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  • OPINION: The health care fine print

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) When health care reform came up for final congressional approval, no one who was casting a vote had actually read the entire bill. They only understood the broad outline of what was in it. No one has a grip on the fine print.

    It’s the fine print that can hurt.

    Consider this in an actual healthcare policy: “…will cover proper, medically approved, effective treatments for….”

    I know someone with cancer. It’s an aggressive type with a high mortality rate. They underwent grueling chemotherapy two years ago. The cancer appeared to go into remission. Now, it is back. Back to the hospital for more chemo. In the middle of the chemo session, the hospital received a fax from the insurance company. Chemotherapy NOT covered. Read the fine print. The insurance company only covers effective treatment. The bean counters say the expensive chemotherapy - $5000 per treatment – isn’t effective, since the cancer came back. The patient is left to wonder if the hospital and the insurance will work it out on appeal… or if a year’s worth of savings from their kid’s college fund had just evaporated.

    That’s fine print from an insurance policy…. Imagine the amount of fine print in the health care bill.

    Governor Doyle announced yesterday that he’s setting up an Office of Healthcare Management. Think of this as an office of fine-print discovery. The news from this office will not be good, because so many of the hidden details will be negative.

    Here’s some of the fine-print we already know about. Many of the new insurance regulations will cause premiums to go up. Insurance companies that face new restrictions on dropping customers and covering preexisting conditions will want to pass those costs along.

    Businesses will also get bad news in the fine-print. Young adults of their employees will be added back onto their insurance policies. Part-time workers may have to be covered. Companies will face fines if they don’t offer the right coverage.

    One thing I’m certain about…. When people get a letter from the Office of Healthcare Management, it probably isn’t good news.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Priests who abuse

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) A comment I overheard about religion and the Catholic church: “Why would I want to belong to a church that’s covered up such awful things?”

    There’s a priest sex-abuse scandal in Ireland and Germany, and it is also dragging up stories in the U.S. Among them is the shameful tenure of Rembert Weakland at the Milwaukee archdiocese, where pedophile priests were slow to be investigated and were sometimes moved from one assignment to another.

    One of the problems with the Catholic church sex scandal in the U.S. is that it is literally rotting the Church from within. The victims were, in many cases, from the most devout families. Some victims were encouraged by the families to become altar boys; others had parents who regularly invited priests into their homes. Others, like the molestation case of Rev Lawrence Murphy at St. John School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, involve priests using positions of power to prey on the weak and vulnerable.

    I personally believe the sex scandal is getting better, and that new policies will ultimately be affective at rooting out problem priests. I also believe there is a lot of dirty laundry to be aired, some of it dating back for decades. The Church is run by men – with all the same human failings as the general population. Some clergy have affairs. Some steal from the collection plate. Some are drunks. Part of having faith is believing that God watches over His church, and that justice awaits for abusers.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

    Columnist Pat Buchanon writes more about this:


  • OPINION: School referendum

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Schools with declining enrollments are in an impossible situation. Most state aid is based on head-count. When that head count goes down it’s hard to make up the difference.

    But enrollment doesn’t go down evenly from one grade to another. An elementary school with 100 kids, approximately 20 students for each grade, may lose 10-percent of its students. But if enrollment goes down by four kids in the 3rd grade, three kids in the 4th grade, and 1 kid each in 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades, the school would suffer a tremendous loss of funding… but it will not be able to cut a single teacher. The 16 remaining kids in 3rd grade and the 17 kids left in 4th grade will still need someone to teach them. There will just be less money to go around, but no obvious way to cut expenses. That’s why extracurricular activities and other frills are constantly at risk.

    The school district’s likely solution is to go to referendum, asking voters for the authority to spend beyond its statutory limits.

    But the only solution to the declining-enrollment is rising enrollment. If the size of the student body stays the same, or goes down even more, the district will find itself in a worse financial spot once its borrowing authority runs out. They’ll face the same choices down the road: cut programs, or go back to the voters for more money.

    So the real question as you consider how to vote on a school referendum isn’t the money being asked for today… its whether you’re committed to providing that same level of funding in the future.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: The Tiger rules

    Posted by Chris Conley

    I'm blogging just before the start of the Tiger Woods news conference at August National.


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Let’s give Tom King credit. He got this one right.

