Friday, July 31, 2015

Missing the Point

You know what is the most inaccurate phrase in the English language?  "New and improved".  Often the product, idea or service being advertised with that phrase is neither new nor improved from the "old and standard" product, idea or service it is looking to replace.  And now "New and Improved!" is coming to one of my favorite things in the world: Converse Chuck Taylor All Star shoes.

Nike announced last week that it is rolling out a new version of Chucks that will retain the iconic canvas exterior and rubber sole and toe--but will be "comfortable" on the inside.  They are talking about foam footbeds, arch supports and a special lining.  The target audience are those who want to look like they are "old-school cool"--but who aren't interested in the real old-school experience.

At one time, I had at least six pairs of Chuck Taylor All Stars in my closet--in a myriad of colors.  Now I'm down to just a couple--as work-appropriate attire has overtaken my wardrobe.  To me, they are the greatest athletic shoes ever made--not for any performance measures--but rather because of what they represent: the roots of American sports.

Take a look at all of the old photos of NBA legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy or Jerry West.  What is the common bond?  Chucks.  Or see if some of your family members have black and white photos of them playing sports in the yard or at the park in the 50's and you will likely find all of those kids are donning All Stars as well.  For years, they were THE American athletic shoe.  And the fact that you can get the same exact shoes--made the same exact way--100-years after they were introduced is something that is actually important to some of us.

While I was out at the EAA Airventure last week, I came across a vendor display from a company that produces old-style Corvettte bodies that fit over modern frames and interiors.  You can now have a "55", "62" or "67" Vette with the classic curves and lines--but with your red leather interior, your air conditioning and your MP3 stereo system.  But just like the "new Chucks", it's a phony experience.  You know why so many people love the old Corvettes?  Because they are loud, and bumpy, and hot during the summer and you can only get AM stations on the radio.

It's a concept called "Authenticity"--and it's something that is lost every time we make things that were just fine for decades "new and improved".

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Real Winners

My favorite coach in all of professional sports is San Antonio Spurs head man Gregg Popovich.  Pop treats the mid-game timeout sideline interview with the TV reporter the way it should be treated: with absolute disdain and like the waste of valuable coaching time that it is.  And he has won five NBA Titles running an old-school ball-movement offense.  Now we know that he believes there should be winners and losers in sports.

Popovich was interviewed by KNBR Radio in San Francisco last week in a rare (for him) wide-ranging discussion of topics in and out of sports--and he was asked about our "trophy culture:

“We’ve all been involved in kid’s sports, whether it’s clinics or our own kids,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that the treats are OK at the end of game for the group, or a banquet-type thing at the end of the season. But awards are a different thing. Giving out awards after every game or clinic for no reason whatsoever, I think it takes away from people.

The education you get from disappointment, (compared to) winning and everything going your way all the time, where no matter what you do, it’s going to be rosy, that’s not (my belief). I think you learn to handle a little disappointment, handle a loss and figure it out, whether it’s with your coach or parents or a mentor. I think it’s a huge lesson that’s missed with a lot of kids.”

Now before you go off on Popovich as being a "cranky old curmudgeon" in that same interview he lauds the social changes that have taken place in the past decade as it pertains to women's and gay rights.  And he had a woman coach the Spurs Summer League team--saying that she was more than qualified to lead men (they won the Summer League title as well, by the way).

And like many of us in the business world, Coach Popovich finds this new generation of workers--we can call them the Millenials--are totally incapable of accepting failure or criticism as opportunities to become better.  They've always been told they are "the best", they have the participation trophies for just showing up so everyone on the team or the dance troupe were treated "fairly". 

Popovich isn't alone in his beliefs.  For a great expose on the "Trophy Culture", check out the latest HBO Real Sports to see what is happening to all of those kids with the rooms full of awards for just showing up

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Justice--NFL Style

As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan I'm glad to see that Jimmy Garoppolo will likely be the starter for the New England Patriots when they host the Black and Gold for the opening game of the NFL season.  Barring a legal injunction from a Federal judge, Tom Brady won't even be in Gillette Stadium that night--as he will be serving the first game of his four game suspension for deflating balls that were used in the AFC Championship game against Indianapolis last season.  Or at least requesting that the balls be deflated by now-former Patriots equipment managers.  Or maybe because he didn't "fully co-operate" with a league investigation that had neither the legal right to question Brady about what he knew or to subpoena and seize any of his personal property--like a cellphone.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell--acting as Prosecutor, Jury, Judge and Appeals Judge--is sticking by his original punishment of four games for Brady.  That would be the same number of games that Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Hardy will be suspended for thowing his girlfriend into walls and furniture of their apartment, choking her and threatening to shoot her with the dozens of assault rifles that he had in the residence.  Crimes that he was initially convicted in a court of law of committing--before the verdict was overturned on a technicality and the victim no longer wanted to pursue prosecution because Hardy paid her a bunch of money.

The suspension that Commissioner Goodell has given Tom Brady is the same length that Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was given for allegedly forcing himself on a woman in a bar bathroom.  Criminal charges there were dismissed after the victim decided she no longer wanted the case to go forward.  That is double the length of the suspension given to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for punching out his then-fiancĂ© in a casino elevator.  It was only after extreme public backlash that Goodell made Rice's suspension indefinite--a decision that was later overturned by a Federal court.  Tom Brady will also sit out one more game than Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion will miss for the possession of a large amount of marijuana, cash and a gun this past off-season.

So let's review the ranking of "seriousness of offense" in the eyes of Commissioner Goodell from least-serious to most-serious:

5--Punching out your fiancé and dragging her body around on the floor

4--Violating state and federal drug laws

3--Attempted sexual assault

2--Attacking and threatening to kill a woman

1--Taking air out of game balls.

Commissioner Goodell insists that Brady's punishment is "fair" given that he "tainted the integrity of the game".  How many games will we have to suspend Commissioner Goodell for doing the same thing?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Eternal Guilt Trip

I sometimes wonder why we don't have a steady stream of liberals jumping off of bridges and tall buildings in America.  There is no greater source for guilt and self-loathing than those on the left.  I found the latest example in a tweet from on a man who writes about how much he hates to grill out.

In clicking on the link, I expected yet another article about the inhumane treatment of the animals that end up on our dinner plates.  Or maybe it would be another diatribe about how livestock farming contributes to global warming.  Perhaps the article would be about smoke from backyard BBQ's ruining the air quality of our neighborhoods.  Instead, author Jacob Brogan hates himself for working the grill be because grilling out is sexist.

In Brogan's liberal thought process, his making dinner over hot goals or open flame "perpetuates gender stereotypes".  Who hasn't noticed that the Kingsford Charcoal bag features a man at the grill.  Or that any ad for outdoor appliances, furniture or pools shows the men gathered around the BBQ holding the tongs and bottles of beer while closely monitoring the charred meat and probably talking about sports--while the women sit at the patio table sipping on their fruity drinks and likely discussing why Lydia down the street is getting a divorce.  Every time a man fires up the grill--whether it be for ribeyes or for hot dogs, he is "keeping a woman in her place".

Websites like Slate and are a treasure trove for liberals engaging in self-flagellation over such egregious crimes against society as laughing at Seinfield reruns (because the show features an all-white main cast and the few people of color are portrayed in a "caricature" style) or watching The Cosby Show as a child (because that was a "false representation of the African-American family--starring a man who demanded accountability from the Black community--and was conveniently discredited by accusations and admissions of rape) or letting their children watch Disney Princess movies (because most of the Princesses are white and come from privileged backgrounds--while the antogonists tend to "darker in color").

While these articles never fail to provide with a few laughs, they also amaze me with the degree of self-importance and megalomania that Liberals possess.  These people really believe that their singular actions directly effect the lives and psyches of hundreds of millions of people.  I'm pretty sure that 99.99999999999% of American women had never heard of Jacob Brogan--and had no idea that he grills.  Yet in his mind, Brogan is "sending a message" to all of those women that "they don't belong at the grill" by doing so.  Of course now that he has published his "confession" on Slate--just 99.9999999998% of American women are unaware of his actions.  And the same goes for the guy who feels he needs to atone for laughing at Babu Bhat being deported because Jerry forgot to give him his letter from Immigration Services or the woman who really believed that there were Black OB/GYN's during the 1990's.  You can stop with the wailing in the street and gnashing of your teeth.  You just aren't that important--or influential.  So lighten up and try to enjoy your life. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Better Off Not Succeeding

While My Two Cents was on its annual EAA Airventure hiatus, golfer Jordan Spieth saw his attempt to complete the single-season Grand Slam come to an end--missing a playoff at the British Open by just one stroke.  As much as I like Spieth and want to see history made, it's probably a good thing that he will not come to Whistling Straits a couple of weeks from now with a chance to complete the Slam.

If Jordan had somehow come back to win at St Andrews last week, his quest would have moved from the sports report to the mainstream media's attention.  There would have been appearances on the morning shows, the network news broadcasts would have done features, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel would have been competing to get him on during late night as well.  It would have seemed that Jordan Spieth was everywhere.

And what America would have learned about its newest sports superstar is that he is a very polite, modest young man who still calls people "sir" and "ma'am" and refers to some of his elders on the PGA Tour as "Mister".  They would also learn that Spieth left college golf after just one year and turned pro without any playing status on any tour.  He then parlayed sponsors exemptions into enough good finishes to earn conditional status on the PGA Tour--and became the second youngest tournament winner in history by holing out a bunker shot at the John Deere Classic when he was just 19.  Advertisers would be dying to have him do for their brands what he has already done for Under Armor and its golf apparel lines.

But with this new-found celebrity would come inevitable backlash.  You know that websites like and Slate would publish several articles pointing out that Jordan Spieth is a child of the "One Percent"--that his parents were wealthy Texans who could afford country club memberships and lessons with top swing instructors, short-game gurus and mental coaches.  They would sneer at the idea that it was a risk to leave college--as "Mommy and Daddy could just bankroll his athletic dreams" if he not earned his PGA Tour card.

And columnists like Leonard Pitts and Bryan Burwell and whoever is doing sports opinion for the New York Times now would question why America is so quick to embrace a 21-year old white kid as its new sports hero when there are so many African-American players in other sports that have "overcome real adversity" to succeed.  They too would portray Spieth as a spoiled, rich kid and claim that it's a lot easier to be "a gentleman-athlete" with his background than it is for the kids who grew up playing their sports on urban playgrounds.  By the time you would finish their articles, you would be convinced that the only reason Jordan's long putts and pitch shots are going in all the time is because of "white privilege".

So maybe it's better for all of us who appreciate greatness in sports that Zach Johnson won the Claret Jug last week instead of Jordan Spieth.  It means we can focus on the  final score--and not "social identity"--do determine our champions.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Very, Very, Very Sad Day

This will likely be my final day as a Jeep owner--at least for a little while.  Frame rot has weakened by 2000 TJ Sport to the point that important parts of the drivetrain are at serious risk of falling off of the undercarriage.  Rather than put the driving public at risk, I've decided to park my trusty steed of the past 12-years and purchase another vehicle.  I'll let someone else buy her and try to fix her up or just use her for parts.

Fortunately, the weather has been good the past few days and I've been able to have a few final trips around town with the top down, the sun shining upon us and the wind whipping past us.  It was 4th of July night that I mentioned to my wife on the way to the fireworks how much I loved that feeling.

Unfortunately, thanks to our recent "best vacation ever" to Hawaii and a series of other "life happens" expenses, I don't have the cash on hand to purchase the next Jeep that I would like--a Rubicon JK (with the rock-crushing 44 Dana front and rear axles, lift kit, tow package and Sunrider soft top)--so I am faced with three choices:

One, I could just head down to the Jeep dealership and apply for a no-money down, 72-month loan for a brand new Rubicon that I mentioned before.  I would surely qualify for the lowest interest rate and the maximum amount of capital financed and could order every option I want right from the factory.  But as a disciple of the Dave Ramsey Way that would also put me into debt for six years--and even if you pay off the loan as soon as you can, the interest still increases the total purchase price.

Two, I could take the cash we have on hand and buy one of those boring, mid-mileage, mid-size sedans or crossovers that dominate the roads today.  It would reliably get me from point A to point B every day for several years.  But it would also mean a longer amount of time I would need to save for the Rubicon.  Plus, I'll become the guy who has to set off his car alarm with the key fob to figure out which tan four door is his in the parking lot of the grocery store because they all look the same.

Or three, I could buy what Dave Ramsey likes to call a "hoop-dee car".  A mechanically-sound vehicle that runs good but looks ugly for the lowest price I can find.  It serves as a reminder that a vehicle is simply a machine meant to transport you safely to wherever you have to go.  And it will provide me with a head start at saving for the vehicle that I actually want.

And that is the route that I am going to go--purchase what I need now for as little as I can--so that later on I can buy what I want at whatever price I need to.  Plus, getting into that hot, slightly-funky smelling interior every day for a couple of years will remind me of those sun-drenched topless days in my Jeep--and make it so much easier to transfer that cash into the money market account every month for my next top-down summer cruising experiences.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Strange Bedfellows

One  of the most interesting things about the debate over funding a new Milwaukee arena is the "strange bedfellows" that have been created in the negotiations to provide taxpayer money for the project.  Governor Scott Walker--who has been accused of "hating Milwaukee" and "trying to destroy the city" is teaming up with Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett--who twice ran against Walker for Governor on a platform that would "not reward billionaires and corporations with tax breaks".  And yet, there they were at at least one public rally for the arena just about holding hands and singing the praises of giving the billionaires that own the Milwaukee Bucks about 200-million dollars in state, county and city taxes and credits.

And one of those Milwaukee Bucks owners--Marc Lasry--is a campaign contribution "bundler" for Democratic candidate for President Hillary Clinton.  He was able to convince his friends to give Clinton 270-thousand dollars to the Clinton campaign in just its first "official week".  That cash could later be used against Scott Walker if he were to become the Republican nominee to challenge Clinton next year.  (Of course, who is to say that this Bucks arena deal might not include a little back door, unwritten agreement that Lasry and his friends might throw some difficult-to-track-down cash toward the Walker For President campaign as well.)

