Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

People with so-called “smart phones” were probably the first to know about Michael Jackson’s death late Thursday afternoon. TMZ was first to have the story, and Facebookers and Twitterers sent out the first blast of information about the shocking death of the King of Pop. Later, the “traditional media” got on the story. Hours later.

Even then, the national TV networks were “cautious” about the story, first reporting only that Jackson had been taken to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. TMZ had reported his death and had video up of EMT’s taking Jackson from his home, but the “traditional media” waited for more “confirmation” on the story.

Local TV and radio stations were typically cautious about reporting that Jackson had actually passed away. One local TV news anchor posted on his Facebook page that TMZ was reporting that Jackson had died. When other posters asked why the station wasn’t “going with the story”, he replied that TMZ didn’t have a strong enough track record for the networks to rely on it.

It was sort of like the beginning of the first gulf war in 1990, when Ted Turner’s upstart CNN consistently beat ABC, CBS, and NBC on war stories. The times were changin’ then…and they’re changin’ again.

If you’re old enough to remember John Lennon’s death on December 8th, 1980, you probably heard about it first on the radio. Same with Elvis’ death, on August 16th of 1977. Back then, radio broke the news, and TV did the follow-up stories. Now, we find out about such things almost instantly through social media, text messages, and cell calls from friends.

On the day Elvis died, I was in my office at a music-based FM station. The news director came busting in with a scrap of paper torn from the Associated Press news wire, saying Elvis was dead. As he put the story on the air, I went to the station’s music library and started pulling Elvis records for the DJ’s to play.

It was pretty much the same thing when John Lennon was shot. I was called at home the evening it happened by the Program Director of our FM station, saying he’d already swung into action on the story and was playing Lennon records and taking calls from listeners about the tragedy.

Now, with so many radio stations running satellite-delivered programming 24/7, or being “voice-tracked” by some guy in a studio hundreds or thousands of miles away, reporting breaking news is just a thing of the past. Madison radio still has plenty of “live and local” stations, so reaction was quick.

The next morning, local radio was abuzz with talk of the pop star’s death, and smart programmers like Pat O’Neill at Magic 98 were ready with the “second-day lead” on the story. Pat had local radio legend Jonathon Little on, giving perspective to the event.

But as for “breaking the story” of a huge event like the death of a person known ‘round the world, radio and TV now take a back seat to the internet, and wireless communications devices which weren’t even around a decade ago.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Kelly Nolan, Plus Two Years

Last week, with little notice, the Kelly Nolan murder mystery slipped into its third year with no resolution and no new leads. It was a Friday night in June 2007 when the 22-year-old coed was at the downtown bars with her friends. They parted ways about 11:30; around bar time she left the Lava Lounge with an unknown man, and that’s the last anybody saw of her.

Two weeks later on July 9th, I was working my usual morning news anchor shift when I got a call from an extremely reliable source that they’d found Nolan’s body in a wooded area just off a country road south of Madison in the Town of Dunn. I confirmed it and put it on the air.

Since then, Madison police have contacted over 500 people, followed up on a couple hundred tips, have generated over a thousand pages of reports on the murder, but still haven’t fingered a suspect. However, they’re still confident they will eventually catch her killer.

To this day, two years later, the principal problem in the case seems to be that nobody can identify the mysterious stranger Nolan was last seen with outside the Lava Lounge. Cops won’t confirm it, but witnesses say she left the bar with this person because somebody else in the bar was harassing her.

Madison police have reviewed the surveillance video from the bar, and have said that at no time does Nolan appear to be interacting in any way with the person last seen with her.

She made a cell phone call to her sister April in the wee hours of the morning, and that’s the last known contact she had with anyone. We have only a vague notion of what she said to her sister in that call. It’s one of the many things the public doesn’t know about the case.

This particular case hit me pretty hard personally, as at the time it happened my daughter was a 22-year-old UW grad just embarking on her professional career, and living downtown. Her mother and I spoke with her several times that summer about being extremely careful while out with her friends at the bars downtown.

Statistically, Madison is an ultimately safe city. Unlike Milwaukee, where unfortunately murders have become somewhat common, Madison’s downtown is not dangerous, if you keep your wits about you.

But statistics mean nothing to grieving families, and I hope, as a parent and concerned citizen, that the Madison police can bring Kelly Nolan’s killer to justice.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How To Speak Like A TV Newscaster

The first thing you need to do if you want to be on TV giving the news is to stop using the words is, are, was, were, has, have, and had. You cannot say those words in the first sentence of any story you’re reading.

