like to have a burger place like Kroll's West or Mihm's.  You know, that charcoal grills the patties, uses toasted Sheboygan Hard Rolls and then smothers the whole thing with about half a stick of butter.  We have a couple places that make good burgers now--but nothing like those other two.  Toss in a lunch counter and hand-dipped milkshakes and you've got a winner.

Speaking of toasted Sheboygan Hard Rolls, Oshkosh should have a Manderfield's bakery as well.  Ski's Market downtown carries a limited supply of Manderfield's products--but not their outstanding donuts and desserts.  Failing that, we could always get a Dunkin' Donuts or maybe a Tim Horton's.  If you've ever been to a Timmy's in Canada--you know what I'm talking about.

And one final food suggestion, how about an Oshkosh location for Chili John's?  If you've ever been to the one restaurant on the west side of Green Bay, you would agree with me.  There's nothing like a Super Bowl of Super Hot to warm you up on a -15-degree day.  By the way, you know what makes it so good?  Beef suet--and a little bit of chocolate that is supposedly added as well.

Finally, Oshkosh needs a golf dome. One of those buildings that looks like a minature Metrodome with the air-supported roof.   Someplace for golfers to hit ball during the six months of the year that it is too cold to play outside.  They had one that was doing well in Green Bay about 15-years ago--but then the owner took a big payout from Home Depot to sell the land for a big box store.  That would actually be a business magnet--as we golfers will travel a pretty good distance to get in a few swings at this time of year.  The biggest challenge is what do you do with it during the six months of the year everyone can play outside? 

So there you go entrepreneurs, your list of sure-fire business winners in Oshkosh.  Now go out and make that happen (preferably without asking for TIF district financing).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Real Inspiration

A story that hasn't been getting the attention it should is that of Sun Prairie High School basketball player Nick Noskowiak.  The senior guard is a Marquette University recruit and is considered one of the better players in the state this year.  But Noskowiak has missed the last six games for Sun Prairie--which had led to questions and rumors about his departure from the team.  Was there a rift with the coach?  Was he suspended for bad grades?  Drinking?  Drug use?  Sexual assault?  Was there an injury that he didn't want Marquette to know about?

Well, Noskowiak took to social media over the weekend to dispel all of those rumors and to announce that he is battling extreme depression.  Needless to say, this caught a lot of people who follow sports off guard.  When you think of depression in teenagers you picture the kids with no friends and who don't fit in--or the Emo kids whose embrace of the dark side of life gives them an identity--or the kids who get so wrapped up in their first girlfriend or boyfriend that when the relationship breaks off they believe they can't go on living anymore.

But Nick Noskowiak doesn't fit any of those stereotypes.  As a top-notch athlete, he likely is among the most popular kids in his school and is seen as a successful student with a great future ahead of him playing ball and going to school for free at a major university.  And yet, the depression is so debilitating that it keeps him not only off the basketball court--but also out of classes for days at a time.

And that is why more coverage should be afforded to this story--because the Nick Noskowiak situation could help a lot of other kids just like him around Wisconsin.  It could inspire other boys and girls who appear to "have it altogether" on the outside to tell their parents or a teacher or a friend that they are struggling with thoughts and feelings that make it difficult to function sometimes.  And it might just improve the acceptance in the high school culture of mental illness and the treatment of those suffering from depression.

Hopefully, Nick Noskowiak can get the help he needs to return to school and the basketball court as a fully-healthy young man--and to provide inspiration to kids in a way that goes beyond just putting a ball through a hoop.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Where is the Other Relief?

During the run up in gas prices since 2009, we saw a corresponding increase in the prices of other goods and services--usually blamed on "increased transportation costs".  Pizza places started delivery charges, airlines added bag fees to account for the extra weight on planes (and resulting fuel consumption), and tour companies added "fuel surcharges" to their prices as well.  Food prices were hit especially hard, as the cost of getting all of those items "to market" was jacked up on both ends.  It looked like a situation that we would all have to face forever, because everyone knew we were never going to see $2 a gallon gas ever again.

But then, the Saudis decided that they were going to try and put all of the shale oil drillers and frackers out of business by boosting their own production and causing a dramatic drop in gas prices over the past few months.  Couple that with decreased demand due to continued weak economic performance in the bankrupt European Union and you have an average price for gas here in the Fox Valley of $1.98 a gallon.

So where are the resulting drop in prices for everything else?  I am yet to see the airlines announce big fare drops (which would actually frustrate me since we have purchased all of our flights for our trip next month at what would be higher prices)--or the end of baggage fees (which I would welcome in a heartbeat for our trip).  The pizza joints aren't dropping the delivery charges.  And the boat and helicopter tour companies we have booked with in Hawaii didn't send me any emails yet saying they are refunding the fuel surcharges since those expenses have gone down 40% in the past two months.

I'm not noticing any lower prices at the grocery store either.  Milk is coming down--but that is more of a reaction to increased production around the world--not to a lower cost to truck it from the farm to the dairy to the store.  Corn prices are going down too on the markets (thanks to decreased planting for ethanol use)--but my Frosted Flakes aren't getting any cheaper either.

I know what the excuse is going to be: "Well, we consider this to be a temporary reduction in fuel expenses, and everyone knows those prices are going back up over $4 again someday, so it would be 'imprudent' to lower our prices now--only to increase them again in a few months."  It's just frustrating that the price increases always seem to be "permanent"--no matter how long they actually need to be in place.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Weekend Musings

Thank you to the My Two Cents listeners who reached out through social media on Sunday to congratulate me on calling the Dez Bryant "non-catch" ruling all the way back on Monday of last week.  You can understand how the side judge would have thought it was a catch, seeing as how Bryant caught the ball, took two steps and then lunged for the end zone in what we like to call a "football move".  But incredibly compex, nuanced rules that can only be interpreted by slow-motion replay are "clear"--that was not a catch.  Props to Joe Buck from Fox Sports after the game saying "Common sense would tell you that was a catch--but those aren't the rules."  Anyway, I've got "Unsportsmanlike Conduct--Contact to the Head of the Quarterback" being the controversial call that decides next week's NFC Championship game.

Speaking of rules, look for MORE rules to be added to the books this off-season thanks to plays that happened on Saturday.  First off, "hiding eligible receivers" will be verboten now that New England's Bill Belicheck found that loophole in the rulebook and had "interior linemen" running free for a couple of series in the 3rd quarter after being dominated by Baltimore in the first half.  And then the field goal blocking technique of Kam Chancellor--hurdling the center after the snap--will be banned as well--even though it was the rule against lining up someone over the center that created the "running lane" for Chancellor to do that.  I noticed in the Indianapolis-Denver game one of the Colts tried to do the same thing and the center popped up and chucked him onto one of his teammates--which immediately led to Twitter outrage that "leaping" wasn't called.

On a totally different subject, I've read a number of Presidential autobiographies and memoirs, but I think President Obama's will be the most intriguing.  I really want to know when in his Presidency he stopped caring about the job.  Some would say it was after the Affordable Care Act was passed into law and his "legacy" was secure.  Others think it was after the "final campaign" of 2014--which is really the only thing that interested him--the campaigning.  We got another reminder of how detached the President is this weekend when the US sent NO representative to the Unity Rally in France--even though 44 other countries did (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who HATES the French).  Attorney General Eric Holder--who has attended the funerals for young, black men killed by police officers here in the US--was IN PARIS this weekend--and still did not attend. called the snub "Barack Obama's French Kiss-off" and quoted numerous former diplomats who are critical of the President's handling of the situation--along with his muted response to the attacks themselves.  Now this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted that he would go to Paris on Thursday because "our relationship with France is not about one day"--which serves as a nice shot at those who did attend on Saturday--like they were involved for just one day.  It wouldn't surprise me if the President went to Paris about a month from now to do a couple of photo ops of him looking plaintively at the Charlie Hebdo building or the kosher grocery store--all by himself--just the way he likes it.  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Whose Property Is It?

Put aside for a minute whatever doubts you have about the need for another convention center in the Fox Valley and focus on another aspect of the project that isn't getting much consideration: the fact that the majority of Appleton residents are paying to buy something they already own.  I'm talking about the purchase of property currently owned by Outagamie County by the City of Appleton for construction of the proposed Expo Hall.  (Just a heads up, I'm going to throw a lot of math at you here early in the morning.)

According to the last census, 60,000 of the 72,000 people who live in Appleton reside in Outagamie County.  The remaining 12,000 are split with just over 11,000 in Calumet County and about 1500 living in Winnebago County.  Technically, they do not "own" a share of the property where the Expo may go.  At the current offering price of $2-million dollars, those 12,500 Appleton residents are paying $160 each to "buy" their share of that property.  Those living in the Outagamie County portion of Appleton aren't paying anything--they already "own" a share.

Conversely, Outagamie County's total population is 177,000 people--meaning 117-thousand people live outside of Appleton--and will be "compensated" for selling their share of the property.  At a $2-million dollar sale price, they will "get" $17 per person from the sale.

Unfortunately, the money sitting in the accounts at City Hall and the County Building isn't earmarked like that--so that isn't how the sale price will be broken down.  Instead, Appleton residents will pay out of what they send to City Hall this month and get the "credit" on what they send to the County Building on the back end (maybe).  Doing that math, Outagamie County Appletonians will pay 83% of the cost (or $1.66-million to buy land they already own)--and will receive 33% of the revenue back (or $678,000 in return).  Meaning the deal on the table basically includes a one million dollar "title transfer fee" on Outagamie County Appleton residents.

Just something to think about the next time you hear County Exective Nelson and Mayor Hanna use terms like "our land" in discussions about the Expo Hall.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Give Them Equal Treatment

The outpouring of support for those killed and injured in yesterday's attack by practicers of the "Religion of Peace" in Paris yesterday is certainly comforting--but you know what would impress me more?  If we started treating Muslims the same way we treat Evangelical Christians and Catholics.  That would send a message.

In condemning such attacks, President Obama should tell Muslims to stop "clinging to their God and their guns".  In her campaign speeches, Hillary Clinton should say that the beliefs of Islam are "on the wrong side of history".  Same-sex couples should hold "kiss-ins" at mosques.  There should be calls to boycott Muslim-run businesses that don't provide 31-types of free birth control to their female employees.  Bare breasted women should march on Mecca demanding equal treatment under Sharia law.  The Mayor of Houston can demand that Imams turn over copies of their sermons to make sure they aren't "spreading hate".

Rachel Maddow could devote an hour of her show to parsing verses from the Koran and lecturing Muslims on how they "don't even understand their own religion".  Neil Tyson Degrasse can tweet facts about food, nutrition and digestion during the fasting month of Ramadan. can publish 10,000-word articles on how Islam is the greatest threat to the progress of humanity on the planet. 

Stephen Colbert can adopt an alter ego as a Militant Islamist talk show host and launch the "Daily Prayers Show".  Sitcoms can include devout Muslim characters who are portrayed as uneducated, bigoted and the butt of every joke.  Celebrities like Selena Gomez could take more pictures of their bared ankles in mosques and then NOT apologize to "anyone they may have offended".  Madonna could make a music video where she appears to have sex with Muhammed.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone should be allowed to put Muhammed back into the South Park episodes "Super Best Friends", "200" and "201".  What's more, they can write a Broadway musical entitled The Book of Koran that tells the story of a young Al Qaeda suicide bomber who dreams of blowing up Disney World--but instead is sent to attack a US embassy in some wretched East African country.  (The 72-Virgins dance number at the end of Act 2 is a showstopper!)

Of course, none of this is ever going to happen (except maybe for the South Park ideas) because that would be "culturally insensitive", "insulting" and "racist".  That and those mentioned above probably don't want to get gunned down in cold blood in their offices either.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Hype Bowl Too

Can we all please stop calling Sunday's Packers-Cowboys game "The Ice Bowl II"?  To do so shows a disturbing lack of historical perspective and really serves to degrade the status of the original game.

For starters, the forecast temperature for kickoff this Sunday is 24-degrees.  That would make it 39-degrees warmer than it was the start of the game on December 31st, 1967--and not really that "icy".  In addition, the field heating system is much more reliable now, meaning the "frozen tundra" won't be as hard as the concrete parking lot and won't be a factor like it was 37-years ago.  Plus, this week's players will be wearing scientifically-designed cold gear under their jerseys and can sit on heated benches or near propane blowers on the sidelines--unlike the players in '67 who tried to stay warm by wearing panty hose, as many layers of cotton clothing as they could fit under the pads and Vaseline on their faces to prevent frostbite while sitting on wooden benches and huddling around charcoal grills on the sidelines.

