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  • OPINION: The Massachusetts Mess

    Posted by Chris Conley

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    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The political talkers in Washington have been full of 'what if' scenarios if Martha Coakley loses the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. Is there any way to advance the health care bill if Democrats lose their 60-vote super-majority? Yes, there is. But there are no good options. Nancy Pelosi's leadership abilities in the House will be stretched. In the end, all the hardball choices are ill-advised.

    The easiest way to get health care through Congress is for the U.S. House to pass the exact same bill that's already cleared the Senate. If the bills are identical, they don't need to go back to the Senate. It's the easiest way. It is also the most politically damaging for bluedog Democrats and other Dems in competitive districts. The Senate bill was never intended to be passed as-is. Abortion funding, pubic option, medicare funding, the Cadillac-insurance tax, and a half-dozen other issues were supposed to be hammered out in conference committee. Still, if push came to shove, Nancy Pelosi could probably deliver the votes. She has no margin for error, and could lose only 2 of 3 votes and still pass health care. No one, even supporters, would like the bill. But President Obama would have his health care reform. But it is entirely possible some Democrats in the house could flip-flop, if they get cold feet after today's events in Massachusetts.

    All other options are messy.

    Democrats could rush a bill through conference committee, and try to get a 60-member vote in the Senate before Scott Brown takes his seat. There are two problems with that. First, Massachusetts law suggests that their interim senator loses his seat as soon as the election is over. But the law is ambiguous. A court fight would follow. And the politics is bad. The rest of the nation sees the Massachusetts vote as a proxy referendum on health care reform. For the plan to be publicly rejected only to move forward legislatively would be damaging.

    Democrats could delay seating Scott Brown while continuing to rush the healthcare bill through. Certifying the election results in Massachusetts could take a few weeks, and at the state government level Democrats control all of the key offices. A full blown recount could take a month or more. And the health care bill would become more unpopular during that lag period. More seats would be lost this fall.

    Or there could be a last-ditch effort to sway one Republican vote in the Senate. Maybe Olympia Snow, who probably has a price in mind for her vote. This gives the bill a bipartisan stamp of approval, but Snowe's bargain may drive other votes away.

    Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank is as good a vote counter as there is on Capital Hill. Hes says Coakley's loss would kill heath care reform. Unless his fellow democrats are willing to give up dozens of seats to get a bill, he's probably right.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: A train ride for Martin Luther King Day

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) One of my favorite train rides is The Crescent, from New York to New Orleans. Leaving New York in the late morning, by dusk you're traveling through North Carolina. You'll see the Atlanta skyline at night. Sunrise the next morning finds you rolling through the genteel south of Alabama and Mississippi before a six-mile causeway trip across Lake Pontchartrain arriving in the Big Easy. Before airplanes took over, The Crescent was the main link between the Northeast and the South.

    But The Crescent has an ugly history. The train itself was operated by the Southern Railroad, and was operating as a Jim Crow train into the 1950s. Blacks were not allowed use The Crescent's sleeping cars. Its dining car was segregated. South of Richmond the train carried 'negro coaches' -- smaller, dirty, sometimes non-air conditioned cars for African-American passengers.

    Of course, that's nearly 50 years in the past. Federal law and business practices have long made the sleeping cars and diners available to everyone. (An interesting side-note: it was a private business, The Pennsylvania Railroad, that de-segregated the Crescent before federal civil rights laws took effect. The Pennsy, on who's rails the train ran between New York and Washington, refused to enforce segregation rules while the train was on its property, and the Southern Railroad eventually gave up trying to re-seat passengers south of the Mason-Dixon line.)

    But here is a true story from one of my trips on The Crescent from 1998. I was traveling alone, bound for New Orleans. Railroad tradition is that passengers travelling alone share a table in the dining car so people don't have to wait as long for their food. The man in front of me in line was Clyde, who boarded in Meridian, Mississippi. He whispered in the ear of the maitre'd, "Don't sit me with no darkies." Clyde was seated at my table instead. "Where ya goin', young man?" he asked me. And he offered his opinion of New Orleans: "Half the people who live there belong back in the jungle, where they came from."

    On this Martin Luther King Day, there are lessons to be learned from a train ride from a decade ago. Our government has eliminated racism from our public code. And we're been effective at fighting bigotry through the law. But there is still a battle for equality in the human heart, and that fight isn't over yet.

    Chris Conley
    Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Haiti before the earthquake

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) What is happening in Haiti is tragic.

    The situation in Haiti before Tuesday’s earthquake is a scandal. It took a natural disaster to bring it to light.

    Haiti, per capita, has received more U.S. aid than any other nation in the western hemisphere. What have we received for our investment in this nation and her people? Nothing. American money has made no difference. It is still our poorest neighbor. Although it is difficult to compare, Cuba has a greater gross domestic product.

    Aid we’re given actually made things worse. Our money that went to Haiti has enriched corrupt politicians. It’s been of no benefit to the people.

    The Dominican Republic shares the same island. Haiti has better ports and more fertile growing fields. But the D.R. has a more effective government. Cruise ships stop there, but not Haiti (too much crime). The D.R. has all-inclusive luxury resorts, Haiti doesn’t (too many bribes to get the building permits). The D.R. is an imperfect, functioning democracy. Haiti has been dominated by political strongmen with armed gangs acting as secret police.

    And our last national adventure into Haiti turned into a national embarrassment for the United States. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president, but was ousted in a coup in 1991. President Clinton was prepared to send U.S. troops to help distribute humanitarian aid, but to secretly help retuned Aristide to power. But our troops never landed. After an armed gang appeared on the main docks at Port au Prince, United States naval ships and the marines they carried stayed off shore. The world took note, especially the terrorists of today, that the mighty U.S. military backs down when faced with a small group of local toughs.

    There is the possibility that earthquake aid will get to the people that need it. And we should help on humanitarian grounds.

    But pre-earthquake Haiti is an indictment of U.S. foreign aid. The more we give, the worse the recipient of our generosity seems to get.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Grandparents rights

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Two scenerios.... each very sad.

    In case one, a husband and wife get a divorce. Their child lives with the mother. Dad sees the kid on the weekends. A year later, the mother is tragically killed in a car crash. The father takes over custody, but begins blocking the child's maternal grandparents from seeing their grandson. The father plans to move out-of-state and sever all ties.

    In the other case, tragedy strikes a happily family. The father - who is also the family bredwinner - is suddenly killed by a heart attack. The stay-at-home mother now prepares to return to the work force. Sadly, the only good-paying job she can find is in another part of the country. She plans to move away with her daughter. The grandparents will be shut out of their lives.

    Both cases are sad for different reasons. One for human maliciousness, the other for human circumstance. And in both cases, grandparents could sue under Wisconsin law. We are one of the few states that has parental rights for gransparents -- up to and including court-ordered visitation. But the law can't separte the two hypotheticals above. The vindictive father and the mother-earning-a-living are the same in the eyes of the law. And that's a huge government intrusion into parental responsibility.

    This week, an appeals court upheld the grandparents visition statute.

    There is something tragic about a grandparent that's shut off from their grandkids. It's the kind of situation where you hope the adults could work through their differences. But in asserting gransparents rights, important parental rights are being infringed on.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: DARE graduation

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Does DARE work? Years ago there was some independent research that concluded drug education in schools didn't do any harm, but didn't reduce youth drug-use rates at all. There have been other studies done by state justice departments around the country suggesting that DARE does help from negative attitudes about illegal drugs.

    I have no statistics, no facts, just gut feeling. My sense is we are losing the war on drugs in our schools. When I was in school, drug use was unheard of outside of high school and college. The drug of choice would have been marijuana, and only a handful of students were users. My younger sister said by the time she was in school should could identify dozens of high school drug users, and most of those habits started in middle school. The people I've talked to in their 20s and 30s tell me that some level of drug experimentation was almost universal when they were in high school - even if they only tried it once. DARE officers will tell you today that almost any kid at any high school can score pot, and that harder drugs are also widely available. DARE targets kids in 4th and 5th grade, because these are skills they'll need in middle school. There's a push to start DARE earlier.

    Today is my oldest daughter's DARE graduation at Thomas Jefferson School in Wausau. She's one of the speakers at the event. I will be there to celebrate her achievement. But in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "I sure hope this works."

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Leave the seat open

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There's a vacant seat on the Wausau City Council created when Alderman Steve Foley moved away. Three applicants have come forward, saying they'd like to serve the remaining four months of the term.

    To their credit, all three have also filed candidacy papers indicating they plan to campaigning for a full term of their own. In far too many cases, people who see campaigning as time-consuming difficult work (and it is), try to get appointed to a vacant seat specifically because they don't have to run as a candidate and face the voters. The person's who's awarded a seat on an interim basis has the advantage of incumbency, which makes running and winning tremendously easier next Election Day. While it's sometimes hard to read people's intentions, this is the kind of pseudo-public servant that should be avoided. Campaigning and winning the support of your neighbors is a critical step in holding public office. People who aren't willing to do it should direct their civic-minded efforts elsewhere.

    Which brings us to the City Council tonight, where one of three candidates will be chosen by other council members. They should choose no one. The power of incumbency is too great, and gives the council's choice an unfair advantage over the other two candidates in the spring election.

    Yes, there would be a vacancy and five future City Council meetings. Yes, people in the 10th District would be without a voice on the city council. But the hard choices for the year have already been made. The city budget and tax levy are set. Having a temporarily-open seat is better than a non-level-playing-field election in four months.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

    EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of the blog misidentified city council member Steve Foley. Sorry for the mistake.

  • OPINION: The season ends

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Three thoughts on the Packers game from Sunday, and the endof Green Bay's NFL season.

    First, there's been some scattered talk about a facemask call that should have been made on Aaron Rodger's fumble at the end of the game. If the players aren't complaining about the officials, fans shouldn't either. The Packers problem on Sunday wasn't the refs. The problem was the defense. You don't win playoff games with only one defensive stop.

    Second, the Packers are still a young team that's built for the future. I have nothing but optimism about next season. We already have a world-class quarterback, a high-powered offense, and a defense that will get better next year. Just a few missing pieces, and....

    Finally, for all the good teams except one, the season and with a loss, a disappointment, and a little heartache.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINIONS: And now, he should resign

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Wausau Alderman Tom Miller was in court yesterday. Moments before his trial was to begin on a felony charge of fleeing a police officer, he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.

    If he went to trial and lost Miller would have been automatically removed from office, would have lost his right to vote in Wisconsin, and could have been sentenced to three years in prison. And he would have lost. The prosecution has patrol car video of Miller not pulling over on the morning of October 6th, driving for nearly a half-mile to reach his driveway with a police cruiser with lights and sirens on behind him. His only earlier statement, that he didn't know the officer was trying to pull him over, is ludicrous on its face. Repeating it at his plea hearing would have been insulting to the Court.

    And now, Tom Miller should resign.

    He has already announced that he's not running for another term. But staying in office is a charade. Should he get the same 'thank you' and farewell send off that other retiring members of the City Council receive? Of course not. They have served honorably. He came within a whisker of being a felon.

    Some will argue that a resignation would leave people in Miller's district without a voice in city government. That is true. It is also flawed logic. People in Miller's district should not be forced to trust someone who's judgement was on display on that October morning. He could have killed one of his constituents as he drove through his neighborhood with a police car tailing him. And what of respect for law enforcement?

    Sadly, many people drink and drive in Wisconsin. And yes, some of those people are public officials. But even most drunk drivers stop for police. Miller didn't. And we are left with the disgrace of having a city leader who's held to a lower standard than the rest of us.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Journalistic standards, anyone?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Bianna Golodryga of ABC's Good Morning America is engaged

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The story reads like a cheap romance novel. A rich, powerful man from within the halls of government knocks up his girlfriend, and then leaves her for a sexy media starlet. And that's the story that the New York Post is reporting involving White House Budget Director Peter Orzsag:

    The story is written for maximum sex appeal. And the emphasis is wrong. This story isn't about the morals of Orzsag. Who are we to judge? I beleive the President of the United States is entitled to pick whoever he wants as an advisor. And Orzsag's sex life has little to do with his ability to put a budget together.

    This story is really about the lack of journalism ethics and standards at a once-proud ABC. Bianna Golodryga is the network's lead financial correspondant. She reports on the nation's economy and government fiscal policy. And she was dating, and is now engaged to, and will soon be marrying her top source. Did she tell her bosses? Did they get a chance to judge whether her reporting about the economy remained objective? How does someone produce solid, hard-hitting journalism when they are romantically tied to the person who crafts the very policies they are reporting on?

    Perhaps Bianna Golodryga learned to manage her professional and social conflicts at the feet of Barbara Walters, who revealed last year that she had an affair with Senator Edward Brooke in the 1970s while she was a Washington correspondent.

    Journalists do not date the newsmakers they cover. There was a time when everyone knew that unbreakable rule. How low has journalism fallen? Goldodryga was dating Orzsag at the White House correspondents dinner last year -- in front of hundreds of her colleages. How many said "congratulations", and how many said "what the heck are you doing"?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Cellphones and the free market

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NSee full size imageEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you want to buy a cellphone, you have lots of choices. Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobil, US Cellular, take your pick. And they all have dozens of plans, from discount limited usage to very expensive unlimited voice-and-data packages. Economists would call this a highly competitive marketplace. It doesn't need a lot of regulation. The companies themselves have market-based motivations to provide good service and low prices. If they don't, you'll switch providers.

    But state lawmakers are considering new regulations for cellphone companies. The proposal from Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids) would make roll-over minutes mandatory. He argues that cellphone customers already buy plans with more minutes than they actually use because of the very high penalties for going over. And he's right. But the state should stay out anyway.

    Competition, not regulation, is the cure for this problem. There was a time when no cellphone providers offered rollover minutes. Someone started this to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Now many companies have rollover. And they're competing based on how many minutes roll over, and whether they expire, and any number of other factors that makes you choose one company over another.

    And if buying exactly the number of minutes you're going to use and not having them expire is important to you, the marketplace has already provided a service for you: Tracfone. You pre-pay for the airtime you need, and don't have to sign a contract. It's a company that exists because there's a market for that service.

    What would happen if the state's cellphone bill becomes law? Certainly, rates would go up as companies cover the new regulatory costs. Some cellphone providers may not offer certain calling plans in our state. Some may choose not to do business here at all. And if the result is fewer choices, the companies that remain will have more price control over you in the long run.

    So why does a cellphone bill even get proposed? Because for some, government regulation is a reflex to any perceived problem, and the virtues of a free market simply are not trusted.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Weston vs. Rothschild

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) - There's a land and revenue sharing dispute between Weston and Rothschild. But there's also a dispute between personalities.

    Consider this quote in the Wausau Daily Herald. Weston Village Administrator Dean Zuleger said this of Rothschild Village President Neil Tourney:

    "I just know him to be a guy that takes advantage of other communities."

    That's a loaded quote to say to a reporter, especially without any further explanation or examples. It's also something that a public official shouldn't say. It means two leaders -- and the communities they represent -- are digging their heals in. And settling disputes like this in court are expensive.

    The big push in recent years has been for municipalities to save money by combining and sharing municipal services. Such a negative, loaded quote makes those kinds of a agreements more difficult to reach. There may very will be blame on the other side too. If Rothschild can't follow through on their agreements, then they are a bad partner. That will hurt chances to partner with neighboring communities.

    The big losers are the taxpayers. If Weston is owed $114,000 in revenue sharing from Weston Four, it stinks that tax dollars will be spent on a lawsuit. If Rothschild really does owe, it stinks that that legal recourse is the only way to get them to honor their agreements. A judge will have to decide.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Is Wisconsin being "Californiaized"?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I will try not to be depressed about the political scene for 2010. But it's hard to be optimistic in the face of the latest op-ed from David Ignatius (read it here: on the "Californiaization" of government and politics. And, he points out, when you factor in Wisconsin's population, state economy, and overall state finances, our budget shortfall was worse than California's.

    Ignatius' comments don't go far enough. Many of the trends in California are spreading across the country. There's no state that has more arduous business regulations that California. Regulations have been increasing elsewhere. The language-gap is a huge problem in California, with entire neighborhoods and communities where almost no English is spoken. The number of non-English speakers is increasing elsewhere. The gap between government services that are promised or demanded by voters, and the ability to pay for it is growing wider.

    In the past, I've tried not be be alarmist over deficits and national debt. The outlook always gets better when the economy rebounds. Boom years like we saw in the early 90s can generate enough economic growth to wipe out the entire deficit. But several factors are changing the equation. We are adding a new entitlement program (health care), we will have new demands on existing social problems (Medicare and social security as more baby-boomers retire), and taxes on businesses and the wealthy (investment drivers) will be higher.

    I suppose there's good news and bad news. Good that states have to balance their books from one budget to the next. They have a day of reckoning, however painful, at the start of every fiscal cycle. Bad that the U.S. government does not have to balance its books. For our nation, the day or reckoning is still coming, and the results will be more painful.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau