Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the beer and wings!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Katrina Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Way To Go, Michelle!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Sharks Are Circling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

The People of Few Alternatives

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Not What Was Intended

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The "Gates" of Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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