And the stakes--while certainly high on Sunday--don't compare to what was on the line back then.  The Lombardi Packers were looking for an unprecedented third straight NFL title--and a return trip to the Super Bowl.  It would also be the last game that Vince would coach at Lambeau Field.  The Cowboys were the young, up-and-coming franchise that hadn't yet proven that it could win "the big one".  They have since won 5 Super Bowls--so a loss this Sunday isn't as "devastating" to the franchise.  It is also worth noting that 14 Hall of Famers took part in the "real" Ice Bowl--including both of the head coaches.  This Sunday 3 players--at most--are heading to Canton.  Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is a lock.  Aaron Rodgers should make it--barring further injury problems.  And maybe Julius Peppers gets in--since they have to take some defensive players from the "Fantasy Football Era".

We can also do away with calling this a "revenge game" as well.  The Packers and Cowboys haven't faced off in the playoffs since the 1990's.  What's more, NONE of the players involved this week were even born on December 31st, 1967--and I doubt they could even name more than a few of the 14 Hall of Famers I mentioned before.  If anything, the Ice Bowl itself was a "revenge game"--as the Packers had beaten the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in the 1966 NFL Championship game as Tom Brown intercepted "Dandy" Don Meredith in the end zone in the final seconds to seal a 34-27 victory.

So please, don't buy the "Ice Bowl II" t-shirts available on-line.  Don't make signs with that on them to bring to the game in hopes of getting on TV.  And don't save your ticket stub with dreams of telling your grandkids someday that you were at "The Second Ice Bowl"--because hopefully they will laugh at your foolishness and assume you have gone senile.  Just enjoy it for what it is, one of four divisional playoff games this weekend featuring two slightly-better than average teams, to decide who gets whipped in Seattle next week.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Buying Back Our Freedom

With several flights coming up soon at notoriously overcrowded and slow airports, my wife and I have become TSA Pre-Checked.  For a mere $85, the Federal Government will treat us just slightly better than any other "terror suspect" trying to board an airplane over the next five years who is not willing to pay that $85.  That extra $17 a year allows us to skip the longer line of "non-checked potential terror suspects", we get to keep our light jackets on as we head through security, we don't have to take off our shoes or belts, and our laptop computer can stay in the carry-on.  I'll admit that's not much for the money, but it does make me feel just a bit more like a law-abiding citizen with Constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.

The real benefit is, of course, getting to skip the line.  If you've ever flown out of Orlando during the tourist season, you know that alone might be worth $850 as opposed to 85-bucks--given that every one ahead of you there is a family of five where every child has every purchase they made at Disney World as a carry-on and they are making their displeasure with having to stand in line apparent to everyone in the terminal.  The $85 might be worth it just to know that the parents of all those children are looking jealously at you as you breeze through the TSA area with a small carry-on and no need to help put on multiple pairs of shoes or to find dozens of toys in the trays at the "Re-combubulation Area".

In reality, my wife and I (and most other American air travelers) shouldn't have to pay a single red cent for this treatment.  Almost all of us should just be able to present our boarding pass and a legal ID, pass through a metal detector set to find items larger than your belt buckle and the support bars in your shoes, run your carry-on through a x-ray machine and head to the gate--instead of having a digital image of our bodies checked out by someone behind the curtain and "extra scrutiny" for those of us who don't fit the "profile" of known terrorists--but do belong to certain demographics that make it appear we aren't "profiling" the likely terror suspects.

Until that day comes--and we return to sane, logic-based security efforts in airports--I'll just have to be content with "buying back" some of my personal freedoms.

