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  • OPINION: How much does it cost to ride a bike?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Caught. No, they weren’t caught in a compromising position in a hotel room… or stealing money from the treasury… but Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk have been caught on a wasteful government junket. They’ve been touring Europe looking at ‘bicycle friendly’ cities in Germany and The Netherlands, hoping to bring back some ideas to Madison.

    Are you kidding? In these tough financial times this is what elected officials are doing?

    The trip’s received more publicity because Cieslewicz and Falk were stuck at the airport in Amsterdam because of the volcanic ash clouds. Their flights were cancelled. They were supposed to return last weekend, ending a trip that very few people would have known about.

    I ride my bicycle every day. I’m not sure if Wausau is considered ‘bicycle friendly’ or not. I don’t have any expectations about how government is supposed to make it easier for me to ride my bike. I don’t expect a huge trail network. I certainly don’t expect pedestrian bridges over rivers. I don’t need signs marking out bike routes. Just give me a bike lane on some of the busier streets and careful drivers, and I have all I need for a happy ride.

    Making a city bike-friendly does not cost millions of dollars. It does not even cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It certainly costs less than the cost of a European trip for two public officials. What a waste of money.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: A questonable lawsuit

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Dale Lehman, who also goes by the name Tony, is suing the City of Wausau for $1.8-million. He reached a settlement with the city in a wrongful termination case several years ago. He was laid off a second time last November when the city needed to make additional budget cuts. His lawsuit claims he was unfairly targeted, and that this latest layoff violates the earlier settlement. He’s suing to get his job back, plus back wages, benefits, and other damages.

    First, let’s state the obvious. When someone sues Wausau, they are suing you and me. While the city does carry liability insurance, the city will still take a financial hit if they go to court and lose. Paying a large settlement or higher liability premiums will take already-scarce money away from somewhere else. My own feeling about these kind of lawsuits: the city should not be able to act improperly, but there should be a heavy burden of proof on the plaintiff before they can damage the public purse.

    So, let’s stipulate two things. First, the city was facing a budget shortfall in November that required staff cuts. And second, Dale Lehman was probably not a popular employee with city leaders given past history.

    Two things that tilt the ultimate outcome in the city’s favor. First is the very nature of the way city budgets are put together. Lehman wasn’t targeted by an individual at City Hall who was out for vengeance. His position was eliminated by a vote from the Common Council. If he is to win his lawsuit, are we setting a precedent that some City Council votes are off-limits? Should city leaders be blocked from using their best judgment in certain cases when tough budget decisions have to be made? Lawsuits that meddle in up-or-down votes of legislative bodies should be viewed with skepticism.

    Secondly, just because someone has taken the city to court and reached a settlement doesn’t mean that their job is permanently exempt from the budget realities. Cuts were made in many other places. Police and fire unions gave concessions. Many city workers delayed or deferred pay raises, or took on more of their health insurance costs. Other workers were furloughed. And the job of City Engineer – Tony Lehman’s job – was eliminated. To say one of those cuts is out of bounds, but the others are not, is unfair.

    In tough times budget cuts have to be made. A courtroom is not the right forum to challenge them. This lawsuit should be dismissed.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: The day of prayer and Original Sin

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Lawyers and judges are taught to think of the law like a game of Scrabble. One court ruling builds on another. Court briefs are based on legal precedent. Sometimes you end up with something that looks nothing at all like the original legislative text.

    Consider what our First Amendment says about religion:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

    So how to we get from the plain text of the Constitution to Judge Barbara Crabb's ruling last week that a voluntary national day or prayer is unconstitutional? We got there one case at a time.

    The original sin, the case that broadened the Amendment far beyond its words, was Everson vs. Board of Education, a school bussing case from 1947. Some states provided transportation service to some religious schools, but not others. And the legal opinion included Justice Hugo Black's famous "separation of church and state." It's upon that language, which is far beyond our constitution, that all future cases hinge.

    The other limits on religion that were hung on the branches of that opinion include the ban on prayer in schools, bans on manger scenes in public squares, and now a ruling against a national day of prayer. National days of prayer have been declared by every president from Washington to Obama. None have ever required that prayer be mandatory. None ever directed us towards one religion or another.