And now you have high profile liberals like John Oliver of Last Week Tonight taking aim on the liberal leaders of Milwaukee for their desperate pleas to give those billionaires the taxpayer money to build the new arena:

If he would have had his own show a couple of years ago, Oliver would have been hailing Tom Barrett as a national hero as he sought to "bring down the evil Scott Walker".  But in the world of doing everything you can to keep a semi-popular sports franchise in your city, the regular rules of politics apparently go out the window.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Exploit Her While You Can

The ESPYs are tonight.  In the realm of made up awards shows ESPN's effort is especially unnecessary because sports is one of the few areas in life where you actually have scoreboards and standings to determine who is a winner and who is a loser.  I tend to doubt that winning "Men's Basketball Player of the Year" tonight will assuage LeBron James' bitter disappointment in losing the NBA Finals last month.

One honor that was of note at the ESPYs over the years has been the Arthur Ashe Courage Award--named for the American tennis great who broke barriers as a black man playing a predominantly white sport--and who died from AIDS acquired during a blood transfusion--spending the rest of his life raising awareness of the disease and funds for a cure.  For most of the year it was assumed that Lauren Hill would be this year's Arthur Ashe Award winner.

Hill was a college basketball player at Mount Saint Joseph's University in Ohio who contracted Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma--a rare form of brain cancer that usually affects children in their first ten years of life.  Despite her diagnosis, Hill still worked with the team in hopes of making it into one game this past season.  In a rare class move for them, the NCAA even allowed MSJU to move up its season opener to before the mandatory start date for women's basketball to ensure that Hill might still be able to play.  The game was moved to a bigger gym and still sold out--with all proceeds going to cancer research.  To date, the Lauren Hill Fund has brought in over one-million dollars.

It was ESPN themselves that introduced Lauren Hill to the world, chronicling her story during a number of emotional features on SportsCenter and other long-form programs on the network.  Her appearance on the floor for that first game led that night's show--as did news of her death in April.  Winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award would just add to her legacy and further her cause of awareness.  Well that is until Bruce Jenner had a sex change.

As has been promoted endlessly on ABC--which is airing the ESPYs for the first time ever this year--it will be Caitlyn Jenner that receives the Arthur Ashe Award--and not Lauren Hill.  The inspiring story of a small college basketball player dying from a rare disease is nice and all--but did you see the ratings for Jenner's "coming out" interview with Dianne Sawyer (also on ABC)?  Obviously that is the what "inspires" America!  And did we mention the ESPY's are on ABC this year?

It was announced this week that there would be a "special honor" for Lauren Hill's family during tonight's telecast--think of it as the "Participation Ribbon" of the ESPYs this year.  Hopefully it comes before CAITLYN JENNER'S FIRST LIVE NETWORK TELEVISION APPEARANCE--ONLY ON ABC!! so that America get can some inspiration before their heaping helping of exploitation leaves them with a sour taste in their mouths.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Remember when Ron Popeil developed the modern infomercial and "amazed" enthusiastic studio audiences with a food dehydrator of a rotisserie oven?  Did you ever wonder what happened to the people in those audiences who were so excited about knife sets that could actually slice tomato skins so thin you could see through them or how they could get hair out of a can?  Where did they go for such thrills after the taping was done?

Well I think those same people are the ones who turn out for Presidential campaign kickoff rallies.  The latest group of "whoopers and hollerers" turned out in Waukesha yesterday for Governor Scott Walker's "formal" announcement that he was running.  That was not to be confused with the "unofficial announcements" that came with trips to early caucus and primary states, the formation of a Political Action Committee, the filing of a "real" campaign notice with the Federal Elections Commission and an "accidental tweet" last Friday that he "is in the race".  Those exuberant fans were still there on Monday excited beyond belief that it is now "officially official".

And let's not forget that we are still more than 15 MONTHS away from the 2016 election.  The new Star Wars movie is still 5 months away and I'm not nearly excited as everyone has been at these kickoff rallies.  You have half a summer, fall and the holidays to make it through before anyone even casts a vote (or stands in a corner at the caucuses).  Pace yourself on the election hysteria and try to keep things in perspective.

Keep in mind that in 1968, Robert Kennedy didn't get into the race for President until March.  That was after the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.  Granted, he has the most romanticized last name in American politics--but it was much easier for his young base of support to keep up that type of enthusiasm until the campaign met its tragic end in California in June.  Even the most ardent Hillary Clinton supporter has to be tired of year 12 of that continuous campaign effort.

Of course, you have the political "experts" who say Governor Walker "wasted too much time" getting into the race in July of 2015.  They claim he has allowed other less viable candidates to steal some of his momentum gained by going to Iowa and New Hampshire last winter but then not "officially announcing" until now.  These long campaigns are not about building up grassroots support or having as much time to "meet the people" as possible.  The longer you run the more money you can collect--and the number of campaign finance limit periods that big donors can contribute.  (Consider that another legacy of Russ Feingold). 

And that also makes the kickoff rally attendees like those informercial audiences of old--that were holding up their money just begging the man on stage to take it.

Monday, July 13, 2015


A Facebook friend who is a bit of a hippie re-posted a picture on their wall yesterday:

I/m sure that she meant this picture to be about tying yourself down to the "corporate rat race" or missing out on the "little things in life"--but I hope that she also agrees with the idea that people need to be held accountable for the decisions they make in life.

The greatest trend in our society today has been the move away from accountability and consequences.  For awhile, the phrase "through no fault of their own" was real popular--especially when it came to people who had greatly over-extended themselves with mortgage or student loan debt.  It was why the rest of us--who hadn't followed that path--were supposed to help pay for those debts.  But aren't we saying that those people were just going along minding their own business when someone jumped out of an alley and saddled them with a mortgage they couldn't afford or a degree in a field that cannot financially support the cost of that degree?  Even if the borrowers didn't fully understand what they were signing, no one was holding a gun to their heads on the way to the bank.

We only seem to be interested in enduring consequences when they aren't bad.  One of the things that has led to endless wars since the 1960's is that we don't experience the consequences of those military actions.  There has been no gas or food rationing because of the War On Terror.  We just continue to borrow the money to fund the war effort--instead of hiking taxes on civilians to pay cash as best we can to fight.  Imagine how soon militant Islam would have been wiped off the face of the earth if Americans had to make the same sacrifices the past 14-years that our grandparents and great-grandparents made for just five years in the 1940's.

The great thing about consequences--and actually dealing with them--is that they tend to change behaviors.  You think the person who works so hard to get out from mortgage or student loan debt is going to rack up the red ink after they finally get back to even?  Is the person who is forced to take care of someone who didn't plan properly for their retirement going to make the same mistakes just assuming that the next generation is going to take care of them?  And will entire nations spend themselves into a bottomless pit of debt, now that Greece is being made to trim its entitlement programs and pay back it's creditors?

Consequences are real and they may be painful--but not forcing people to face them is not in any way "fair" to them--or to the rest of us.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Social Justice In Action

It certainly has not been a good summer for those who espouse more "progressive" forms of law enforcement in America.  The idea of neutering police actions and is turning many cities--with overwhelming Democratic leadership--into killing fields--all in the name of "Social Justice". 

In San Francisco, an illegal immigrant who had been deported from the US FIVE previous times took advantage of the "Sanctuary City" status to live without fear of arrest--until shooting a woman to death at a pier popular with tourists.  San Francisco's Sheriff flatly disregards Federal immigration laws and released the suspect from custody after ICE brought him in.  The "respect" shown to that multiple-time offender leaves the family of a US citizen in mourning.  Oh, and this was another incident that would have NOT been prevented by any kind of current or new gun control law.  The weapon was stolen from the vehicle of a Federal agent--who carries it in the course of his job duties.

And then you have the rash of murders in Chicago--where Mayor Rahm Emanuel touts the "most stringent gun control laws in the country"--you had ten people killed and 55-injured in shooting incidents on the 4th of July weekend.  The response there has been "well our weapons violations sentences aren't tough enough to deter such violence".  Yet there is opposition to making such sentences longer because it is minorities that commit such a large percentage of the gun crimes in Chicago.  A new approach is to now force the surrounding Chicago suburbs to adopt the same gun laws as the city--because that is "obviously where the guns are coming from".

And then you have Baltimore--where the Police Commissioner was fired this week by the Democratic Mayor because of a sharp increase in homicides.  That was the same Mayor who ordered police to "stand down" and give protesters "a place to riot" following the death of a man in police custody this spring.  That death and rioting was followed by a sharp decrease in the number of arrests of African-Americans in the city as officers feared they would be the next to be criminally charged for "mishandling" minority suspects.

To most of us, the increase in violence comes as no surprise.  If you are going to NOT enforce laws, lawlessness is naturally going to increase.  Hopefully the people dodging the bullets in San Francisco, Chicago and Baltimore can still rest easier knowing that their liberal leaders are doing all they can to make sure fewer "segments of the population" are being arrested and sent to prison--because THAT is far more important than feeling safe in your own homes and on the streets.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Just One Dollar More

Remember back when you were in high school and you had five or six classes a day with five or six different teachers?  At the end of each class they would say you just had to read the next chapter, or you just had to complete a couple of pages of questions in your workbooks, or you just had to study for a quiz tomorrow.  After each of those classes you probably thought "Hey that's not so bad, I just have to read one chapter!"  But by the end of the day you would realize that you had four chapters to read, two assignments and a test to study for--and you wondered "Why do these teachers assign so much homework?"

I think about those high school teachers when I hear the most-ardent supporters of the Milwaukee Arena deal use their new argument for state taxpayer support of the project.  "It would be just one dollar more a year" they say--meaning it would cost an extra buck in taxes (over twenty years) to build the arena and keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.  Most people would hear that and think "Wow! Just one dollar a year and we can keep the Bucks and their big stars like the...uh...guy with the really hard to pronounce name...who was that again?  And that really high draft choice that got hurt right away....old what's his name?  Actually, we only go when LeBron is in Milwaukee." 

But there are others--like me--who see that one dollar (and, really, every dollar we make) in the totality of everything else that we are spending money on.  Our property taxes are going up just three-percent.  The price of gas went up just two-cents a gallon this week.  Our home and auto insurance increased by just $35 annually.  Milk inched up just twenty cents a gallon.  Student enrollment fees went up just ten dollars this fall.  Our cable and broadband internet package increased just $3.50 a month.  McDonald's raised the price of my favorite Extra Value Meal by just 25-cents.  Our recycling fee will likely go up by just ten dollars.  Health insurance premiums will go up by just ten percent next year.  Home heating and electricity rates will go up by just four percent this winter.  The price of beef will increase by just 15-cents a pound.  And cellular calling and data packages will go up just five bucks a month.

You start adding up all of those "small" increases and suddenly every last dollar you can keep becomes more important.  Especially if your household income goes up just one percent a year.  The funny thing is, the reverse of this economic course is true as well.  Should all of those expenses go down just a little bit--we'd all find a surprising amount of extra cash in our budgets as well. If only that would just happen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Remember when Republicans swept into power in Madison back in 2010 and promised to change the way the Legislature operated?  There would be no more budgets developed behind closed doors in caucus.  There would be no more midnight votes on the budget and that the general air of transparency would be improved from what Democrats were doing under Governor Jim Doyle.

Well here we are in 2015--and not much has changed.  The State Senate passed the budget last night around midnight--just like we were told they would not--because "we the people deserve to see government operate by the light of day" was the phrase I recall being used in 2010.  Such late night votes probably wouldn't take place if debate on the budget was scheduled to start before noon and a couple of days were set aside to allow for debate from the average workday times of nine to five.  But everybody has to meet in caucus before you can head out onto the floor--so party leadership can lean on members who may have reservations about specific provisions in the package.  We can't have the appearance of dissention in the ranks.

Today, everybody in the Senate will also be patting themselves on the back for removing the provision that would have gutted the state's Open Records Law.  I like to refer to this as the "Arsonist Firefighters"--create a disaster just so you can look like the hero by "fixing it" as well.  But there was  a measure that was inserted into the budget (even though it has NOTHING to do with fiscal policy) with no previous discussion just moments before Joint Finance Committee was set to vote on the package (again late at night) that was both non-transparent in its development and would have further hampered efforts to have transparent government.

Later today, the Assembly will begin its debate on the budget.  They too will vote unanimously to remove the Open Records provision--and promptly take credit for "saving open government in Wisconsin".  They will also start that session late into the day--guaranteeing another vote in the week hours of Thursday morning--just like they promised us five years ago would not happen anymore. 

I'm sure more than a few voters went to the polls in November of 2010 really believing that they were going to effect change upon the way things work in Madison.  Needless to say, those results have been sadly lacking.  It will be interesting to see if the electorate gives up on the hope of greater accountability in government--or if they will accept the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Finally Something For Me

After six and a half years in office, President Obama has finally proposed something that could actually benefit me.  I mean, I already had health insurance. I'm a legal citizen of the United States. I paid off all of my student loans without government help. I paid off my house without government assistance.  I don't have a pension with General Motors.  And I'm not a gay member of the military--so until now, the President has done much for me.

But last week, the President rolled out his proposal to change Federal overtime rules.  As someone who averages 56 hours of work at week here at the Radio Ranch I was intrigued.  My salary is well above the current "exempt" threshold--but it would be below the limit the President is looking to set.  Suddenly visions of an "overtime pay" line on the twice monthly pay slip were dancing in my head (as was a new budget that featured even more retirement investment and maybe an even earlier start to our "Golden Years").

But then, our old friend Economic Reality set in.  Since President Obama and his economic policy advisors never spent a day working in the private sector in their lives, they don't know how companies are going to handle his new "gift to the middle class".  I now there is already a tersely-worded draft email on someone's computer at the corporate offices that will be sent out the very second President Obama signs the executive order changing the rules telling me (and my fellow "exempt" employees) that there is to be UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ANYONE WORKING ANY OVERTIME WITHOUT PRIOR AUTHORIZATION FROM EVERY LEVEL OF MANAGEMENT.  And that such overtime should be incurred only in instances of extreme emergency.

Those 15 to 20 hours that I work above 40 each week would then have to be assigned to a much-lower-paid and less-experienced part-timer (which are getting harder and harder to find nowadays)--if we are even allowed to hire another person.  A more likely scenario would be a directive to just cut back on what I do during the day.  No more coming in super early to gather info on overnight incidents or to write My Two Cents.  No more coming in on weekends for updates or to newsgather for Monday morning.  Just work 5-1 every day and if we miss something major--well, those are the new rules.

As much extra time off having a strict 40-hour work limit would give me--I still wouldn't enjoy it.  What President Obama and his theoretical economists don't understand is that for some of us, there is more to working than just collecting a paycheck.  There is also the satisfaction of achieving certain levels of quality.  I put in the extra time because I want our listeners to have as much news every day as possible, or to enjoy this opinion piece every morning or to get severe weather or traffic updates at all times of the day.  Nobody holds a gun to my head to get me to come in on Sunday afternoons or to be here until 1:00 am on Election Night.  I WANT to be here--and it doesn't matter if I'm getting time and a half for that or not.  And I'd be willing to bet that many of the people the President believes are being "short-changed by a loophole in the law" feel that same way.

Although I admit--I wouldn't be opposed to that.  I'm just not getting my hopes up.

Monday, July 6, 2015

This One's For the Girls

I hope there were a lot of girls in front of the TV yesterday for Team USA's Women's World Cup Final victory over Japan.  I think it would be good for them to see 22 women celebrated for accomplishing something that did not require them to show off outrageous amounts of cleavage.  Or to have half of their butts hanging out of the bottom of their outfits.  It would be refreshing for them to see somebody become famous for something other than a sex tape.  And to see women excel regardless of who they are dating in their industry or how they look on television. 

There were no princesses on the pitch Sunday.  No songs about waiting for Prince Charming to come along and make their lives perfect.  There was no twerking or stripper dancing.  Just women working hard, sweating and earning the accolades and prizes that came their way.  Nobody was labeled by their sexual orientation or their self-identified gender on Sunday--just by the numbers on the backs of their jerseys and their positions on the field.  Only one of them has been arrested multiple times (just to show that nobody is perfect).

The girls also would have noticed none of the women were attacking each other behind their backs on camera.  There were no "cat fights" with every other word bleeped out for television.  There were no drunken rants about each other's sexual histories, fake body parts or "real" financial status.  Those who had been stars and were now coming off the bench were the most supportive of those who now start ahead of them--and were appreciative of the limited time they got to play in the game--instead of pouting and crying about what they "deserved" because of "who they are".

Hopefully a lot of fathers sat with those girls to watch that game as well.  And that the Dads cheered the accomplishments of the women as vigorously as they do the men who play their favorite sports--because that sends a message that what these ladies were doing was just as important as what happens on Sundays in the fall.  And I would hope that the Dads didn't comment on players' appearances or body types or scoff at how the game is slower and not as powerful or the real lack of competitive balance throughout the field--because that sends a message to their daughters as well.

And when it was all over, I hope those girls noticed that the players didn't pick up a Rainbow Flag or  a Confederate Flag or the flag of their respective home states.  They ran around the field waving the American Flag--because that represents all of the people who helped them get to where they were in that moment and all of those who had supported them in that effort. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Under Cover of Darkness

President Ronald Reagan once quipped "The nine scariest words in the English language are 'I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help'."  With apologies to The Gipper, the six scariest words coming from someone in government is "You don't need to know that".

Unfortunately, the 12 Republican members of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee said that to everyone here in Wisconsin on Thursday by inserting a last-minute measure into the state budget that will gut the state's Open Records Law.  The measure would exempt many records from public disclosure--including e-emails and other correspondences, research and drafting files of proposed new bills.  It would effectively shut out the public from learning and understanding how a law was drafted before it came for a vote in the Legislature.

The change comes as more laws and public policies are delivered in boiler-plate, ready-to-introduce on the floor form from special interest groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or the State Innovation Exchange (SiX).  These groups write the laws, contact some conservative or liberal lawmakers in each state to see who might support it and email over a copy that can be printed off and brought right to a committee meeting or to the clerk.  Legislators just paste their names to the bottom and viola it looks like they have "come up with a great idea to help our constituents".

Obviously, as a reporter I vehemently oppose this bald-faced attempt to limit our access to public records.  And as a Wisconsinite I am insulted that my representatives think that they should be allowed to conduct their business behind closed doors.  What's ironic is that many of the Republicans who voted for this would be the first to criticize Hillary Clinton for her illegal use of a private server to handle her State Department emails--and they would gladly add their voices to the chorus of criticism when she doesn't turn over all of those emails.  But ask them for their own emails--or on how they just happened to "come up" with a proposed bill and suddenly they think we have no right to know.

This measure was fittingly approved by Joint Finance under the cover of darkness at around 9:00 last night--on the day before all of their Capitol offices are closed for the holiday, the voters are all hitting the road to get away for the weekend and more than a few news outlets are running on reduced staffing and content.  It was almost like a reverse-information dump--taking away news that might be embarrassing at a time we won't have time to notice--instead of releasing all of the bad news late on Friday.

So why did Republicans do this?  Because they can.  They control both houses of the Legislature and the Governor's Mansion--so there won't be anyone to stop them--and to lock you out of the process.  Which proves another old political adage from John Dalberg-Acton: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Thursday, July 2, 2015

You Can Always Count On Us!

One of the main arguments that those who support greater Government dependence like to make is that the Government "will always be there".  Social Security will always be your "retirement safety net"--no greedy Wall Street banker is going to steal that like they will your 401(k) or IRA's.  The Affordable Care Act will "always make sure" that you have access to health care--unlike those greedy insurance companies that are just trying to reduce their risk for monster payments that need to be funded by the rest of the people in the risk pool.  And you don't need a car because there will "always" be buses, subways, high speed trains and streetcars to get you within at least a few miles of where you need to go.  Yes, Government will always be there for you.  Except when it isn't.

Milwaukee County Transit System users are finding that out this week, as the bus drivers have gone on strike in protest of a stalemate in contract negotiations with the County.  You would have thought that Act 10 would have prevented something like this--but for some reason, transit workers were exempted from that law so their unions still hold considerable power.  And they are using that power to force the riders that depend on them to either stay home, walk or bike considerable distances or bum a ride.  And the timing of this action couldn't be any worse, as Summerfest is on--which provides some temporary work for many unemployed minority youth in Milwaukee that have no other means of getting to the festival grounds. 

Making things even more interesting, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel investigative reporter Dan Bice has turned up emails showing County Supervisor John Weishan was advising the drivers' union to go on strike this week--saying they need to show that they have "no other choice".  That while Weishan issues press releases criticizing County Executive Chris Abele for using an "expensive chauffeured SUV"--employing the old "class warfare" tactic.  If some of his constituents can't get to work or the doctor or get their kids to daycare--well I guess that's just collateral damage.

Now those who rely on the buses have to hang on for just a couple more days.  This is just a 72-hour job action that started at 3:00 on Wednesday morning.  That means the drivers will return to their routes at 3:00 Saturday morning.  Did anyone notice that Saturday is also a holiday?  And what does working on a holiday mean?  TIME AND A HALF, BABY!!  No statement of solidarity is worth losing out on that!

So I hope that those who have been placed in this situation of being at the mercy of Milwaukee County for their mobility and ability to hold a job enjoy being used as pawns in a political battle.  It's just another "benefit" of Government dependence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Inequal Protection Under the Law

The Washington Post recently ran an interesting editorial piece from the Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union about why they no longer support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Louise Melling starts out by extolling the ACLU's victories in cases where they have advocated in favor of people claiming religious liberty and suing others to protect the "practice thereof" guaranteed in the First Amendment.  Those examples include Native Americans not being fired for smoking peyote as a "spiritual rite" and a Sikh Hindu member of a university ROTC program being allowed to keep his beard and turban despite the military's ban on facial hair and non-standard issue headgear.

But now, Melling says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act must be repealed because Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics are using it to exert their "rights".  She cites the family that owns Hobby Lobby successfully getting an exemption from the Affordable Care Act to not cover a handful of contraceptives as part of their health insurance package.  Melling also points to the Catholic Church not reporting unaccompanied minors (illegal immigrants) that it is assisting who are also pregnant--because those girls might be offered access to abortions by Federal caseworkers.

In its argument for repeal, the ACLU says it used the law as a "shield" for those of these minority religions and that exemptions granted to them "hurt nobody".  But the Evangelicals and the Catholics are using the law as a "sword to attack the rights of others".  And they fear that it will continue to be used to keep churches from performing gay marriages and the infamous refusal to bake gay wedding cakes.

Since this was an opinion piece submitted by the ACLU itself, there is no follow up questioning of Melling.  But I would love to know under what circumstances the group would actually support the "rights" of Evangelical Christians or Catholics?  Would it be to protest near abortion clinics?  To keep women out of the priesthood?

Keep in mind that I have no dog in this fight.  But when the group that proclaims itself to be the "leader" in fighting for civil rights is picking and choosing which religious practices are worth defending and which are not, it makes me a bit nervous.