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  • OPINION - A critical moment for school vouchers

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   I’m fascinated by the debate over school vouchers. Many republicans like them in theory, but in practice they’d prefer the voucher program be in someone else’s district. There are enough Republican lawmakers in the Green Bay area who don’t want vouchers for their schools that the entire plan may not have the votes to be approved.

    So there’s an alternative being proposed. Tax credits would offset the tuition that families pay to send their kids to private schools. It would be up to $2,500 for private high schools and $1,500 for private grade schools.

    Governor Walker is right to say vouchers and tax credits are not the same. If expanding the voucher program is his ultimate goal, accepting tax credits as an alternative could be like taking half-a-loaf forever. Vouchers might be off the table forever.

    Consider the difference: the voucher is given to families up-front. It can be used as cash when presented with a private school’s tuition bill. The tax credit is back-loaded. Families have to spend their own real dollars, and get some of the money back when they file their tax returns. There’s no private school that would accept a student based on an “I’ll pay you when my tax refund arrives” basis. The tax credit helps middle and upper class families who can float the money. It doesn’t help the poor who don’t have the cash for tuition on-hand. And allowing poor students to escape under-performing schools is the number-one goal of school choice.

    This illustrates how difficult an issue school choice is. School districts are terrified about a large-scale exodus if students and their families have more options. It’s sad that the response from the school establishment is to try killing the program instead of improving their schools.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - The jail incident

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) What caused last week’s Corrections Officer assault in the Marathon County jail?

    Let’s start with what didn’t cause it:

    This was not the result of jail overcrowding. There are many, many jails across the country that house more inmates that they’re designed to. A jail can, within reason, be above capacity and still be run safety.

    This was also not the result of low staffing levels. There’s a trend well underway that relies more on electronics – cameras, motion-sensors, etc – and fewer actual guards.

    What did cause it was an unruly inmate, with mental health issues, who wasn’t taking his medication.

    I see a few things that aren’t right with this picture.

    For starters, inmates with mental health problems should not have the option of refusing their meds. Whether or not to take medication is the right of free people. Those who are incarcerated should lose the right to make that decision. Force-medicating an inmate is difficult and unpleasant, but the alternative is someone who’s potentially violent and a danger to others.

    I’m not sure if giving tasers to corrections officers is the answer. Any weapon can be turned on an officer if they have to tangle with an inmate. Most court-bailiffs are not armed for the same reason. Police officers know if they get into a street-scuffle, priority number one is to make sure your service-weapon isn’t taken. I’d favor bigger, burly prison guards who are simply stronger and more intimidating than the inmates they supervise. The informal jailhouse rules that the consequences for assaulting a guard are so unpleasant that most inmates won’t bother needs to be reestablished.

    There is another factor that’s part of the context of this story. It’s not a direct cause. It is part of the background. All of these issues surrounding the jail; staffing, jail capacity, tasers, medication, electronic monitoring, security, the demeanor and posture of the staff, are all management issues. Whoever’s in charge needs to evaluate, monitor, and ultimately make choices about how the jail will be run. The person who has ultimate responsibility for the jail is the sheriff. Marathon County has had an absentee sheriff who’s skimped on his office hours for months and has now, finally, retired. Changing that is part of the solution.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - D.C. Everest Confessions

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you’re Catholic, you know about the sacrament of confession. The faithful are supposed to regularly confess their sins to a priest, and be told of their forgiveness. Fewer and fewer Catholics actually go to confession. Many surveys tell us that not wanting to confess sins is one of the reasons why young people leave the church.

    Facebook has become the new forum for confession. Anonymous web pages have popped up where people can post their sins. Many of these pages quickly turn into gossip and rumor-mills about others.

    There’s a D.C. Everest High School confessions page on Facebook. Much of the content is vicious and disgusting.


    Imagine the postings:

    Jim and I got high behind the bleachers last night

    I had sex in the back seat of my car with Jill after the game

    Craig’s father propositioned me last summer

    I saw my English teacher Mr. Jones drunk last weekend

    Mike is gay

    There are already dozens of posts, and many of them are similar to my examples. Some of the actual comments are too lewd for this blog.  I'm sure there are many other "confessions" pages that cover other schools.


    A few thoughts on this:

    First, and most obvious to me, people who grant themselves anonymity while revealing someone else’s secrets are the worst kinds of cowards. The thinking that goes ‘I won’t let anyone know who I am… but I’ll hold someone else up, by name, to ridicule and shame’ is pathetic.

    Secondly, I’ve spent a lot of time around D.C. Everest High School in the last year. The students I’ve met have been friendly, intelligent, responsible, and well-adjusted. Obviously, I don’t know everyone. I hope the students I know – the ‘good ones’ – will take the lead in letting their classmates know that this isn’t acceptable. With the internet and social media, an entire school’s reputation can be trashed by a few irresponsible posts… unless others stand up and put a stop to it. Post that are made about someone else can live on forever and can be seen by everyone. It's completely unfair to people who've live upright lives to be carelessly dragged through the mud this way.

    Lastly, we’re about to see one of the weaknesses of Facebook. Under their terms of use this type of Facebook page should not be allowed. There are clear policies about bullying, harassment, and slander – this page violates all of them. But Facebook is very slow at responding to complaints and enforcing its own rules. They seem to have a backlog of flagged postings. The process takes too long. Thousands of people will see these posts before they’re eventually taken down.


    Let’s go back to the church confessional for a moment. The most important thing that happens there isn’t the admitting of one’s sins, it’s when the priest tells you of God’s love and forgiveness. Confession without a striving to rise above one’s shortcomings is meaningless. The value of confession is reconciliation. The people posting on the D.C. Everest confessions web page don’t get it. They won’t – until one of the posts is about them.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Not-so-permanent cuts

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEW BLOG (WSAU) Sequester cuts were supposed to be unavoidable and irreversible unless there was a long-term budget deal. President Obama vowed that he’d veto any bill that reached his desk that would un-do or soften sequester cuts. It was all-or-nothing. If there wasn’t a budget deal to be had, the meat-cleaver cuts of the sequester would take effect.

    One of the biggest arguments against sequester was that the cuts were so indiscriminate. The scientific study that examines the mating habits of snails and air traffic controller at small airports were all in the same boat. There was no way to separate the wasteful from the necessary.

    But, that’s not true. Today’s Washington Post reports there is one federal department – The U.S. Department of Agriculture – was able to get spending cuts reversed. That department, using a combination of its friends in Congress, lobbyists, and a negative PR campaign managed to get its cuts reversed. The threat: all beef inspections in the U.S. would be shut down for 11 days because of sequester cuts.

    But why is that any worse than the other items that were ticked off on the list-of-horribles? Remember, the FBI was going to close case files and let criminals go free. Boarder patrol agents were going to be cut, allowing more illegals in. School lunch programs would be cut. Fewer emergency responders. White House tours would be cut.

    The White House has already offered the argument that its opponents in Congress are to blame for sequester consequences. White House spokesman Jay Carney told us last month that any economic data that disappoints would have been better if only a sequester-avoiding budget plan was in-place. Angry about a cut? Call your Congressman and tell them to make a deal.

    But obviously the White House was not willing to accept food poisoning from bad meat because of sequester. But what about air traffic safety? They are willing to risk runway collisions because air traffic control towers are closed. If, God forbid, there was a mid-air collision in CWA’s airspace – would it be the fault of those who apposed a budget deal. Would it be a ‘Republican crash’?

    We already know that the impacts of the sequester were overblown. The White House memo to department heads to emphasize sequester-related inconveniences has already leaked. Now we know that the permanency and irreversibility of sequester cuts is a falsehood.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Death, dying and Easter

    Posted by Chris Conley



    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Dying is one of the themes of the Christian holy days. What happens when we die? What should we expect? Are we passing from one phase of existence to another? Is the end really the end?

    This is a particularly sad Easter for me and other members of First United Methodist Church in Wausau.  Rev. Karen Ebert died earlier this week.  She arrived as the church’s new minister the same weekend my family arrived in Wausau. A few years later she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. She was given only a few months to live; she lived for nearly four years. A mixed blessing to be sure. She got much more time than most people with her illness. Yet 50 is very young to die.

    I think back my grandmother’s death. She grew up in a religious household but drifted away from her faith over time. Near the end of her life she struggled with issues of faith and mortality. What if God is real? What if sin and morality do matter? What if forgiveness and reconciliation with the Creator are important? For someone who has no faith, the end of life is full of torment and doubt. What lies beyond? Nothing? I hope my grandmother made peace with those questions before her time ended. I don't think she did. A death where you are swept away into darkness would be terrifying. 

    Dying while full of faith is different. Yes, you might be sad for loved ones who’ll be left without you, and regrets over what was or wasn’t accomplished during your life. But ending life with an unshakable faith allows you to leave this earth anticipating a new beginning. Shortcomings forgiven. Perfection on the other side. Blessed assurance.

    Our faith gives us instructions on how to live life, even though we may often fall short. Faith also tells us about dying. At the end of our lives, faith may be the greatest comfort we have.

    That's what I'm thinking about on this Easter – a holiday about dying and what lies ahead.  Rev. Ebert would appreciate the discussion. She died with certainty. My thoughts are with her family and her many friends.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Walker for President?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Wisconsin governor Scott Walker

    I'm back from vacation; and the WSAU News Blog returns.


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) During vacation, out-of-staters asked me several times about Scott Walker and whether he might run for the White House. The old adage is watch what people do, not what they say. I don’t have any great insights as to whether Walker will run, but it’s clear he’s doing everything to keep his options open.

    His out-of-state speaking engagements are a clue; so are his non-committal answers on DOMA. Writing a book is another tell-tale sign.

    Why do politicians write books when they seek higher office? For starters, it allows them to stake out positions with their base. Only conservative Republicans are likely to read a book about politics by Scott Walker. That’s a base that he’d need as the foundation for a national campaign. A book also offers a way to explain away liabilities in your own words. When asked about controversial issues by reporters later on, the standard answer is “… I addressed that in my book,” and then pivot to a well-rehearsed talking-point answer. A memoir is a last-best way for unfiltered communication. Once you’re a declared candidate all of your answers and positions get filtered through the media.

    I think Walker’s liabilities as a national candidate are stronger than his assets: he doesn’t hold a college degree, he’s polarizing, and the John Doe investigation would be dredged-up again.

    Is he eyeing higher office? He’s clearly thinking about it. He’s doing all the things that keep those choices on the table.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Food stamp follies

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You can imagine how people feel about this. You’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Food prices are up. You’ve clipped coupons and are buying more store-brands than to stay within budget. You’ve settled for hamburger instead of steak.

    The person in front of you is buying two juicy t-bones. Their cart also had snack food and beer, and they’re getting cigarettes as they check-out. And they have a Forward Card. They’re on food stamps. (As a point of information, they have to pay cash for the booze and cigs. But the point isn’t lost on you that the taxpayer-largess freed up enough money for them to enjoy their vices.)
    State Rep Dean Kaufert (R ) wants new limits on what people and can’t buy with their food-stamp dollars. He’s heard complaints that maybe food-stamps are too generous if people who are in the program eat better than those who aren’t. I wouldn’t be happy about it either.

    But, limiting the types of food people can buy with food stamps is a fool’s errand.

    If someone makes more-expensive food choices, the only consequences are that their food dollars won’t go as far. They still have to eat, and they’ll only have to use more of their own money to make up the difference. And, since they need to meet income requirements to be food stamp recipients, they have less money to spend on food than you do. Assuming they aren’t going to starve, they have lay out hard cash to round out their meals.

    None of this negates the underlying facts: the number of people on food stamps is scandalously high, and there are some abuses. But if you’re frustrated by seeing people buy premium-food at the supermarket, imagine how you’ll feel when a food-stamps shopper ties to check-out in front of you and half their purchases are rejected at the register. Get stuck behind them, and watch your anger boil over.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Afternoon games

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you’re a regular WSAU listener, you know there was a Wisconsin Badgers basketball game this afternoon. The Badgers-Michigan game had a 12:30pm broadcast time, with a 1:30pm tip-off.

    This seems like a good time to discuss what to expect on those rare occasions when there’s a sporting event that falls on a weekday afternoon.

    First, in many cases we are under contract to air the sporting event. When you’re the affiliate of a major college athletic program or a major league baseball team, you don’t get to pick and choose the games you air.


    Those same contracts limit the circumstances when we can move sports broadcasts to Fox Sports 1390/93.9. The stations don't have the same coverage areas, which makes a "move" problematic for our advertisers, and for listeners in the southern part of WSAU's coverage area. Similarly, we're not allowed to "split" WSAU's AM and FM signals.  They are permanently-coupled simulcasts.

    Our broadcast plan is to keep our regular programming (usually Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) on our web stream during the sports broadcast. And, when the game is over, we’ll play back The Rest of Rush on AM-550 FM-99.9. Admittedly, these are imperfect solutions. Not everyone can listen on-line. And not everyone can listen to their favorite programs when we time-shift the last hour or two. However, this is the best solution available which allows us to accommodate our sports-fan listeners and our news/talk listeners.

    As I’ve said before, if I was in charge of the Big 10 tournament or the Brewers baseball schedule, they’d always play on weeknights and weekends.
    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - A liberal Pope? Please!

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) News coverage of choosing a pope is almost like covering the NFL draft. We speculate endlessly about who is going to be chosen, and the various strengths and weaknesses of the possibilities. And just like mock draft-boards are ultimately wrong the moment the actual selections begin the papal speculation is also wrong.

    Not only is much of our pre-conclave commentary simply inaccurate, I think a lot of the selection criteria that we talk about is ultimately not what the College of Cardinals considers. We think in terms of conservative or liberal. In truth, anyone who rises to the position of Cardinal is conservative on issues of church doctrine. Almost all of the voting Cardinals were installed by doctrinal-conservatives John Paul II or Benedict.

    I think there may be some discussion at Conclave of outsider vs. insider… Pope Francis is indeed an outsider who’s spent almost none of his ministry at the Vatican, in contrast to Benedict who was very much an insider. I also don’t think there’s as much emphasis on geography. We’re caught up in the novelty of a ‘Pope from the Americas’. It’s more likely the selectors debated and prayed over who among them is most likely to reflect the face of Jesus in the modern world. Against that yardstick, Francis is an excellent choice. Christ taught the poor. He healed and comforted the sick. He ate with outcasts and prostitutes. He rejected the earthy trappings of wealth and privilege. Pope Francis seems to reflect those Christ-like values perfectly. As a Jesuit, education is a cornerstone of his ministry. Many of his priests in Argentina are ‘shoe leather Fathers’ who go out into the countryside to evangelize. Francis lived in a small apartment in Buenos Aires, cooked his own meals, and took the bus to work. (He declined the lavish Archbishops residence, with servants and a chauffeur.) The cross he wore as he appeared on the balcony was a simple wood carving, not a jewel-encrusted crucifix.

    As an outsider, Francis will have a fighting chance to clear out some of the graft within the Curia. He doesn’t have personal ties to church administrators in Rome where much of the corruption and scandal reside.

    Francis is not a conservative or a liberal. He’s a servant. Reflect upon the opening words of his papacy: “true reform takes place in our hearts.” His emphasis on the poor does not make him ‘a liberal Pope.' The Roman Catholic church is the largest charitable organization in the world. Unlike governments that may forcibly collect taxes and redistribute it to the poor, the Church is funded by the voluntary contributions of its members. The faithful expect their offerings and tithes to be used to help build God's kingdom on Earth. That kind of charity is in the best tradition of conservatives.

    I’m a Protestant. All of the faithful will be strengthened by Francis. May God bless his leadership.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Sobriety checkpoints

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I was ticketed once at a sobriety checkpoint. I hadn’t been drinking. But I had a big mouth – and I paid for it.

    I was working in Ithaca, New York. On a Saturday afternoon I was out covering a news story. It was a fluff-piece, a fundraising event that would air on Monday morning’s newscasts. It was a beautiful spring day, and I didn’t want to be working. My intention was to get back to the newsroom, file my story as quickly as possible, and get on with my weekend.

    The police checkpoint was in a perfect spot, around a gentle bending curve on one of the main roads to downtown. Traffic was backed up. My first thought was that there was an accident ahead. Only when slowly creeping around the  bend could you see what was happening.

    It took about a twenty-minutes to get to the front of the line. My working-weekend was already taking much longer than I’d expected. I was angry and frustrated when the officer finally got to my car.

    “Hello,” he said. “Where are you going this afternoon?”

    “None of your business,” I said.

    And, with that, I was told to pull ahead into the ‘screening area’. I thought they’d make me take a breath test out of spite. They didn’t. Instead I was ticketed for not wearing my seatbelt – which, indeed, I was not wearing. My big mouth cost me a $20 fine, plus a $50 court fee, and $30 in administrative charges. $100 for not being compliant.

    I should not have been disrespectful to the police officer. But, in hindsight, I was the one being disrespected. Police stopped me for no reason, delayed me on my way to work, and questioned me without probable cause.

    I’ve blogged numerous times about doing more to stop drunk driving. The solution is to crack down within the boundaries of the law. Random sobriety checkpoints should be out-of-bounds.

    Chris Conley


  • OPINION - A Land Mine?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    A Glock handgun available in a raffle promotion is shown at Adventures Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia, October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   Carolyn Bronston, a private citizen, has written an incredible letter to Wausau Daily Herald.

    She writes in support of stricter gun control. She says, "a gun is a land mine. It explodes when exposed to agitation."

    She goes on to write about any number of situations when someone who has a gun might become agitated, from parking lot disputes, to domestic violence, to where someone's machismo is threatened. She writes, " When any one land mine will be agitated is unpredictable. The more land mines there are around, the more likely you’ll be hurt by one." She offers the "solution" of minimizing the quantity and firepower of guns, additional gun licensing, and strict penalties when someone's "land mine" is lost or stolen.

    This is how much hyperbole there is surrounding the debate over guns. Of course, Ms. Bronston neglects to tell us that gun rights are enshrined in our Constitution. That alone makes them different. Our Founding Fathers specifically allotted for an armed citizenry. If someone wishes to advance the argument that guns are so dangerous that they are likened to land mines, they should advocate repealing the Second Amendment. That's too heavy a load for them to carry.

    Truth is, a gun is nothing like a land mine. The former operates with active intent -- a thinking, sentient being must pull the trigger. The latter sits passively, buried under the earth and out of view, until some poor someone comes along and steps on it.

    My thinking is that a gun is more like your kitchen stove than a land mine. When used properly, it's entirely practical and functional. The stove cooks food for you to eat. The gun can be used for hunting, personal protection, or military combat. When misused, they are both incredibly destructive. The gun can take innocent life. The stove can start a fire that burns your house down. In the proper hands and with proper training, neither should be feared.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Bankrupt

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Photo of Mayor Halverson

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  I know a family with a very sick child. Some of their son’s medical treatments are considered experimental and aren’t paid for by their health coverage. They took a second-mortgage on their home while they fight with their insurance company.

    I know another friend who most people would describe as a playboy – never settled down, never saved, and spent his money on fast cars and racy women.

    Both declared bankruptcy.

    My point is that not all bankruptcies are created equal.

    We should keep that in mind as we consider Andrew Halverson’s personal bankruptcy.

    The Mayor of Stevens Point went $200,000 into debt trying to save his men’s clothing store. The store went bust, and Halverson couldn’t pay off his creditors.

    Here’s a good question for people to ask themselves if they run a business: ‘If I were to start my company over again today, how would it be different?’ Leaders who change with the times aren’t afraid of the answer, and they’re prepared to move towards it. Companies that can’t adapt to the times have no future. Fewer men ‘dress up’ at work. Casual Friday has spread to Monday and beyond. Ties and sports jackets are out for many. Those are all trends that work against a menswear shop. And that all assumes pricing and selection are comparable to the internet – which usually isn’t the case.

    This isn’t someone who played fast-and-loose and was financially reckless. It’s someone who watched his life’s work be wiped out by changes in buying trends and the economy. Obviously the mayor isn’t such a good businessman, but I don’t think this case reflects on his ability to run city finances. There are some opponents who will use the bankruptcy against him. They shouldn’t.

    Chris Conley