As an example, “Madison police looking for a suspect in a shooting last night”. Or, "Michael Jackson dying of a heart attack". I know, I know, it looks and sounds like a sentence fragment, but that’s the way they do it. And, most of the time, they’re not looking for a suspect. A suspect is a named person, so if they don’t know who the shooter is, they’re looking for a shooter, not a suspect.

Or, try this one: “Fourteen motorists pulled over in a drunk driving sting”. You can’t put the word “were” after “motorists” if you’re going to sound like a TV newscaster. But - and I know this is hard to follow if you’re used to speaking English - you COULD say ‘Fourteen motorists ARE pulled over in a drunk driving sting”. That violates the rule against saying “ARE” in the first sentence, but it forces the sentence (incorrectly and ungrammatically) into present tense, which is something else you have to do to be on TV.

And never mind that it should be “drunken driving”. Nobody on TV gets that one right.

Oh yes, and that “forced present tense” thing - it’s only for the first sentence. It’s far too much to ask people who are allegedly professional writers and speakers to understand the difference between active voice and present tense. Don’t even get me started.

You must also learn to deliberately mispronounce two very common words: “a” and “the”. Any time you see the word “a”…not the letter, the word…you must pronounce it “ay”, with the “long a” sound. And every time you see the word “the”, you must pronounce it “thee”, with the “long e” sound. Like “Jack and Jill went up thee hill to fetch ay pail of water”, the way most people would say it - NOT.
Never mind the rules of how vowel sounds are pronounced in English, such as making the “long” sound only when the article precedes a word beginning with a vowel. That sort of thing is way too esoteric for news readers.

One more thing. Any time you do a story taken from the police or sheriff’s online reports, it’s very important to repeat the last sentence of the agency’s news release, and end your story by saying “the incident remains under investigation”, clearly signaling to your viewers that the police are not just going to ignore an unsolved crime. Never mind that it would be news if the police decided NOT to investigate.

That should hold you for now. Practice these techniques in your daily speech, and don’t mind that people look at you like you’re from another country where English is not a spoken language.

I Own The Packers - And Maybe You Do, Too...

Something bothered me when I got my Packers proxy material and shareholders meeting notice in the mail yesterday. The return address, top left corner of the envelope next to the big circled “G” logo of the Packers, is a post office box in SAINT PAUL MINNESOTA.

Minnesota? Can’t the team I own, 12-time World Champions and 3-time Super Bowl Champions, find a company in Wisconsin to handle its investor relations? Even Boston, where so many huge financial services companies are chartered, would be preferable to some outfit up there in Viking-land.

The notice enclosed told me how to vote my (our) proxy and how to get free tickets to the annual meeting, at Lambeau Field, on the 30th of July. Among other things, they’re going to show the shareholders the new Ray Nitschke practice field. Name another pro sports franchise that sends its “owners” tickets to the annual meeting. You can’t.

As any good ‘sconnie knows, the Packers are a publicly-owned corporation. Back in 1997, my wife and I, and about 112 thousand other folks, bought shares of the Packers. We paid 200 bucks a share, and the stock has not returned one cent in dividends since we bought it; it hasn’t appreciated one cent in value; and if I decide to dump it, I can only sell it back to the team, at a hugely discounted price.

But I wouldn’t trade or sell my Packers stock for anything or anybody.

By any measure, the Packers are one of the most successful franchises in pro sports. The recently-renovated Lambeau Field (which is why we bought the stock back in ‘97 - to help pay for the upgrades) is sold out essentially forever. The waiting list for season tickets is 75 thousand names long. The Packers perform in the top ranks financially; every game is a sellout and the average game attendance is 97%.

My dad, mom, grandpa, and I were at the Ice Bowl. I have the ticket stub to prove it. My dad bought season tickets in 1957 -four seats together in section 9, row 58. It was so cold at that game that mom went down to the car at halftime and listened on the radio while my dad, his dad, and I toughed it out, only to be rewarded by having the best seats in the house to see that famous block that Jerry Kramer put on Jethro Pugh to spring Bart Starr for the winning touchdown.

So my Packers roots go pretty deep. And I’m darn proud to be one of the 112 thousand Packers shareholders. And I’m fiercely proud of the team and I treasure its history. I bleed green and gold. But please, Mr. Murphy: could you find a company in Wisconsin to handle our shareholder services?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weather Nannies

Summer is here, and not just because we’re past the solstice. It’s hotter than the hinges of hell, as my late father used to say. It’s Wisconsin. This is not unexpected.