    Tom speculated about the timing of Tiger Wood’s news conference. It’s the first time he truly stood before a room of reporters and answered questions. It happened this afternoon after his practice round at Augusta. Tom theorized that the news conference was being held on baseball’s opening day on purpose to minimize its exposure. Hundreds of sports-talk and news-talk stations are obligated to air baseball games today.

    How do I know Tom is right? Because I just got the broadcast clearance rules from Westwood One radio. They control the radio rights to The Masters. They control the audio feed from Tiger’s news conference. They are trying to control who sees it, when, how, and how often.

    Their rules: The news conference cannot be taped and played back. It is for live broadcast only. So all of those baseball affiliates cannot re-broadcast Tiger’s Q & A after their ballgame is over. More rules: Those baseball affiliates who can’t broadcast the news conference live will be able to air sound bites in the sportscasts and newscasts, but not more than 48-hours after the event ends. And radio affiliates who are airing coverage of The Masters may not use the sound bites as part of their local coverage of the tournament.

    All of these rules are designed to do one thing: minimize the number of people who see Tiger Woods answer questions about his marital indiscretions.

    Alas, the rules won’t work. In these days of the internet, social media, Facebook and YouTube there will be no way of controlling the dissemination of this news conference. Tiger’s answers will be out there, in cyberspace, forever.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Teaching us about low expectations

    Posted by Chris Conley

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    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) An exceptional person died last week. Jaime Escalante, the teacher who was profiled in the movie Stand and Deliver, died of cancer at age 79. He was considered by many to be the best high school teacher in America.

    Trained as a mechanical engineer in Bolivia, he insisted that he be allowed to teach AP calculus at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Like many inner-city high schools, Garfield had a very high drop-out rate. Most students were not proficient in basic math. The school didn’t bother teaching AP calculus, the most difficult of the advanced placement classes, because of the expectation that no students would be interested in it, and certainly none would pass it.

    Yet we would probably never know about Jaime Escalante if it wasn’t for a cheating scandal in 1982. His students were accused of copying on the AP calculus exam – because it was thought to be impossible that 18 of his students passed. 14 faced formal cheating allegation. 12 agreed to take the test again. All 12 passed a second time.

    His methods were simple… there was no substitute for hard work, from students and teachers. Students who didn’t “get it” would spend three hours after school. Test preparation and study sessions were on Saturdays and before school each morning. Hr worked 60-hour weeks preparing his students.

    And there are parts of Escalante’s story that weren’t told by Hollywood. Escalante ran afoul of the teachers union for insisting that more than the maximum 35 kids be allowed in his class. His union bullied him for working extra hours for free. He threatened the parents of kids who wanted to drop out, saying he’d report them as illegal immigrants. He lied to his students – telling them they’d have to drop out of school if they quit his class, or that he’d call the police if they got into trouble after school. Several years after Escalante quit teaching in Los Angeles, the calculus program died. A decade later he offered to return to Garfield, but was told ‘no thank you.’

    Yet his results are undeniable. Of his first 109 students to pass AP calculus, only 9 came from families where a parent had completed college. Only 35 had parents who were high school graduates. From that group 98 earned college degrees. Many became doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers.

    Yet Escalante’s most important lesson isn’t for his students, but for us. It is to fight against low expectations, the soft racism that marginalizes human potential. “Students rise or fall to whatever level is expected of them,” he said. We see a poor Hispanic kid from a run-down neighborhood in Los Angeles, from a broken home where English isn’t spoken, with dirty clothes and little money. Surely they won’t amount to much. All it takes is one teacher who believes otherwise to prove us wrong.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • TRAIN BLOG: To the ballpark

    Posted by Chris Conley

    TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) No one knows what turns a New Yorker into a Yankees or a Mets fan. The Yankees are tradition. The Mets are scrappy upstarts.

    Uncle Kenny, who was a bit of a scrapper himself, was a Mets fan. He lived in Queens, exactly five subway stops away from Shea Stadium.

    Summer visits to New York would almost always involve baseball games. Trips to the ballpark would happen one of two ways. I’d get a call from my Dad in the late afternoon. His company, a sporting goods distributor, had a field box at Yankee Stadium. The tickets, right behind the Yankees dugout, were intended for salespeople to entertain clients. But if the tickets to that night’s game were unused, Dad would snatch them up and call me. He’d drive to Grandma’s house to pick me up, and off to the game we’d go. We’d have some of the best seats in the house.

    Baseball games with Uncle Kenny were completely different. He’d get out his transistor radio, and we’d walk up Northern Boulevard towards the elevated Flushing line. We’d be climbing the stairs up the station as the first pitch was being thrown. The game would be in the second or third inning by the time we’d arrive at Shea Stadium. By then some of the ushers and ticket-takers would go home for the night, and leave their gates unattended. The Mets of the mid and late 70s were awful. The crowds were small. There was no reason for the ushers to stick around for fans who weren’t coming. If we were willing to show up a few innings late, we’d walk into the Mets game for free.

    The end of a ballgame at Yankee Stadium meant a quick dash to one of the parking ramps around the ballpark. It could take an hour for your car to wind down to street level, and even longer to fight the traffic before getting onto the Van Wyke Expressway to head home. Getting out of The Bronx on game night was a pain in the neck.

    Getting out of Shea Stadium, with an admittedly smaller crowd, was a snap. Exit near Gate 6 near the right field foul pole. The Shea Stadium-Willets Point station was just a few steps away, with an entrance at the end of the sidewalk. Two pocket-tracks were just beyond the station, where the Flushing Line trains would wait for the game to let out. As the platform filled up, the trains would pull in almost one after another, loading up with passengers and then pulling away.

    The Flushing Line trains after a baseball game were lively. You’d stand shoulder to shoulder with fans who’d soaked in sun, beer, and hotdogs. There’d be talk about the game, usually focusing on what bums the Mets were, or who the day's hero was. The train ride was downright happy if they’d won. We’d be back at Jackson Heights while the post-game show was still on the radio. We’d listen to it on Uncle Kenny’s transistor radio as we walked back to his apartment.

    I grew up to be a Mets fan. Maybe it was because they were the lovable baseball bums of New York. It might also be because the train ride was better.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: The fight for Good Friday

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has been asking questions about Good Friday. They’re asking communities where government offices are closed today to consider changing the name of the holiday to ‘Spring Holiday’.

    This is the same group that’s filed lawsuits over Christmas displays on public property.

    If you follow their reasoning, having a day off for Christmas shouldn’t be allowed either since even non-religious people celebrate Christmas by shopping and gift-giving. Good Friday is different since it is a religious holiday only.

    There are some communities that will give in to the Good Friday change, not wanting to spend money on a lawsuit. They should resist. It’s reasonable that religions that are widely practiced in the U.S. have their holy days as holidays. As a kid in a mostly-Jewish neighborhood in New York, I can remember schools being closed on Yom Kippor. Good Friday is no different. It’s a stretch to say that closing government offices on major religious holidays violates separation of church and state.

    Our Constitution says only that government cannot establish an official state religion. It’s the courts that came up with the concept of separation of church and state. The legal standard has always been ‘freedom of religion’ not ‘freedom from religion’. Hopefully the courts remember the difference.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • Center Stage Show Notes 04/02/10

    Posted by Raymond Neupert

    Oasis Theatre EnsembleLabor Day's here early this year at the UWMC theatre. Wausau's dramatic ensemble The Oasis is on stage with William Inge's Picnic. Today Chris is speaking with the director, Chuck Cornelius. You can find out more about the play, and the group by logging on to their website at

    It's Easter weekend, and there's plenty going on across Central Wisconsin. Let's take a look at the community calendar.

    You can get a little bowling with the family this weekend, and even win some trophies. It's the Easter 9-pin Tournament at Dales Weston Lanes tomorrow night. The tournament starts at 3, and there's a dinner and raffle at 7 pm. It's just 30 dollars per person per team, and everyone has a chance to win prizes. Find out more by calling 359-8488.

    St. Peter's Elementary in Schofield is hosting their Easter Kids party tomorrow morning starting at 9:30. Your child will sing songs, make crafts, and enjoy games with other children their age. A free hot dog lunch will be provided. This a free program for kids ages 3 to fifth grade.

    Stevens Point is hosting their 24th annual Easter egg hunt at Pfiffner Pioneer park tomorrow morning. There's three start times so everyone gets a good shake at the hunt. Toddlers to three year olds start at 10:30, 4 to 6 year olds start at 10:35, and 7 to 8 year olds go at 10:40. There's over 16-thousand plastic eggs filled with candy and prize slips out in the park. So come on out, and leave the bags and baskets at home so everyone can get some eggs.

    Thanks again to Chuck Cornelius and the Oasis theatre ensemble. Picnic continues tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 2:30 and 7:30 at the UWMC theatre. Tickets are just 10 dollars at the door.

    Next week, you probably have some left over Easter candy. Why not turn it into art? It's the Peeps Exhibition at Water Street Arts in Rothschild.

    Raymond Neupert

    WSAU Production

  • OPINION: Roller derby

    Posted by Chris Conley

    The rough-and-tumble female manager of the horse farm spoke to the group of riders on horseback. “If you haven’t ridden a horse before,” she told them, “It’s like sex. If you aren’t a little sore the day after, you weren’t doing it right.”

    She was talking to a group of Girl Scouts who were on a horseback riding trip.

    The Girl Scout troop decided next time they’d go to a different riding stable.

    Supposedly her comment was fairly common among female riders. It’s barn talk. And women who’ve been riding horses have heard it before. But it’s inappropriate around 11 and 12-year-old girls. There has to be a higher standard for those who work with kids.

    That’s my thought about Jimi Van Zante and his wife Heather Blair. They’re the founders of a roller-derby league for girls. Some people claim they are skinheads. She wears an “88” armband, a well-known Nazi symbol. He has a swastika tattoo.

    Their roller-derby bylaws say they don’t discriminate against anyone. That should be a given for any group that deals with children. It also seems like there’s a core group of young girls that want to take part, and it seems to have been a positive experience for them. The Van Zandte’s say their own political views are separate from the roller derby league.

    My oldest daughter is 11. I’m glad her girl scout troop will be horseback riding at a different stable. And if she was into roller derby, there’s no way I would let Mr. and Mrs. Van Zante be in a leadership position around her. My answer is ‘no’ to anyone I have suspicions about. I have a lot of suspicions here.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Risky when raw

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wisconsin should be very cautious about the raw milk bill. Governor Doyle says he may sign it if it reaches his desk. It would allow dairy farmers to sell unpasturized milk straight from the cow.

    Some farmers see this is a small side-business where they can eliminate the middle man and make some money. Beyond economics, many see this as a limited-government issue.

    But there are risks. Unpasturized milk can contain bacteria. In some rare cases it can cause serious illness. Supporters of the raw milk bill say people should be told of the risks and make their own choice, just like when people eat raw seafood or order a rare steak.

    But while individuals will make their own choices about whether to drink raw milk, there will be wide-reaching publicity and repercussions if people become ill. The danger is that the public will perceive that “Wisconsin milk” is unsafe. We would know that isn’t true, but perception is reality, and the state would spend a tremendous amount of time and effort convincing the public that pasteurized, processed milk from Wisconsin is ok to drink.

    There's a history of mob mentality about our food. When there’s a salmonella scare over spinach or tomatoes, all growers take the loss even the problem is eventually traced to just one farm. We’ve seen similar issues with irradiated food, which appears to be totally safe, but is still facing some marketplace resistance. Some genetically-modified food still can't be sold in Europe. And Wisconsin farmers remember the national debate over milk hormones for cows.

    Should Wisconsin put its signature industry at risk because some farmers want to sell raw milk? I think not.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: The other legend of Sleepy Hollow

    Posted by Chris Conley

    I'm back from a few days off. And the WSAU news blog returns, too.

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) What are the things that give a community its identity? For most, it’s their schools. Villages and smaller communities lose something if their kids go to class somewhere else. Communities that don’t have their own schools really don’t have an identity at all if they don’t have their own postal address.

    For many years I worked near the Village of Sleepy Hollow in New York. Here was a village that had everything going for it… it was forever immortalized in Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend Of Ichabod Crane’. It was had spectacular views of the Hudson River. Its history dated back to the Colonial period. But modern day Sleepy Hollow doesn’t have its own schools, and doesn’t have a post office. People who lived there thought it was important that they have their own zip code and mailing address. Without it their community was in danger of slipping away… or becoming just a neighborhood within Tarrytown, New York, which itself was being dwarfed by nearby Yonkers and White Plains.

    Kronenwetter is in a similar situation. It’s a growing village. They have their own village hall, their own police department, and next month the U.S. Postal Service will recognize “Kronenwetter 54455” as an address.

    To outsiders it may seem like small issue. To people who live in Kronenwetter, it’s an important step in establishing their own identity.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • TRAIN BLOG: Further down the tracks

    Posted by Chris Conley

    TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) I didn’t know I had a Great Aunt Judy. But one summer my mother announced we were going to visit her. She lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We would go there by train.

    For a 10 year old boy who loved trains, this was a big deal. Connecticut to Virginia would be the longest train trip of my life. For years I’d watch the Amtrak trains rush through Fairfield station bound for Washington. They’d come around the big bend almost silently, then the engineer would lay on the horn to move passengers back from the platform edge. Those trains slammed through, kicking up a gust of wind that would rattle people’s newspapers and cause men to hold onto their hats. Now I'd be on one of them.

    My mother, sister, and I set out on a hot summer day from Bridgeport on Train 175, The Minute Man. We climbed the steps to Bridgeport station and waited. From the elevated platform you could see the train approach from the bridge over Bridgeport Harbor and slowly ease to a stop.

    Our train switched to the express tracks at the interlocking just beyond the Bridgeport station, and quickly accelerated. I knew this part of the line, and soon we were speeding past the stations that the Grand Central locals would stop at. At New Rochelle junction, Amtrak trains for Penn Station and Washington split from the main line. Now our train was on unfamiliar track, climbing towards the Hells Gate Bridge and a sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline. Then the rooftops of the residential neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, as the train began slinking into the tunnels under the East River.

    My young eyes soaked in the scene over the next few hours. My first long-distance train trip wasn’t at all what I expected. Amfleet coaches were intentionally designed to look like the inside of an airplane. You sat in large airline coach seats with head rests and fold-down tray trays. The baggage racks above looked just like the luggage bins on a jet. You could eat in a snack car with indescribably bad food that came out of a microwave. The windows were too small.

    The Minute Man rushed through New Jersey at top speeds of 125-miles-per-hour. It was a fast, modern, sleek train. But there was no romance… and that’s what train travel was supposed to be about. In Trenton… Philaldephia… Wilmington… Baltimore, we looked out the window at the backs of abandoned factories and industrial infrastructure. This was a stark difference to the train photographs and Amtrak’s television commercials we'd seen. Trains were supposed to be climbing through the Rockies with breathtaking scenery that you couldn’t see from 35,000 feet.

    But Amtrak managed to turn a train into a plane. Our train was comfortable, fast... and it was mostly empty. People who needed to get somewhere quickly already were flying. And people who wanted to take the train didn’t have picture windows, deep-plush seats, good scenery, a diner, or an observation car.

    We pulled into Union Station-Washington at dusk. Almost all of the passengers onboard got off. Very few were going beyond to Virginia. The overhead wires ended in Washington, and our electric engine was cut off. We would be in Washington for about a half-hour as a diesel was put on the head-end and a new crew of conductors came onboard. Daylight was fading. I contemplated how my trip expectations didn’t match reality.

    Suddenly the lights came back on in our coach. The portly conductor with a southern accent called out a hearty “all aboard”, and our train jerked forward. On the other side of Union Station, the train crossed a viaduct over the Potomac River. You could see the rotunda dome of the U.S. Capital. The Jefferson Memorial, bathed in floodlights, left in silhouette on the water below. The train accelerated against the darkening sky. Soon we were in the Virginia countryside. Marshes. Small, picturesque downtowns. Storefronts and schools. Cars waiting for us to pass at railroad crossings. It would be dark soon and I wouldn’t be able to see anything.

    “Fredericksburg, in five minutes.” Our conductor chanted as he walked up the isle. His voice was a booming baritone. No need for the train’s intercom. “This door out,” he almost sang. “Fredericksburg, five minutes.”

    We climbed out of the train at a small depot. The town square and courthouse were across the street. The scene couldn’t have been much different for a Civil War era traveler who’d just arrived on a steam engine. The last part of our journey was perfect. As the train’s red marker-lights faded into the darkness, I thought that real railroading was somewhere beyond the subways and the cities that I knew.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau