Friday, May 22, 2015

Who Needs To Know That Stuff?

As you might expect, educators are up in arms over a requirement up for consideration in the State Legislature that kids pass a citizenship test before they are allowed to graduate high school in Wisconsin.  The test would mirror that given to immigrant seeking citizenship and would feature 100 questions--of which 60 would have to be answered correctly to " pass".  (That by the way is another example of the dumbing down of America when 60% is considered to be "passing".)

The questions would include things like "How many justices sit on the US Supreme Court?" and "Who vetoes a bill?"  Not necessarily the most complex political and governmental issues--but stuff you kind of need to know to get along in this country.  (Although, many Americans who have lived here their entire lives would probably struggle to get 60% right--based on some sampling I have done in the past few days.)  And it seems like the kind of information that children are provided with starting in grade school in all of their Social Studies courses.

But teachers and administrators say it is just another "test they have to teach to" and that what the kids would be asked is nothing more than "trivia questions" and don't really determine what a student has "really learned" in their classes.  Perhaps they would be more amenable to the test if the questions were phrased to match what is actually being taught in Social Studies and History courses today.  Instead of "How many justices sit on the US Supreme Court?" the question could be "The Conservative majority of which branch of government has forever tilted political power to the 1% by allowing corporations to make political donations to Republican candidates?"  "Who vetoes a bill?" could be re-worded to read "President Obama is forced to use what power to kill bills approved by the Republican Congress that seek to further create income inequality and reward their 1% political donors?"  I bet today's public school students would have no problem answering those questions.

The only problem there is that the Constitutional section of the test might get a bit awkward.  For example: "The right to a 'living wage' is spelled out in which Amendment to the Constitution? A--The First, B--The Fourteenth, C--It's not in the Constitution but that doesn't matter because making $15 an hour is a basic Human Right that doesn't need to be codified in our laws."  Another tricky one would be "Which Constitutional Amendments really shouldn't be enforced in today's 'more enlightened society'? A--The First when free speech or the practice of religion pertains to something that doesn't fully support people of color, non-male gender, non-heterosexual orientation, non-Christian beliefs or makes anyone feel bad because no one should have to feel bad about anything.  B--The Second because nobody needs to have a gun--especially police officers trying to arrest young African-American men who are attacking them.  C--Both of the above."

Personally, I've grown tired of all the tests that kids have to pass to graduate now.  Don't we have a "right to be ignorant"?  I'm pretty sure it's in one of those Amendment things.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

But These Are the Schools We Wanted!!

If I was a resident of the Milwaukee School District, I would be pretty ticked off right now.  This week, the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved a provision that would allow an independent commissioner to take control of failing schools in the Milwaukee District.  That commissioner could fire administrators and teachers and restructure the schools as charter or voucher schools.  That authority would apply to three of the 55 failing schools in Milwaukee for the first couple of years--and then five a year after that.

What should get Milwaukee residents upset is that this process usurps the authority of the democratically-elected School Board that they have put into place. (A school board, by the way, that features seven of nine members who are current or former public sector employees.)  Those are the people that Milwaukee voters have chosen to lead their failing district.  They are the Board that hired the superintendent that hired the Administrators who hired the teachers in those 55 failing schools.  These are the leaders Milwaukee voters have gone to the polls and repeatedly returned to office--and to circumvent their authority with some non-elected commissioner is a slap in the face of self-governance and self-determination.  These are the schools that Milwaukee residents want.

What's more, the County Executive is given the power to appoint this new Failing School Commissioner--not the Mayor that Milwaukeeans alone elected.  Not the Mayor who believes a streetcar running from upscale residential developments to corporate offices and upscale entertainment districts will solve the problems of urban blight in the majority of his neighborhoods.  Not the Mayor who gives Milwaukee residents the city they want.  I'm actually surprised Joint Finance didn't give that oversight power to the Milwaukee County Sheriff who once famously suggested that the parents of truant students be arrested--like it's their responsibility to make sure their kids are in schools every day.  C'mon man!

So Milwaukee residents should join the chorus of Democrats in the Legislature and the liberal education groups that oppose this "Draconian measure" and insist upon local control of their school district.  I mean, how can you argue with the results so far?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From the Home Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin........

Another piece of my youth comes to an end tonight, as David Letterman hosts his final episode of the Late Show.  I've been a Dave fan since the early days of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC in the early 1980's.  Back then, WLUK Channel 11 didn't even show Dave's show immediately after the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Instead, they aired a couple of episodes of MASH or The Mary Tyler Moore Show before showing Late Night at 12:30 am--so you really had to be a fan to stay up that late.
For me, NBC Dave will always be the best.  It seemed like everyone associated with the show decided they were going to see just how much they could get away with on network television before they shut the whole thing down.  Thus you had the night that Dave put on a suit of Alka-Seltzer tablets and lowered himself into a giant tube of water--almost asphyxiating himself from the fumes:

And then there was the night that Dave sent Larry "Bud" Melmen to Grand Central Station to welcome people to New York City--except Larry "Bud" didn't seem to understand how the microphone worked:

And Dave used to feature the "underground" bands that all of us loved back in the day.  REM, The Replacement, The Ramones and Husker Du all got play and get national exposure that College Radio was never going to get them.
And then there was Dave's attitude.  He never hid his contempt for airheaded starlets whom he "had" to have on the show to promote their latest movie or TV show.  And who can ever forget when Crispin Glover came out one night and tried to karate kick Dave in the head:
But nothing will ever beat when Dave made NBC and its parent company General Electric the butt of the joke.  Like when Dave almost got roughed up by a GE security guard while trying to deliver a fruit basket to his new corporate overlords:
Or when Dave interrupted a live edition of the Today Show outside of 30-Rock with a bullhorn from his office:

I still remember that the pompous Bryant Gumbel demanded that Dave be fired or he wouldn't do Today anymore.

Unfortunately, working at 3:00 in the morning has meant far less watching of Dave for me over the past 15-years.  Plus, the show really lost its edge when it moved to the earlier time slot on CBS.  In fact, I probably won't even watch the finale tonight (and who schedules their final show on a Wednesday night anyway?) 

But anyway, thanks Dave for the Top Ten Lists, Larry "Bud" Melman, the Guy Who Lives Under the Stairs, Stupid Human Tricks and all of the other laughs over the years.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Making Less In America

Monday provided an excellent example of what life is going to be like in the "New, New, New Economy" here in the US.  In the morning, we spoke with one of the UW-Oshkosh graduates who won the America's Pitch Tank competition last week--a Shark Tank-style contest that saw business leaders select what they think could be the "next big thing" and to provide some cash for start-up costs, development or marketing.  The winning entry was a smartphone app that tells you what bars or parties in town are the best to go to on a Friday or Saturday night. 

A couple of hours later, we heard from Con-Agra Foods that they are shutting down one of their two Ripon cookie factories--leaving 320-people without jobs.  The two events showed the contrast between what used to be an economy where we Americans made things and sold them to each other--and the future economy where no one is going to be making anything.

The bar and party app sounds like a lot of fun and I'm sure that there is a segment of the population under the age of 30 that will find it incredibly handy--but is the developer of that app ever going to employ 320-people in a place like Ripon, Wisconsin?  And will that app be around for 70-years--employing generations of families?  Likely not.  It's a disposable, digital item that takes just a handful of people to create and operate--while computers take care of the rest.  In fact, none of the finalists for the Pitch Tank contest last week had any ideas that would lead to mass employment or product production.  "Too much overhead and start-up expense" the business "experts" would have told the would-be entrepreneurs.

Of course, businesses can only provide us with what we want.  When was the last time you bought a package of Rippin' Good Cookies?  I bet you probably grabbed the Keebler or Nabisco product right next to them because they were 15-cents cheaper, or the kids saw the commercial for them on Nickelodeon and that is what they want to eat.  Or maybe you don't buy cookies at all anymore.  You only eat "artisan" food--prepared by small bakeries using hand-ground flour and chocolate made by Swiss chocolatiers.  Or you are a socially-conscious shopper--buying food that is "certified organic", with "no genetically modified organisms", grown using "sustainable farming practices", with "fair trade chocolate" and "living wages for all workers" sold at your food co-op.  Or you are on one of the multiple fad diets featuring no carbs, no sugar or no gluten.  Or maybe you are taking Michelle Obama's advice and just eating food you can grow yourself.

Perhaps the folks at the Rippin Good Cookie factory can develop apps that "make cookies" that you have to put into certain orders to win gold coins on your smartphone--and that allows you to send requests for "more cookies" to your social media friends every day.  And the factory itself can be retooled to make "unlimited voice, text and data" or "rollover minutes" to sell to those glued to their smartphones and tablets 18-hours a day.  That seems to be the "business model of the future".

Monday, May 18, 2015

Engagement Over Education

Now that the spring semester is over, schools throughout the UW System will begin their cuts in anticipation of getting less money from the state--and another two-year tuition freeze.  Also, now that the spring semester is over, some of the instructors who took the early retirement package offered by UW-Oshkosh are providing me with plenty of materials pertaining to how the UW System spends their money--without fear of retribution on campus.  One of those questionable expenditures is how much the UW System spends on "employee engagement".

UW-Madison has posted an open position on its human resources page for the following position:

Coordinator for Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity

University of Wisconsin-Madison   295 Reviews – Madison, WI
Apply on Career Site SavePosted 22 days ago

Job Description

The UW-Madison Office of Human Resources (OHR) is currently recruiting a Coordinator for Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity.
The position is located within Talent Recruitment and Engagement in the Office of Talent Management in OHR at UW-Madison, and reports to the Director of Talent Recruitment and Engagement. The Talent Recruitment and Engagement group serves a central interface point with the campus community to recruit, retain, and sustain a high-quality workforce prepared to address the challenges of the 21st century in an educational environment.
The Coordinator for employee engagement, inclusion and diversity leads by actively engaging the UW-Madison community in education, strategy development and implementation, and data management to improve and sustain employee engagement, inclusion and diversity practices across the University.

So in five lines of that job posting, "engagement" or "engaging" is used seven times (perhaps they should hire someone in the English Department to review the Office of Human Resources' job posting and suggest a few new synonyms).  You will also notice that there is a "coordinator" and a "director" of Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity--and likely a Director of Talent Management above them and of course, a Human Resources Director above them.  I also see the word "team" in there--meaning more than just one underling is making sure that everyone is "engaged" on campus.

I reviewed the corporate structure here at Cumulus Broadcasting, and I can't seem to find a "Coordinator for Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity".  I'm also unable to locate a "Director of Talent Recruitment and Engagement" nor does there appear to be any members of a Talent Recruitment and Engagement group.  Despite not having any of those "engagement" officers, our company seems to be doing just fine. 

I would encourage you to stop by the front office at your job today and ask to see the "Coordinator for Employee Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity". When you are told that no such person exists at your company--say that you don't feel very "engaged" and that they should really spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring people in to help you "become engaged" or you won't be able to "address the challenges of the 21st century workplace".  You will probably be sent to the person who signs your checks--who will remind you that said checks should be all of the "incentive to be engaged" that you need to do your damn job.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Political scientists are jumping for joy over former Senator Russ Feingold's announcement yesterday that he is seeking a rematch against Senator Ron Johnson in 2016.  It's not very often that we get a former incumbent who seeks an immediate comeback against the guy who beat him in the last election cycle to serve as a true apples-to-apples comparison of the state of the electorate.  Add to that the fact that the two candidate are so diametrically opposed to each other on the political spectrum that there is no middle ground for voters to find--and this become a perfect case study for the consistency--or inconsistency--of Wisconsin politics.