    We may be outraged over Judge Crabb's ruling, and it is likely that she will be overturned on appeal. But the more important question is 'how did we get here?' Our path was a series of overreaching court rulings that say things that The Constitution doesn't.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • TRAIN BLOG: The Journalism Conference

    Posted by Chris Conley

    ny10.jpg image by hexacoto

    (WSAU) TRAIN BLOG – Jimmy seemed like a nice enough guy. He was the owner of Jimmy’s Record World, back in the days were there were record stores. 45s or LPs, Jimmy had ‘em at his small store on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield. He'd take the time to talk to his younger, teenage customers like me. If he didn't have something, he'd special-order it.

    Jimmy was also a licensed TicketTron outlet. He had one of those giant yellow computer terminals on his store counter. For a service charge plus face-value, you could buy tickets to rock concerts and sporting events right there. My friend Mike and I really wanted to see the New York Mets play on opening day at Shea Stadium. We were willing to skip school if we could get tickets.

    March 1st was the day the Mets box office opened for the season, and we already knew that going to the ballpark and waiting on line was impractical. We were 16 years old, and getting opening day tickets in New York involved camping out. Our parents wouldn’t allow it. But we could probably get tickets at Jimmy’s Record Store. We’d have to be there at 8am and be among the first customers in line at the TicketTron machine. If we weren't near the front, we'd be shut-out… opening day would probably sell out in a few minutes.

    The big day came, and we were up bright and early waiting for Jimmy’s to open. A few other people had the same idea, and a group of 10 or so gathered outside the door. 8am came. But the store didn’t open. Jimmy kept his store lights off, but we could see him through the window. He sat down at his TicketTron terminal and began printing out tickets… for himself. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed as Jimmy’s computer terminal hummed away. Then he got up and posted a small sign in his window. “Mets sold out.”

                                    *            *            *           *            *

    It was a big honor for a high school senior to be picked to attend the Columbia University Journalism Conference. Students from around the country were invited to Columbia’s campus in upper Manhattan. Their writings for their high school newspapers would be reviewed and analyzed by college professors and newspaper professionals. Ben Bradlee, the iconic editor of The Washington Post, was one of the featured speakers. Humorist Dave Barry was there. Sometimes a tv news anchor would speak. It was a once-in-a-lifetime honor. It was also the second-game-of-the season for the Mets, the game people went to when they didn’t get opening day tickets.

    Mrs. Santillo, my English teacher, chaperoned the trip to New York City. She gave us the standard warnings, stay in a group, don’t wander off campus, ask lots of questions and be polite. Remember, you're representing your school. The best, brightest aspiring young journalists boarded the school bus in Connecticut as we headed to New York.

    Mike and I attended the keynote address. We sat next to Mrs. Santillo. We listened attentively, and even asked a question or two. “What session are you two young men going to next?” she asked. It was in one of the other buildings… we’d meet up around 5:30 to head home.

    And then off we went to the 145th Street subway station.

    The train ride to Shea Stadium was easy. Take the IRT to Times Square. Down the escalator to the lower level for the Flushing Line and the long ride to the ballpark. We walked up and bought our tickets. We settled into our $6 seats in the upper deck in time for batting practice. We watched the Mets beat the Pirates, and then back to the subway to return to Columbia. We were back in plenty of time.

    “Did you boys have a good day?” Mrs. Santillo asked.

    It couldn’t have been better.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: When it's good to have "skin in the game"

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) President Obama talked about “having skin in the game” during the health care debate. Everyone would have to give up something to reach his goal of broader health care coverage for all. It was considered a negative comment. The ‘haves’ don’t want to give up a lot of skin for the ‘have nots.’

    There is an area where having skin in the game is good. But the government continues to push against it, in the name of feel-good policies that don’t really work.

    It’s good for a homeowner to have skin in the game with the real estate they own. More people having more skin in the game would have made the housing crisis over the last two years not as severe.

    Here’s an example. A traditional fixed-rate mortgage used to require a 20-percent down payment. If you wanted to buy a $100,000 home, you needed $20,000 of skin to get into the game. This came with benefits. Someone who can scrape together $20,000 has demonstrated their financial responsibility. They are savers, not spenders. They’re less likely to be mired in credit card debt. They probably have a steady job. They’re a much lower credit risk for lenders.

    Now suppose the housing market takes a tumble like it did in 2008. Some homeowners find themselves underwater, where they owe more on their house than it’s worth. A homeowner who’s already put $20,000 down will ride out the downturn. They don’t want to lose the money they've already put into the property. They’re less likely to dump their house or turn the keys back to the bank and walk away. More homeowners toughing it out keeps a downturn from becoming a rout.

