Thursday, August 28, 2014


There have been a few things going on recently that should have you scratching your head and saying "Hmmmmmm....."

---Earlier this week, we had a spokesman for the Wisconsin Association for Retired Americans join us on WOSH to promote a town hall meeting on "retirement security".  One of the talking points he brought up in the interview--and that was also sold at the meeting--is that the state should set up a retirement system for private-sector employees similar to the one for public sector employees.  When Bob Burnell asked why people in the private-sector couldn't just put money into Roth IRA's or other investments, the spokesman said "That is too risky! You could lose money!"  What he apparently doesn't know is that the Wisconsin Retirement System takes the tax dollars municipalities contribute on behalf of their employees AND INVESTS IT IN THE STOCK MARKET AND OTHER HOLDINGS!!!  How else do you think they pay out the guaranteed benefits that almost always exceed contributions over the lifetimes of those workers?  Of course, if it is a government-run system, that would require a union-staffed bureaucracy to operate--and if there is a decline in principal and returns, Joe and Jane Taxpayer would be there to make up the difference.  Hmmmmm.......

---Earlier this month there was an upset in the Democratic primary in State Senate District 17--where a former public employee who ran a "grass-roots" campaign edged out the candidate hand-picked by Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson--and who raised far more money--by just seven votes.  That led to a recount this week--and news that clerks have somehow "lost" more than 100 ballots.  Equally "surprising" is that the establishment candidate has already picked up enough votes in what has been recounted to erase the original deficit.  So a darkhorse candidate wins a primary in district that Democrats desperately need to win if they are going to regain majority control in the Senate and ballots mysteriously go missing?  Hmmmmmm....

---MTV maintains that it had no idea that "singer" (quotations used to indicate questionable status) Miley Cyrus was going to have a homeless guy accept one of her trophies at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday.  The obvious publicity stunt was likely meant to "heal the image" of a former child star who has decided to market herself as the nastiest, over-sexed woman in entertainment (a battle that currently involves about 90% of all female music artists) and who embarrassed herself at the same show last year by "twerking" on stage.  But for anyone who knows something about TV production, camera positions are set for a show through a process called "blocking"--something that is perfected through rehearsals (either with actors themselves or with stand-ins)--yet without any idea that this was about to happen, MTV had all the perfect camera angles to catch Ms Cyrus sitting behind her "hero"--tearing up on cue--as he stumbled through his "unprepared" acceptance speech.  Hmmmmm.....  Oh, and the guy is wanted on an outstanding warrant in Oregon.  Hmmmmm....... 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Send In the Clowns

I wasn't in the Federal courtroom in Chicago yesterday, so I can't be sure of everything that was said, but if the Associated Press story was an accurate portrayal of the oral arguments presented to the three judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal--then the Attorneys General of Wisconsin and Indiana should have been wearing red wigs, bright red balls on their noses and huge, floppy shoes--because they sounded like a bunch of clowns.  The arguments presented to the appeals judges were so laughably bad they were almost embarrassing. 

Take for instance the claim that allowing same-sex marriage will "destroy the institution of marriage".  Were the AG's referring to the same "institution" that features celebrities divorcing after just a few months of marriage?  Or reality show contestants getting married after knowing each other for all of a month?  Or the ability of anyone to get married at a drive thru window on the Las Vegas Strip with an Elvis impersonator officiating?  Or were they referring to the "institution" that ends in divorce more than 50% of the time in the US?

And then they tried to make the argument that a one-man-one-woman marriage is a "tradition" in Wisconsin.  It was also a "tradition" for generations to take your kids to smokey bars on Friday and Saturday nights to hang out with your friends. Or to drive home from said bars after having a few too many and having the local cops just tell you to "be more careful" after they spotted you weaving all across the road.  It also used to be a "tradition" to hand out home-made candies at Halloween, send cookies with peanuts in them to school or to work as birthday treats and to ride your bike without a helmet in heavy traffic.

The AG's even tried to lay a little psycho-babble on the judges, claiming that children "need to have a mother and a father in their lives to be successful".  Perhaps they should save that message for the millions of "heterosexual" single-mother families across the country.  And the deadbeat dads who pay neither money nor attention to their children from the day they are born.  Or the tens of thousands of children in the foster care system who would be more than happy to have two Moms or two Dads--as opposed to neither of each.

