Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Have Another Job for the "CPA Caucus"

Now that the so-called “CPA Caucus” has brought its powerful microscope to bear on the UW-System budget, perhaps these four horsemen of the monetary apocalypse could shine some light on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which has “lost track” of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and has self-admittedly failed to follow fundamental accounting procedures.

For those who don’t follow the game closely, a bit of background.

Several days ago the “CPA Caucus” – that’s what they call themselves – took a close look at the UW-System budget and found it has a $648 million dollar cash reserve.


The politicians and talk show hosts quickly translated that difficult-to-understand accounting term as “slush fund”.

The “CPA Caucus” (all Republican state representatives: Howard Marklein, Chris Capenga, John Klemke, and Dale Kooyenga) are four guys who are actual CPA’s.  I’d never heard of them before the UW Cash Reserve flap, but then I don’t follow politics that closely.

When the four CPA/Legislators sent ‘round their news escape about the cash reserve, pundits and talk show hosts of every stripe pounced.  This was the worst piece of information ever uncovered, to hear some of them.  My old pal from the Fox Cities, Mike Ellis, nearly popped a blood vessel in his apoplectic rants against Kevin Reilly, the head of the UW System.  Hiding vast sums of cash, cash which, well, it was cash, and to a politician, cash is crack.

Another politician, Robin Vos, whose IQ is somewhere between the average May temperature of Lake Mendota and the July average daily high temperature in Madison, proclaimed to all who would listen that the UW had done nothing but embarrass the state time and again.

That assessment from Vos may be the single most stupid and least truthful statement ever uttered by a politician anywhere.  If not, it’s got to be in the top five.  Our state legislature has done more to embarrass this state in the last ten minutes than anything ever done by any UW System school in the past 165 years.

But the talk show hosts grabbed onto this stuff like BluRay players falling off a truck.  The $648 million quickly became “a billion dollar slush fund” in talk show lingo, and the usual suspects – Charlie and Mark in Milwaukee, Jerry in Green Bay, Miss Vicki in Madison – even my pal Mitch Henck on WIBA-AM in Madison did their best to demagogue this “billion dollar slush fund” into the worst evil ever perpetrated upon the state.

One morning last week I was listening to Mitch rant about it, and he opened the phone lines to his callers to allow them to weigh in.  I was on the Beltline headed for my health club - Princeton Express near PD and Seminole Highway - when the first caller stunned Mitch by saying he thought given the size of the UW System (5.9 Billion dollar budget, 181,000 students on 26 campuses), a cash reserve of 648 million seemed prudent.

For the math-challenged, as a percentage, that 12% cash reserve the UW System has is almost identical to the cash reserve the City of Madison runs: 12%.

The next caller was a woman, who also said she thought it was prudent.  Mitch said “well, you must not be the parent of a UW student, because the parents are the ones who are getting jabbed here”.  The woman paused a beat, and then said “I put two kids through the UW.  I had to take a second job to do it, but I did it.  And I think they got a great education and I think the 648 million dollar reserve is prudent”.  Wisely, Mitch moved on.  (This is what the young folks call “getting pwned”.)

The next caller, probably a regular, because Mitch recognized him, and said “you’re a businessman so I know you have strong feelings about this slush fund” – and, damn! The businessman said he thought, as a businessman, that the cash reserve was prudent.   Pwned again!

By this time I was sitting in my huge gas-sucking foreign-made SUV in the parking lot of the health club, enjoying a laugh at my pal Mitch’s expense, and a FOURTH caller said “prudent”.  Then I went in and pounded the treadmill and punished the weights.  I’m not sure if Mitch was able to gin up any hatred for the UW system because by the time I was done with my routine, Robin was giving the news and then Mitch was on to another topic.

It’s the job of talk show hosts to frame topics to generate emotion (and calls), because I’m sure if Mitch were speaking from the heart, considering the high praise he has graciously heaped on the folks at UW Hospital who treated and rehabilitated him after his recent stroke, he knows the UW has done more good for this state by 9AM on any given day, than any politician will do in their entire career.

And, speaking of posturing – I know posturing is part of the politician’s stock-in-trade, and few are better at it than Michael Gary Ellis.  However, far too many of the dweebs up there under the big top are what I would describe as somewhat clever, not intelligent.  There’s a huge difference.

To borrow the title of a dear friend’s blog, Here’s The Thing: maintaining a cash reserve is prudent. There is simply no other way to look at it.  You can argue that it shouldn’t take four CPA’s to decipher the UW System’s financial statement to uncover it, but you can also argue that hiding the cash reserve from the politicians is a very sound strategy, as well.  In the most recent state budget, Governor Walker and his pals in the legislature raided at least 400 million dollars in funds for purposes other than which they were intended.  And don’t get me going about Jim Doyle and the Transportation Fund.

Now, if only those men in the “CPA Caucus” would take a close look at the budget of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – the outfit Walker and his government-hating pals set up to replace the Department of Commerce and thereby dole out high-paying patronage jobs to their pals in the private sector – they might be able to find where those missing millions are, and straighten things up around there.

Naw.  Ain’t gonna happen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

More False Hero Worship

The man who lifted up the tarp to check and see what – or who – was in his neighbor’s boat is not a hero.

In fact, he seems pretty stupid.

Yet he’s been called a hero for several days now, principally by NBC News (I heard Lester Holt refer to the man as a hero twice on the Saturday “Today” show) and by other national media outlets including CNN, CBS, and many others.

His name, while that’s not really important, is David Henneberry.  At the peak of the biggest manhunt in the nation’s history, with most of the Boston metro shut down, he’s having a smoke in his back yard – which, by the way, is ground zero for the terrorist hunt, something he must have known – and sees  blood and a severed flap on the tarp covering his neighbor’s boat.

So what does dufus do?  Call the cops?  Call 9-1-1?  No.  He grabs a ladder and goes into his neighbor’s yard to see what he can see.

He’s lucky he didn’t get a round between the eyes.

This is quite possibly the stupidest man in Watertown, Massachusetts. 

Above is a photo of the outbuilding at our home (which, for the uninitiated, we refer to as “The Morrissey Compound”).  It’s about 10 feet wide and a little more than 12 feet long.  It’s the kind of shed you’d find on a lot of suburban properties.  We keep our garden tractor in it, store our snowblower in it during the off-season, and there’s room for plenty of yard tools, implements, a wheelbarrow, and a bunch of other stuff.

And plenty of room for a person to hide in.

Let’s suppose that some heinous incident of terrorism has taken place in Madison, and the city is locked down, like Boston was, and every cop in the area has converged on the city and its suburbs to help with the manhunt.  Let’s suppose that the media have been blaring 24/7 that the fugitive is possibly wounded, is likely armed, may have bombs, and is dangerously unhinged, and that if you see him, you shouldn’t try to corner him – you should call the cops.

Let’s suppose my good neighbor Anthony is out in his back yard catching breath of fresh air, and happens to see a trail of blood drops on those old 2x12 boards in front of the doors of my shed, or maybe a bloody smudge on one of the doors.  Do you suppose he would climb the fence between our properties and go see what – or who – might be in the shed?

If you were Anthony, what would you do?  Do you suppose he might call my cell phone and tell me what he’d just seen?  And, perhaps if he didn’t get an answer, leave a message, and warn me that he was going to call 9-1-1 and report it, just to error on the side of caution?

You see where I’m going with this.  And you know what you’d do in a similar circumstance.

David Henneberry, hero?

I don’t think so.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Modern Mass Media Are All Twitter

The side-by-side cover shots above are stolen from my friend John Maniaci’s Facebook page.  John is one of the most talented news photographers in the country, whose work formerly graced the State Journal and the Cap Times. These days John is a colleague of my wife’s at UW-Health, where his phenomenal talent captures unforgettable images of world-class health care providers and the people who benefit from their skill.

Look at the contrast in the two cover-shots above: a true study in divergent approaches to telling a story with a photograph.  To use John’s own words, “Sports Illustrated – tells the story in a single image, instantly, preserving the anonymity of the runner. Time – horrible; says nothing about the race and puts this poor kid front and center.”

To me, the Time Magazine cover photo represents many of the things that are wrong with modern mass (well, not so “mass” any more, for Time) media. Without the caption "Tragedy in Boston", the photo represents nothing but a traumatized child.  Like television, the news magazine's default position has become “EXCESS”.  Images of crying or traumatized children are exploited, just as in the Sandy Hook mass murders.  Televised interviews are fraught with people breaking down in tears.  No cloying emotion is left unexploited.

And the most stupid of questions are asked by supposedly seasoned reporters: “What did it feel like?”

As if we are devoid of imagination, and can’t possibly conceive of what it might be like to be trapped in a classroom or theater with an insane gunman on the loose, or in a group watching an event when suddenly a shrapnel bomb goes off.  As if we can’t imagine what it’s like to have a limb hacked off by a ball-bearing going a thousand miles an hour.

There is no such thing as subtlety in modern mass media; in fact, it’s quite the contrary.

Ten seconds of video showing the bomb-blast on Boylston Street is run over and over and over and over, in a seemingly endless loop – just the same as the media showed the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsing – again and again and again and again. And the frightened children being led away from the schoolhouse, again and again and again, over and over and over.

This is the grist of the modern media mill.

And the insane scramble to get ANY new “information” on the air, which results in huge mistakes in fact.  It’s Ryan Lanza.  No, it’s Adam Lanza.  No, it’s Ryan Lanza.  No, it’s Adam Lanza.  He had four guns.  Or two. Or six. Or ten.  There’s another bomb at the JFK Library.  Wait, no there isn’t.  Wait, there is.  OK now we think there isn’t.  The suspected bomber is in custody.  No, he’s not.  He is.  Is not.

If credibility were important, there’d be a lot of losers in the news game these days.

Modern media has become Twitter – a huge volume of empty talk, a lot of unsupported assertion, a lot of unattributed “fact”, a lot of noise.  Nuggets of truth.

And very little real information.

And no one in news content management insists the time be taken to filter the raw feed and sift the truth from the chaff.

It's all about speed, not accuracy.

And cloying emotion.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Life In The Not-So-Fast Lane

This past weekend, as I often do, I posted a “list of planned activities” as my Facebook status – and the plans included some grocery shopping, watching the Cubs/Giants game, watching the Brewers/Cards game, grilling some beef, and then watching “Zero Dark Thirty” with my wife, and a beer.  Or three.

Not exactly what you’d call a fast-paced, action-packed Saturday.

One of my Facebook friends commented “you are living the dream – I have a test today for licensure and then a trip out to Nebraska to play today and tomorrow”.   I responded that I wouldn’t mind trading the baseball and grilling for his road trip to Nebraska to play with a polka band this weekend.

It’s all relative.

The commenter is a young man just completing his degree at Iowa State University, and is about to start his first job as a band director – just like his dad - in a few months.  If he has half as much success in this profession as his dad has had, he’ll be amazing.  I haven’t met this young man in person – yet - but I feel I know him.   I’d never met his dad before we became friends on Facebook nearly three years ago.   But now, with the tools of communication and technology that weren’t available even a decade ago, we can, to a certain extent, participate and share in other people’s lives.  We can discover people with whom we have so much in common - and never knew!

I also commented to this young man that it seemed stupid that when a major, accredited University like Iowa State grants you a degree in Instrumental Music Education, you ought not to have to take a test that says you’re prepared to do it.  In Wisconsin, if you graduate from one of our two law schools – UW or Marquette – you don’t have to take the bar exam.  That’s the way it should be for every profession.

I also commented to the young man that I’ve been working since my first official job in 1964, and while I’m in life’s slow lane now, he’s just starting out – and is very much in the fast lane.  He’ll work long hours, burn the candle at both ends, and – if he’s lucky – look back on it in his 60’s and regret none of it.

My Facebook friend and commenter is a bit younger than our son, Dru, who’s in life’s fast lane, too.  After graduating from the UW Business School with a degree in accounting, and being on the Dean’s List all the way through,  Dru had to take and pass a long (and expensive) test and had to work in public accounting for a full year before he could put “CPA” behind his name.  Seems silly.

But both these young men are learning that often, life doesn’t make sense.  You’re going to have to take tests you shouldn’t have to take, and overcome obstacles you shouldn’t have to overcome, and prove yourself to others in circumstances where you shouldn’t have to.  As my dad used to say to me, life’s a test in making decisions.  Make enough right ones, and you’ll be successful.  Make too many bad ones, and you won’t be.

As parents, our children grow and develop to an age and place in life where we can’t make decisions for them.  We hope we’ve given them a good example, and the preparation necessary to “make good decisions”.   We’re grateful when they ask us for advice and hope we give good advice.

But they’re in the driver’s seat, and they’re in the fast lane.  That’s the way life works.  And I recall clearly as a young man putting in as many hours as our son did in the past few months of “busy season” for accountants – spending countless hours in a radio or TV studio, learning and doing – and loving every minute of it.

And I remember going on plenty of long weekend road-trips with a band, having a ball, sometimes getting home on Monday just in time to go to work, and then burning the candle at both ends all week – again and again.

I hope these young men enjoy it as much as I did; that they enjoy the fruits of hard work and the rewards of success; and that, when they reach their 60’s, as I did nearly 4 years ago, they’ll also enjoy a far slower pace of life.

Life in the not-so-fast-lane is good.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hitler Certainly Did NOT "Take All The Guns Away"

I’ve had it.  I mean, really had it.  There is no longer any denying the fact that this “first thing Hitler did was take away the guns” meme is a deliberate lie being spread by a certain group of people.

Hitler took the guns away from Jews.  No one else.  The Jews.

This is a historic fact, easily proven, which seems to have no effect on the liars who continue to deliberately spread the untruth.

I don’t give two hoots in hell about gun control.  I’m sorry, I don’t.  It’s all just a bunch of political talk, and our do-nothing Congress has sat on its butt on the gun control issue just like it has on every other issue.  

Yes, I own guns.  No, I don’t think the government is going to make a list (via registration) and come after my guns.  For what it’s worth, “the government” – counting the military and law enforcement personnel (federal agents, cops, sheriff’s deputies, everybody) owns about FOUR MILLION guns.

If it comes down to a gunfight, “the government” is screwed.  Private citizens in this nation own THREE HUNDRED MILLION guns.

Not that ANYBODY in “the government” is talking about taking away anyone’s guns.  You really need to get a mental health exam if your paranoia is so deep that you think Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army is coming to get your guns.

Back to the Hitler lie, which – even though they’ve been called on it time and again – people like Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity continue to repeat day after day.  Here’s the thing. When Hitler grabbed power in Germany, the average household was armed to the teeth with rifles, handguns, and all manner of firearms.  World War 1 was still very much in the recent past, and Germans had PLENTY of guns.

It was far from “the first thing that he did”, but Adolf Hitler DID take guns away from the Jews.  No one else; just the Jews.  And we know what followed.

And those of you who know me well enough know why “what followed” is still a very personal thing.

I know this rant won’t change anything.  But if one more person repeats the “first thing Hitler did was take away the guns” thing within my hearing, I’m going to educate them with a very loud voice.

Monday, April 8, 2013

More Radio Success For John And Tammy

For years, my friends John Flint and Tammy Lee had the top-rated country radio morning show in Madison on Q-106.  I was a very small part of their show, delivering brief news/sports/weather updates twice an hour on their show, and often participating in their great little features like “Spy The Lie”.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if there are two harder working people in radio, I’ve never met them.

John and Tammy’s hard work made Q-106 a dominant radio station in the Madison market, frequently topping the ratings.  Then, about 8 years ago, when it came time for their annual salary review, the brain trust at MidWest Family Broadcasting made the biggest blunder in Madison radio history, a seven-figure mistake that had every professional broadcaster who heard about it shaking their head in disbelief.

More on that, later.

John and Tammy took their show across town to Star County, and proceeded to take that station’s morning show on a rocket-ride up in the ratings, bringing with them a lot of their Q-106 listeners and sponsors.  Star County promptly kicked Q-106’s butt.

Then, a couple years ago, as many of us knew it would, the BIG-TIME came calling for John and Tammy. KSON-FM in San Diego was looking for a new morning show, and made John and Tammy the proverbial offer you can’t refuse.  Big-time radio, MAJOR market – so Tammy and her husband Kurt and John and his wife Stephanie invited their radio pals to a going-away party, and we sent them off to the big city in style.

Just a few days ago, I learned that John and Tammy had taken KSON to the highest ratings in the station’s history.  I didn’t hear about it from them, because they don’t brag about such things, even when it’s a milestone accomplishment.  I read about it in one of the industry’s leading publications, Inside Radio.  Radio ratings company Arbitron, the industry standard, says KSON has been the number-one station in the San Diego market month after month, and this latest month’s rating shows KSON is absolutely dominating the market.

No real surprise.  John and Tammy are that good.  Their success comes naturally, the old-fashioned way.  They work their butts off.  And they are two VERY talented people.

Now, the “inside baseball” stuff.  The dirt.

If you think only a fool would allow those two talented people to take their number-one country radio morning show to the competitor over a few thousand bucks – with literally millions of advertising dollars riding on the decision -  you’d be right.  The person at MidWest who thought John and Tammy were “overpaid as it is” and let them walk had never programmed a radio station.  Had never been in a position which required evaluation of on-air talent.  Had never even done a radio show in any format.  Never wrote or delivered a radio newscast.  Had never written, produced, or sold an ad to a sponsor, nor supervised anyone who had. 

And then, after the fatal blunder was made, walked around the hallways at MidWest showing copies of John and Tammy’s W-2’s, telling anyone who would listen that John and Tammy were greedy a-holes.


And who was running the show over there?  Who was the big dog? Who let this flawed decision happen?  A person with the same qualifications to make on-air personnel judgment as the person who made the blunder.  Zero on-air experience, zero news experience, zero experience in ever trying to sell an ad to a client.

How do such bean-counters get into positions of ultimate authority? 

Take a look at what’s happened to the radio broadcasting industry over the past decade, and you’ll have a strong clue.

As for my friends John and Tammy – the old proverb is true: living well is the best revenge.  Congrats, you two!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

They Are Not All Heroes

Not everyone who put on a uniform and served their country is a hero.  In fact, I believe only a very small percentage of those who served – and are serving – are truly heroes, deserving of our admiration, and our sincere thanks.  The rest are, well, they’re veterans, and as such, deserve our thanks and respect for volunteering to serve their nation.

But calling everyone who puts on a uniform a hero cheapens the word, and it just plain isn’t true.

Bill McClellan, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stirred up a hornet’s nest when he suggested a few days ago that one of the areas in which government spending could be cut would be to stop holding funerals with full military honors for every veteran whose family requests it.  In Missouri, they had about 800 such funerals last year, and each one cost about 400 bucks.

Hate mail, death threats, social media campaigns against him; in short, the kind of stuff columnists usually thrive on.

Before you hate me even more, let me point out I’m the son of a highly-decorated World War 2 Combat Infantry veteran, who was Commander of his American Legion post for decades.  Dad saw plenty of action on the front lines in the European Theater of Operations in the Big War, and of all his ribbons, awards, and citations, he said “I didn’t do anything that an awful lot of other guys did, too”.  And Dad was buried with full military honors, laid to rest by a squadron of riflemen from his American Legion Post (Hammond-Schmidt Post 55).  And those guys, veterans of WW2, Korea, and Viet Nam, gave dad his final sendoff and wouldn’t take a penny.

As I gaze up from my desk, on the high shelf above me, are two .30-06 shells: one from the 21-gun salute fired at my dad’s funeral, and one from the salute fired at Toni’s dad’s funeral.  They remind me not only of Bill and Mario and my other family members who fired and were fired at by the enemy; they remind me of all my friends who were drafted and went to war in Viet Nam.

One of my boyhood pals, Tommy Armitage, was drafted into the Marines, back in the Viet Nam era when Uncle Sam lined up the draftees and went “one-two-three-you’re a Marine, one-two-three-you’re a Marine”.  A few months after Tommy was deployed to Viet Nam, on February 12th of 1969 in Quang Tri Province, he threw himself on a grenade and died saving the lives of four of his fellow Marines.

Tommy was a hero.

But, as McClellan pointed out, not everyone who served is a hero.  Plenty of guys spent their hitch sorting mail, making meals, wrenching on equipment, and doing the myriad other tasks that are necessary in the armed services.  And plenty of young men freely admit they did their time in the armed services because a juvenile judge said “join the Army or go to jail”.

Is everyone who served in the armed forces a hero?  No.

Does everyone who served in the armed forces deserve a funeral with full military honors?  Maybe.

But for those who served in actual combat units, our nation owes them a hell of a lot more than a military send-off with a 21-gun salute and a folded flag handed to the family.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Boss Bruer Deposed!

Tim Bruer, who has been the south-side (District 14) Alder seemingly since John Nolen drew up plans for the city, was knocked out of his city council seat by a decisive 59-41 margin in balloting yesterday.  John Stasser’s win is the end of a long era – 29 years – in Madison politics.  Stasser told the Cap Times he felt Bruer was tired, didn’t campaign aggressively (Bruer only started to actively campaign a few days ago when it appeared he was in trouble), and was done in because he’d become disconnected from his constituents.

Years ago, in my long-time stint as a local news anchor, I referred to him exclusively as “Boss Bruer”. From 1989 until 1996 I lived in his district, in Burr Oaks.  And for many, many years, Tim Bruer was a Boss in the old Chicago style: he knew his constituents, fought battles for them, stood up for the south side, wielded power – a decade ago he chaired the extremely powerful Alcohol License Review Committee – and passed out favors to those who stood with him.

Bruer was a massive presence on the south side.  When troubles at the old Sommerset Circle housing development (now known as Parker Place) came to a boil, and five kids died in a horrible fire there in March of 1990, Bruer fought for and got better living conditions for the people packed into that former hell-hole.

He railed against city hall for constantly trying to make the Park Street corridor and the south side in general a “dumping ground” for low-income housing and half-way houses, and won more battles than he lost.  He got out into the streets and marched with south-siders.  In his day-job, he made sure that people who were cold got help in heating their homes.  He was instrumental in getting a new police station built a few hundred feet from Park Street and Badger Road. 

Shortly after he was elected, he was the force behind getting the old fire station that served the south side…an old building at Park and Fish Hatchery….replaced with a brand new building (Fire Station 6 on Badger Road just west of Park Street), housing an engine company and a paramedic unit, staffed by six full-time Madison firefighters.

When I moved from Middleton (two doors down from Russ Feingold and his famous garage door) to Madison in 1989, one of the very first visitors was Boss Bruer.  He knocked on the door and introduced himself – I said “I know who you are” and he said “I know who you are, too – I hear you on the radio every morning” – welcomed me to the neighborhood, gave me his card, and said “call me any time, and I mean that”.  And I did, often, either to interview him for a news story, or as a constituent.  He returned my calls promptly- every time – and never dodged a hard question.

He could give long-winded speeches at city council meetings, but his passion was never fake.  He knew the issues, he knew the people, he knew his politics. 

If indeed Boss Bruer did get tired, who could blame him?  Three decades of running into brick wall after brick wall….and knocking most of them down….can do that to you.

Stasser says he beat Bruer on the issue of the massive renovation proposed for the huge Nob Hill apartment complex on Moorland Road.  Bruer didn’t like the plan; Stasser says the people wanted the construction jobs the project would create; and that may well have been the Boss’s undoing.

Take a rest, Boss Bruer.  You’ve more than earned it.

And thank you.