Monday, January 5, 2015

This IS What You Wanted

Boy, there sure are a lot of complaints about NFL referees today.  The consensus is that the Detroit Lions--a team no one outside of a three mile radius around Detroit itself actually likes anyway--got hosed on a pass interference call that was reversed on the field saving the bacon of the Dallas Cowboys.  Twitter and Facebook are filled with questions about how the refs could be so blind, or so inconsistent or downright unknowledgeable about the rules of the game.  Well the answer is simple: the NFL is giving the fans what they want, a game that is nearly impossible to officiate properly.

Rules changes meant to increase the amount of offense to appease the short attention spans of younger fans and to boost the interest of fantasy nerds who can't live without scoring 200-points every week--and all of the new rules on hitting players in the name of "safety" have given the guys in stripes so many things to be looking for on the field that the really important infractions can go un-noticed.

There are different rules for contact downfield for before the pass, for when the ball is in the air, for when the quarterback is in the pocket,  for when the QB has scrambled outside of the "tackle box" and for when he is past the line of scrimmage.  And then there are different rules for when a defender is looking at the ball, when he is attempting to make a play on the ball or when he has his back turned to the ball.  And then defenders can't hit receivers in certain positions because they are "defenseless" and hitting too high is a penalty anytime--unless you don't leave your feet or lead with your helmet or the guy with the ball lowers his head too--in which case leading with the helmet is legal.  And offenses now take advantage of these rules by intentionally underthrowing passes or going deep for the sole purpose of drawing contact and pass interference penalties.

Officials also have to determine if possession is maintained to the ground after a player has made a "football move" and was "being taken to the ground by a defender".  Or if the ball hit the ground but was still in possession of the receiver and did not substantially move due to the contact with the ground.  Or if both feet were inbounds before the receiver stepped out and maintained possession all the way to the ground even though they were already out of bounds.  And if the ball crossed the plane of the goal line while the receiver's feet were inbounds.

All of this is actually moot because teams can always challenge and force a replay review.  Or if it's a score or a turnover the booth review is automatic--unless the call is no touchdown or no turnover--in which case we are back to a challenge situation again--unless the team offended doesn't have any timeouts left in which case they cannot challenge or if they used up their two challenges for the game and don't have any of those left--or unless it's under two minutes left in the game in which case it's back to a booth review again and the officials are buzzed before the next play starts in which case all review is off.

So enjoy your over-regulated, live action version of Madden NFL '15 with its inconsistent standards and on-field calls.  This IS what you wanted.

Friday, January 2, 2015

When Perception Meets Reality

Normally, I wouldn't encourage you to check out another media outlet--but this might be a good day to tune into all of those ESPN talking head morning shows or other sports radio outlets.  The reason to tune in is to see these "experts" who have been touting the Southeastern Conference as the be-all and end-all of college football explain how and why their beloved powerhouses stunk up the joint in the bowl season this year.

See if the College Gameday guys can explain how a Wisconsin Badgers team that threw 3 interceptions and didn't have a wide receiver who could make a play down the field could beat an Auburn team that played for the National Championship last year and had many of the same guys back this year.  Listen to hear how they think number one seed Alabama with their "genius" head coach Nick Saban lost to an Ohio State team that few "experts" thought deserved to be in the playoffs--and who was starting their third-string quarterback.  Hopefully, they get around to rationalizing the absolute beatdowns that were administered to Mississippi State and Mississippi--who were at one point this year ranked numbers 1 and 2 for a couple of weeks.

The SEC West--which some "insiders" have joked would have beaten teams in the NFC South of the NFL and who some on ESPN argued could have had two teams in the final four at some points this season--went 2-5 in bowl games this year.   When the Big Ten goes 2-5 in bowl games, those same "experts" are killing the conference and talking about how they cannot be taken seriously as major college football powers anymore.

I already have an idea of what the excuses will be: "Well after you play as rugged a schedule as SEC teams have to all year long, you're bound to be beat up, tired or uninspired to play in a "meaningless" bowl game.  Or "it was just one day, anything can happen in any given game".  And of course "well, the SEC will have the majority of players drafted by the NFL in April and that will prove what a stacked conference it was."

This week's debacle will almost certainly be forgotten by the time next August rolls around and the SEC has four of the top five teams in the pre-season polls and ESPN is planning to take College Gameday on its annual tour of every city in the conference.  It will just provide even more incentive for the rest of the country to prove that it has more than "caught up to the big boys".