Monday, August 31, 2015

The Name Game

If you are coming here expecting me to rant and rave about President Obama changing the name of the tallest mountain in the United States today, you are in for some bitter disappointment.  As a lover of history, I fully embrace the decision to return Mount McKinley to its original name: Denali.

There seems to be a misconception that the mountain was named in honor of President William McKinley after his assassination in 1901--that perhaps in their shortsighted historical perspective, Americans of that time demanded that the tallest peak on the continent bear the name of this "great hero".  But the McKinley name was actually put on the mountain by a gold prospector after McKinley was just nominated for President by the Republican party in 1896 (a process by the way that didn't involve caucuses and primaries or any direct voting by the electorate--and instead was controlled by party bosses who were usually engaged in back-room dealings and power-brokering).  Renaming the mountain was actually a campaign publicity stunt.

It should also be pointed out that Alaskans themselves do not call the mountain "McKinley".  Most would be quick to correct you that the mountain's name is "Denali".  The state legislature (dominated by Republicans) voted to change the designation back in the 1970's.  And one of their Republican Senators introduced a similar measure in Washington several times--only to have it blocked by Senators from McKinley's home state of Ohio.  Last night, House Speaker John Boehner--of Ohio--tweeted his displeasure with President Obama's "unilateral decision" to remove their "hero" from the mountain.  Nevermind that 99.99999% of Ohioans have never--nor will they ever--actually see the mountain.  It's a lot like the liberals in California and New York being "offended" that a guy in Georgia has a Confederate flag flying in his yard.

Besides, the "original" name sounds a lot cooler.  "Denali" means the "Great One" or "High One" in the native Athabascan language.  That certainly captures the grandeur of the mountain and the surrounding national park (which has been Denali for decades as well) than "the 25th President of the United States."  You have to admit that European explorers and settlers chose really boring names for things as they expanded across the globe.  State names get more exotic as you head west--Colorado and California are much more original than New York and New Jersey.  And how enticing would it be to go to the "Sandwich Islands" for your anniversary--compared to Hawai'i?

If we are going to go back to "original" names, might I suggest that Lake Superior change to the Ojibwe title of "Gitchigami"--meaning "great sea" (not Gitche Gumee as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Gordon Lightfoot incorrectly called it).  Again, a much more exotic sounding name than "Superior"--which the French Voyageurs put on it because it was the "lake upstream from Huron". 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tilting at Big Boxes

In another example of life imitating art, the city of Oshkosh is seeing a scene from the classic novel Don Quixote play out on its Common Council.  Where the title character of the novel sets his attack on windmills--believing them to be dragons, our own Mayor Steve Cummings is going on the warpath against big box retailers.  In Tuesday night's meeting, Mayor Quixote--I mean Cummings--went on a diatribe bashing the many stores along the Interstate 41 corridor for the size of their buildings, their "ugly" exteriors, their "acres of blacktop" and their desire to pay as little in taxes as possible.  Quixote--err Cummings--even kept up the "reptile enemy" theme by comparing the retailers to "boa constrictors"--squeezing the life out of Oshkosh.  He--and other members of the Council--then encouraged citizens to reject shopping at the big boxes and instead only support "local businesses".

But I have to ask Mayor Quixote--I mean Cummings--what his plan would be for replacing all of his hated big boxes?  How would he propose to feed our 60-thousand residents without WalMart, Festival or Pick n Save stores?  Your going to need a lot of farmers markets to meet that demand.  Or are we turning the properties along the frontage roads into "community gardens" where 21st century Americans are forced to partake in subsistence farming?  Where would Oshkosh residents get their clothing?  The second-hand shops?  Rummage sales?  The local "adult lingerie" shop?

And if the I41 corridor isn't going to be farm fields, what is the Mayor's vision for that area?  Weed infested fields interspersed with retention ponds?  That should get plenty of people excited about living or moving their business to Oshkosh. 

Mayor Quixote--oops, Cummings--also claims that the big boxes pay no taxes.  Yet they still generate plenty of tax revenue.  How would he replace the 5% sales tax that is collected on the billions of dollars spent in those stores every year?  How would he replace the payroll taxes and social security taxes and Medicaid taxes collected from the paychecks of those thousands of workers.  Maybe they don't pay enough in property taxes for his tastes--but those wages do pay a lot of property taxes on homes throughout the city.

The Mayor even had his own Sancho Panza riding shotgun with him Tuesday night, as fellow Councillor Caroline Panske proudly declared that she would never do business with Time Warner Cable (their property tax exemption is what prompted this whole "anti-big business" tirade).  She instead uses the internet and wi-fi at the public library and at city hall--at taxpayers' expense.  And nobody seemed to grasp the irony that they were attacking Time-Warner Cable's "greediness" on a public access TV channel provided at no cost (and equipped by) Time-Warner Cable.

What makes this entire attack disingenuous is that all of those Councillors who took turns bashing the big boxes could have prevented them from building in Oshkosh in the first place.  Where was Mayor Quixote--dang it, Cummings--"NO" vote on construction of Dick's Sporting Goods? Or Ross Dress For Less?  Where was Caroline Panske's emotional testimony before the city Plan Commission before it approved the WalMart Supercenter project a decade ago?  Where was Kyle Clark's one-man protest along Washburn Street with signs reading "Hell No, Lowe's Must Go!"?

All I can say is that when Mayor Steve Cummings runs for re-election, he had better not take any credit for the growth of businesses along the I-41 corridor.  In fact, he should run on an anti-big box platform.  "No Kohls yesterday, No Kohls today, No Kohls Ever!!"  Maybe Rob Kleman from the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce can take His Honor along with him to those site selector conferences so he can look those retailers in the eye and tell them "We have no interest in having you come to our city unless you are willing to pay the MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF TAXES we believe you should have to pay!"

In the meantime, the DOT might want to consider adding one more lane to I41 to accommodate the additional traffic of Oshkosh residents driving to Neenah, Appleton and Fond du Lac to do their shopping and to go to work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Credit Where It Is Due

Happy days are here again in Oshkosh!  The city's largest employer--the Oshkosh Corporation--lands the largest military contract in its history--$6.7 billion dollars to build the replacement vehicle for the Humvee.  When you add in the service, parts and possible extensions, the deal could be worth $30 billion by 2040.  To fill that order, Oshkosh Defense will have to hire hundreds of new employees--along with those that will be added to the payrolls at the regional suppliers that contract with Oshkosh.  It's the kind of economic development that could lift the entire region for a generation.

A great deal of credit must go to the United Auto Workers members who a few years ago agreed to take concessions in their new contract with the company in order to make the Oshkosh Defense bid as competitive as possible.  Oshkosh was in fierce competition with AM General--which built the original Humvees that the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle will replace--and Lockheed Martin--a manufacturer providing the Pentagon with a myriad of fighting machines that are used on both the ground and in the sky.

There were stories that the other bidders were questioning the ability of Oshkosh Defense to build the JLTV's at the prices the company was quoting.  But Oshkosh was able to show the Pentagon the union contracts already in place--guaranteeing the labor costs for the bid.  Ultimately, the Department of Defense decided that Oshkosh and its workers were going to provide the best vehicle that $250-thousand dollars a piece can buy.

It would have been very easy for the UAW members to reject the idea of pay freezes and higher health insurance premiums and deductibles requested by the company at the start of the bid process.  There were plenty of community leaders who claimed it was another case of an "evil corporation" taking advantage of a "concocted crisis" to "artificially depress wages".  Well, where would those workers be now if AM General had landed this $6.7 billion contract?  They would likely be heading to Indiana to work at that production plant--while the "community leaders" would be standing there with their blue fists in the air.  And those who remain would have to hope that broke European governments start minting more Euros so that they can order garbage trucks again.

Instead those employees who were willing to take a little less are guaranteed of jobs for as long as 25 years.  And all of the other businesses in town that will sell food, cars, houses, appliances and pet treats to those workers get to share in the wealth as well.  So I think the next time you see an Oshkosh Corporation production worker you should give them a hearty handshake and both congratulate them and thank them for the teamwork they exhibited to allow so many of us to win.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Krause's Adjunct to Godwin's Law

One of my favorite truisms is what's known as "Godwin's Law".  It holds that the longer an on-line discussion continues, the greater the probability of comparisons of the subject matter to Naziism or Hitler.  I've seen discussions on topics like gun control, mandatory health insurance and even zoning code enforcement all devolve into what participants believe were the policies of German National Socialists in the 1930's and '40's.

Today, I'd like to propose an amendment to Godwin's Law--call it "Krause's Adjunct"--which theorizes that the longer any discussion about racial issues goes, the greater the probability of comparisons to slavery and the Jim Crow South.

Our latest example of "Krause's Adjunct" comes from Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore--who on Monday during a conference call with reporters to bash Governor Scott Walker's presidential campaign swing through the South--said Walker's policies are "literally tightening the noose" around African-Americans.  It's always hard to tell exactly what Congresswoman Moore is talking about, but I believe this was said in the context of Walker's support of "3 strikes and you are out legislation" for multiple offense felons--which Moore blames (not the actual committing of the crimes) for the high rate of African-American incarceration in Wisconsin.

How exactly this equates to the lynching of blacks in the South during the era of Segregation I'm not sure.  Those who were lynched usually did not receive a trial or to have police and prosecutors present evidence against them that a defense attorney could challenge or refute.  And many of those killed by the "angry mob" weren't even first time offenders--much less those convicted of a third serious crime.  But to Congresswoman Gwen Moore, the process is the same.

And Moore didn't even give herself an out on her comments because she used (and stressed) the word "literally".  English majors would tell you that would mean Scott Walker was engaged in the physical act of placing a rope around the necks of African-Americans and strangling them.  While Walker's most hated opponents might wish there was video footage of that, I doubt anyone is ever going to witness it happening.

"Krause's Adjunct to Godwin's Law" doesn't even have to apply to conversations about the topic of race.  Given the recent actions of Black Lives Matter protesters, it could also include Bernie Sanders campaign rallies or local Police and Fire Commission meetings.

I saw on Twitter last night a great post from a political pundit: "Here is the list of things that it is okay to compare to slavery: 1--Slavery  That's it, that's the list"  Someone should literally send that to Congresswoman Gwen Moore. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mascot Down

The sun came up again today--despite the worst fears of Packers fans--who are in mourning at the apparent loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson to an ACL injury.  Not only does this injury leave the Packers without one of their deep threats in the receiving corps, but it also means fans have one less mascot to root for this season.

Packer backers hate when I refer to some of their favorites as "mascots"--but the team always seems to have a few guys whose popularity with fans and in the community exceeds their actual production on the field.  I'm not talking about Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre--they have the numbers to back up superstar status--but guys more like Nelson or Clay Matthews or John Kuhn (who make up the three most popular jerseys sold behind A-Rodg).

Compare Jordy Nelson's numbers to those of some of his predecessors--Greg Jennings and Antonio Freeman.  Not really that much different are they?  And yet Jennings and Freeman never seemed to be as "beloved" by the fans as Farmer Jordy.  In fact, the fan base seems to have a bit of animosity against those former stars.  And imagine for a moment if the infamous on-sides kick had made it all the way to #87 and he had been the one to muff it.  Would there have been infinite calls to sports radio demanding he be cut?  And why is so little made of the numerous drops he had while running open in that same game?

Actually, the Packers have a proud history of mascots.  You had Bill Schroeder, Mark Tauscher, Don Beebe, Chuck Cecil and Brian Noble--just to name a few.  All of them seemed to have that "something" that appealed to Green Bay fans more than many other players.  And when mascots renegotiated big contracts, Packers fans celebrated saying "He really deserves it--he's a really great guy".  But when someone like the aforementioned Jennings asked for big bucks, those same fans couldn't understand why he wasn't willing to take less to "help the team stay under the salary cap".

With Nelson likely out of the rest of the year, the Packers may have to go out and find another "gritty" player with "deceptive" speed and "a high football IQ" to replace him.  It's what Packers fans love most about their team.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The World's Most Interesting Amendment

While the First, Second and Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution get all of the glory and attention, the 14th Amendment is making a run at becoming the most-interesting and controversial of them all.  For those who believe that it's not necessary to "memorize facts" about US History and how government works, the 14th Amendment addresses citizenship and equal protection under the law.  It was originally drafted to protect recently-freed slaves and to ensure that they received full rights of all citizens following the end of the Civil War.  Democrats in Southern states would eventually usurp those rights with the Jim Crow laws and segregation.

Since it's final approval in 1868, the 14th Amendment has been used to force the integration of public schools through the Brown vs Board of Education case, legalize abortion through the Roe v Wade decision, decide the 2000 election in Bush v Gore, and recently, legalize gay marriage in all states in Obergefell v Hodges.  That's a lot of historic ground breaking for just a little amendment.

Now the 14th Amendment is being challenged again by Presidential Candidate Donald Trump--who believes the birthright citizenship granted by the law "needs to go".  The Amendment simply states that anyone born on American soil--regardless of the citizenship of their parents--is an American citizens and is entitled to the rights and protections thereof.  The intent was make sure that Democrats in the former Confederate states didn't deny rights to freed slaves because their parents weren't considered "citizens of the US" thanks to the Dred Scott decision.

Trump claims that illegal immigrants of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are taking advantage of the birthright clause by sneaking into the US to give birth to "anchor babies"--which tie them permanently to a US citizen--who has every right to stay here, even if his or her parents have no rights to stay in the country.  Those who back Trump's position point to notes from the original debate on the bill that Congress did not mean for people illegally in the country to be able to give birth to US citizens.  But if that was to be the intent of the lawmakers at the time--and the state's that ratified the Amendment--then they should have put that in there.

But the simple fact of the matter--and the law of the land is--that anyone born here is a citizen.  And that is just another of the things that makes us rather unique in the world.  Few other countries have birthright citizenship.  And let's not forget that not all of the European immigrants of the 1800's and 1900's came here legally.  There were stowaways on ocean liners that snuck in.  There were tourists who never left.  Some just walked over from Canada.  There could literally be hundreds of thousands of us whose families were here for three or four generations that could be denied birthright citizenship because our great-great-great grandparents skipped the stop at Ellis Island on the way in.

Meanwhile, how about we take a moment to once again thank those who have helped to draft and amend our Constitution into a dynamic document that continues to shape who we are as a country even after 226-years--even during a time when politicians and candidates do all they can to ignore it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

And So I Face the Final Curtain..............

If he was still alive, Elvis Presley would be 80-years old.  I've often wondered what Elvis's career would have been like had he not died 38-years ago this month.  Would he still be able to sing?  Would he still be doing shows?  Or would he have had the good sense to retire and just soak up honors at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and music industry awards shows every few years?

I got to thinking about that again this week after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review of Kenny Rogers' closing night show at the Wisconsin State Fair on Sunday.  The headline read "Kenny Rogers Struggles at Wisconsin State Fair Show"--and further reading finds that "struggles" might be a generous description of the performance.  "The Gambler" couldn't remember the words to a number of songs in the set.  And the words he could remember, he couldn't hit the notes anymore with his 77-year old voice.  It was the kind of performance that leads you to wonder "What is that guy doing still up on stage?  Shouldn't he have enough money by now to be retired and putting out repackaged 'Greatest Hits' albums every year to rip people off?"

The answers to those questions are contained in the same article.  The people attending that Kenny Rogers show really didn't seem to care.  There was laughter and cheers when Rogers apologized for basically not being able to sing anymore.  For those that spent the money for tickets, this was probably more about nostalgia than it was about some kind of new experience.  In their heads, they could hear the songs the way they were meant to sound--and whatever warbling came from the singer's mouth wasn't that important.  It's how countless cover bands make a living--play the chords in the right order and just let the listeners minds and memories take over from there.

We often mock athletes that hang on too long and get embarrassed on the fields of play.  But there are coaches and general managers who can force those guys out by cutting them or not signing them.  Performers just go on finding smaller and smaller gigs to squeeze those last few dollars out of the shrinking pool of die-hard fans.  Maybe Elvis knew that his abilities were fading and that it was time to step away from the stage.  Like Kenny Rogers, the last few years of Elvis shows were a series of forgotten lyrics (listen to his flubs of "Are You Lonesome Tonight" on Youtube) and once allegedly taking a half-hour bathroom break in the middle of the show in Baltimore.

I will sometimes get asked if I wish The Beatles were still all alive and peforming together and I honestly say "no".  Based on Paul McCartney's performances that I've seen the past few years, he can't sing anymore--and I bet it would be the same for John and George as well.  Instead, I have the eight year's worth of recordings that contain them at the height of their musical powers--and there would be no "Eternal Farewell Tour" to tarnish that.