Friday, March 31, 2017

Fear Factor

You know what is the most powerful political currency in our society today?  Fear.  Lines have been drawn regarding who is allowed to be fearful--and who is not.  Fear is also used as a powerful hammer to "bring down" those perceived to hold power.

I was reminded of this while reading the stories about how Vice President Mike Pence does not get himself into situations where he is alone with a woman that is not his wife.  Pence says it is due to his religious beliefs and the avoidance of temptation--but I wonder how much of that is to also avoid the "Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas" situation.  As you might expect, those on the left are attacking Pence for his practice.  They say that he should not "fear" being alone with a woman--and that it is a form of sexism, as he would meet with a man alone to discuss important issues--but not a female.

Meanwhile, women are always told to be afraid of men.  Take a look at a college campus.  Co-eds are told to never walk alone at night.  You find the blue lights and emergency contact systems every hundred feet all over campus.  There are programs that will send someone out to walk with women in the dark.  And any female making a claim of sexual assault will be believed without question.  But when men on campus talk about fear of wrongful accusations--like you saw with the Duke Lacrosse Team case and the Rolling Stone University of Virginia fraternity fiasco--they are told they are wrong to think that way.

Here's a quick little test, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program allows women to be "big sisters" for girls and boys.  Men are strictly matched only with boys.  Don't get me wrong, I fully support the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program--but I bet you didn't see anything inconsistent with their policy, did you?

And fear is at the heart of most police shootings in this country.  Black men are told to fear police, whom they believe to be ready to beat or shoot them at the drop of a hat--so when they try to run or try to fight an officer, some are willing to defend their actions.  Officers involved in shootings claim they "feared for their lives" and that is why they used deadly force.  But those defending the suspect's actions claim the officers shouldn't be afraid in the same situation.

And I don't have nearly enough time in this segment to go through the ways members of both political parties instill fear in all Americans that the other side is trying to take away all of their "rights"  Last week, we had a story on how the current political climate is stressing people out to the point that a majority are suffering mental health issues.  Perhaps if we cut back on the fearmongering for a bit, we could all relax.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Understanding What It's About

When the Milwaukee Bucks fill out their Developmental League team roster here in Oshkosh this fall, one player that would be really cool to have is Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes.  I say that not just because I like Nigel--or that I think he likely wouldn't stick with an NBA team--but it would be cool to maybe have his mother around Oshkosh too.

This week, Talaya Davis wrote a heartfelt letter to the UW Basketball program and its fans thanking them for their support of her son.

Now let's contrast Ms Davis's public statements about her son's college basketball career with those of Lavar Ball--whose son, Lonzo, will be leaving UCLA after just one season for the NBA Draft.  Mr Ball has never thanked anyone at the school for providing his son with an opportunity to play.  He has never credited the coaching staff with teaching his son or challenging him to develop his talents.  And he certainly hasn't mentioned his son's education.  Instead, the founder of "Big Ballers" has treated his son like a meal ticket--demanding that he only play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers--and that any shoe company wanting to offer an endorsement contract come with a minimum of ONE BILLION DOLLARS.

There would be a certain irony to the situation if say four or five years from now, it was Nigel Hayes starring in the NBA and Lonzo Ball trying to hang on playing D League ball in Oshkosh.  I think we might know what caused that looking back on this year.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Where It All Began

Never one to miss an opportunity to be overly-dramatic, film maker Michael Moore took to Twitter yesterday after President Trump signed an executive order rolling back President Obama's anti-energy corporation executive orders yesterday with this tweet:

Historians in the near future will mark today, March 28, 2017, as the day the extinction of human life on earth began, thanks 2 Donald Trump

Never mind the glaring logical error of that tweet--if humans are extinct, what historians will there be to point back to yesterday?  Plus, one could argue that every day could be the one that sets in motion the extinction of our species.

