WSAU News Blog Graphic WSAU News

  • OPINION - Political expediency and a former President

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton looks towards the audience during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 25, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Today’s blog is not about whether gays should have the right to marry. Today’s blog is about the 42nd President of the United States.

    Bill Clinton penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be overturned. This is the federal law that Mr. Clinton signed in 1996. He now says DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    This is the poster-case for seeing the Constitution as a ‘living document’. (An important distinction here: DOMA is not a Constitutional amendment, it’s merely a federal law.) Clinton’s basic argument is that times change, and the mood of the country is different now than it was then. Yet he says the law is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause, treating gay couples differently from opposite-sex couples. One would think the equal protection clause, with 300-plus years of history behind it, doesn't twist in the wind of public opinion.

    This is not an equal protection case at all. It’s a state’s rights case.

    Under federalism, rights that aren’t specifically granted in the Constitution are reserved for the states and individuals. And the Constitution is silent on marriage.

    Is it practical to leave this decision to individual states? We have until now. States already have diverse marriage laws. 16- and 17-year olds can marry in some states with parental consent; they can’t in others. Nebraska has an age limit of 19; it’s 21 in Mississippi. Is a 20-year-old couple in Mississippi denied equal protection? You can legally marry your first-cousin in Georgia, but not in Pennsylvania. For many years Maryland didn’t require a marriage license, while Florida requires a 4-hour couples course before a license is issued. Any equal protection problems here?

    If the people in some states determine that gay couples can marry, they will shape their laws accordingly. Other states may decide differently. States that favor gay marriage might also send representatives to Washington that reflect those views.

    So what about DOMA, a federal (not state) law? If Bill Clinton is right, and public opinion is changing, he should propose a bill for Congress to repeal it. I wonder if the Supreme Court will be as unwilling to undo the will of Congress as they were in the Obamacare ruling. Clinton says he signed an unconstitutional law, and would like the courts to undo it. The truth is more complicated. Mr. Clinton signed DOMA in his first term. He did it because he knew the voters would not have reelected him if he didn’t. Did political expediency trump the Constitution, Mr. Clinton?

    Chris Conley

  • THEATER REVIEW - Jesus Christ Superstar

    Posted by Chris Conley

    THEATER REVIEW (WSAU)   “They just did that,” is one of the first things I heard when Jesus Christ Superstar was announced as part of this year’s Wausau Community Theater season. Actually it was seven years ago. And, back then, everything fell into place. Word of mouth was outstanding. Box office was strong. It’s one of the few WCT shows that I missed, and I’ve been told it was one of their best.

    Not much has changed since then. Jesus Christ Superstar is attractive to would-be cast members for auditions; almost everyone who grew up in the 70s knows the music. This is still be a popular ticket for church youth groups. It’s no secret that this play was picked, in-part, for economic reasons. The bottom line looked good in 2006 and a reprise was asked for via WCT's audience survey. Ultimately, seats must be filled. Expenses are rising, performance rights are expensive, and attracting a big audience is only way to make the ledger balance. 40-years later, this still qualifies as a “hip” musical. There’s no reason not to expect it won't all happen again.

    You'll know right away that a good cast has been assembled. Judas is the complicated role. Sir B. Ugly had me convinced right after he sung "my mind is clearer now..." that he was both a strong and expressive singer. He gets the lead vocals in the "Super Star" sequence and leads the company through a visually striking finale. Much of the story is told from Judas' view, forcing to consider familiar material from a different perspective. This is the lynch pin of the entire evening, and it's very well done.

    The role of Jesus is actually much more straight-forward than Judas. Zachary Wilde is a good singer and looks perfect on-stage, particularly in the momerts when Christ must appear conflicted - which is the critical expression that must be summoned often.

    Many of the supporting roles are well done. Jason Zell's Pilate is visually haunting and well-delivered. Jeff McDonald brings the right touch to "Herod's Dream". There's no joy to found in playing Caiaphas, but Michael Wasilczuk has an excellent sense of timing. Dan Flees' guitar-playing was the orchestral highlight of the evening.

    I have special praises for Cindy Kearns as Mary Magdalene. Far too often I've seen this part given to a Broadway songbird who's asked to deliver gentle, haunting lyrics. The multiple New York and London cast albums mostly fall into this trap. Even original singer Yvonne Elliman is too polished to get the material right. Kearns has a rougher, raspy voice -- and she's a much better fit. Mary Magdalene isn't a blushing violet. Unpolished edges are needed, and, finally, that's what we get.

    Over time, lyricist Tim Rice has come to see the stage version of his rock opera as off-the-mark, saying Jesus’ humanity is emphasized over his divinity. Rice said Jesus is depicted as “the right man, in the right place, at the right time,” which is remarkable for someone who wrote the words. Actually, Rice is wrong. Whether you accept the divine Jesus is a question of faith. What to make Jesus’ humanity is open for discussion. Judas sees Jesus as a human charismatic who’s come off the rails. Mary Magdalene, who knows too much about the ways of men, is certain there’s something different about this person. Her singing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” has always, for me, been a high point. When well-sung, she almost asks the audience the question, ‘what do you make of him?’ That's more thought-provoking than you'd expect from a rock opera.

    Among other things, I make this out to be a very good night at the theater.


    Chris Conley


    Here is an archive of past theater reviews from around Central Wisconsin:




    CAMELOT (Oct 26, 2012)


    ANNIE (Sept 4, 2012)




    A CHORUS LINE (Jun 21, 2012)


    DR DOLITTLE (Mar 17, 2012)


    A CHHRISTMAS CAROL – 2011 (Dec 18, 2011)


    MAN OF LAMANCHA (Nov 6, 2011)




    OKLAHOMA(Sept 8, 2011)


    EVITA (Aug 8, 2011)




    SMOKEY JOES CAFE (Jun 23, 2011)


    KISS ME, KATE (Apr 17, 2011)


    HELLO DOLLY! (Mar 11, 2011)


    PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Feb 18, 2011)


    A CHRISTMAS CAROL - 2010 (Dec 17, 2010) 


    THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Nov 4, 2010)


    PIRATES OF PENZANCE (Sept 17, 2010)


    MISS SAIGON (Aug 8, 2010)


    RENT (June 18, 2010)


    FIDDLER ON THE ROOF  (Mar 5, 2010)

  • OPINION - Failed socialism

    Posted by Chris Conley

    File:Hugo Chavez in Guatemala.jpg

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  My family follows the news from Venezuela with some interest. My grandfather lived there for two years. He left his family behind in New York, and worked as an industrial engineer building the oil fields. Eventually his wife and two children would join him. My father, 15 at the time, went to high school in Venezuela for a year.

    My grandparents had fond memories of their time there. They lived in a gated community in the hills overlooking Caracas. Foreign managers lived well there – a better standard of living than they’d have in the U.S. And since many living expenses were included with their job, it was possible to bank a lot of cash for the return to the U.S. when the Venezuelan project was done.

    But my grandparents packed up and left Venezuela on 24-hours notice. A government minister who became a family friend told them of a military coup that was imminent. They returned to New York that night, a day before tanks rolled through the capital.

    The oil fields my grandfather helped to build were developed by Royal Dutch Shell – foreign investors who were invited into Venezuela to help develop that nation’s natural resources. All were taken – stolen – by the government when Hugo Chavez nationalized the oil industry in 2006. Mining, telecommunications, electric companies and water-works were nationalized in short order.

    Anyone who wants to see the shortcomings of socialism needs to look no further than these industries under Chavez’ control. Oil output plummeted. The government doesn’t have the expertise to run the oil fields. They don’t have access to the new technology that’s needed to bring more oil to market. No foreign company will invest there. Corruption and graft are rampant. At a time when crude oil was selling for $105 a barrel, Venezuela couldn’t capitalize. The amount of money that didn’t flow into the Venezuelan economy is staggering. The other nationalized industries didn’t fare much better. There were rolling blackouts in some industries because there wasn’t enough electricity being produced.

    Outside investment grows an economy. Venezuela has been pumped full of nationalistic rhetoric. And, despite abundant resources, it remains an impoverished country with little hope for improvement. That’s the legacy of Hugo Chavez.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - EAS oops

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Mistakes happen. No system is perfect. Those are givens.

    You may have already read my blog from last month about the fake zombie apocalypse warnings that went out on some radio and TV stations. Hackers were able to access EAS boxes that didn’t have the factor-issued passwords reset.

    Yesterday we had another emergency warning mistake. An accidental tornado warning was issued for parts of Wisconsin because the wrong button was pushed by the National Weather Service. They were supposed to be conducting an internal test in advance of a statewide preparedness drill that’s coming up next month. Instead an active tornado warning was transmitted to some TV stations and warning text-messages were sent out to some cellphones.

    If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve complained before that far too many of our statewide EAS tests have problems. Sometimes the wrong message is transmitted to radio stations. Other times the test doesn’t end correctly. Sometimes we hear just the test-alert tone, but don’t hear the “this is only a test” advisory at all. Last year’s first-ever national EAS test was a disaster, with some stations not getting the alert at all, or getting dead-air, or getting only a brief, garbled message. It was such a mess that the test hasn’t been re-tried since.

    Yes, accidents happen. One of the reasons to have tests in the first place is to identify problems in the EAS system and to fix them.

    But there is a problem here. In a time of a true emergency, your cellphone may not work. You may also lose your internet service. (Past experience tells us that wireless networks are easily overloaded when large numbers of people try to use them at the same time – similar to trying to use your smartphone in the middle of a sold-out Lambeau Field.) Of there’s a widespread disaster, most people will get that information from radio or TV. Things will be made worse if the public doesn’t have confidence in the EAS system. Hypothetically, what if people need to get an alert message telling them to evacuate immediately, or they need to get inside and seek shelter right now. How many lives will be at risk if people think, “oh, no big deal, it’s another one of those EAS mistakes”?

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Sportsmanship

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’ve spent the fall and winter covering high school sports, so I’m probably more in-tune with issues of sportsmanship than I have been in the past.


    Two national youth-sports issues were in the news last month. In British Columbia, a youth hockey coach is facing criminal charges for intentionally tripping an opposing player during the post-game handshakes. In Minnesota, a high school hockey goalie, upset about his lack of playing time, intentionally put the puck in his own net, raised his middle-finger to his bench, and skated off the ice.


    I’ve covered nearly 50 high school sporting events so far this year, and have not seen a single instance of bad sportsmanship. Of course, something may happen on the field-of-play that I’m not aware of in the broadcast booth. But, to a rule, athletes from the competing team have lined-up to shake hands after each game.


    Stevens Point’s girls basketball team celebrated wildly when they beat D.C. Everest to win their conference championship. If I was on the losing team, I wouldn’t have felt good about it – but celebrating your team’s success isn’t bad sportsmanship to the losers. Oshkosh-North sent a huge contingent of students and parents to last weekend’s sectional finals. Their team won – and they were rowdy during the game (similar to Duke basketball fans), but I don’t think they were bad sports. I saw the D.C. Everest hockey team tie Antigo on a penalty shot with 2-second left, and won the same game in triple-overtime on another penalty shot, and the teams and coaches still congratulated each other and shook hands after a game that no one will ever forget.


    Many high school winter sports athletes have seen their seasons come to an end. Congratulations to all over them who represented themselves and their schools by being good sports.


    Chris Conley



    P.S. – A special note about the D.C. Everest girls basketball team, which has been my favorite team to cover so far. Players and parents have openly said that a year ago, they didn’t work together as a team. Some players weren’t friendly. Others played for themselves; more concerned about individual stats than whether the team won or lost. That changed this year. Players worked together. They picked each other up when others were down. Everyone agrees that friendships were formed and that those intangibles made the team better.


    Players will forget the scores and stats and final records. They’ll remember the experience of playing. Congratulations to those who made this a very positive experience for themselves and their teammates.

  • OPINION - A better 'no call' list

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) How many people sign up for Wisconsin’s ‘Do Not Call’ list, and then think to themselves, “Gee, I really do miss all those telemarketing calls. I want to get off this list so those calls can start-up again.”?

    This begs the question of why should you and I have to re-sign every two years to stay on the no call list. The obvious answer is, we shouldn’t.

    State Rep Andre Jacque is proposing a change to make ‘Do Not Call’ registration permanent. It’s already that way in 12 other states. Jacque would also make non-political robo-calls illegal. (Political speech – like the kinds of calls we’re bombarded with before Election Day – has special free speech protections and, generally, can’t be banned.)

    Wisconsin’s law is too-tilted towards telemarketers. The current 3-month updates and 2-year expiration are gifts to give an unpopular industry as much latitude as possible. And the law is still openly flouted, with many companies willing to risk complaints and fines as a cost of doing business. Cracking down on these abuses and upping the penalties should be the next step.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - The impact in Wisconsin

    Posted by Chris Conley

     The U.S. Capitol Building stands in Washington December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The sky falls at midnight. The sequester will take effect.

    The parade of impossible-to-accept budget cuts continues. Those who are opposed to cuts in spending continue to highlight all the awful things that will happen. The latest list comes from the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. The big union issued a news release showing some of the impacts in Wisconsin. It says:

    Wisconsin’s $105.5-million Head Start grant will be cut by $8.2-million. They claim 276 Head Start jobs will be lost; 1,324 fewer students will be served.

    Wisconsin’s $11.7-million in federal funding for emergency preparedness will be cut by $856,000, resulting in “reduced ability to respond to biological, radiological, chemical, and natural emergencies”.

    Wisconsin’s $105.1-million in federal energy assistance will be cut by $9.5-million, leading. to “Less funding to provide home heating and cooling assistance to low-income individuals and families”.

    Wisconsin’s $39.8-million in Improving Teacher Quality grants will be cut by $2.8-million. The impact: “3,034 fewer teachers, serving 45,298 students, receive professional development“.

    The AFL-CIO put out this news release with a purpose. They want to illustrate the worst-of-the-worst; the cuts that the public will find most unacceptable. And the worst they’ve come up with isn’t scary at all. In fact, their news release accomplished the opposite. We should be asking why these spending cuts, in this time of austerity, haven’t taken place already. Let’s review them one by one:

    Head start – The cut here is 7%. Does anyone think school districts will actually kick kids out of the program? No. Districts would have the option of allowing Head Start teachers to handle more children, or districts could make their own budget choices and decide if they want to make up the lost federal funding on their own. Some perspective here is important. Wisconsin’s state aid to school districts is about $28-billion. (That doesn’t include school property taxes – where most districts get most of their money.) The lost federal funding comes to about 7-one-thousanth-of-a-percent (1/7,000%). Does that sound like a the-sky-is-falling cut?

    Emergency Preparedness – Again, a cut of about 7%. Emergency preparedness money is mostly used for equipment or training; if there was an actual emergency FEMA funding would be handled by a special resolution by Congress. Is it reasonable to say that one training session will be delayed, or that local emergency responders will have to make-due with the equipment that’s already on-hand? What we’re talking about here are lost opportunity costs.

    Energy Assistance – A cut of about 9%. Currently families can have incomes above the poverty line and still qualify for heating assistance. We could make up for the cut by limiting the program to poverty families only, or ask those who already get assistance to make up the difference. (“We were giving you $200 a month to help pay for your heating bill. This year we’re giving you $182, and we need you to kick in the extra 18-bucks.”) Keep in mind, spending on heating assistance varies widely based on whether we have a cold or a mild winter. Two years ago, Wisconsin gave out additional funding to some families because there was left-over heating money.

    Improving Teacher Quality Grants – The Feds offer this money so teachers can get advanced degrees (which is how the teachers move up on the salary scale). Suppose the grants became competitive; only the best teachers in a district qualify for money for advanced training. That would achieve the goal of higher quality teaching. The money that’s available – about 6% less than this year – would go to the most promising teachers who’d give us the best returns in the classroom.

    These cuts are coming. They are nothing to fear. In truth, more cuts are needed.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Tax cut for the rich

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) “Walker tax cut favors those who pay the most”. That’s the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline after analyzing the tax-cutting part of the Governor’s budget proposal.

    Of course it does.

    If that’s the standard, taxes can never be cut.

    Let’s use a simple example and include some basic math. Joe-Conservative-Taxcutter proposes an across-the-board one-percent income tax cut. If you’re wealthy and your income tax bill was $10,000, you’ll save $100. If you are a lower-income worker and your taxes were only $1,000, you’ll save $10.

    Jim-Tax-And-Spend screams, “not fair!” The rich taxpayer gets $90 more than the poor taxpayer. He sends out a news release: “90-percent of my opponent’s tax goes to the rich.” And that’s true.

    The facts are that high-income taxpayers put so much more into the pot that any across-the-board tax cut gives them much, much more in actual dollars. In the same example, if we give the lower taxpayer a percentage cut that’s four times as large, the high income taxpayer still gets 60-percent of the cash benefit. So the charge of “the tax cut favors the rich” could still be made.

    Under this kind of thinking, any tax decrease is unacceptable because it favors the rich.

    It’s the same kind of thinking we’re seeing with the sequester – that spending can never be cut, not even a little, without catastrophic results.

    Beware of the template where taxes and spending can only go in one direction.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - ...and the government spending rolls on

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There’s an airport in Lake Murray, Oklahoma. No one uses it.

    This is not at all like Central Wisconsin Airport, which has mostly small planes and limited airline service. It’s not like Amtrak – a mode of transportation that time has passed by. You can argue for or against whether federal dollars should help operations at CWA or for cross-country passenger trains… but some people do use these government services.

    Lake Murray State Park airport isn’t like that at all. It has no commercial flights. No control tower, no radar, no hangars, no lights. It’s a runway in the middle of nowhere. Usage: about 15 flights a month during the summer; mostly private pilots who land only to use the bathroom at a nearby golf course. During the winter, weeks or months can go by without a single takeoff or landing.

    But Lake Murray State Park airport qualifies for federal grants – a modest $150,000 a year. And under current rules, money that’s granted to an airport that doesn’t need it can be “banked” and spent on other airports that do need it. Close the airport? That’s like saying ‘no thank you’ to money. The State of Oklahoma won’t do that. The local parks department has a different view… they have to mow the grass and manage the weeds around the runway, and don’t want to spend their money to do it.

    The Washington Post did a report on Lake Murray – which they described as “an ATM that’s designed to look like an airport”.

    There are 85 or so of these low/no use airfields that are used as tidy little piggy banks by states around the country. There are just enough states that benefit from these FAA grants, funded by surcharges on jet fuel and airline ticket fees, that there’s no political will to end the program. This program won’t be touched by the sequester either.

    Between now and Friday we’ll be at a fever pitch over government cutbacks, furloughs, and shutdowns as the sequester deadline approaches. When you hear about the U.S.S. Truman stuck in dry-dock or kids being thrown out of Head Start, remember the money our government is spending at the Lake Murray State Park Airport.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - The list of horribles

    Posted by Chris Conley

     The White House is seen from the South Lawn in Washington, May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Almost everyone has predicted a detailed ‘list of horribles’ surrounding this Friday’s sequester. Almost on cue, a state-by-state White House list was released over the weekend. Wisconsin would lose 240 federally-supported school jobs, and $18-million in education aid. Among other areas for cuts: civilian military support staff, drug addiction treatment funding, TSA airport screeners, and environmental protection money. The Wisconsin Democratic Party put out their own news release today. It is headlined: "Soldiers Furloughed, Senior Meals Cut, Airports Closed, Kids Kicked Off Head Start."

    The message is perfectly clear: we can’t cut anything. Even the smallest cuts (the sequester is about 2% of the budget), the sky will start to fall.

    The President, through is inauguration and state-of-the-union speeches, has already clearly signaled that he has very little interest in attacking entitlement reform. That choice alone means all the cuts will come to the military and discretionary spending. Even though these are thought of as pain-points for spending cuts, no matter, let them come. Do American soldiers need to continue defending Germany? Is South Korea – now the world’s 5th largest economy – still dependent on American soldiers (and lives) as a trip-wire in the demilitarized zone? Is every school district in the country so dependent on federal, not local, funding that education cuts are devastating?

    Columnist Charles Krauthammer sees the situation exactly right. (Read it here: ) If President Obama doesn’t like these cuts, he should feel free to propose his own. Cuts. Not tax hikes. That’s already been done. Not closing loopholes. That’s part of a broader tax reform debate that may or may not ever happen.

    The debt ceiling has already been raised twice. The deal to avoid the fiscal cliff has already been made. Now, at long last, the debate turns to spending cuts. Finally. Now let them come.

    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - School vouchers and disabled students

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Click photo for screen-resolution image

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Expanding the school voucher program will be the most controversial part of Governor Walker’s proposed budget. It’s possible that Republicans from Green Bay and/or Superior might cast votes against it, for fear of a backlash from their local school interests. To some, school vouchers are a great idea so long as it’s happening somewhere else.


    There’s a lesser-known part of the voucher program that’s received less attention. For the first time kids with learning disabilities would qualify for vouchers to attend private schools that are willing to take them. Critics say private schools will take the children with only slight disabilities; a mild case of autism for instance, with more difficult cases would remain in the public schools with less money to provide services.


    But there’s an equally strong argument in favor of extending school choice to disabled students. It goes like this:


    Through pre-natal testing, many disabilities can be diagnosed before a child is born. Many of those children are aborted. The families who decide to bring those babies to term are often deeply religious and are instructed by their faith about the inherent value of all human life. Those are the very families that are most likely to want a religious education for the children, yet cannot have it without a voucher program. In Wisconsin vouchers are already being used to send non-disabled kids to private and/or religious schools. If those schools are willing to take on disabled students, why shouldn’t the program be extended to them?


    I think expanding the voucher program will be tall order for the Governor, and there are dozens of budget battles that will be fought over the next few weeks. I also think pushing this big rock up a steep hill is worth the effort.


    Chris Conley

  • OPINION - Short hours

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Image 1

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) We have no way of knowing the exact hours that Marathon County sheriff Randy Hoenish has worked this year. He admits it’s not many. He’s been spending time with his soon-to-be-sentenced wife while she fights prescription drug addition. Hoenish says it’s more than 2-hours for the entire year, which the newspaper reported earlier this week.

    An aside: It’s a legitimate news story to report on how much time an elected official is or isn’t spending on-the-job. But the Wausau Daily Herald’s tactics, on which they base their story, are transparently shoddy. Their reporting is based on a freedom of information request for the electronic swipe card records in-to and out-of the law enforcement part of the county courthouse. Those records do not accurately reflect how many hours someone was on the premises. We have electronic swipe cards at the WSAU office. Sometimes a co-worker holds the door open for me, so I don’t have to use my card. Sometimes I enter the building the same time someone else is exiting; again my card wouldn’t be used. Sometimes, I, like the sheriff, enter through a different doorway.

    The underlying question is whether the sheriff should be forced out of his job for skimping on his hours. How might this issue play out? Don’t look to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors. They have no jurisdiction; the most they could do is pass a non-binding resolution. The sheriff is an elected officer just like they are. The voters – not board members – will decide the sheriff’s future.

    There could be a recall, but that would be a mess. It’s not certain if someone would step forward to run against a sitting sheriff. If the challenger is a deputy or a staff member, their work environment could be miserable until the next election. The most likely outcome is the next Election Day the voters choose someone else to serve.

    Chris Conley