I'm sure that the members of the groups supporting the same-sex marriage ban wanted to jump up and tell the judges that "It's a sin and God will punish us if we let it happen!"--but they had to bite their tongues knowing that argument holds absolutely no water this legal debate.  This is a matter of the State recognizing marriages--and the Government is to be a-religious in its application of the law (unlike the Hobby Lobby decision in which the Government was denying individuals--who are the ones bestowed with religious freedom--to right to practice as they see fit).

It is time for opponents of same-sex marriage to realize that the supporters have the most powerful weapon in this fight--the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.  I would suggest that they instead work on developing a new "Governmental term" for two people forming a legal union--and return the use of the word "marriage" to what it was originally: a religious rite of the Christian church--or don the red wig, the bright nose bulb and the huge, floppy shoes themselves.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

I have to give the self-appointed "leaders of the African-American Community" who are calling for mandatory use of cameras and microphones on police officers working in urban settings some credit.  By doing so they are taking the risk of losing control of the narrative in incidents like the one that happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri.

Right now, every young black man shot by a white police officer was innocently minding his own business until that member of an "institutionally racist" department started harassing him for no good reason.  That harassment continued until the confrontation turned physical--and the officer shot and killed the victim despite the young man not having any weapons.  Because the police response will always be "The matter is under investigation and we will not comment until that probe is completed", that leaves the media with just one version to present over and over and over again.

But when you introduce a camera to that same situation, you now have a dispassionate witness to all of the events.  A witness that doesn't have an agenda, a witness that doesn't know anything about race and a witness that can provide near-instant recall of what happened on video time after time after time. 

And if that video shows suspicious activity on the part of the victim, if it shows resistance or defiance, if it shows attempts to flee, if it shows sudden movements, if it shows an attempt to attack, or if it shows something that appeared to be a gun or another weapon in the hand of the victim--then the element of "complete innocence" is lost.  And once that is gone, so too will be Anderson Cooper 360, the busloads of out-of-town protesters, the break from Presidential vacations to issue a special statement from Martha's Vineyard and the celebrities at the funeral.

Obviously, the call for cameras on all cops is meant to be a form of intimidation--a sort of "we've got our eyes on you at all times" idea that they want to plant in the minds of officers.  But will that self-doubt override their training in dealing with potentially dangerous situations?  Will an officer really think "How will this look on video?" before he pulls his weapon to protect himself or others?  I doubt it.

I have no problem with officers being mobile recording devices.  As I said before, having an unbiased witness to all incidents is a valuable resource.  It's just that not everyone is going to like what they see and what they hear.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lack of Coordination

The more information that is released in the John Doe probe into Governor Scott Walker's recall campaign and conservative groups, the more I can see why prosecutors had to drag this out--and why the groups are claiming their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon.  It all revolves around the nebulous term "coordination" contained in the state campaign finance law.

The latest so-called "smoking gun" released on Friday was an email from Walker's campaign staff telling him to encourage people to donate money to Wisconsin Club Growth.  But is that "illegal coordination" or simply the Governor and his campaign workers exercising their right to free speech?  Is recommending something to someone "coordination"?

Let's say I told everyone they should go out for lunch to Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday because they have a special on boneless wings that day.  Am I "coordinating" a lunch trip to Buffalo Wild Wings?  No, I'm just telling you about a delicious special that you might like.  Now, if I reserved a bunch of tables at a specific time at a certain restaurant and pre-ordered X number of lunch specials--that would be considered "coordination".  Right?

And it is that level of activity that the special prosecutors in the John Doe have been trying to find--apparently without success, or someone would have been brought up on charges by now.  And it's also why Club For Growth and the other targeted groups want this whole thing brought to an immediate end--because it looks like both sides are carefully staying away from "coordinating activity" and sticking to "suggesting" that supporters help each other.