    But a homeowner with a no-down or a low-downpayment mortgage has no motivation to keep their home through a downtown. If they got the house with a $1,000 down payment, their losses for vacating their house and renting somewhere else is almost nothing. And in a down market, they may be able to rent for substantially less then their monthly mortgage payment. These are the homes that become vacant, go into foreclosure, and force property values down for everyone.

    WHEDA has been pushing a new home-loan program in Wisconsin with $1,000 down, backed by Fannie Mae. These are the kinds of programs that creating housing bubbles by giving homes to people with no skin in the game. This was the lesson of the 2008 housing market collapse. It's a lesson that we've already forgotten.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • Center Stage Show Notes 04/16/10

    Posted by Raymond Neupert

     Phantom of the Opera MaskGet out your Sunday best, it's time for a night at the Opera with a Phantom. This week Chris Conley took a look behind the curtain of the Paris Opera House with Phantom at Wausau East. Our guest this week is Terry Riska, who's the theatre coach at East. Phantom continues tonight. Tickets at the door are 8 dollars and down, with shows at 7:30 and 2:30.

    There's plenty going on this weekend! Here's your community calendar for the 16th of April.

    41 years and still going strong, get out and take part in 90-FM Trivia! It runs all this weekend in Stevens Point and in homes around the county. It's 54 hours of triva, with bragging rights and prizes on the line. Trivia begins with the first question at 6 p.m. on Friday. Eight questions are read each hour and teams have the length of two songs to call in their answers. A variety of specialty questions will include a treasure hunt-style series of clues scattered around Stevens Point. The contest will kick off at 4 p.m. on Friday with a parade starting near Lot Q on the UWSP campus. Floats from many of the registered teams as well as 90FM will be featured in the parade.

    Tonight at Dales Weston Lanes take part in Rhythm and Brews! It's the annual fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association. It's bigger and better this year with more breweries, more tasty things to nibble on, and Central Wisconsin's premier blues band, Otis and the Alligators. It all kicks off at 7 pm tonight. Tickets are 35 dollars at the door.

    Tomorrow night, the Grand Theatre is playing host to the Wausau Symphony and Band's Musical Melting pot. Everything from "America the Beautiful," to Brazilian Polka, The Magnificent Seven and more. Tickets to the show are just 12 dollars. The show starts at 7:30.

    Next week, we'll head to the Woodson Art Museum to learn a little about Dogs, and how we interact with them. It's their new Exhibition, Dog Dogs.

    Raymond Neupert

    WSAU production

  • OPINION: Tommy is no help

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’m writing today’s News Blog before Tommy Thompson’s official announcement, but there is near-unanimous agreement that he’s not running for U.S. Senate.

    I didn’t live in Wisconsin when Thompson was governor. To me, Thompson is only a name. But I still have some thoughts on his teasing over the last four months.

    Thompson must have an unbridled ego. Surely he knows that being ‘on the fence’ for months crowds out other Republican candidates, and makes fundraising almost impossible. None of that seems to matter to Thompson, who seems to like hearing his name mentioned in polls.

    Thompson’s slow decision making is also disingenuous. Many people can make significant, life-changing decisions in a matter of days or weeks. Thompson could have taken a month to decide if he’s in or out. Taking longer is either someone who doesn’t know their own mind, or someone who likes keeping others guessing. Neither are good traits for a candidate.

    And Thompson is not as good a candidate today as he was before. Thompson’s party has shifted further right, where he’s considered a moderate within the GOP. Many Republicans would support Thompson as a default, being more enthusiastic about getting Russ Feingold out of office than getting Thompson in. It’s possible that his announcement of not getting into the race would be greeted with cheers at the Madison tea party.

    Wisconsin GOP chairman Reince Priebus is correct when he said its unhealthy for his party for every office to be ‘hold’ until the party knows whether Tommy Thompson or Paul Ryan is interested in running for it. Party leaders are supposed to do all they can to win elections. Priebus knows that Thompson has damaged his party’s chances.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Another day in the sun for the tea parties

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The tea party movement gets another high profile day of news exposure on April 15th, tax day. There are events in major cities around the country. There are several events in Central Wisconsin and around the state.

    The tea parties have been a more potent political force than I expected. Many movements like this can’t sustain themselves over time, or morph into something that’s unproductive or ineffective. Yet more than a year later tea party crowds are large and fired up, and they will certainly have an impact in the fall elections.