The day before yesterday, a virus may have mutated in an animal that has not had contact with humans yet, but that our immune system will not be able to fight in time to prevent its global spread.  Many would argue that July 16th, 1945 was the day that sowed the seeds of our destruction, as the scientists working on the Manhattan Project exploded the first atomic bomb.  If you really wanted to get technical, that date owes its significance to December 17th, 1938 when German scientists discovered that heavy elements could be split through fission and release large amounts of energy.

Our most likely extinction scenarios that are already in motion likely don't have exact dates at all.  I can only tell you that it was 630,000 years ago that the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park stopped its last eruption.  Since that day, pressure has been building up underground that will have to be released as sometime in a giant cloud of ash and toxic gasses that--depending on the size and spread of the fallout--could easily wipe out most life on the planet.

It may have been several million years ago that two asteroids collided in the far reaches of space, sending one of them on a collision course with the 3rd planet orbiting the Sun on a date that we could not hope to predict now--because we don't know it's coming.  And speaking of the Sun, the day it formed as a yellow giant more than four-billion years ago, it began a life that will end as a red giant--swelling in size large enough to engulf Mercury, Venus and Earth.  That will bring a new meaning to "global warming" when that happens.

So yes, it is entirely possible that yesterday was "the day extinction of human life on earth began"--just like the day before that and the day before that.  But when you consider that 99.9% of all creatures that have ever lived on this planet are now extinct--you can see that the odds were never really in our favor to begin with.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Truly Dark Stores

Local leaders have been fretting lately about what they call "Dark Stores"--where a big box retailer challenges their property tax assessment by comparing their open store to what a closed big box somewhere else in town is assessed at and arguing--usually successfully--that their property holds the same value.  But it is entirely possible that more City Halls will be dealing with actual "Dark Stores" in the future.

JC Penney is the latest major retailer to announce plans to shut down hundreds of stores nationwide.  Oshkosh lost its Penney's a few year ago--and while the store at the Fox River Mall is not included in this round of closures the writing is likely on the wall.  The same goes for Macy's, Boston Store and Sears--all of which face the very real possibility of closing up all of their stores.  Take a look at the "anchors" of both the Fox River Mall and the Bay Park Square Mall in Ashwaubenon--what would be left if those stores were to shut down?  One need only look at the former Aviation Plaza here in Oshkosh--which continues to sit vacant and crumbling after losing a Walmart, a JC Penney and a grocery store.  Or how long it has taken to "repurpose" the old KMart/Sears on Koeller.

Even mighty WalMart has started to close underperforming stores.  Target is doing the same.  Green Bay-based Shopko is putting more emphasis on its "Hometown" concept that places smaller stores in smaller towns with less competition from other retailers and the main cause of Big Box decline: internet shopping.

The expensive brick and mortar store locations--with rental charges, property taxes, large staffs, huge inventories and the cost of transportation to get goods to them nationwide--are becoming less and less the place where Americans buy their stuff.  For many shoppers now, the store is the place to try on clothing, test the softness of bedding or bathroom items, view a big screen tv or listen to headphones in person--before walking out, going home and ordering the same exact item to be shipped to your house over the internet.

If you notice, more retailers are putting computers and Ipads in their locations so that they can capture more of that "try in the store, order on-line at home" spending.  Better to have your website in front of them than to let them Google search for the same item at a cheaper price.  But that eliminates the need to have ten of every item in every size in stock, or people to man registers or unload trucks--and it certainly doesn't require football field sized stores in which to operate.

So what do cities do with cavernous buildings and sprawling parking lots in the post-Big Box-Internet-Shopping Era?  And how do they replace the service jobs provided by those retailers?  It seems to me that "forward thinkers" would spend more time worried about that right now--than the assessments on what are quickly becoming dinosaurs.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nickel and Diming Us

Today's youth has been deprived of many "little joys in life" that us older folk used to enjoy.  They will never know the sense of accomplishment when you would find the one setting for your TV's "rabbit ears" that brought all three channels in clearly without having to constantly re-adjust them.  They have no idea what a "perfect pump" is at the gas station--when you would hit a round dollar amount before heading inside to pay with cash--rather than "pay at the pump" like everyone does now and it really doesn't matter what the total sale is.  And soon, they will no longer experience the happiness that comes with pulling up to a curbside parking meter with time left on it.

The City of Appleton is the latest to move to a smartphone app-based parking payment system.  Instead of getting out the car and feeding change into the meter, you will open the parking app--enter your space number and charge whatever time you think you will need to a credit card or PayPal account already on file.  Instead of cruising along the streets looking for expired meters, Meter Maids--excuse me, Parking Enforcement Officers--instead have a running computer program showing them real-time payment histories and time remaining for every stall.

Of course, the City spins this as a "modern convenience"--claiming that people no longer want the hassle of finding change for the meters--or having to run out and put more money in them to extend their time--as that too can be done via the app from anywhere.  But there are some extra revenue generators hidden in the system for the City of which many users are not aware.

For starters, there is a 15-cent "convenience fee" on every transaction.  If the City had to approve a "15-cents for the first minute" parking fee, everyone in town would be going nuts.  But because it's hidden in the charge for use of the parking app, nobody is going to say boo about it.  And the system also allows the City to "double charge" for some time.  If you pay for an hour and then leave after 45-minutes, there is no way for you to get your money back for the unused time--even though I'm sure it wouldn't be that hard to include in the "convenient" app.  What's more, if someone pulls into that space right after you leave, they do not get the aforementioned 15-minutes credited to them--because the meter no longer shows you how much time is remaining.  So they use their app to pay for an hour--and the city collects "double time" for the overlapping 15-minutes.  Have that happen a couple dozen times a day every day for a year--and you can see why cities are more than happy to let people "pay by phone".

It may seem like nickels and dimes--but as a wise man once said--if you stack 'em up long enough they equal real money--out of your pocket.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nothing to Get Excited About

Of the two hospitals here in Oshkosh, which one has the lower price for delivery of a baby?  What is the cost of an arthroscopic surgery on a knee?  What medical practitioner has the lowest rate for an annual physical?  If you aren't able to answer these questions definitively, you understand the root cause of what's usually described as the "health care crisis".

And because you likely won't be able to answer those questions definitively after the Republican health insurance bill passes (or doesn't pass) in Congress, you can see why that is not a real solution to the problem either.  I'm starting to hope that the bill does fail this week, so that everyone can go back to the drawing board and craft a plan that will actually work.

While the GOP bill would do away with the "employer mandate" it doesn't provide the incentives to get health insurance completely out of the "benefits package"--where it no longer needs to be.  Why do you have the health insurance plan you have?  Not because you went out and shopped for the best rates or the services that you need.  Instead, someone in HR in the front office decided that was the insurance you were going to have.  What if your employer just paid you what they currently pay for their share of the premiums and you found the insurance that best serves you?

The House bill also fails to put the onus on health care providers to inform patients of what their care actually costs.  Current rates are a delicate balance between the maximum hospitals and doctors can get--and how much insurance companies are willing to pay.  What if clinics and physicians had to provide you with written estimates like auto mechanics--detailing the actual "labor costs", "parts" and "service charges"--and you could choose which one offers the best results for the best price?  I bet the prices for over-the-counter pain medications and gauze would come down sharply at the doctor's office.

And what if health insurance was actually run like an "insurance" program--and not a "subsidy" program?  Actuarial tables could be used again to determine fair rates--rather than federal mandates and laws to treat everyone the same--even though a small percentage of the population are the ones racking up the major medical expenses.  There would be less pressure on the young, healthy population to overpay for insurance plans providing services the actuarial tables show they are highly unlikely to need.  And like bad drivers find out with auto insurance rates, those who choose to engage in habits detrimental to their health will pay more--because that is actually "fair"--not everyone paying the same.

When a bill comes before Congress that sets us on the path to truly containing our consumption of health care services--and lowering the costs--then we should get excited.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Why Winners Win

I know that we aren't supposed to glorify success anymore--better to have everyone achieve at the same level so no one feels "different", "disenfranchised" or "left behind"--but let's take a moment to honor the University of Connecticut Women's Basketball team for its 109-game winning streak.  Their head coach Geno Auriemma was asked this week how he has fostered this success--and he had a very interesting answer:

I think we can all agree those are words to live by--not just on a basketball court.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brought To You By the Letter Q and the Number 0

While they like to call themselves "Progressives", liberals sure are unwilling to let go of archaic public institutions.  They are always the loudest in opposition to doing away with or downsizing the US Postal Service--no matter how much money it loses in an ever more digital world.  They plead on behalf of the dwindling number of Americans without internet access.  Or they propose ludicrous plans to use the USPS as a bank for low-income people--or a short-tem lender.  The real reason they want to keep the Post Office as large and bloated as possible is because that preserves a sizeable public employee union and pension.

Liberals also oppose the downsizing of public libraries in an age were more people read and access their information electronically.  Better for communities to continue to maintain, heat and cool oversized buildings constructed in the early 1900's with bloated public employee staffs.  Again, they suggest "repurposing" libraries as "community organizing centers" with rows of bookshelves replaced by "gathering rooms", "performance spaces" and "internet cafes".

And now they are putting on the battle gear to "save" the Public Broadcasting System.  The Trump Administration is the latest to attempt to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  Liberals continue to claim that the programming on PBS cannot be found anywhere else on the 450+ cable channels that come into your home--or on the millions of Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo, AppleTV or GoogleTV channels as well.  It also ignores the biggest trend in TV consumption--cord cutting--and not even watching most of your shows on an actual TV attached to an antenna or cable.

They always trot out the Sesame Street characters as being on the "chopping block"--but production of those shows is now done by HBO.  PBS basically airs "reruns".  And don't forget the "quality programming you won't find anywhere else" like "NOVA"--which contains the same information as most shows on Nat Geo or the Science Channel--or "America's Test Kitchen"--which is exactly like everything on the Food Channel, or Cooking TV--except the host chefs on PBS are incredibly boring.  Oh and the huge PBS hit "Downton Abbey"?  You could have watched that on BBC America too.

PBS doesn't even live up to its "commercial free" claims anymore--and hasn't for years.  They just save all the commercials for the start and end of the show--instead of spreading them out throughout the show.  Plus, they take money from such "evil corporations" as Exxon/Mobil, Chevrolet and BP. 

And when they say "nobody else would produce shows like this" they are wrong about that too.  You don't think ESPN or the MLB Network would have paid Ken Burns to produce the "Baseball" documentary?  In fact, the "30 For 30" series on ESPN has won numerous Emmys and an Oscar this year.

Yes, PBS costs us just $1.35 per person as taxpayers.  But think of how much more "progress" we would make as a country if that money went to getting us closer to landing a man on Mars--than making sure "Sewing With Nancy" doesn't have to become a video blog.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How Did They Miss That?

One of the most common things you hear during March Madness (besides "Duke Sucks") is "How did the refs miss that call?!?!?"  That was heard loud and clear on Saturday night as the Northwestern Wildcats--trying to come back from a huge early deficit against Gonzaga--had a basket that would have cut the lead to just three with five minutes left denied by one of the most-obvious goaltending violations in the history of basketball.  Yet three officials managed to somehow miss a Gonzaga player putting his hand through the bottom of the basket to block the shot.

If you look closely at the video, you see the lead official--working along the baseline under the basket--immediately signal that the block was clean and they should play on.  I can't quite tell if he was looking at the ball and the three sets of hands around it at the time of the goaltend, or if he was looking low for body contact between the shooter and the defender.

You can't see the other two officials in the video of the play, but the offside ref--working just below the free-throw line on the near side of the court--should have also had an unobstructed view of the basket to see the hand come up through the net, inside the rim, to get the block.  The trail official--working on the ball side from beyond the three-point line should have been able to see the rim in front of the Gonzaga player's wrist--but again, I have no idea where he may have been looking.

Like the professional leagues, the NCAA uses "All-Star" crews for the basketball tournaments.  Officials who grade out the highest in the regular season are brought together with partners they may not have ever worked with before.  Perhaps this crew didn't communicate to each other in their pre-game meetings who would be responsible for watching what on plays around the rim.  Or perhaps each thought the other had a better view and nobody ended up making a call.  Or somehow, all three guys never saw the hand--and the net--go above the rim to illegally knock the ball away.

The obvious next questions is "Why didn't they go to replay to see if the hand was inside the basket?"  The simple answer is that such a play is not reviewable under college basketball rules.  We can stop the clock 15-times in the last minute to review every ball that is tipped out of bounds or to see if we should add two-tenths of a second back onto the clock because the timer didn't hear the whistle on a foul--but to overturn an obviously-blown call that could affect the outcome of a game is off-limits.

Then, the situation gets compounded by Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins storming onto the court demanding a goaltending call--which necessitated a technical foul call--killing all momentum for the Wildcats.  While a number of "experts" said that Collins should have kept his cool and this his "T" actually cost his team the game, I give him a ton of credit.  If I was coaching Northwestern, I would have received two technical and been ejected immediately--but not before I threw half the chairs from my bench on the court--along with my suit jacket, tie, both shoes and the video replay equipment from the scorer's table.

Of course, the NCAA issues a statement the next morning that the call was clearly blown--but that Collins was wrong to protest in the way that he did.  Needless to say, the three "all-stars" working that game won't be on the floor for anymore tournament action this year.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pay the Ladies

We don't usually talk about women's ice hockey here, but a situation has come up that deserves some attention.  The United States Women's team is planning to boycott the upcoming World Championships--where they are the defending champions.  Team USA is one of the two superpowers in women's hockey.  We and Canada have won all of the World Championships and all of the gold medals in the Winter Olympics.  But for the US women, that success has come with surprisingly little support from USA Hockey--which is in charge of the national team program.

And that is why the ladies are planning to sit out the Worlds--which are being held in Michigan later this month.  They want to be treated equally as the men.  Team USA on the men's side is made up of NHL players--who make big money.  USA Hockey gets off cheap with the men's team--as paying them for their time only during Olympic years doesn't put those players in any financial hardship.  But for the women, getting paid a $1000 a month for six months every four years really doesn't make ends meet.

But it's not just about pay for USA Women.  USA Hockey treats the ladies like the proverbial step-child when it comes to behind-the-scenes aspects as well.  The Women's team stays in lesser-quality hotels when they travel.  They aren't provided with the same top-of-the-line equipment as the men's team.  Promotional and support staff is kept at a minimal level.  And perhaps most-egregiously, USA Hockey spends more than $3-million on its boys' developmental program--while it has no girls developmental program at all.  The organization argues that there are no World Junior Championships for women--so they rely exclusively on high school programs in Minnesota and Massachusetts and US colleges to act as a "pipeline" for talent to the national team.

I went to the USA Hockey website to do a Rachel Maddow-like "probe" into the organization's finances and I found that they made $42-million in revenues for 2015.  Their expenditures for the year were just over $34-million--making it appear that more could be provided to the women's program and its players.

But I also noticed that the address for USA Hockey is Bob Johnson Drive--named after the former Wisconsin Badgers, Team USA and Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins coach--and whose son, Mark, was on the Miracle on Ice team and is leading the Badgers Women's team in pursuit of another national championship at the Frozen Four this weekend.  But "Badger Bob" is best known for his favorite saying, "It's a great day for hockey!  Perhaps the folks at USA Hockey should take those words to heart again--and make it great for all of its players.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


You have just a few hours left to turn in your NCAA bracket for the office pool.  For those of you who picked Wisconsin to win it all (or more foolishly, Marquette), we thank you for your donation to the prize fund--and better luck next year.  For those who think they are going to the be the one that finally turns in the perfect bracket to win the million dollar on-line prize, know that you will be cancelling your retirement plans by the end of the work day--because that is never, ever going to happen.

Please notice that I said bracket and not brackets there.  You do not want to be Multiple Brackets Guy at this time of year.  I'm not saying you can't play in a number of pools and on-line contests--but when you do so, your picks should be the same in all of them.

For years I ran NCAA Tournament pools, and there would always be a couple of guys that would turn in two, three or as many as five sheets--all with different permutations of winners each round and separate national champions.  Here's what I can tell you about those guys: they never won.  Todd 1, Todd 2 and Todd 3 would always end up in the middle of the pack--because none of the brackets ever had the correct mix of upsets and top seeds making it deep into the tourney to set their entry apart from all the rest.

What's more, Multiple Brackets Guy can usually take false credit for correctly predicting the biggest upset of the tournament.  When a 14 beats a 3 in the opening round, he's the guy that comes in the next morning "Yep, I had that one".  Yes, he did have it, on one of the four entries in turned in.  But on the three other sheets, he had that Cinderella losing--and that 3-seed going to the Elite Eight. 

I don't know how Multiple Brackets Guy even enjoys the tournament.  He's like In Four Fantasy Football Leagues Guy--who can't cheer for anything on Sundays because the wide receiver having a huge day for him in one matchup is killing him in two other leagues.  And that's why Multiple Brackets Guy always ends up in the middle of the pack--one team that helps him on one sheet, hurts him on the other two.

So be a man and pare down those multiple entries to one bracket that you believe in.  And don't get discouraged when the woman in accounting wins by picking each game by which mascot sounds "tougher".

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Drinking Town With an Event Problem

While he doesn't mean to be, Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings is a really funny guy.  Almost every Common Council meeting he says something that just makes me laugh--even though he intends to be very serious in making those comments.  You may recall the Mayor demanding that the name of the Oshkosh Senior Center be changed because the term "Senior" makes him and people his generation feel old.  He is also the man that claimed the organizer of the Downtown Pub Crawl was "holding the city hostage" by refusing to pay special event permit fees.  He's the guy that decided that a Mayor's Breakfast not tied to the EAA Airventure would be much more popular with "the locals"--resulting in the immediate (and not surprising) death of the event.  And he continues to push for the "celebration of the lakefly" with public art displays and festivals.

The Mayor had me laughing again during last night's council meeting.  As discussion turned to forming a "working group" to discuss special event fees (not a "committee" which would require a quorum to meet, public posting of meeting times, holding open meetings and publishing minutes of what was discussed for public inspection) Cummings asked that the group take look at alcohol service at special events and "events that revolve around drinking".

Obviously, Hizzoner is referring to the two days a year of Pub Crawl--but I would put MOST of what goes on in "Event City" as "revolving around drinking".  When you go to Waterfest, what are the two longest lines?  One is for the women's bathrooms, the other is for the beer stands.  The same goes for Irishfest and Oktoberfest--I mean, who's going to outdrink the Irish and the Germans?  Consider that even though the ice was too dangerous to hold an actual fishing tournament this year, Battle on Bago still fired up the beer tent in Menominee Park last month.  To be perfectly honest, who is going to the non-fireworks nights of Sawdust Days to not drink?  And what is always the largest tent at every church picnic in Oshkosh?  The one that serves the beer.

Heck, two of the most popular events in the city "for locals" exclusively deal with alcohol--Hops and Props and Winefeast.  And as anyone that has attended them can tell you, at Country USA and Rock USA the music on the stage is of a secondary--or tertiary--concern to those in attendance.  All they care about is getting drunk and staying drunk for the entire run of the festival.  If he were to tour the campground at Ford Festival Park, I'm pretty sure Mayor Cummings would want that place condemned and shut down.

To steal a line from Billy Currington, Oshkosh is "A drinkin' town with an event problem".

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

That Will be a $5 Blog Reading Fee

In the latest edition of "how The Simpsons accurately predicted the future" let's flashback to the episode where Hollywood producers decided to film the movie Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy in Springfield.  The City Council and Mayor Quimby then established new "taxes" on everything that the production may do or need:

Now fast-forward to modern-day Oshkosh--where the City Council, Mayor and City Manager have decided to balance their budget with ever-increasing fees to be paid by the multitude of special events held every single week here in "Wisconsin's Event City".  While we haven't reached the absurdity of a "puffy director's pants fee"--those footing the bill are beginning to take a much closer look at what they are being charged for--and finding the numbers don't seem to add up.

For example, the folks at the EAA and Country USA noticed that the rate for "police overtime" is higher than what the officers will actually be getting paid.  And that the city is "double dipping" on "benefits" that would be paid to those officers.  What's more, when these organizations offer to find alternatives to having Oshkosh Police handle security and traffic control, the City refuses to agree to it--intentionally incurring a cost that could be shifted to a different agency (that doesn't charge nearly as much).

It should be noted that the Special Event Permit Fee started out targeting just one event--Sawdust Days and putting them out of business.  But as those at City Hall began to see the type of revenue it could generate they figured they may as well soak everyone else looking to hold a charity run, a fishing tournament or the World's Largest Private Aviation Event.  But as all tax and spenders find out--eventually you run out of "other people's money"--and the title of "Event City" may move somewhere else.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Too Young and Too Soon

Please consider today's My Two Cents as a public service announcement for parents considering taking their young children to theme or amusement parks: Don't do it.  Take it from someone who spent an entire day observing harried parents and out-of-control kids last week doing anything but enjoying themselves.

The day usually starts with incredibly cranky toddlers who were awakened before their usual time to make sure the family could be at the park when it opens.  Of course, that means standing in your first line of the day--when the child would much rather be running around.  Then you have the parents trying to drum up "excitement" for the kids by saying things like "Look, you can see the castle!" or "You are going to meet princesses today!"--which in one case I witnessed the response was "I don't want too!"

And nothing speeds along a security checkpoint line like diaper bags that need to be hand-checked, along with all of the pockets in a stroller, while also having to empty out all of your pockets.  And speaking of strollers, enjoy pushing that thing around with the 20,000 other parents pushing around their strollers--none of which are allowed inside any of the buildings or the lines to get on rides.  Oh, and good luck getting the kids to get in the stroller when you want them to--or to get out when they need to get out.

My personal favorite from our day at the park was the family with a boy of three or four that used a FastPass to jump the line at the tamest of the rollercoasters--and then having the child throw a fit and refuse to sit down when they got into their car.  That prevented the ride from starting--and kept people in the trains behind from getting off for several minutes while efforts to assure the child failed--and the family had to get back off the ride--while negotiating the re-use of their fast pass.

I also saw a park employee trying his best to reassure another very scared young boy that he could get him help in finding his family again.  I bet that made for a very relaxing day for the child and the parents.  And you've got adults in full sprint mode trying to keep their kids from wandering too far away as well.

And then at dinner time, expect your little one to not want any of the foods on the menus--and when you do order them something, they will refuse to eat it because they want to watch something happening in the building next door.  That will be followed by a fit demanding cotton candy or sno-cones--which will go half-eaten at best.

Welcome relief will eventually come when the kids fall asleep early in the afternoon--in a nap site that is probably more expensive than the hotel room you rented for them to sleep in.  Which will be followed by demands to go home, shrieking in terror after spending a half-hour in line to meet a character they are now deathly afraid of and refusing to look at the camera for any pictures.

Here's my advice: wait until your kids are older to take them to the theme park--like around 25--when they can help you pay for it too.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Different Kind of Sanctuary

There has been much ado about so-called "sanctuary cities" in the US--where police and politicians assure illegal immigrants that no matter what they do, officials will not report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  President Trump has threatened to pull their Federal funding and some conservative talk show hosts have called for those police chiefs and politicians to be arrested.  While they may not have made any statements to infer that Oshkosh is a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants, city leaders are granting that same status to renters.

The always animated Tim Ernst of the Oshkosh Renters Coalition appeared before the Common Council this week asking that the City give greater assurances to tenants that inspectors performing the mandatory inspections of rental units will not report any illegal activity they may come across.  Earlier this week, we told you that City Manager Mark Rohloff accused some landlords of sending letters to renters claiming inspectors would go to police with information on illegal activity in an effort to dissuade them from scheduling an inspection of their unit.

Now think about what you are telling city employees with this "see--but don't tell" policy.  "Don't worry about the heroin and needles you see laying around--it's more dangerous for them to have to live with a faulty water heater."  And how could you turn your back on evidence of child abuse or neglect in a residence?  Or you see child pornography?  As a human being wouldn't you have to have a strong desire to make sure those victims are removed from that situation as soon as possible?  Nope.  "Sorry kid, I'm just here to make sure all the outlets all work".

Imagine if the City of West Allis had a rental registry program with mandatory inspections in the late 1980's and an inspector was sent out to check on Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment.  You think that guy was just going to head back to the office and "forget" about what he had found?  Of course, the landlords themselves should also be demanding the reporting of illegal activity--because they shouldn't want drug use, child abuse or god knows what else going on in their properties--right?

So the next time you hear Oshkosh Police asking you to "help them fight crime" by reporting anything suspicious in your neighborhood, tell them they can start with the rental inspectors first.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Looks Like We Are Moving!

I know some of you won't believe this, but Wisconsin is not the best state in which to live.  US News & World Report ranks the Badger State only 15th in its latest list of "Best States to Live".  Massachusetts is number one--followed by New Hampshire and our neighbors, Minnesota.  The magazine likes to tout the 68-factors it considers in putting together its rankings--like health care, crime, education and the economy.  But do the editors ever stop to wonder why so many people choose to live in the "Not Best States"?

Few of the states in the top ten--or even the top 15--are near the top of the list for population.  Masschusetts is 14th in the country, while New Jersey is 11th (they come in as 14th best to live--right ahead of Wisconsin).  Our most-populous state, California is 23rd in the rankings.  Texas is 38th.  New York is 17th and Florida is 24th.  And when you look at the population trends--meaning where people are moving to and from--you find the "Best States" are losing population when compared to the "Less Than Best States". 

So why do so many Americans settle for "less than the best"?  For starters, you could argue that population scarcity actually makes it easier to climb the "Best of" list.  Many of the services listed in factors used to make the list are not overwhelmed in states like New Hampshire, Minnesota and Iowa.  It also helps to keep the cost of living down--especially in the housing market--where demand has made some states flat-out unaffordable for many.

And let's be honest, weather is a huge factor--which is NOT at all considered by US News & World Report.  Nobody living and working in Florida or California is considering retiring to Wisconsin--no matter how efficient government operations are or how good the schools may be.  Yet, many here are planning to give up their residency for the Sunshine State as soon as they can afford it.  Believe it or not, tax structure is not considered in the rankings either--so states with very high taxes (Massachusetts and Minnesota) aren't penalized--while Florida and Texas don't receive any benefit for having no state income taxes.

So before we get down on ourselves for not being Number One--or maybe pat ourselves on the back for being ahead of so many other states.  Take a look again at those rankings and ask yourself, "Would I really want to live there?"