The greatest fault here lies at the feet of the lawmakers that drafted the regulations that leave so much open to interpretation.  I'm sure their only thought was "we don't want the politician's campaign and the special interest groups sitting at the same table plotting out who will raise what cash, how they will spend it and what message each radio and TV ad will contain".  If they didn't want Scott Walker to say "Feel free to give some cash to Wisconsin Club For Growth"--and Club For Growth to run ads saying "Vote for Scott Walker"--then they should have banned "suggesting" as well.  And then prepared for the onslaught of First Amendment lawsuits to follow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

For the Good of the Game

Last night in the United State Elimination Bracket Final of the Little League World Series, two predominantly African-American teams squared off in Williamsport, PA.  The team from the appropriately-named Jackie Robinson Little League of Chicago eliminated Mo'ne Davis (the break-out star of the tournament) and her team from Philadelphia 6-5.

For those of us who love the game, it was both refreshing and encouraging to not only see Black kids playing baseball--at the highest level for their ages--but to see African-American parents and older siblings and people from those metropolitan areas excited about the game.  In case you haven't noticed (and based on TV ratings, you likely haven't) the number of Black players in Major League Baseball--and at all levels of the sport--is dwindling. 

Of course, baseball was once completely devoid of African-American players--and then the aforementioned Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the sport--along with American culture--was forever changed.  Baseball of the 1950's, 60's and even the 70's became a much better sport--thanks in large part to the influx of Black and Latino ballplayers.  There was more speed, more power, more athleticism at every position and the game blossomed.  At one point, half of all Major League players were African-American. 

But somewhere in the mid-80's, Blacks lost interest in baseball.  Fewer top prospects came out of the cities--and urban Little League programs had to shut down from lack of interest.  Milwaukee Public Schools don't even offer baseball as a varsity sport anymore.  Now, only about 8% of MLB players are black--and the percentages in the Minors are even lower.  Some think that the Hip Hop culture's embrace of basketball (which had always been the "city game") drove more Black kids to play that sport.  Others think the long-shot dream of going right from high school to the NBA like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James has given inner-city kids a false dream to chase that baseball (with its Minor League development system) does not provide.  And there are a lot more college football scholarships to get than there are baseball scholarships to college.

But hopefully, we can look back someday at last night's game in Williamsport and point to it as the night where African-Americans returned to baseball.  That it was the night that other kids and parents in cities across the country saw that they too could be part of a sport and a championship that perhaps they thought was "too white" or "too rich" to play.  It will be good for baseball on all levels--from the Majors down to Little League.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Non-Binding Nonsense

Despite being on "vacation" the past couple of days, I was still able to catch the Winnebago County Board meeting debate over whether to place two non-binding referenda on the November ballot.  Bleeding hearts on the Board wanted to ask people if they support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and if they think Governor Scott Walker should take money from Washington to expand the BadgerCare program.  Both of the measures were eventually tabled--meaning they will almost certainly not appear on ballot.  But the fervor with which the Supervisors argued over the topic reminded me of people who get worked up about pre-season NFL games--it's all much ado about nothing.

Non-binding referenda are nothing more than publicly-funded surveys.  They used to be common on the local level, where wishy-washy politicians didn't know how to gauge public sentiment--so they would put issues like "Should dogs be allowed in city parks?" or "Should we build a new high school?" on the April ballot.  But now, advocacy groups are trying to use the ballot to advance their talking points with questions about the minimum wage and the Medicaid funding.

And make no doubt that these "advisory" questions will be misrepresented to the public in order to boost Democratic turnout.  In the age of the Low-Information Voter any referendum--whether it counts for anything or not--can be used to their advantage.  The accurate statement "Vote 'Yes' on November 4th to let Madison know that you think the minimum wage should be raised" will not be used in pre-election rhetoric.  Instead, the slogan will be "Vote 'Yes' November 4th to raise the minimum wage!".  It doesn't matter that a 100% 'Yes' vote will in no way affect the minimum wage--because how many voters actually know what "non-binding" means anyway?  As long as they think their vote will actually do it--that is all that counts.  Oh and while you are there, why don't you vote for Mary Burke and Mark Harris on the Democratic ticket--even though you don't know who they are.

And speaking of Mary Burke....those Supervisors pushing for the referendum questions made the argument that the Board should "give the people a voice" conveniently forget that the very issues they wanted placed on the ballot seperately are more than being addressed at the top of the ticket in the Governor's race.  Burke is very clear that she would take the Medicaid money and commit the state to all future costs for BadgerCare expansion--and Governor Walker has already declined that.  Mary Burke also supports raising the minimum wage--although she hasn't committed to the $10.10 figure just yet--while Governor Walker thinks Wisconsin should retain the national wage.  If you believe that washing dishes in a restaurant three nights a week or stocking shelves in the grocery store on weekends is worth 40% more than current rates--and if you believe that low-income health care should be paid for with the money you send to the IRS on April 15th instead of the money you send to the State Treasury on April 15th--then you can "make your voice heard clearly" by voting for Mary an election that actually counts!!

President Obama likes to say all the time that "Elections have consequences".  They must not have had a lot of non-binding referenda cluttering up the ballots when he was running for office in Illinois.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Roundabout By Any Other Name......

The City of Neenah has decided against giving their roundabouts "official names".  A citizen thought it would be easier to give directions to people if you could say "go 270-degrees through the "Screaming Eagle Roundabout'" or "go 90-degrees in the Rocket Roundabout to get to the High School."  City officials pointed out that even if they gave the roundabouts names, they still wouldn't be used in the GPS devices that everyone uses to get around nowadays.

But it got me to thinking about what names we could give to roundabouts here in Oshkosh.  Unlike Neenah, our city has decided to go with the overgrown vegetation look in most of the traffic circles--rather than sculptures or statues--so such landmarks really aren't appropriate.  Plus nearly all of our roundabouts come in multiples--so referring to two or four roundabouts in a row would actually make things more complex.  But here are some suggestions I have come up with.

The four roundabouts at Ninth Avenue and Highway 41: The Tourist Trap.  If there is anywhere in Oshkosh that you are going to be involved in a crash with one of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Event City every year--this would be the spot.  During EAA this year, I witnessed an SUV with New Jersey plates roll right through three of the four roundabouts without yielding to traffic on the left a single time.  That was balanced out by the truck with Kentucky license plates that kept stopping in the roundabout to allow traffic to enter from the right.  Just this past Sunday afternoon, a woman in a car with Michigan plates never even slowed down to cut in front of me in the roundabout along Washburn--forcing me to lock up the brakes and blast my horn.  She flipped me off, by the way.  Apparently her illegal manuever was my fault.

The two roundabouts at Witzel and 41: The Boat Crash.  I thought about calling these roundabouts the "Wrong Way Old Farts" because I and five others have all witnessed different incidents involving elderly drivers going clockwise through the roundabouts--or driving the wrong way in circles on the cobblestone interior.  But for me, these roundabouts will forever be made famous by the crash a few years ago involving a car and a boat that I witnessed on the way back to work from lunch.  Apparently, the car knocked the boat off a trailer that was being hauled by a minivan.  It remains the only traffic crash that required investigation by both the Oshkosh Police Department and the DNR.

The four roundabouts at Highways 21 and 41: The Truckers' Nightmare.  Given the number of semis that have to navigate these roundabouts--and the caution they have to use not to crush cars turning inside of them in the other lanes--this is a fitting name for this complex.  It's also fun to see the big rigs try to get from the lane they needed to take in two roundabouts to the one they need to make a turn in the third roundabout during periods of heavy traffic.  It's amazing that Festival Foods, Menards, Lowes and the gas stations don't have everything delivered by cargo helicopter by now.

The roundabout at Jackson and Murdock: The KFC Roundabout.  This was an easy one--as the name pays homage to the Kentucky Fried Chicken that once stood at that intersection--but had to be purchased by the city and torn down to make way for the roundabout.  KFC is yet to rebuild in Oshkosh--a culinary loss that is still mourned by many.

BONUS: The intersection of Oshkosh Avenue and Sawyer Street: The One Intersection That Needs A Roundabout.  If there is one confusing and convoluted point in Oshkosh that could actually be made better by installing a roundabout this would be it.  Where else have you driven where people making a left-hand turn go behind you?  And then you have seven stoplights all within twenty feet of each other.  Of course, I'm told a roundabout can't be put there because you need the stoplights to control traffic when there is a boat going under the drawbridge and the cars all get backed up.  Figures.