Monday, November 30, 2009

Fighting The Good Fight

Who better to fight for the baby boomers than a baby boomer? On the first Monday of 2010, Nino Amato will take the reins of the statewide non-partisan advocacy organization for the aging, the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups - CWAG. Those of us who are aware of the fine work this organization has done call it “See-Wag”.

I broke bread with the personable Madisonian a few days ago, and there’s no doubt that he’s full of energy and ready to rumble. And his plate will be full at CWAG. He’ll run a staff of 23, including seven lawyers, fighting for things like health care reform, low-cost prescription drugs, consumer protection for the aging, making sure we can afford our energy bills, and other critical issues.

Not tasks for the faint of heart.

But Amato has a track record of success in getting things done, and is uniquely qualified to head this important organization. His resume includes stints as a health care executive with Meriter Health Services and as a member of the University of Wisconsin Hospital Authority Board. He knows the ins and outs of the issues and challenges of health care.

Energy costs are of huge concern to senior citizens living on fixed income, and Amato was President and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, and a Senior VP with Wisconsin Power and Light.

Throw in stints as President and CEO of Forward Wisconsin, membership on the UW Board of Regents, and President of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board of Directors, and you’ve got some idea of how well-rounded and accomplished Amato is. Lots of experience, lots of connections.

There are 76 million of us baby boomers. We’re facing challenges just as our parents did, and a few they never imagined. The recession has decimated our 401-K’s and made retirement a guess, rather than a plan. We’re likely to live longer than our parents, and we’re deeply concerned not only about their health care, if they’re still living, but for our own.

Never has there been a time when it’s more important to have effective advocacy for our concerns. CWAG has a three decades of history, standing up for us, making our voice heard by lawmakers and regulators, and helping those whose voice may not otherwise be heard.

Amato has deep roots in the community. He has graduate and undergraduate degrees from the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the UW, and if you’re as old as me, you’ve probably dined at the restaurant his parents owned here for years.

CWAG is headquartered here, on the east side, but has nine district offices throughout the state representing over 400 groups. When Amato starts his new position on January 4th, his reputation for not side-stepping difficult political issues will come into play immediately.

One of his favorite sayings is “Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world”. It’s a piece of graffiti from the collapse of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.

There’ll be no shortage of walls to scale…or break down…when the start of a new year brings the start of a new challenge for Nino Amato.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Almighty Shopping Day Is Here

Every year on this day I play a game. I count how many TV people will mindlessly parrot the old saw about this being the busiest shopping day of the year. It’s not, and hasn’t been for decades. The Saturday before Christmas is the biggest shopping day of the year, according to the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

But TV folks are more about showbiz than facts.

Last year, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death when Black Friday doorbuster sales began. TV loves to show those crowds of folks stampeding into the stores. Makes for great “visuals”, as they say in the biz.

Oh, it’s a busy shopping day, to be sure - and store traffic will be high - but anybody’s who ever endured that Saturday-before-Christmas mess will tell you which shopping day is really the “busiest”.

Two years ago in Madison on the Saturday before Christmas traffic was so bad the Westbound Beltline exit to Gammon Road was backed up to Seminole Highway. But that was two years ago, when credit-card fueled spending was out of control. Now - not so much.

That’s why retailers are nervous.

Black Friday means different things, depending on who you are. Originally, Black Friday was an insider term, a piece of jargon shared by cops and retail employees, referring to the horrible traffic and the incredibly rude customers.

That phrase got spun by marketing consultants who wanted to put a more positive tone to it, saying it was the day the ink on the ledger turned from red to black.

Now, everybody and their brother advertises “Black Friday” specials.
So, where does Black Friday actually rank in terms of dollar volume of shopping? In the past fifteen years, the highest it’s been ranked is #4 (2002), and the lowest (in ‘93, ‘98, and ‘99) was 8th. For a handful of stores, particularly smaller stores, today will be their biggest day. But the big-box mass retailers know the real bonanza is yet to come.

But there’s nervousness and fear in the air this year. 93% of shoppers surveyed by the Associated Press say they will spend the same or less this year. Four out of five shoppers this year say they’ll be using cash, not credit, to buy presents, and that usually means buying less. Credit card shoppers are far more impulsive.

Consumer spending is the single largest driver of overall economic activity, so what happens today at the malls and stores will be very important in determining how the economy bounces back from the worst recession in 70 years.

Has it come down to “as Black Friday goes, so goes the economy”? No, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear somebody on TV say it today or tonight.

There’s always Cyber Monday….but, that’s a different story.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beware Facebook "Friends"

I spend about a half-hour a day on Facebook, partly because a lot of my friends are “newsies” like me, and they post links to interesting news articles. Such was the case last week, when a Facebook friend from Appleton, who was also a newsroom colleague of mine years ago, posted a link to a story in the LaCrosse Tribune.

LaCrosse cops are “friending” UW-LaCrosse students, going through the photos they’ve posted online, and then busting them for underage drinking, based on the photos. And the cops are going about it in a very sneaky way.

Why would a 19-year-old college boy/man agree to a Facebook friend request from a cop? Because the male cop not only used a female name, but also used the photo of an attractive young woman as his “profile picture”.

LaCrosse cop Al Iverson freely admits his deception. He used the identity ruse to become Facebook friends with 19-year-old UW-L student Adam Bauer, went through Bauer’s photos, saw one with Bauer holding a beer, and then ticketed him for underage drinking.

Officer Iverson did the same thing to several other UW-L students. The arrest report Iverson wrote up claims Bauer admitted to underage drinking, but Bauer denies it. However, he pleaded no contest to the charge and will pay a fine of $227. The other students similarly caught are doing the same thing. Plead it, pay it, grumble, move on.

Cops say social networking sites like Facebook are fair game, because posting photos of drink-fests glorifies alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Cops also use social networking sites to try and catch sexual predators.

I joined Facebook a year ago, after getting an invitation from a personal and professional friend of long-standing who’s one of the best reporters on the staff at the Wisconsin State Journal. A few days later, my wife joined and set up her own Facebook account, after crawling around on my account and being amazed at how many folks our age had a Facebook page.

We soon both got “friend invitations” from our son and daughter, who’d been on Facebook for years, since their undergrad days at the UW. We accepted - and then quickly “un-friended” our own children! TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

My wife and I had a brief chat about it, then talked to the “kids” (they’re both in their mid-20’s now) about how there are many aspects of their private life that we prefer NOT to know about.

My wife, in her motherly fashion, spoke with both of them about the kind of status updates and photos they post. The standard “nothing on the internet is private” speech. I think it’s safe to say we have a very, very different concept about “privacy” than they do. It’s one of those things parents do, that falls on deaf ears, but….you’re parents for life, and ya gotta do it.

And that’s part of the “problem”. Different standards. The college students ticketed for underage drinking in LaCrosse seemed amazed and indignant that the cops would use their PUBLIC internet postings to bust them.

Are my wife and I Facebook friends? You bet. We got married because we were best friends for years, and we have no secrets. We’re parents, and friends, to our children…but real friends, not just Facebook friends.

There ARE some things better not known.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

She's Mad As Hell

Terri McCormick strolls into a bar, sits down, greets bartender Jim - and launches into a soft-pedal rant about career politicians and the insiders who run things in government. In case you haven’t seen the video, it’s easy to find on YouTube. She’s gearing up for another run.

As I was born and raised in the Fox Valley, I’m still moderately interested in the political wars up there. But the most interesting thing about McCormick’s video to me, is trying to figure out which bar she used to shoot the video.

I’ve patronized more than my fair share of drinking establishments in the Fox Valley, but don’t recognize the venue.

If you watch the video (part one - it’s mainly a big tease for part two) you’d never guess that McCormick is a magna cum Laude graduate of UW-Oshkosh, who also holds a Master’s Degree. If you ever heard any of her various rants while she was a member of our state legislature, you’d never believe she’s a highly educated woman.

Ya see, up dare in da Valley, dey talk difernt talk.

McCormick was elected in 2000 to represent part of the Fox Valley in the state legislature. The way the politicians have gerrymandered the state’s voting districts, she represented the largely rural part of the Valley west and north of Oshkosh, skirting around Appleton, Neenah, and Menasha, all the way up to Bear Creek.

She served three terms in the legislature, and left of her own accord. Big fan of term limits. Now, she’s got her sights set on the seat again. When she ran against that Pissant John Gard in 2006 for the U-S Congress seat in the Valley, to say she got creamed would be an understatement. My friend Barry Orton mentions this in his excellent post about McCormick on Paul Soglin’s blog.

Right now, Steve Kagen holds the 8th Congressional district. It’s ten thousand square miles starting in Appleton and running north and west through Green Bay all the way up to Vilas County. Big chunk of real estate, including Peshtigo, home of the Pissant (John Gard).

I’m no fan of Steve Kagen. I was a patient of his, spending tons of money in his Oshkosh allergy clinic for two and a half years back in the early 80‘s, paying for those bogus injections in an attempt to mitigate my horrid allergies. I got much better two weeks after I finally fired him, but he went on to make a fortune pedaling his snake-oil remedies - enough money to beat back the Pissant and take the Congressional seat.

And for a Democrat to win in the Fox Valley, it takes a pretty big checkbook.
But I’ll tell you this: I’d far, far, far rather have Steve Kagen representing my mom and three of my siblings in congress than that horrid Pissant Gard. Too bad he's "out of politics".

It’ll be worth the time just ta hear dem two arguin’ wit each udder, and dat ain’t just da Lienie’s talkin’!!!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bailing Out The Overture Center

More than a decade ago, back in 1998, Madison businessman Jerry Frautschi made an absolutely stunning announcement. He was going to give the city an unbelievable sum of money - eventually totaling over 205 million dollars - to build a performing arts center.

No city this size in the world has ever been the recipient of such a huge gift.
Now, what they said would never happen is imminent. The taxpayers of Madison are perilously close to being liable for paying 2 to 3 million dollars a year to keep the Overture Center running. We midwesterners don’t subscribe to the old saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. And Madisonians analyze and debate everything.

So when Susie Bauman, who was Mayor then, said the taxpayers would NEVER be on the hook for the Overture Center, a lot of folks were skeptical. That was to be expected, though. This is Madison.

Trying to explain the intricacies of the financial maze that’s behind the Overture Center without causing you to stop reading and leave this website is a challenge I’m not up to, so I’m hoping that you’ll take my word that it is hopelessly complicated. The organizational structure and financing have been re-done many times in the past decade, trying to keep the Center afloat.

But now, for the first time ever, the outfit that runs the Overture Center, a separate entity called “Madison Cultural Arts District”…MCAD, has an operating deficit. They’re out of money and out of reserves. They’ve burned through all of Jerry Frautschi’s original gift, and another five million he generously put in a couple years ago when the Center faltered.

The bottom line is, the Overture Center has to drastically change the way it operates.

Once again, the arts mavens are going to meet with the financial mavens, hoping the bankers will forgive some of the debt, and approve still another round of financing to keep the doors open.

I’m not smart enough or conceited enough to make suggestions. This is a hugely complicated problem which doesn’t have a simple answer. And as snarky as I can be, I’m not as snarky as some of the people who’ve posted comments about the Overture Center on other websites.

Other communities our size have had decades of “base-building” and fund drives before they could afford to build a performing arts center. So it’s happening backwards here. We got the center; but we really don’t have a firm base of patrons and supporters.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, we were not “worthy” of the gift. Maybe Christmas came too early for Madison.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Deer Hunters: Be A Narc

As one who was raised in the great Wisconsin tradition of going out for a slog in the woods with a high-powered weapon to kill Bambi, I laughed out loud when I came across the news release from the DNR . They want hunters to be on the lookout for drug-growing operations as they search for the elusive 30-point buck in the woods over the next nine days.

Remember the story I did about a month ago, about how 78 cops of various sort spent the day on the Navarino Wildlife Refuge up in Shawano County, after getting a tip that there was highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana growing there? Some small-game hunter saw a couple shacks and the remains of a huge marijuana growing field, and tipped the narcs.

Of course, they got there after the good weed had been harvested and processed, but managed to pull a couple stragglers out of the ground and proclaim it a successful bust.

Now, the DNR wants anybody out there hunting during the nine-day gun deer season to be on the lookout for “anything suspicious”. They warn us not to put ourselves in any danger, but if we spot something suspicious, we should back out the way we came in, and then when we’re safely away, write down the location and any other observations, and call the cops.

After all, a 30.06 with a sight or a 12-gauge is no match for a 9-millimeter Glock, or an Uzi, or an AK-47, or whatever weaponry the pot-growers might have.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if my youngest brother, who is an accomplished sportsman and conscientious hunter, spots a grow operation, the narcs will not be notified. Being the oldest of the three brothers, I would probably proffer a different suggestion.

But that’s just a hypothetical, ya know.

A lot of my Madison pals don’t understand this hunting thing at all. I always get a charge out of the guy who ties a dummy dressed up in blaze orange on the hood of his car, and drives around town. OK, point made, in a humorous way. You don’t like hunters. Save Bambi.

My dad taught all three of his sons how to hunt. He was a decorated World War 2 vet, combat infantry, who knew his way around a firearm or two. And the first thing he taught us, before there was any talk of hunting, was firearm safety. Between my dad, his brother, and my grandpa, who was a law enforcement officer, they had enough handguns, shotguns, and high-powered rifles to equip a formidable contingent.

The first rule we learned was that the gun is ALWAYS loaded. No matter what, there was absolutely NO horseplay with weapons. And when we earned the privilege of buying a license and hunting with dad, safety was always the number-one consideration. Always be SURE you’ve got a clear shot, and that there are NO hunters anywhere near your target.

I never worry when I’m around my brothers with firearms. We know what we’re doing.

What do I worry about? The city-slicker investment banker from Chicago, who’s been invited up to Wisconsin by a client, to join him for the thrill of the hunt. No gun? Don’t worry, we have plenty. No license? We’ll getcha one Friday night. No training? Don’t worry, nothing will happen. Famous last words.

So be safe out there, hunters.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gimme A Double Cheeseburger

There’s a fight going on between the second-largest hamburger chain in the world - Burger King - and the company’s franchise owners, who control 90% of the chain’s 12 thousand locations.

It’s all over the cost of a burger.

The franchise owners are suing the King over its one-dollar double cheeseburger promotion, saying they’re losing money on every one they sell. The franchisees don’t want Burger King to have total control over where they set their prices on menu items.

The dollar-deal went nationwide about a month ago, even though the franchise owners had twice rejected the deal because of the expense involved. Burger King says its research shows the dollar double cheeseburger deal will draw more people into the restaurants, and they’ll spend more money.

Franchise owners say the math just doesn’t work.

So how much does it really cost to make a double cheeseburger? According to the lawsuit the franchisees filed, and franchise owner Dan Fitzpatrick of South Bend, Indiana, it’s $1.10. If you add up the cost of the meat, the bun, the cheese, and the other toppings, it’s about 55 cents. Half the total. Fitzpatrick says the other half covers typical Burger King expenses, like employee wages, rent, royalties, equipment, advertising, and the other standard costs of doing business.

When Burger King introduced the dollar double cheeseburger, they were hoping it would lure more people to come in and eat there. They had hopes it would boost business by 20%.

You’ve seen the ads on TV….fast-food restaurants are slashing prices to try and get us to come back. Even the national burger chain headquartered here, in Sauk City - Culvers - has just started advertising a four-dollar meal deal. It seems everybody from the number-one chain, McDonalds, to the smallest local outfits, are advertising some sort of low-cost deal to drum up business.

But a fast-food analyst for Deutsche Bank told the Associated Press that as much as half the gain in business from increased traffic could be lost, because we’re simply spending less when we order food.

The poor economy has hit the fast-food business as hard as every other kind of business.

If the fast-food industry had to rely on people like me for business, they’d be broke. I’ll stop at a fast-food place two or three times a month at most. I’ve tried the pricey new Angus third-pounder at McDonalds, and I like it a lot. But for my money, the butter-burgers at Culvers are very hard to beat.

By the time the Burger King suit has wended its way through the federal court system, the fate of the dollar double cheeseburger will long since have been determined. But it’s interesting for me to learn that the actual cost of the product, all told, is a buck-ten. I thought it would have been higher.

I may stop in and try one of those dollar double cheeseburgers…..before the promotion ends!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finding A Job When You're 60

It was one year ago today that I was summoned to the office of the Chief Financial Officer of the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group, a company I’d been a shareholder with for 30 years, and in front of two witnesses in a 7-minute meeting, I was handed my walking papers.

The Monday after Thanksgiving I handed the papers to my lawyer, and she took over. Six weeks later, the legal battle was over, and I won a (sealed) settlement. A week after that, I started my next life as a self-employed writer and landed a huge project. And started this blog.

So, when I read the account of Elizabeth Miller of Merrimac, which just made the papers late last week, I was keenly interested. She was 59 years old in April of 2007 when she was applying for work as a grant writer. She’d been working as a grant writer for the past ten years.

On a conference call with two employees of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she finished the phone interview with them, hung up, and then went to make another call. When she picked up the phone, she heard the two still talking about her. According to Miller, they were guessing that she was about 59 or 60 years old.

Miller says she heard them say a lot of employees at InterVarsity were about 59 or 60 years old, and would be retiring in five years. Miller says the two agreed they didn’t want to add to that problem by hiring her, so they decided to call another woman and interview her for the job. That woman was 29 years old and no grant writing experience.

So they hired her.

As you might imagine, Elizabeth filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit. InterVarsity will have its day in court with Elizabeth, and InterVarsity’s spokesman - an old friend and former fellow broadcaster Gordon Govier - says they’ll present their side, and thinks they’ll win.

Not if Elizabeth is telling the truth, and a jury is involved. Slam dunk.
My termination at Mid-West had nothing to do with my age, and my lawyer never alleged that it did. I was 59 years old, but it was house politics. They said it was the economy. The other guy that was fired that day was 52. Another long-time shareholder and employee. When they whacked us, they knocked a huge chunk off their payroll. That much is certain.

Even if Elizabeth Miller wins her suit against InterVarsity, she’ll still face the same prejudice if she looks for work. It ain’t easy being 60 and trying to convince a 20- or 30-something human resources person you still have a lot to offer.

But, like any other prejudice, most folks can be pretty good at covering it up. And that’s the hard part. You know it’s going on, but you can’t prove it.

Truth is often not that easy to come by. And even if you uncover it, it may not “set you free”. Sometimes uncovering the truth is very expensive.

As the lawyers say, bring a big wallet, and prepare to lose. Good luck, Elizabeth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nose As Long As A Telephone Wire (Liar, Liar....)

Our newest state Supreme Court Justice, Michael Gableman, ran an ad in his campaign accusing sitting Justice Louis Butler of causing the release of a convicted rapist, who went on to molest another child. This was back when Butler was a Public Defender. The ad called Justice Butler “Loophole Louie”.

The ad was a lie. A complete, total fabrication. A few “true” statements stitched together in a way that created a lie. Whether or not the ad was a lie is not even an issue. Even the three-judge panel tasked with coming up with a recommendation on how to deal with Justice Gableman admits the ad was a lie.

It’s just that they apparently don’t care.

The three judges late last week issued a report recommending that the Supreme Court dismiss the ethics complaint against Justice Gableman. Even though the three judges admit that Gableman’s “Loophole Louie” ad stacked a series of statements together in a completely false and deliberately misleading way, they say it’s OK.

If you or me or any other regular person pulled that kind of crap during a police investigation, we’d be charged with obstructing justice. Pull that kind of crap in a courtroom, giving testimony, and you’ll be charged with perjury.

The state’s largest-circulation newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, titled its editorial lambasting the three-judge panel “A lie is a lie is a lie”. The paper’s editorial board came to the same conclusion that any reasonable person would, namely, that Louis Butler played absolutely no role in the rapist’s release.

Gableman’s ad was a lie.

The saving grace here, is that the highest court doesn’t have to follow the three-judge panel’s recommendation. It can simply ignore the recommendation; it can censure Justice Gableman for lying in his campaign; it can dole out a suspension without pay; it can even have Gableman removed from the state Supreme Court.

But - and it’s a big but - Justice Gableman has no choice but to recuse himself from the decision. He can’t vote on his own fate. And given the way the best state Supreme Court money can buy has been functioning lately, it could very easily be a 3-3 deadlock. If that happens, Gableman is off the hook.

On a loophole, so to speak.

Most kids, except the ones who are sociopaths or pathological liars, learn early in their development the concept of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Their parents or peers teach them that deliberately misleading somebody, about something important, is wrong.

Michael Gableman besmirched the reputation of a good man in his quest to gain access to that fancy chair in the Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol. The voters put him there, but they were lied to.

Somebody should do something about that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The End Of The World....or not.

Roland Emmerich is a German-born movie director who loves disaster and special effects. His 1996 movie “Independence Day” was a whiz-bang scenario of aliens invading Earth. His 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow” made Al Gore happy. It was Emmerich’s interpretation of global climate change killing us all.

This weekend, I saw his latest offering, titled “2012”. It was standard Emmerich fare - lots of over-the-top special effects, a soundtrack that will temporarily deafen you, huge cities destroyed, and our attempt to escape from the destruction. John Cusack trying to save his family from certain death, battling every obstacle imaginable. I was, however, disappointed. The plot stinks and the effects are good, but not great.

As some reviewer said, Emmerich gets an “A” for special effects, and an “F” for science. I’ll give him a “B” for special effects, and “F” for science, but an A+ for three direct references to Wisconsin. And Woody Harrelson is pretty good as a crazy talk-radio guy.

The movie is based on the incorrect belief that the ancient Mayan calendar “runs out” on the 21st of December, 2012. Some say Nostradamus made a similar prophecy. The problem is, even the Mayans know their calendar doesn’t “end” in 2012. Mayan archaeologist Guillermo Bernal says there are Mayan calendar inscriptions that go out well beyond the year 4772.

A Mayan calendar cycle, the 13th Baktun, ends on 12-21-2012, but - as any Mayan can tell you - that just means another cycle begins.

But that would wreck the anticipation Emmerich tries to set up in the movie.
Long before this Hollywood blockbuster was even in pre-production, there were plenty of novels published about December 21st 2012 being the “end of days”. Google “2012 end of the world” and you’ll get more than 35 million hits.

Some people - gullible people - take this sort of stuff really seriously. The media are full of stories of people who are actually worried that the world is going to end in a couple years and they’ll never see their kids grow up.

Shortly after the release of “The Day After Tomorrow”, my wife and I were at a dinner party at a friend’s home on the fashionable west side of Madison. Several of the people there, and this was before the second drink, were talking about how the movie is “proof” of global warming. And these were partially-educated adults!
Rather than be my usual snarky self and embarrass my wife, I resorted to stronger doses of Crown Royal.

We do love to be scared at the movies, though. And the special effects for “2012“, while not much better than the stuff in his 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow”, are still good. But I expected better stuff. The effects in the “Terminator” and “Transformers” movies are much better, if you ask me. The plot development is often tediously predictable.

The run-time of two hours and 35 minutes is excessive; but, most “blockbuster” movies are way too long these days. Add in the six trailers and the ads they run before they roll the feature film, and you’ve got nearly three hours invested.

Worth it? Yah, but barely.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why Do We Still Call It A "Phone"?

You can place and receive telephone calls with them, but if that’s all your cell phone does, you’re in the dark ages. Or so it would seem, based on a new worldwide survey of 8,000 cell phone users by the hugely respected marketing firm Synovate.

There’s no question Americans are attached to their cell phones. 82% of the Americans surveyed said they never leave their home without their cell phone. Nearly half of the Americans surveyed say “they cannot live” without their cell phone.

And you thought the microwave oven was hot stuff.

The Synovate survey says these small devices are so widespread that as of last year, more people on the planet owned cell phones than did not. And, in a lesson for marketers, the survey says most people do not think of their cell phone as a media platform at all. They classify it differently from mainstream media like TV, radio, even the internet.

So much for the FM radio app for the iPhone. It’s not radio’s savior.

Even a basic cell phone these days is a lot more than just a phone. Two-thirds of the cell phone owners on the planet use it as an alarm clock, and more than half of the Americans surveyed said they regularly used their cell phone as a wake-up alarm. Two-thirds of cell phone users worldwide us it as a camera, and about a third play games on their cell phone.

And we’re not talking here about really smart cell phones, which have things like GPS, apps that help you surf the web, read and send e-mail, and even update your Facebook status or Tweet on the fly.

We haven’t even mentioned text messaging, another thing the “basic” (dumb) cell phone can do. Almost three BILLION text messages are sent every day, and it’s proved to be a real financial banquet for the wireless industry. From basic communication, to flirting, even to dumping a partner is done by text now. (Thankfully, only 4% of Americans say they’ve dumped somebody by text.)

A third of the people worldwide admit they’ve lied about their whereabouts via text message. Nearly ten percent of Americans say they’ve set up a first date via text.
If I call my 20-something kids on their cell phone, it almost always goes to voicemail and they respond eventually. If I text them, even if they’re at work, I get almost instant response. My son has an iPhone and my daughter has some sort of Blackberry-like device.

It seems as if for young Americans, their cell phone is the remote control device for their life. They carry it everywhere and are lost without it. Almost half of the Americans surveyed say ther sleep with their cell phone nearby every night.

I leave mine on the kitchen counter when I go to bed. But my wife has her iPod Touch next to her on the nightstand. If one of the kids texts her, it makes a sound like a cat’s meow. That’s sure to rouse the dog, even if we sleep through it.

It’s our family’s own personal 9-1-1 system, I guess. Maybe we can't "live" without our cell phones, after all.....

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scooter Jensen: STILL Not In Prison

If you’re reading this Thursday morning, the Jensen clock on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Big Money Blog has just ticked over to 2,582 days. That’s how long it’s been since Scooter Jensen was criminally charged with misconduct in public office.

The Democracy Campaign is keeping track of this, because Scooter’s case is one of the worst examples of how money and influence can “game” the justice system. It’s been over seven years since he was charged with using state-paid employees to work on political campaigns, something expressly forbidden by state law.

Scooter’s defense? Everybody else was doing it (namely, the Democrats), and that’s what led the state’s highest court to decide Tuesday that he may well yet get still another trial, on his home turf, in Waukesha County.

To my way of thinking, saying “everybody else was doing it” is an admission of guilt, not a defense.

When the state Supreme Court eventually gets around to making a decision on still another trial for Jensen, whose expensive lawyer argued his client should get a new trial so he can introduce evidence that he wasn’t the only one breaking the law, it may well be a 3-3 vote. Justice Prosser won’t be allowed to vote on this one. Justice Prosser was a character witness for Jensen in one of the many earlier legal rounds.

Not to get too far ahead of the story, but if the state Supreme Court ends up tied 3-3, the decision of the lower court will be affirmed, and Jensen will end up being tried (again) here in Dane County. That decision is probably a few months away.

Maybe the State Journal was right, when it editorialized yesterday that no matter what the Supreme Court decides, or doesn’t decide, Scooter has already lost the case in the court of public opinion. The paper says “regardless of the outcome, he will never be able to dodge disgrace”.

I hope they’re right.

The case is unusual. It’s been so long since Scooter was charged, that the state legislature has passed new laws which Scooter’s expensive lawyer says should apply. Dane County D-A Brian Blanchard, the prosecutor, says the laws that were in effect when Scooter was charged should apply. Seems simple to me. It’s not Blanchard’s fault the case has dragged on for years.

All the other politicians charged with Scooter in the so-called “caucus scandal” have been to trial or done their deals and have served their sentences.
But Scooter has gamed the system very well, delaying, denying, and using campaign money to pay the huge legal bills.

Eventually, though, he will have his FINAL day in court on this matter. For the people of the State of Wisconsin, that day can’t come soon enough.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Palin's "Stealth" Visit to Wisconsin

It was supposed to be a closed event. The anti-abortion folks in Milwaukee invited failed Vice-Presidential candidate and failed former Governor Sarah Palin to give a pep talk Friday night. The media were NOT invited. Admission was by $30 ticket only. The rules were stated clearly: no cell phones, no recording devices, no video or still cameras, no laptops, no photos or recording of any kind, and all bags will be searched.

Except for the “no media” part, you’d think it was a rock concert.

But the media got in. At least three reporters were at the event, including one from the popular online political website “Politico”, who worked the way reporters have for years…taking notes…and filed a five-page report on the pep rally. How did Politico reporter Jonathan Martin sneak in?

He bought a ticket.

It’s not difficult to understand why the Maverick Queen doesn’t want reporters around, given her pathetic performance during the failed White House campaign. And, according to Martin, she didn’t disappoint.

She didn’t say “death panels” in her talk Friday night, but Martin says she repeatedly suggested that the Obama administration and its liberal policies would lead to de facto euthanasia. It was a rambling speech from prepared remarks, peppered with those colorful ad-lib remarks about how the military is “awesome” and the liberal media are “bogus”. And there were the familiar themes the anti-abortion crowd loves to hear.

She made the death-panel charge again, though, the next day (Saturday) on her Facebook page.

According to Martin, there was the inevitable foot-in-mouth moment, although Palin had no clue she was doing it. She whined that the newly-minted dollar coins have the phrase “In God We Trust” way off on the periphery of the coin, on the edge, rather than in the center, and said “Who calls a shot like that? Who makes a decision like that?”

The answer, of course, is George W. Bush, whose Republican-led congress in 2005 approved the design.

Apparently the lipstick-wearing hockey mom thinks it was that horrible Obama man who put God off on the side of the coin. She must have been fooled by the bogus e-mails on the topic being sent around by conservatives who don’t do much fact-checking.

Politico says about five thousand people were at the event, in a huge building at the State Fair Grounds, and there were pledge cards on every chair including an offer to become one of “Sarah’s Rogues” by giving a thousand bucks. In addition to being an official rogue, you’d get a copy of her new book “Going Rogue: An American Life”.

Apparently if Limbaugh and Hannity and their ilk have their way, Palin will be on the Republican ticket in 2012. I don’t listen enough to either show to know if they want her on the top of the ticket. But I hear them talk about her a lot, in the limited listening I do.

But don’t take my word - or Politico’s - about Palin. She’s got a Twitter account again…and you can follow her tweets at SarahPalinUSA.

Include me out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Holiday Desperation

The number-one movie at the box office this past weekend was Disney’s latest re-make of “A Christmas Carol”, which did 31 million dollars in ticket sales. People took their kids to see Jim Carrey play multiple roles in the holiday classic, while it was a gorgeous 70 degrees in Madison.

Often when drivers who own convertibles put the top down in weather like we had this weekend, they’ll have the oldies station playing on the radio. Except this weekend, the local oldies station was playing Christmas music. WOLX-FM went “all Christmas music, all the time” last week.

The social media -Facebook and Twitter - were alive this past weekend with posts from Madisonians who were taking advantage of the beautiful weather to put their Christmas decorations up early. One of my friends posted “Is it wrong to put up Christmas decorations because it’s so nice this weekend?”. Another friend replied “Not if you don’t turn them on”.

Even though Veterans Day is tomorrow, the ads on TV this weekend were dominated not by Veterans Day sales, but by Christmas sales. One company pushed its “Black Friday Sale” ads seemingly every hour or so.

Retailers call the Friday after Thanksgiving “Black Friday”, a reference to the ink on the financial books turning from red to black that day. It’s widely (and erroneously) believed that the Friday after Thanksgiving is the “biggest shopping day of the year”, but it isn‘t. Don’t believe what the TV news folks tell you. The biggest shopping day of the year is the Saturday before Christmas.

Procrastinators rule the Christmas market, apparently.

My calendar says Black Friday is still two and a half weeks away, but a number of national retailers have been in Christmas mode since the week before Halloween. One of the big national drugstore chains that has a dozen or more locations in the Madison area had Christmas stuff on display the last week of October.

Then there’s “Cyber Monday”, a relatively new phenomenon that supposedly happens the Monday after Thanksgiving, when everybody returns to work and uses the company’s broadband connection to surf the big sales on the internet.
This year, it all seems so desperate.

So many merchants, large and small, seem to be trying to cash in on the Christmas bonanza before everybody else. The biggest one of them all, WalMart, had huge Christmas decorations up in their SuperStore in Monona this past weekend.

Part of the problem merchants face, it would seem, is that we’re leery of spending money these days. Many people have just hunkered down to ride out the recession. Another problem merchants face is that some reality has finally been injected into the credit card business. Those come-on’s to sign up for a credit card that we used to get in the mail five or six times a week - not so much any more.

Perhaps the congress needs to enact “No Merchant Left Behind” legislation.
CNN says the average bonus for the big Wall Street money firms this year is just over a quarter-million dollars. Maybe they’ll spend some of it on Christmas presents, so the merchants don’t have to be so desperate.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Committing Commerce In Madison

It was another gorgeous day yesterday and we had a lot of things to do. Who knew November 8th….or 7th, for that matter….would be sunny with highs in the 70’s? We had a lot of running around to do both days, so we couldn’t just sit on the deck and enjoy the unbelievable weather.

One of the items on the checklist was buying a high-quality pair of hiking shoes for my wife, who’s discovered some wonderful nature trails in our suburban neighborhood. There are streams and mud and rocks involved, so she needed something sturdy, with good ankle support, and good traction. Waterproofing was critical.

So we’re talkin’ a hundred bucks here.

We decided to go to a big sporting goods store on the west side of Madison, since we had other stops out there anyway. I won’t name the store, but just to give you a clue, the name on the front of the store is a common nickname for a man named Richard.

We went in, a young man pleasantly greeted us, and asked what he could help us find. My wife said “hiking boots”, and he pointed us to the back of the store, a couple hundred feet away, under the huge overhead sign that said “footwear”.
She soon discovered that this area had lots of running shoes and basketball shoes and tennis shoes, but no hiking shoes. She was able to flag down a young fellow dressed in store apparel who was nearby, and he said “oh, no, hiking shoes are upstairs, in the back, under a sign that says ‘rugged footwear’”. OK.

Up the escalator.

She found a couple pairs she liked, but they were display shoes, and apparently the stock was somewhere else. We wandered the entire area of the upper floor of the store, looking for someone to help us. No luck. I even went back into the area marked “employees only”, hoping to make contact with a human that way.


My wife found a “floor manager” and he said he’d send somebody right over.
Finally a store employee showed up, with a customer in tow. He pointed out a pair of rugged boots he’d like to try on, and the employee didn’t even acknowledge us, even though we were obviously there to buy something. By now, we were 25 minutes into this mission, and we’d both had it.

As we walked to the front door to leave, there were three young men, all store employees, congregated around the door, visiting with each other. I said as we left “you just lost a sale because nobody would come and help us”. I didn’t wait to hear a response.

We drove a few blocks to another shoe store… I won’t give you the name, but it rhymes with “Hogan’s”. We were greeted immediately upon entering, and taken right to the women’s hiking shoes area by another young man. Twice during the trying-on phase, a store employee came up and said “you guys doin’ OK?”.

We dropped a hefty amount of money in the store. We’ll go back there again. We’ll never go back to that other store.

If only the Packers had performed as well yesterday as the young men in that second store……

Friday, November 6, 2009

Modern Economics (An Internet Tale)

There’s an interesting e-mail going around the internet this week called “Smoke and Mirrors”. It’s supposed to be a slam on President Obama’s economic policies, I guess, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

The little story is set in a small resort town in August. It’s tough times, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit. A rich tourist happens upon the town, and stops at the only hotel.

He lays a $100 bill on the reception counter, and tells the innkeeper he wants to go upstairs and thoroughly inspect all the rooms. If he likes one of them, he’ll stay a few days.

As soon as the tourist goes upstairs, the innkeeper takes the $100 bill and runs across the street to pay his debt to the butcher, who’d been carrying him through the hard times.

The butcher sees the rancher get out of his pickup truck across the street. He takes the $100 bill and gives it to the rancher, to pay his meat bill.
The rancher takes the $100 bill and goes a couple doors down the street to pay his debt to the supplier of feed and fuel, who’d given him credit in the tough times.

The supplier of feed and fuel takes the $100 bill, slips out the back door, crosses the street, and knocks on the door of the town prostitute. He pays her the debt he owes her for rendering her services “on credit” during these tough times.

The town prostitute quickly walks to the hotel, and uses the $100 bill to pay the innkeeper for the rooms she rented on credit during the tough times, when she brought her clients there.

The innkeeper then lays the $100 bill back on the counter, so the rich tourist won’t suspect anything when he completes his inspection of all the rooms.

A few moments later, the rich tourist comes down the stairs, says he doesn’t really like any of the rooms, takes the $100 bill, gets back in his car and drives out of town.

Everybody’s paid off, and the town now looks to the future with optimism.

The story, of course, is based on a number of very shaky assumptions, such as the innkeeper knowing he could “cover” the missing $100 bill, if the rich tourist decided not to stay there. There’s no way the innkeeper could have predicted the chain of events that would end with the $100 bill back on the counter, and in such short time.

But it’s a fascinating story that gets you thinking about how money and credit work. Most of it’s imaginary…like the stock market.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Stopped by the Presidential Motorcade

When you’re in the business of broadcasting, as I was for over 30 years, time is everything. The six o’clock news happens at 06:00:00, not “around six”. Commercials, which pay the bills, are sold in precise increments of time. A one-minute commercial is sixty seconds. Broadcasters are keenly aware of time.

I wouldn’t wear a watch on vacation, because I didn’t WANT to know what time it is. At work, everything was time and timing. At one point a few years ago, I was doing morning drive newscasts for five radio stations, and I had to keep very precise timing constantly. So, when on vacation, I didn’t want to think about time.

Obviously I’ve gotten far from being a slave to time in the past year. Yesterday afternoon, as I left home to run a number of errands, I ran smack dab into a roadblock for the Presidential motorcade. Coming up Rimrock Road and headed for the Beltline Freeway, I saw the big black Yukon (maybe it was a Suburban) swing crosswise into the intersection, and I knew I was in for a wait.

Eastbounders could get on, but nobody was getting onto the overpass to go west.

I was about the fifth vehicle in the line. I realized immediately that my timing couldn’t have been worse. But, I run my own clock these days, so no big deal. It soon became apparent that several people in line had no clue why access to the Beltline was blocked.

The huge green military helicopter circling Wright School, just a mile or so away, might have been a clue. But clearly a few folks were agitated. They were out of their cars and looking around. It was 48 degrees, so I ran my window down. The guy who was two cars ahead of me had gotten out of his car and was talking to the guy in the car between us.

I overheard him saying he didn’t know why they had the road barricaded. I stuck my head out of the window and said “it’s for the Presidential motorcade”. The guy came over to my SUV and said “the President is here?”.

Even though I’ve been a news anchor most of my life, it still does not surprise me that no matter how big an event, there are always people who are clueless. I told the fellow that the President was making a speech about education at Wright School, and pointed to the huge military helicopter circling the school.

“So the President is here, huh? How about that. How long you think we’re gonna be here?” I said my guess was about 10 or 15 minutes at the most. He went up to tell his pal in the car ahead of us what was going on. I could hear just enough of the conversation to tell that his buddy didn’t believe him right away, and he pointed at me as he was explaining the situation.

Before long, we saw the State Patrol cruisers come whistling up the westbound Beltline, all lit up with the red and blue lights flashing. Behind them, a bunch of big, black cars and SUV’s…one of them, of course, with the President aboard, tailed by three more State Patrol cruisers, one in each lane, lights on, movin’ fast, bringing up the rear.

It was sort of cool. Well worth the brief delay.

On the way home from making my stops on the west side, I got off the Beltline at Verona Road and came home through Fitchburg. Fool me once….er, what was it the other President said about that?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Faux News Bends EVERYTHING! (A fair and balanced rant.)

Early Sunday morning, my body clock maladjusted by the end of Daylight Saving Time, I woke up “early”, grabbed a cup of coffee, and began scanning the TV band to find some news. I landed on Fox News, and there were the three weekend newsies, sitting on the couch, doing an interview with two “authorities” about Swine Flu.

One was a parish priest from Boston, the other the head of the Public Health Department for Boston. Hmmm…why Boston? Why not go with a “national” source in D.C.? Or the CDC? Soon I would learn why.

The public health lady was talking about recommendations her department had made, at the request of the Boston Roman Catholic Diocese, on things it could do to help stop the spread of the flu.

She enumerated a short list: don’t have the parishioners drink from a common chalice; suspend the communal “handshakes” during mass; a few other items. The priest confirmed that the Diocese had followed the advice.

Then it came - the FOX QUESTION!!!

One of the anchor-boys said “Father, conservatives are concerned that the H1N1 recommendations of the Boston Public Health Department may be an attempt to alter their sacred rituals. How do you respond to that?”

I didn’t hear the priest’s response. I was busy mopping up the coffee that had spewed from my nose. The coffee went down the wrong pipe as I reacted physically to the inane question.

Fox News bends everything. Everything. Even the most seemingly innocuous interview about H1N1 is bent to the “conservative” point of view. Even the most paranoid among us would find it a stretch that the public health department is trying to alter Catholic rituals. Only the most slanted, bent, spun, sold-out “news person” would even ASK such a question.

Is it any wonder our President won’t give Fox the time of day? Isn’t it somewhat disgusting to you that other “mainstream media” take the President to task under the guise that a slight to one media outlet is a slight to them all? Sort of like the Hollywood crowd that defended Roman Polanski’s “right” to drug and rape a 13-year-old girl. Disgusting.

From sunup to sundown and all night, it’s a constant drumbeat of derision concerning President Obama, an unending parade of hatred for anything that might be construed as “liberal”, all dished up under the guise of “we report, you decide”.

Madisonian Thomas Dixon Jr. wrote a letter to the Capital Times decrying the “gutless media”, saying “you don’t search for the truth but rather seek two contrasting opinions, no matter how crazy one of them may be. You seek controversy over insight. And you do it in a world that depends on you to get it right now more than ever before.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

El Rushbo - Racist?

Rush Limbaugh, after being dropped publicly by a group of investors seeking to buy the St. Louis Rams, was mad. The head of the group, Dave Checketts, said the Limbaugh involvement became “a complication and a distraction to our intentions”.

Rush told the Wall Street Journal he’s colorblind, not a racist, and said “These intimidation tactics are working and spreading, and they are a cancer on our society”.

Well, he oughtta know.

Jay Leno weighed in. On his show, he said Rush wants to know if he’s a racist, why would he want to be part of a business that’s 70% African-American. Leno said “So he can OWN them!”

My friend Holland Cooke, who is probably the best and most sought-after News-Talk Radio consultant in the world, put together a montage of Rush quotes in his monthly newsletter. Holland’s summary is a cautionary tale for anybody who’s in the talk-show-host business. Rush is fond of saying “words mean things”. Cooke points out “words have consequences”.

Anyone who’s listened to the Rush Limbaugh show more than a couple times knows that up until he joined the group trying to buy the Rams, he played a parody song called “Barack, The Magic Negro” every few days. Oh, but that’s not racist. That’s Limbaugh humor.

Cooke has pulled some quotes including this very-much-on-topic one: “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips”. Or how about this one: “We are being told that we have to hope [President Obama] succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles…because his father was black”. No race-card-playing there.

Or how about Limbaugh’s frequent references to the President as being “Halfrican-American”. More humor, huh? Rush has also said “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations”. Just run-of-the-mill hyperbole, the kind of stuff you might hear on any right-wing talk show.

But I’m sure you’re seeing a pattern here.

Rush also said “in Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering”.

These are just a handful of actual Limbaugh quotes that Holland Cooke put together. Rush indeed was misquoted several times by the national media, in the coverage of the story surrounding his failed attempt to get a piece of the Rams. There’s no excuse for such sloppy work by what’s left of the (as Rush would say) “state-controlled drive-by media”.

All they would have had to do is turn on his radio show and listen for an hour. They’d have had plenty of “ammunition” to make the point that Limbaugh is everything he accuses Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson of being.

My friend Holland Cooke is right: words do have consequences.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mars, Venus, and Favre

It was essentially another home game for Brett Favre. Four more touchdown passes in a stadium he called home for 16 years. It was the 21st time he threw four TD passes, tying Dan Marino’s record.

But in a purple uniform with horns on his helmet?

I was born and raised in the Fox Valley, and have been a Packers fan all my life. My wife and I are Packers shareholders. So, when Brett departed, I was sad - but, that’s the way it works in sports. The days are pretty much gone when a truly outstanding athlete plays an entire career for one team. It’s obvious Brett is not ready to be put out to pasture, and that was evident long before yesterday’s game.

Most of the guys I know were pretty disgusted with Brett’s soap opera, that became regular fare the past few years when he was deciding, in a very public way, about whether he’d come back for another year. So after his year with the Jets, when he maneuvered things to skip training camp (which he always hated) and became a Vikings player, I was more than moderately annoyed.

Even my wife, a reconstructed Bears fan from Chicago, informed me she was DONE with Brett when he went to work in Minnesota. She’d proudly worn her Packers #4 home jersey to New York City a year ago when she was there for a week on business, and enjoyed all the “Hey - thanks for Brett!” comments on the streets and subway of the Big Apple.

This year, when she was in New York City for a week in October, she took her Packers gear, but NOT the Favre Jersey. Apparently, when Favre was a Jets player, he was OK. But when he became a Vikings player - that’s IT.

As I checked the Facebook posts this morning, I noticed a lot of my female friends seem to hold a different position on Brett. There were the posts on the News Feed, made before kickoff yesterday afternoon, that said essentially “I hope Brett plays well but I want the Packers to win”; there were the ones that said “I don’t know who to cheer for”; and similar posts.

There was not much ambiguity whatsoever among my male Facebook friends. They wanted him to taste that frozen tundra in a very personal way.

One post, from a lady who’s been a friend a long time, clarified the issue for me. She put up a post during the game saying “Why does my family get mad at me when I cheer for Brett Favre?”. And there were comments on the post, from other women, who said essentially they like Brett but don’t like the Vikings.

The snarky Tim joined the thread by posting “Because your family are PACKERS fans”. I couldn’t resist.

The thing is, it seems clear to me and my male friends, that we can still appreciate Brett’s skill, but we can’t cheer for him. He’s a member of the team we like the least and hate the most, an NFC North rival. Just as Brewers fans can, if they want, cheer for C C Sabathia. He’s with the Yankees, and they’re in the American League. If he ever signs with the Cubs - or the Cards - no more cheering for the big guy.

It’s really very simple. We can’t cheer for Brett because now he’s using his skills against us. Can’t you ladies see that? We may be from different planets, but it's all so......tribal.

School-Building in Afghanistan

There was a piece on one of the national news broadcasts this weekend about how our troops are building schools in Afghanistan. You would think they’re doing this in their “spare time”, but apparently it’s a “job” they’ve been ordered to do.
At the end of World War Two, we rebuilt western Europe under the European Recovery Program, which everybody called “The Marshall Plan”, named after a wartime general who became Secretary of State. Most people don’t remember that we offered the same deal to Russia, but they weren’t interested.

It was very nice of us to help rebuild nations like France and Germany after the war. And we built lots of schools. And factories, and homes, and businesses. But this was done after our enemies in the big war had surrendered unconditionally.
I’m one of these people you run into every so often who hold the apparently unusual idea that our military, especially our overseas combat forces, shouldn’t be building schools, or directing traffic, or doing anything except combat and combat support.

Why on earth would we send combat troops to Afghanistan to build schools?
I know, I know. Some people say we’re making a lot of friends over there by building schools and fixing the roads (oh, wait -there aren’t that many roads) and doing other stuff that doesn’t involve blowing things up or hunting down Al-Qaida, or the Taliban, or whoever we’re hunting down over there.

There’s still quite a bit of public sentiment, apparently left over from the days when Dick Cheney was calling the shots, that we have to go over there and make a lot of friends, so the young folks there don’t grow up to hate us and want to blow us up.

The big general in charge over there, Stanley McChrystal, is apparently asking President Obama to send thousands and thousands more soldiers to Afghanistan. If ten soldiers can build one school in a hundred days, imagine how many schools could be built by ten thousand soldiers. And so on. You get the idea.

Excuse my snarkiness, but we’ve been over there eight years now. We should decide if we’re going to hunt down bin Laden, hunt down Al-Qaida, hunt down the Taliban, or train the locals to do that; or, if we’re just going to build schools or grocery stores or whatever.

If we decide the latter, then let’s just have “civilian contractors” do it, and have Blackwater provide security for them, and bring the soldiers home.

That would seem the “friendly” thing to do, to me.