But each year when we get our first spate of hot and humid weather, the nannies come out of the woodwork to warn us about the horrible dangers which face us. They treat us as if we were idiots, slobbering at the mouth and dragging our knuckles on the ground.

My all-time favorite weather nanny is County Exec Kathleen Falk. A couple years ago at a news conference (held to talk about the heat, by the way) she actually stood up in front of the cameras, microphones, and reporters notebooks, and said “Seek cool areas”. Those exact words.

Abusing my privilege as a news anchor, I ran that little clip of audio ceaselessly for days. It pretty much sums up my attitude about people who are constantly telling us how to run our lives, and treating us as if we were imbeciles. I’ll seek advice when I need it, but I don’t need to be told to look for someplace cool when it’s hot out.

Next thing you know they’ll be telling us it gets cold around here, the third week of January.
One of the local TV guys, David George, who seems like an otherwise sensible professional and nice guy (even though he’s from Texas!!!) does a daily forecast on his Facebook page after he does the weather on the 4 o’clock news on Channel 15, and Monday afternoon his Facebook forecast minced no words.

I quote exactly the introduction to his forecast: “Strenuous activities and hard work should be eliminated, postponed, or rescheduled to the cooler parts of the day. Find air conditioning, and use fans for evaporating skin moisture to regulate body temperature”.

Good lord, you’d think the sun had just gone nova and we were about to be blasted with solar radiation the likes of which have never been seen or felt!

But, not that surprising, from a fellow who advised parents to put bicycle helmets on their kids last Thursday night when the storms rolled through.

I’m not making this up.

Even my wife, who has a far kinder nature than I, and understands that these folks are just trying to help, rolls her eyes when they trot out this drivel. I believe she was once castigated by her TV bosses several years ago for declining to do the cliché story they trot out every year at this time, doing a report from the big freezer at Schoep’s Ice Cream plant over on the east side of the isthmus.

So, for those of you who have just moved here from Siberia or the arctic, seek cool areas, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid strenuous outdoor activities - like thinking - during the middle of the day. You’ll get through the heat wave. Stay calm and stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Professional Selling

I noticed an item in the news the other day saying a local car dealer was trying to find 25 good sales people to come to work at his new location on the east side of Madison. There ought to be plenty of experienced car sales people available.

I figure I’ve bought about 30 cars over the course of my life, and so far I’ve had one car salesperson that I’d consider “good”. The rest were pretty much hacks trying to sell me stuff I didn’t want.
Sorry, but that’s the way I feel.

I’ve had more than my share of professional sales training and have successfully done what radio sales people do: talk to strangers about money. Two things your parents warned you never to do! Throw in the fact that a radio ad is an intangible, just to make things harder.

So I respect people who are good at the craft of selling, whatever they’re selling.

The worst furniture salesperson I ever encountered was in Appleton, a few decades ago, when I went to buy a brand new king-size mattress. If you’ve ever bought one of these monsters, you know you’re buying three pieces of furniture here, two box-spring support units and the huge mattress that sits on them.

I was drawn to the store by an ad in the paper, and this guy happily took my order for the king size mattress. I bought the bed frame, the pillows, the sheets, the bedspread, a night table, and a lamp at a different store. Why? Because the idiot that sold me the mattress was content to make his thousand-dollar sale, and never even thought to ask me if I was interested in all the other stuff that goes along with it.

Parallel Selling 101 - he must not have “taken that course”.

The best furniture salesman I ever encountered was here in Madison just a couple years ago. I came in to buy a $299 chair advertised in the paper, and went home with a piece of paper saying I’d paid $899 for a chair that was going to be delivered next week. I had come to the store with the intention of buying the chair that was advertised, and nothing BUT that chair, and I was going to put it in the back of my gas-sucking SUV and take it home RIGHT NOW.

This fellow told me he’d be glad to sell me the chair I came to see, but asked if I had three minutes for him to show me the chair HE thought I should buy. Intrigued, I granted his request. He not only showed me the difference between the 300-dollar chair and the 900-dollar chair, and made me WANT that far more expensive chair - and then he told me, in the gentlest way, to take a hike for a few minutes while he and my wife decided what fabric would be best for the room where the chair was going!

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank that salesperson for the solid, sturdy, stylish, comfortable chair that I drop my large butt into at the end of the work-day.
He wasn’t selling furniture. He was selling comfort and happiness. And he was darn good at it! He probably got canned in the economic downturn because he was making too much on commissions.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Going Forward, We're "Going Forward"...

For those of you not familiar with our state’s motto, it’s “Forward”, supposedly to reflect Wisconsin’s continual drive to be a national leader. At least, that‘s what it says in the Blue Book, the state‘s official biennial publication that encompasses all things politic in the badger state.

“Going forward” is one of those jargon phrases that all the politicians (and the political reporters and the political wannabes) use, to show that they’re in-the-know and up-to-date and can sling the latest clichés with the best of them. As in “Going forward, we’ll need to assure funding is in place for this program which helps the working families of Wisconsin”.

And don’t get me started on what a “working family” is, other than another totally meaningless cliché uttered constantly by politicians of every stripe, when they want to equate themselves with the “common man”. Or woman. Presumably, a family where the dad is a neurosurgeon and the mom is a bank vice-president is not a “working family”. When the politicians talk about the “working families of Wisconsin”, I think they’re trying to portray an image of a guy who works second shift at Oscar Mayer and his wife, who works at Klinke Cleaners.

Whatever. As usual, I digress.

The latest piece of garbage to come floating down the river from the 132 clowns who report to “work” in the big white building in the middle of the square downtown is a scheme to start gutting the new Government Accountability Board. The GAB was concocted to replace the toothless State Elections Board and the impotent State Ethics Board.

When it became transparently obvious to even the most casual observer a few years ago that our state government had become one of the most corrupt in the nation, with lobbyists and special interest groups really calling the shots, reform was in the air. After the caucus scandal was exposed in 2002, there was talk (and that’s all it was for years) of “changing things”.

A short while ago, they scrapped the state Ethics Board and the state Elections Board, and created the Government Accountability Board to investigate corruption. But now, one of the politicians has introduced a measure in the state budget to curtail the GAB’s influence, by cutting the funds allocated to the GAB to run investigations.

Since early last year, the GAB has instigated 51 investigations. The number alone must have scared the politicians, hence this move to slip the knife to the GAB gently.

Business as usual.

In summation, let me say that going forward, we must defeat this attempt to curtail the GAB’s powers, so that the working families of Wisconsin can be assured that their government is clean, transparent, and effective.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Legislating Morality

Anyone who still believes the stupid old saying “you can’t legislate morality” needs only to review the latest fiat from the Madison City Council: Thou Shall Recycle Plastic Bags. Talk about legislating morality! Not only did the alders approve the ordinance, they admit enforcing it will be difficult, that there’ll be no fines for not complying with it, and that the real thrust here is “education”.

We legislate morality every day. We have laws against everything from murder to child molesting to stealing things. Our laws, ordinances, and rules are many times just an expansion of the ten commandments.

Now, we must be educated that discarding those ubiquitous plastic bags should be done in a certain way. However, if you use a plastic bag the way my wife does…to pick up the dog-doo when she takes our Collie for her morning constitutional…it’s OK to “put it in the trash”. There’s a convenient trash-barrel on their path in the morning. Soiled plastic bags can be disposed of in the trash, under the new rule. But not “clean” bags.

The council hopes the new ordinance will kick in this fall, on the first of September. They tasked the city’s Streets and Recycling Department to come up with 13 drop-off sites for our clean, used plastic bags.

If there’s mass voluntary compliance with this new ordinance, the local recycling mavens will have their hands full. Supporters claim we use 75 million plastic bags a year in Madison. That’s 205-thousand plastic bags a day, or just about one plastic bag a day for every man, woman, and child in the city.

Apparently just tossing the bags out somehow gums up the works over at the recycling plant on Fish Hatchery Road. They get all tangled up in the gears of the sorting equipment. But anybody who drives around the city knows where a good number of the bags end up: blowing in the wind and littering the city.

Will it be a pain in the butt to follow the new rule when it kicks in? Probably. But just as we learned years ago to separate our recyclables from our regular trash, we’ll adapt.

Small pain, big gain.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Throw Scooter Into The Clink

Earlier this week the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of failed and disgraced politician Scott Jensen, who was convicted on three felony corruption charges in 2006. Jensen, former Speaker of the Assembly, was caught in the same investigation that took down four other politicians.

In case your memory has dimmed, since the probe began six years ago, Jensen was convicted on three counts of misconduct in office and an ethics violation. Two of his fellow Republicans, Steve Foti and Bonnie Ladwig, along with two other Democrats, Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke, reached plea deals.

But Scooter Jensen (he hates being called “Scooter”, by the way) was far more tenacious in holding off his jail term than the others. He’s spent enough money on lawyers to bail out a car company, and so far has managed to avoid a trip to the big house. In January, a state appeals court handed Jensen’s legal team a setback, saying Jensen’s case must stay in Madison, and not be moved to Waukesha.

He of course appealed that.

His legal eagles think Scooter will do better with a jury in the Republican stronghold of Waukesha, that he would here in the People’s Republic of Madison. He represented Waukesha in the legislature for 14 years.

It’s hard to keep the time-line straight in Scooter’s case. Busted in 2002, convicted in 2006, sentenced to prison; he appealed, and in 2007 a state appeals court granted him a new trial; his lawyers wanted it in Waukesha, but that appeals court said “no”, so now in 2009 the state Supreme Court will take a crack at the case.

For years, Scooter and his pals up there under the big top thumbed their nose at the taxpayers and disregarded the law, using state employees to do campaign work on state time, using state resources. While Scooter and Chuck Chvala were running things up there, our state government became one of the most corrupt, pay-to-play outfits in the nation. Both parties were guilty, both did the same unlawful and unethical things, and the main players have all paid the price.
Except Scooter.

It’s a good bet the gut-check judge and the other wholly-owned Republican judge are likely to cozy up to Scooter and see things his way. He’s probably got at least a couple sympathetic ears on the highest court. But I’m not foolish enough to predict what the justices of the highest court will do.

Scooter, it’s a 15 month sentence. You’re no G. Gordon Liddy, but you can do it. Better get ready.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"We" Should Be Pretty Good

It’s like walking into a bar and seeing your former girlfriend of long-standing with her arms around a guy you absolutely cannot stand.

Pick your own analogy, for how you will feel when you first see Brett Favre in the uniform of the Minnesota Vikings. But it’s apparently gonna happen.

If you watched any of the horrible new HBO Joe Buck show Monday night, you saw not only the worst announcer in the history of sports broadcasting attempt and fail to be a comedian - you saw Brett give the biggest clue yet as to what’s really going to happen.

The national news and sports press picked up immediately on the same phrase I did….when Brett was philosophizing about the Vikes and their prospects this coming season, and then in summation said “we should be pretty good”.


Not “they should be pretty good”. “We should be pretty good”. As the lawyers would say, that statement goes to state-of-mind. He’s already on the team, and he’s got his sights set on Lambeau Field for that November 1st meeting. Months ago, his family booked a couple dozen rooms at the nearby MidWay Motor Lodge for that weekend.

He’ll get his revenge against Ted Thompson, no matter what the cost, including the very real possibility that his 19th season will be ended by injury long before the Vikes and the Pack meet at Lambeau. And the very real possibility that the shoulder surgery he had a few weeks ago won’t “take” and his magic arm will be a rag arm.

I like my “girlfriend in the arms of your worst enemy” analogy because so many of us feel “jilted” by the certain Hall-of-Fame quarterback. And, like the girlfriend who’s left you and is NOT coming back, we’re - well, maybe just a bit jealous. One thing seems clear in all the Mississippi mud Favre has deliberately stirred up about his intentions: he’s NOT coming back to the Packers. Not now, not ever.

On that horrible Joe Buck HBO show Monday night, Favre also said, regarding his shredding of the loyalty his Packers fans had for him, “well, Vince Lombardi went to the Redskins and nobody hated him”….blah, blah, blah. Yah, but Vince didn’t hold a single disgustingly embarrassing nationally-televised news conferences where he cried for an hour about the agony of his decision to head east for a new challenge.

That sort of difference is apparently lost on Favre. We loved him for his child-like enthusiasm for the game, and hate him for his child-like behavior in dealing with his diminishing skills.

As the Arabs say, “the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. Bret has gone to Minnesota in his mind, and he’s not coming back to Green Bay. We must learn to deal with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Men 2 Boyz

Pity the bright orange Gatorade machine that once graced the home dugout at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field on Chicago’s north side. All it did was faithfully dispense the flavored electrolyte renewer, and for this it was punished and then banished. Cubs infielder Ryan Theriot did a tongue-in-cheek interview about it, calling the Gatorade dispenser “the rock of this team right now”.

A few weeks back, Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster was having one of his frequent “bad days” at work, and after coming off the field mid-game he relieved his frustration on the hapless machine, pummeling it with his glove and kicking it.

A few days later, another Cubs pitcher, Carlos Zambrano, unleashed one of his frequent displays of rage against the machine, smashing it again and again with his bat. As pitchers go, “Big Z” wields a pretty good bat, but when he fails at the plate, he often returns to the dugout in a rage.

You would think after being pummeled by Dempster and then assaulted with a deadly weapon by Zambrano, the cheery orange machine would have given in. Nope. Cubs skipper Lou Piniella said it was whacked up…..sometimes dispensing fruit-flavored Gatorade when you pulled the “water” tap…but it still worked.

Then, when the team went on the road last week, Cubs brass ordered the brave Gatorade machine removed from the dugout, and the standard-issue water fountain (“bubbler”, if you prefer) put back in the cherished spot next to the tunnel leading to the locker room.

Jock-sniffers defend the childish (and dangerous) actions of these pro athletes as “part of their competitive nature”. White Sox player Carlos Quentin, after failing in an at-bat last season, smashed his hand into his bat and missed the rest of the season with broken bones in his hand. And stories of jocks who can’t control their emotions and end up injuring themselves are legion.

After this weekend’s series between the White Sox and Brewers, I have a suggestion.
Instead of a bright orange Gatorade machine in the Cubs dugout, they should hire failed former Brewers pitcher Manny Parra (who was sent directly to the minor leagues after giving up six runs in the second inning Saturday) to sit in the dugout where the “bubbler” is.

Then, when a Cubs player does something asinine on the field….like Milton Bradley catching a fly ball to right field with one out and then tossing it into the stands- like he did Friday….he can come back into the dugout and relieve his rage on Parra.

This arrangement would assure Parra of continued employment in Major League Baseball and make me feel much better about the Brewers ability to judge pitching talent.

By the way, where IS Ben Sheets????

Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Midnight Special

Years ago, before she went over to the dark side, Judy Robson was a nice lady who helped people. Judy was a nurse. A high calling, to be sure; giver of care and solace, angel of mercy, and so on.

Now, she’s a politician. A state senator from Beloit.

Several days ago, under cover of darkness deep in the Madison night, she put a 47-million-dollar UW Nursing School building into the budget. To do it, the state would have to borrow 28 million bucks.

Slight problem: she didn’t really talk with anybody over at the big college about it; I guess she just kinda knew the dean of nursing would love to have a new building; there’d been some buzz about it; so Judy stuck it into the budget.

Now, a few days later, it’s out of the budget. Out, because Spencer Black, one of our local Madison assemblymen, got a call from a constituent…namely, Julie Underwood, who was at the time the interim provost at the UW…saying “ah, Spencer, do me a favor and pull Robson’s nursing building out of the budget”…or, words to that effect.

The 47-million-dollar building, you see, was NOT part of the UW’s capital budget request to Joint Finance, nor was it included in the budget Baldy sent to the legislature.

Apparently Judy just thought it would be a nice idea to stick it into the budget. After all, we’re flush with money and rollin’ in dough here in Badgerland, aren’t we?
You’d think after an embarrassment like that, Robson would quietly go away and hope the newsies found something else to harp about in the budget.

Not Judy.

She says she’ll try again to get it into the budget. Obviously, she knows better than the UW, which says a good time to build the new nursing school building would be about two years from now.
Perhaps Ms. Robson should return to her first profession, where she could once again do some good for people.

Just a thought.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Pig" is Dead; The Local Media Throw an Irish Wake

Madison’s first murder this year happened Tuesday night on the west side, in a troubled neighborhood off Raymond Road. 17-year-old Karamee “Pig” Collins, Jr. was gunned down in a drive-by shooting. Cops have the gun used, and have arrested three teens in connection. "Pig" is daddy to a one-year-old, who lives with grandma in Chicago.

There was a media frenzy. TV camera crews rolled the minute the scanner squawked to life with the urgent calls. Neighbors say it’s all about payback for a fight months ago, and some sort of juvenile Romeo and Juliet problem is at the core.

Next morning, my pal Pat Simms was on the scene in the Meadowood neighborhood for the State Journal, toting her trusty little camcorder and reporter’s notebook. Wednesday morning talk radio was alive with the chatter.

My buddy Mitch Henck had west-side alder Thuy Pham-Remmele on his show, and she reminded his listeners she’s been harping about this problem to the cops for well over a year. A year ago, she held a neighborhood meeting about the exact same problem; now, Mayor Cieslewicz will do it again. Failed County Exec candidate Nancy Mistele called in and sang a familiar song, trying to blame it on the 9-1-1 Call Center.

That afternoon on her show, Vicki McKenna played the audio portion of the video Pat Simms made for the State Journal, talking to neighbors at the crime scene, and in her patented way, Vicki fanned the flames again. The local TV’s completed the cycle with their reports on their 4, 5, and 6 o’clock news.

My former colleague Dusty made pithy comments on his blog.

It was full media overload.

For those of us who’ve been around town a while, it was, sadly, same thing - different day. Turn the clock back 20 years. Instead of the Meadowood neighborhood, it’s Burr Oaks. It’s not Leland Drive, it’s Sommerset Circle, now called Parker Place. Shots fired, people scrambling, lives disrupted, young men shooting and shot.

Alder Tim “Boss” Bruer is doing the same thing 20 years ago that Thuy is doing now: standing on the soap-box and yelling to anyone who will listen that we’ve GOT to get control of this neighborhood; haranguing the mayor to pay attention to the south side; and holding neighborhood meetings.

And 20 years ago, the same thing that’s now going on in the Meadowood neighborhood was going on in Burr Oaks and on what used to be called Simpson Street, now “Lake Pointe Place” or some such. And you can throw in Granada Way, now called “Pheasant Ridge Trial” which links up with “Deer Valley Road”.

The city has changed the names of the streets and chased the problem into another neighborhood. But obviously, it’s still a problem. Somehow, we’ve got to get these young folks to understand that their petty problems about who’s dating who and who hit who, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Some day, maybe they’ll understand that (with apologies to Casablanca).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Compensating the Captains of Finance

Toxic Timmy Geithner and his pal Ben Bernanke are men on a mission. They want to give the Fed more muscle in telling the Wall Street mavens how much money they can steal…er, earn each year.
The Fed is the outfit that regulates banks. They want the SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees financial markets, to also have greater power in reining in the exorbitant pay at financial institutions.

Tuesday, we saw a flurry of activity at huge financial institutions, which are for reasons hard to understand called “banks”, although they’re not the kind of thing you think of when somebody says “I gotta talk to the bank about that”. The big banks, as they’re now called, rushed around Tuesday to get permission to pay back the TARP money so they wouldn’t fall under the new rules Timmy and Ben want to advance.

By the way, for the scores of academics in our community, TARP in this sense is not “Tenure and Related Promotions”, but “Toxic Asset Relief Program”.

In other words, Tuesday quite a few of the financial institutions (“banks”) that took bailout money quickly got permission to pay back the money so they could continue to pay their captains unrealistic amounts of money every year, and continue the so-called “bonus” plans those Wall Streeters love.

Sorta like the bonus programs the UW coaches have - a lot of money that’s easy to get.
This is exactly what the new administration is trying to get rid of. President Obama’s economic team wants Wall Street to start paying people based on long-term performance, versus short-term gain.

In other words, you get bonused for helping your institution grow everybody’s money - not for thinking up some new way to make side bets on other investments. (Derivatives.)

For the big outfits that didn’t squeak in under the deadline this week, companies like CitiGroup, B of A, AIG, Chrysler, and GM, the bad news (for them) is that their execs this year will likely be limited to a bonus no greater than a third of their annual salary.

In other words, stuff like that sweet pot of 165 million bucks in bonus money paid out in March by AIG ain’t gonna happen again.

I think the execs will survive.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why K-K-K-Katie Couric Failed

The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric has just fallen to the lowest rating in the history of broadcast TV news, since the Neilsen company began keeping track of audience size decades ago.

She moved from the Today Show on NBC to the principal anchor’s chair at CBS in September of 2006...a chair sat in by Dan Rather for years, and before him, Walter Cronkite, the anchorman’s anchorman. After an initial spike in the ratings for a week or so as the curious tuned in, it’s been pretty much downhill all the way.

Why did Katie fail? Because she was mis-cast by the old boys who run network television. On the Today Show, Katie succeeded because her bubbly personality, her penchant for letting the viewers in on her personal drama, and her tenacity to “land the big interview” were on display every weekday morning.

When she switched to the anchor chair of a nightly newscast, no more bubbly Katie. A faux seriousness characterized her stilted delivery, and people who tuned in to see Katie read the news were disappointed. Suddenly, she was a “serious journalist” rather than an interesting personality.

Big mistake.

The old boys should have known it, and Katie should have known it. She was the queen of morning TV, and has ended as the pawn of nightly news. She is in a role which does not suit her strengths, and in a position where she can’t change the rigid structure of the platform from which she performs.

It was also a move from which it is difficult to retrace your steps, like the vaunted big-time college coach who fails in the NFL, and ends up at a Division 2 school.

There are a lot of different ways to crater a broadcast. One way, as in Katie’s situation, is to grossly mis-cast the principal role. Another, as the local print and radio companies have done, is to fire your best talent to save a few bucks.

Either way, the result is the same. It’s a death of a thousand cuts, versus a massive heart attack

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Got any plans for Monday? If it ever warms up around here, how about a nice round of golf at a nice course: Wild Rock, up in the Dells. You can get a pretty good deal on 18 holes if you’re staying at the Wilderness Hotel. About 60 bucks, give or take.

But Monday, you’ll have to cough up a grand to hook or slice your way around the course, which has been named one of the best public courses in the nation by no less an authority than Golf Magazine.

Why the big price-tag Monday? Because that’s the day the Democrats have taken over the course, and Janesville’s own Mike Sheridan is leading the festivities. Just like baldy did at U-Ridge a few days ago, and like Republican Scott Fitzgerald did in Cambridge a few days ago.

But, you say, didn’t the politicians agree that they wouldn’t be holding fund-raisers while they were debating the budget? Certainly it’s not appropriate for the fat-cat lobbyists to be teeing off with the politicos, bending their ears for 18 holes, while they’re debating what is and isn’t going to be in the state budget.

Well, you see, this doesn’t violate the ethics rule, say the Dems, because the thousand-bucks-a-head fundraiser isn’t for any INDIVIDUAL candidate. It’s for the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

That explains everything.

Years ago, when George Hesselberg wrote a column for the State Journal, every once in a while he’d compose a column called “HDDTTWA”. The acronym stood for “How Dumb Do They Think We Are”. He’d go on to excoriate some politician caught speaking out of both sides of his mouth, or saying something unusually stupid.

Do these golf outings like the one Monday violate the letter of the law? Maybe not. The cynical among us would say they knew damn well they were writing a loophole into the law. Does outings like this violate the spirit of the law? Of course.

The whole purpose of the reform was to prevent politicians from holding fund-raisers, attended by rich people and lobbyists, during the period of time when they’re debating the state budget. The fact that their excuse is “it’s not for ONE politician, it’s for all of us” would be insulting, if we really cared about the crooks who’ve taken over the building in the center of the square downtown.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

The near-west-siders at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish are to be thanked and praised by all Madisonians, particularly those who are followers of the Roman Catholic religion. When the leader of their flock, a vain and fatuous man, abruptly pulled the plug on the Catholic Multicultural Center on the south side, the 27-hundred families of Queen of Peace Parish stepped up and said “not so fast”. As the less fortunate of our community prayed for an intervention, Bobby-boy was in Rome, dining on the finest meats and cheeses the Vatican could offer.

I suspect there was more than a little pushback when Bobby Morlino suddenly cut the Multicultural Center off at the ankles a few days ago. This so-called shepherd, who would have built a multi-million-dollar cathedral in his honor had not common sense prevailed, got a big lesson in what Madison is all about.

My wife, a lapsed Italian Catholic who endured 12 years of parochial education in south suburban Chicago (Holy Ghost and Mother Seton Academy), was incensed when she heard the news. “How can he do that to those people!!” she yelled at the TV when the news broke. “One of the fundamental missions of the Catholic Church is to help the poor!!!” she instructed me.

My former broadcasting colleague Luis Montoto, who runs La Movida, the Spanish station of the local Mid-West Family Broadcast Group, rushed to the south side on hearing the news and said “what can I do to help?”.

Now, there’s a Catholic. What can I do to help.

Luis’s wife, Lupita, who works with him at La Movida radio, learned to speak English at the Catholic Multicultural Center.

Those of us who enjoy the good life in Madison probably don’t spend much time thinking about how tough life is here for so many of our neighbors. We dine on a forty-dollar steak at a fancy restaurant, and pay a one-night tab that would feed a hungry family for a week.

Apparently, the good people at Queen of Peace understand the mission of the Catholic church a bit better than their local leader, and they’ve got the ball rolling to re-open the Multicultural Center and help the hundreds of families who count on it for the basic necessities of life. They’re putting their money where their faith is, and reminding Bishop Morlino what the church is supposed to be about.

Spreading the gospel, administering the sacraments, and helping the poor. That’s what my late father, an Irish Roman Catholic, told me the Catholic church was all about. Apparently the good Catholics at Queen of Peace have a similar understanding. Thank you.

Monday, June 1, 2009

On Vacation For A Week

I turned 60 on Sunday, and celebrated with my family at Miller Park by tailgating, and then watching the Brewers clobber the Reds. It was a great day. Wouldn't have rather been anywhere else; wouldn't rather have been with anyone else. My wife and I are taking a week off, and I've promised not to obsess about posting my rants.

Thanks for being a fan and checking in; I'll have new and angrier rants after June 7th.