If you believe polls conducted more than a year and a half before an election, this should be a cakewalk for Feingold, as the Marquette Law School gives him a 54 to 36% lead--and that was before he even announced.  But that same poll finds a full 40% of prospective voters have no opinion--good or bad--about Johnson--meaning a sitting politician has a rare chance to define himself for nearly half of the voters in the 18-months before the election.  Also in Feingold's favor is that 2016 is a Presidential election year--and no Wisconsin Republican has won a Senate race in a Presidential cycle since Robert Kasten in 1980.  (Although Santa Claus--I mean Herb Kohl was on the ballot for a few of those and who was going to beat your kindly, rich uncle in a popularity contest?)

Expect the 2016 Senate race to also be a referendum on the Affordable Care Act.  Fewer than half of voters support the law and just this week Families USA released a report that finds that 25% of people who gained insurance coverage under the individual mandate have not used it once in the past year and a half--likely because they can't afford the deductibles or co-pays.  So how strong is their support for having to keep paying their premiums--as required by the law?

Feingold's biggest challenge, however, is that he will still have to convince some portion of the state's electorate that they made a mistake in 2010.  Yes, Presidential year vote totals for Democrats "automatically" go up in Wisconsin, but Feingold can't just sit back and rely on the "I only vote every four years, straight ticket" folks to "automatically" make up the five percent gap from six years ago.  Sure, we have had one-term politicians--but rarely have they immediately lost to the person they beat in the previous election--it was usually a "fresh face with new ideas" that people voted for the next time around--not the guy with the "old ideas" they rejected the last time.  And if you know anything about people--we don't like to admit we made mistakes--even if we think we may have.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Where To Begin Your Search For Justice

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Madison yesterday looking for "justice" in the shooting of Tony Robinson, Junior by a Madison Police Officer.  They apparently didn't find it while conducting a "people's court" outside of the Madison Police Station--where they found the department "guilty" of murder and institutional racism.  They apparently didn't find it outside of the State Capitol building--where lawmakers were blamed for allowing law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations into officer-involved shootings instead of the United Nations.  And they apparently didn't find it outside of the Dane County Courthouse--where District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was called out for not filing criminal charges against the Officer Matt Kenny.  Perhaps the protesters aren't looking in the right place for "justice" in this death--but I can tell them where they might want to go.

For starters, I would encourage them to actually read the State Division of Criminal Investigation report on the Robinson shooting.  The victim and Officer Kenny didn't suddenly drop out of the sky to end up in the apartment building--there is a long chain of events on that fateful day that brought them together.  Perhaps the protesters should be seeking out the prosecution of the man identified as "Witness G.Z." who openly admits to investigators that he sold psychedelic mushrooms to Tony Robinson, Junior on the day of his death.  Why aren't they demanding that the man who regularly sold Xanax to Robinson without a prescription on the street face charges as well--as that fact is confirmed by more than a dozen witnesses interviewed for the investigation.  And where are the calls for the arrest of the man who sold Robinson marijuana that he used on that day as well?

Robinson's family have called the release of his drug use on that day "an effort to slander him".  But even they would have to admit that if the 19-year old had not used his SSI check that he cashed that day to purchase the marijuana, the Xanax and the 'shrooms, he almost certainly would not have been jumping in front of traffic that night.  He would not have been attacking people that night.  And he certainly would not have punched Officer Kenny in the dark hallway of the apartment complex.  Robinson's family also likes to say that he was "never allowed to reach his potential".  Apparently "Witness G.Z.", the Xanax dealer and the pot seller didn't see that "potential" in Robinson--or they wouldn't have sold him the drugs.  All they saw in him was easy cash--and if he was to die from doing the drugs, well there are dozens more just like him out there on the streets.

But "Witness G.Z.", Xanax guy and marijuana man were never mentioned by those seeking "justice" for Tony Robinson, Junior yesterday.  In fact, the group Young, Gifted and Black of Madison--which organized the protest--was also demanding the release of 350 African-Americans being held in the Dane County Jail for many of the same offenses.  Returning those who have set up so many other young, black men for failure, poverty and early death is "social justice" to those who marched in the streets on Wednesday.  Maybe that is why they are having such a hard time finding "real justice".