    Here’s the danger for the tea party movement: the political fringe. Americans support the right to assemble and protest. But that’s where mainstream tolerance stops. Public opinion would be overwhelmingly against a proposal being floated in Oklahoma, where tea parties would organize militias. Public opinion also shifts against forming a third political party, or giving tea party endorsements to certain candidates. All of those developments would lead to a smaller tea party movement over time.

    It’s not uncommon for movements to be defined by their edges. Most Vietnam protestors were not black panthers or participants in taking over college campuses. But those movements were defined by the fringe that found a home within their ranks. If the radical, out-of-the-mainstream right is drawn into the tea parties, the movement will suffer for it.

    The most useful post-election role for the tea party is to hold politicians accountable. If they campaigned on cutting spending and a limited role for government, it’s a good thing that they have large numbers of people to answer to if they don’t follow through.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: The break-in

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I did something dumb last night. Two things, actually. I left my wallet in the mini-van. I left the mini-van unlocked.

    And early this morning, thieves were at work in our neighborhood. They’d gone through several parked, unlocked cars… including mine.

    I apparently scared them off when I work up early this morning, because they left my wallet behind. But they went through the glove box. And they left behind in my vehicle the leftovers from other break-ins, including a neighbor’s purse and another neighbor’s address book. It was around 4am when my wife and I called the police.

    The likelihood of ever catching the car thieves is very low. Wausau police were professional. They took notes, looked around the area, and gathered the evidence. They contacted the other people whose cars were broken into.

    And I feel like a crime victim… frustrated, violated, and angry. Yes, I’m partly at fault. Leaving my car unlocked was careless. Leaving my wallet behind was forgetful. And I’m lucky that my wallet was left behind, and that I’m not spending my free time today cancelling ATM cards and getting a new drivers license. But what I’m struggling with the most is reconciling my thoughts that Wausau is a low-crime community, and the conflicting reality of this morning.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Indian names

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I’m Irish. Some of my distant relatives faced all of the bitter discrimination that many newcomers to our country faced. “Irish and dogs need not apply” was common on many help wanted signs. The stereotypes were that Irish were lazy drunks, brawlers, and Catholic in a majority-protestant land.

    Now consider the University of Notre Dame sports teams. Should I be offended at the Fighting Irish? Their mascot is the ultimate Irish stereotype… a leprechaun. Yet, I don’t feel anything. Maybe it’s because the Irish have so blended into the fabric of American life that they don’t face any day-to-day discrimination. Maybe it’s also because sports teams are named for things that are being honored, not ridiculed.

    The NCAA has gone too far with an outright ban on Indian names. Unless, of course, your team is the Florida State Seminoles. They have tribal blessing, so it’s been determined that ‘Seminoles’ is not offensive. North Dakota State, though, has permission from most, but not all, of the factions of the Sioux tribe. Their name will be dropped. The University of Illinois, where most state residents consider themselves “Illini”, will also have to change their name because it has Indian connotations to some. My Alma Mater, Syracuse University, changed its mascot from the Onondagan Indian Chief to citrus fruit, but kept the name “Orangemen”. St. John’s University, which called itself the “Redmen” because the color jerseys their football team wore, still changed its name because of the appearance of possible offense.

    The change the Wisconsin legislature is considering is even more disingenuous. It allows the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct an investigation if someone complains that they are offended by an Indian nickname, mascot or logo. Then the school must prove a negative, that its name does not offend. They could be ordered to change.

    Suppose we were to apply the same Indian nickname standard to other state policies… the upcoming smoking ban, state tax policy, state spending, DNR regulations. Anyone who’s offended can complain, and then the offending agency has the burden of proving that no offense should be taken. That’s absurd. Almost as absurd as the bill that the State Senate is likely to pass tomorrow.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • TRAIN BLOG: A most interesting out-of-the-way place

    Posted by Chris Conley

    TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) New York City has some must-see tourist spots. It also has some out of the way places that are unique, charming, and worth the price of admission. So set aside your desire to visit the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, or Central Park. Here’s one of those only-in-New York places.

    First, you have to find Boerum Place. It’s near what used to be downtown Brooklyn. It’s not really a street, it’s more of an alleyway. You need to be in the last car of the F-train as it pulls into Borough Hall station. At the back of the platform is a small stairway, leading up the station’s mezzanine. Past the exit turnstiles you walk through the Borough Hall office building. Go out the front doors, left on Livingston Street, and two blocks down you’ll see Boerum Place. A few steps into the alleyway in a stairwell leading down from the street. It’s an abandoned subway station. Go down. It’s ok.

