Archive for September, 2009

Not necessarily strange bedfellows, yet…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

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This morning at the fall conference of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association in Eau Claire, a cooperative planning initiative between WEDA, Competitive Wisconsin Inc. and the Wisconsin Counties Association was announced by WEDA President Patrick Drinan and CWI Executive Director Bill McCoshen.

WCA Executive Director Mark O’Connell wasn’t on hand, but it creates an interesting dynamic when you consider that McCoshen has been mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for governor and O’Connell as a potential Democrat for the office. Both are long shots, but neither seems willing to dismiss the possibility out of hand just yet. Anything is possible in the next 14 months and people have to treat you with a little more respect if there is even a remote possibility that you could be signing or vetoing their bills come 2011. And while neither are necessarily household names among the general public, they are very to well-known Madison political insiders. Either would bring a lot more charisma to the race than anyone on the current short lists, which makes for some good entertainment and compelling discussion. These are long-time government relations types, as in, well, lobbyists. They know the turf and they know the players.

“We want jobs and the economy to be the pre-eminent issue of the 2010 campaigns,” says McCoshen. Toward that end, a request for proposals was sent out and economic consulting firms submitted four responses for the $200,000 to $300,000 study. The consortium hopes to have something in hand by next April, in plenty of time to impact the agendas of candidates for state legislature and the governor’s mansion in November’s vote. “No more cluster studies,” he added, saying that state has enough inventories. What Wisconsin needs is a strategy.

It’s not anywhere near the first kick at the cat for this kind of thing; just the most recent.

“Competitive Wisconsin believes it is time for a comprehensive economic development plan that will create a competitive economic climate favorable to high-paying jobs and higher per capita income. We must recruit and develop high wage earners and make strategic investments of taxpayer resources to grow our economy and create jobs,” said Tom O’Neill, president of CWI and senior vice president, Marshall & Ilsley Corporation, in November 2007.

What happened? Well, the recession began the following month and the only news release that follows on the CWI site is one from March 2008 praising Governor Doyle’s Clean Energy Plan. The “Wisconsin Competitiveness and Positioning Study” being planned now should give CWI, WEDA and WCA a lot more to talk about next year, if they can raise the money and pull it off. If McCoshen and O’Connell are still holding hands by the time it is published, then the study may get the respect that it will need to have an impact. And if they aren’t, it may get even more notice.

JR

Another fabulous September weekend…

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Oktoberfest Tables - 032

I’ve always been a big fan of fall weather in Wisconsin and this year has been one of the very best I can remember – (which, unfortunately, is becoming a lot of them.) But it’s difficult to beat the combination of warm temperatures, low humidity, cool nights for sleeping, football, geese honking overhead – well, you get the picture because you’re living in it.

This weekend was especially good. Friday night, there was a fundraiser at Malarkey’s for the 400 block. Saturday morning brought thousands of people downtown for United Way activities including a parade and plenty of things to do for the kids. In the afternoon, Bull Falls Brewery opened up their new beer garden out back and hundreds of people showed up for Oktoberfest, featuring a great band playing traditional oompah music and the semi-ceremonial tapping of the first keg of the season’s Oktoberfest beer. Evening brought the Fall Exhibitour downtown, with tons of people enjoying the great weather with a stroll through shops that transformed themselves into art galleries for the evening. A concert on the square put a punctuation mark on the whole thing. This morning, we stopped by the Wausau Whitewater course for the last release of the season, which was being enjoyed by recreational paddlers from several states.

We’ll be scraping frost off our windshields, raking leaves and then shoveling snow soon enough, but at least we’re ramping into with some of the very best that our area has to offer and that is something to savor. Sometimes it’s best to just dump the concerns about policy, the economy and everything else and enjoy what we have instead of focusing on what’s wrong or how things could be better. This weekend was a great opportunity to do that.

JR

The two millionth mile…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on September 13, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Aircraft - Reduced

So for some reason, September 11 to flying is what some people think of as the 13th floor in hotels. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as changing the number on the elevator button and pretending that it doesn’t exist. Dates that live in infamy definitely do LIVE in infamy. You can’t just take them off the calendar because eventually, it will screw up the seasons. Heck, that’s why we have Leap Year.

Fortunately, I’m not superstitious and so while perusing ways to keep my elite card a couple of months back, I noticed that I could do a trip to Fort Lauderdale and back in the same day for $240. Netting out the value of the miles, that’s really only around $172, which would put me over the top for another year, giving me access to better seat selection, first crack at the overhead bins and no bag fees until at least March 2011. Free is nice, but really cheap is the next best thing – especially if it helps keep other free things coming.

Sure, all of this might seem a little goofy to people who don’t play the game, but I do. Completing the trip also meant bagging my two millionth frequent flyer mile from Northwest since 1997 and I’ve had a lot of fun with all of those. The other thing about it is that when I became a travel maggot some years back, I learned that there is a parallel universe in which experienced road warriors travel. There is a reason you don’t see them in the gate area until shortly before the flight or paying for high-priced, mediocre drinks in the bar. They are in comfy lounges with snacks, bars, free Wi-Fi and oversized televisions with cushy chairs. The road warriors also get shorter security lines and often get upgraded to first class.  While I don’t really travel enough to justify the club membership rates anymore, I still have a card that is good for another year from the time when I did.

So I hopped on board at CWA for my first leg to Detroit, snoozing through the SAAB flight and comfortable in the knowledge that the Detroit-Fort Lauderdale leg would be in first class, which would mean a bigger seat, free lunch and cocktails. This is not hard duty. The weather was nice in Florida – about the same as it was here in Wausau this weekend. With the upgrade gods smiling on me, I picked up seat 1A for the flight back to Minneapolis. A moment of silence was marked in the Fort Lauderdale airport to mark the eighth anniversary of 9-11. Thai chicken salad, some Chardonnay and another nap later, we were landing in the Twin Cities. It was a quick connection there and I was home in Wausau before 9 p.m.

If all of this seems nuts to you, then I’m guessing you stopped reading by now. If it sounds mildly interesting, you are not alone. There is a website dedicated to travel spiff lunatics: www.flyertalk.com. There, you will learn all you need to know about frequent flyer miles, hotel points, elite status and anything else related to getting more for less with travel. It may not make sense to anyone else, but it will be abundantly clear to you when you’re flying home from Europe on another trip that you got by knowing the game.

JR

A star is born: Joe the Congressman…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg
 
 
 Addison Graves Wilson, Sr. (R-SC), who goes by “Joe,” won re-election in 2008 to his Congressional seat by his closest margin since first assuming office in 2000, but it was a still comfortable 54-46 percentage spread. Last night, he felt compelled to holler something on the order of “YOU LIE!” at the President during a joint session of Congress, in which Obama was discussing health care reform. Within an hour, he found himself as the top trending topic on Twitter and his face was plastered all over the internet.

By the time the night was over, Congressman Wilson had raised tens of thousands of dollars for his opponent, Rob Miller, as outraged viewers poured in online donations on sites like Actblue.com and others. According to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Miller had raised more than $100,000 from more than 3,000 contributors in the first eight hours after Wilson’s outburst. Wilson had been forced to make a public apology – fellow Republican John McCain being one of the first to call for it. His Wikipedia page contained a notice: “Editing of this article by new or unregistered users is currently disabled due to vandalism.” His office phone number was being passed around on the internet like a new Britney Spears video.

This is what happens with anti-social comments in the age of social media. Word gets around. Quickly.

I’m not going to jump out and say that Joe the Congressman is necessarily going to end up being the loser on this thing just yet. It could well be that dysfunctionals of the conservative stripe will shore up his campaign fund just as generously as his new flock of detractors from far and wide, if not more so. It could be that in the Carolinas – which brought us the dark entertainment of high-profile scandals like John Edwards from the North and Governor Sanford in the South – this is small potatoes. At this point, Joe the Congressman probably has just as great a chance of becoming a folk hero as “Going Back to Carolina,” in the words of James Taylor.

What is pretty much certain, however, is that Joe is going to be seeing a lot more of his opponent over the next year, thanks to fattening up Rob Miller’s campaign fund and giving him the kind of national fundraising fodder that most opponents could only pray for.

JR

 

Labor Day finds many looking for work…

Posted in Uncategorized on September 4, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Town Hall - Reduced - 013

There is some cruel irony in Labor Day this year since the unemployment rate is about double in these parts in comparison to where it stood last September. Ten years ago in our area, the unadjusted unemployment rate was listed at 2.2 percent. By 2008, that number was still only 3.9 percent. This year, the rate has more than doubled and it’s more like 9 percent — though the news has gone from steadily worsening to a little more mixed in recent months. It is possible that unemployment peaked around June and we are now slowly climbing back from the abyss. Let’s hope so. Nationwide, unemployment is at a 26-year high. Longer term, experts still see labor shortages as a potential issue going forward as the baby boomers retire. (Do you know anyone who still plans on retiring?)

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Another piece of good news: natural gas heating bills should be substantially lower this winter. Although it too early to predict how much lower, they could be down by as much as a third in many areas of the country. That’s not all good news, but some of it is. The good part is that new technologies are facilitating upward revisions in the amount of natural gas available, leaving us with the highest level of known reserves in around four decades. The bad news is that soft demand from slowed and shuttered industrial operations is a big part of the glut. When gas prices begin rising again, the mixed blessing is that more people are likely to have the income to pay for them. In the meantime, I calculated the drop on the “natural gas costs” portion of my company’s residential gas bills between July 2008 and this month at 76.5 percent. That’s big savings, if it prevails into the heating season —  and it could be an even larger figure for October.

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Green Bay area BOGO boobs billboard makes CNN via WLUK:

http://tinyurl.com/nzraqj

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Some people are trying to say Congressman Dave Obey is “hiding” after he elected to hold a teleconference call on health care reform that attracted 13,000 participants. I listened in and I thought it was a good use of technology. Moreover, it’s clear that some people out there are more interested in trying to create embarrassing moments for Youtube than in actually discussing the issue because their minds are made up. We now have some parents objecting to schools showing an address for the Nation’s school children by President Barack Obama because they feel it is a political move. One commented that he or she even objected to schools showing the Inauguration last January. I have a few observations on this.

First, let’s remember that we’re talking about the President of the United States, who was elected with a margin of nearly 10 million votes less than a year ago. School kids didn’t put him there and they won’t keep him there, either. People need to respect both the office and the will of the electorate. Some folks seem to think that they need to carry on the campaign 365 days a year, every year. Hiding kids from hearing the President smacks of desperation politics and it is the antithesis of patriotism. I’m happy that my grandkids got to see George Bush speak, even though I disagreed with many of his policies. Patriotism isn’t just about supporting our system when you’re getting your way.

Second, I’ve run into Congressman Obey and spoken with him three times in the past few weeks. Just because he’s not willing to host a venue for detractors to try to make the kinds of scenes that they’ve been staging all over the country doesn’t mean he’s not talking about the issue, he’s not listening or he’s not accessible. I admire U.S. Senator Russ Feingold greatly for soldiering on with his listening sessions in every Wisconsin County year this year, but I don’t fault others for using a different approach. If you haven’t heard how Congressman Obey feels about health care reform, then you’re either not listening or you’re deaf. Would-be opponents in the 2010 election can stage all of the events that they want and try to act like they should be on an equal footing with actual policymakers, but the fact is that talk is cheap and they’re not. (Of course, talk may also be expensive if you’re paying to have John Stossel rally your troops, but he’s not a policymaker, either.)

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On the subject of health care, let’s not pretend that there aren’t real problems with our present system or that the free market is going to solve them. It leaves nearly 50 million people on the outside looking in. It leaves tens of millions more with inadequate coverage and routinely puts new people at risk. About a third of the resources are expended on administration. This system will continue to bankrupt individuals, companies, the government and our economy if it is allowed to continue along its present trajectory. When I first began discussing this issue with people in the 1980s, health care was consuming about 12 percent of GDP. It’s now up to 17.5 percent. Even if we LIKED this system – and I don’t, even though my own coverage is pretty good by most standards — it would need to be reformed.

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I liked what George Will had to say about Afghanistan this past week. How about we get the hell out of there as quickly as we possibly can?

JR