    At the bottom of those stairs you’ll be in the New York Transit Museum. It’s in the no-longer-used Court Street Subway Station. For a kid who likes trains, this is the best museum… ever.

    The museum itself looks like a subway station from years ago. Old yellow-tinged light bulbs give the place a gloomy feel. None of the bright fluorescents of today. The old brown-wood token booth used to be standard in every subway station. They’re replaced with steel-framed boxes now. Every New Yorker knows that the railings on subway station stairwells used to be painted reddish-orange, and they are here. The steel-grating at the station entrance is green, just like it’s supposed to me.

    They have every style of subway token the New York Transit Authority ever used, including the ones where the ‘Y’ was carved out in the middle to prevent counterfeiting. They have every style subway map ever printed. I remember pestering the token clerks for many of them over the years.

    Most of the museums floor space is taken up with a giant three-dimensional track map of the entire subway system. For a kid who looked out the front window as the subways wound through their tunnels, I knew where the switches were, where the elevated tracks began, and which stations were the express stops. They were all there. It was the ultimate visual display of the vastness of the New York subway.

    And then, go downstairs. The sign said “to all trains.”

    One level below is the old platform of the Court Street Station. And parked along that platform are the old retired subway cars of New York City. There’s an R6 there, the old cars that used to ply the F-train’s route. There’s a Bluebird, one of the subway cars that was specially-ordered for 1969 Worlds Fair. Some of the old trains I don’t remember – like the open platform cars that once ran on the old els that have long since been torn down. At the front of the line was a new R-46, the city’s newest subway car, with the shiny plate-steel and the blue stripe down the side, with the doors that make the electronic ‘ding dong’ sound when they’re about to close.

    My first trip there, age 10, included a meeting with one of the museum’s volunteers. He was a retired subway worker who showed kids around the place. He could tell just by looking who the real train fans are. “Hey you,” he said, pointing a finger at me. “Do you want to learn how to drive the train?” Oh my, did I ever. He used his pass key and unlocked the motorman’s cab. We went inside.

    “Here’s what we do when we’re ready to leave the station,” he said.

    “Pull down the side window, and check the door lights.” I wasn’t strong enough to unlatch the window. He did it for me. I stuck my head out and looked down the string of train cars. “See the red lights above the doors?” I looked.

    “Push this button.” I did.

    ‘Ding-dong!” The doors closed, and the red lights went out. “No lights means the doors are closed.”

    “See this switch? Push it down.” I did. The distinct electronic cackling sound of the train’s PA system followed. “Announce the station, kid. Speak right into there.”

    “This is Court Street Station…. Borough Hall next,” I said. “All aboard for Borough Hall.”

    “Now take the red handle, move it like this.” The airbrakes released and the throttle speedometer lit up. “Now push down on the throttle and turn it to here, and away we go.”

    Trains in the transit museum don’t actually go anywhere. But they still work. And in a young boys mind that day, we went cruising down the tracks towards Coney Island.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Pro-life Dems and the balance of power

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Conventional wisdom may be wrong about Bart Stupak. Most commentators though he would have been voted out of office for his healthcare – abortion funding flip flop. I’m not so sure. Stupak was a 10-term congressman. He won his last four elections by landslides, carrying more than 60-percent of the vote. Even though his district in Michigan’s U.P. is somewhat conservative, Democrat Stupak has a “safe” seat.

    Personally, I think he retired not over what was going to happen to him in his district, but what was going to happen to him in Washington. The payback for publicly opposing your President and your party’s leadership is usually meted out in lost office space, losing favorable committee assignments, being passed over for earmarks and other member-perks. And if the Democrats were to lose their majority in the House, and for a Congressman to be a pariah within his own party, suddenly a retirement of hunting, fishing, and playing with your grandkids may seem preferable to another two years in D.C.

    What’s interesting is the fine line between wanting revenge and punishment, and the desire to hold on to the House for Democrats. Stupak’s seat probably becomes a GOP pick-up. What of the other members of the ‘Stupak 12’? All will be politically vulnerable from within their own party and out of it. The only one who seems politically safe is Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who’s regarded in his district as everyone’s crazy uncle. Will the other pro-life Democrats retire? Will they lose in November?

    Surrendering 10-12 seats can be the difference over keeping or losing a majority in November. I had thought that Democrats would maintain control of the House with a much smaller majority. On the day of Bart Stupak’s retirement, I’m not so sure.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau