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  • OPINION - What if he didn't hold his fire?

    Posted by Chris Conley

     

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It’s dangerous to deal in hypotheticals, but that’s today’s exercise. Consider the road rage story from earlier this week.

    If you don’t know the story, here’s the background. A driver from Appleton is driving on Highway 29. He passes another car on the road. The other driver feels “disrespected”, drives up behind the car, and rams him from behind. The driver who’s been hit calls 911. The police dispatcher told him to drive to a nearby parking lot and wait for an officer to arrive. The other car followed. There was going to be a confrontation in the parking lot. Two people, a man and a woman, got out of the car. They approached they vehicle they’d just rear-ended, and tried to open the other car’s door. At least one of them succeeded in getting inside. The victim who was crashed into happens to have a legal concealed-carry license, and he is armed.

    Here’s how the story ends: the man from Appleton pulled his gun. Just displaying it was enough for his would-be attackers to retreat. No shots were fired. The two bad-actors were arrested as police arrived.

    So, hypothetically, what if the gun was fired?

    The law says the gunman would have been within his rights if the incident happened in his home, not his car. (In his home, the Castle Doctrine would have applied.) He also would have had a right to self-defense if he was being attacked. (He wasn’t; the would-be assailants backed off when the gun was displayed.)

    There are many people who’d say this gun-owner should have come out blasting. Truth is, he’d be in a legal grey area.

    The assailants are hot-heads and their road rage rose to the level of criminality. I’m glad they were caught. They should be punished. But I’m also glad they weren’t shot. Not because I’m concerned about them – but because the shooting would have been a life-changing catastrophe for the gunman. Imagine the legal fees. The possible criminal charges. The unwanted publicity. A possible lawsuit.

    The decision to carry a gun is complicated. The decision whether or not to use it must be made in the blink-of-an-eye. The results are life-changing for everyone, even for the shooter.

    Chris Conley
    12/7/12

  • OPINION - Slippery slope

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Boys & Girls Club is a fine organization. Our radio stations support many of their fundraising events. If you are looking to make a donation of time or money, this is an excellent choice.

    Actually, the Wausau city council made a donation on your behalf. It’s a small one – but you should know about it. In the just-completed city budget, the Boys & Girls Club got a $25,000 grant. It’s direct city funding for a non-profit charitable organization. Your share: about $1 if your home is worth $100,000.

    Is the Boys & Girls Club worth $1? Absolutely. But so are many other community groups within our city. And some of them have already complained that they didn’t know the city was giving out a $25,000 grant. They’ve asked how they can get in on the largess.

    I have a few thoughts on this.

    The city already gives out money to non-profit groups – lots of it. The city collects a hotel rooms tax, and distributes that money to groups that promote tourism in the area. The Boys & Girls Club doesn’t fit into that box, leading to the direct funding request. The problem is that while the room tax is doled out through a competitive process of presentations and debate, the current grant was an up-or-down vote by the city council without the same level of review. The money was approved, 6-5.

    If the city decides it wants to give aid to local charities, they should say how much money is available and accept proposals from the groups that want it.

    That approach, which is better than what happened at the last Council meeting, still has two problems: First, there’s already a community group that does this – the United Way. They raise large amounts of money privately, set priorities and standards for charities, and act as a clearinghouse to distribute the cash to the most deserving groups. Secondly, many people will confuse city grants with genuine charitable giving. The taking of tax money from property owners and giving it away (even to a worthy group) is not charity. Charity is free-will giving by individuals. One of the things that make our local charities great is that they get such generous support from local residents.

    The Wausau city council has started down a slippery slope. One thing is certain; expect more requests from more groups during the next budget cycle.

    Chris Conley
    12/6/12

  • OPINION - The money talked

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Bret Bielema

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Security or money? That’s the choice that now-ex Wisconsin football coach Brett Bielema faced. Money won out. ($2.4-M at UW, $4-M to go to Arkansas.)

    Bielema was the hand-picked successor to Barry Alvarez to coach the Wisconsin football team. He had the unquestioned support of his Athletic Director. He could have coached at Wisconsin forever. In the end, a man who is already a millionaire decided getting more millions was better than that. Bielema will find that if his new team is below .500 in 2013, there will be grumblings about whether he’s the right man for the job in less than a year. He’ll be fired at the end of 2014 if he doesn’t have a winning team by then.

    FYI: Arkansas will be an underdog in 5 of its 8 Southeastern Conference games next year :Florida, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. That assumes other teams like Rutgers or Mississippi State, who the Razorbacks lost to last year, don’t spring an upset.

    There are no untouchable coaches anymore in college football. The era of Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, and Bobby Bowden is over. The next best thing is a friendly athletic director. But at the big football schools of the south, AD’s also get swept overboard when the team doesn’t win. In college football, there truly is no substitute for victory.

    Bielema is willing to trade a decade or more in Madison for two years or so of big money in Little Rock. He’s signing a 7-year contract with the University of Arkansas. Name your price if you’d like to bet against me that he won’t keep his job for all of those years.

    The person whose stock rises in this tale of money is Barry Alvarez. If he wanted to, he could have allowed Bielema to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. But loyalty is a two-way street, and now the money won’t have to wait -- not even another three weeks.

    Chris Conley
    12.5.12

  • OPINION - A governor's blind side

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Image: Gov. Scott Walker

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Imagine for a moment that you are Governor. You’ve just won the election. You’ve made promises (that you intent to keep), you have a political agenda you’d like to advance, you have legislative friends and foes that you need to work with. And you have an administration to staff.

    Focus on those administrative positions for a moment.

    You’d start with your chief of staff. Of course you can pick anyone you’d like. You’ll probably pick a friend or someone you know very well – perhaps the person who ran your campaign or someone who was a mentor earlier in your political career. This person is your gatekeeper. You’ll also pick a secretary, who you’ll see every day in your office. Also, this will be someone you know personally. But you also have 300 or so other positions to fill. Some of them require special skills or knowledge.

    Do you know anyone who’s an expert on casino gambling? On railroading? On maritime law? On the natural habitats of birds? On nuclear power plants? Well – you’ll also be making appointments to the state’s Casino Control Board, Board of Railroad Commissioners, various Harbor and River Masters around the state, and the State Commission on Nuclear Power. You don’t know any people who are qualified? Oh. You’ll be relying on others to do the vetting for those positions, and the way those people perform in their jobs will reflect directly on you. By the way – if one of your appointees gets caught driving drunk, or says something outrageous that appears in a news story, or is involved in a sex scandal – they’ll be immediately linked to you. Your opponents will refer to you as their ‘close friend’. Photographs of you and the person in question from the executive mansion Christmas party will appear in the newspaper.

    This is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Governor Scott Walker. (You’re free to agree or disagree with his politics. That’s a separate discussion.) Walker has been effective at advancing his agenda. He stays on-message. Walker has good political instincts, and is a good public speaker. Those are all great skills that are useful to someone in public office.

    But the John Doe investigation has been festering. It’s an unwelcome distraction. It will not reach the Governor, even though the Milwaukee County DA’s office has tried to steer it in that direction. The lesson I take away from this mess is this: when Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive he wasn’t surrounded by good people. They stole. They didn’t follow all the rules. They forgot that their actions reflect directly on their leader. I’d like to think that Walker has surrounded himself with better people now that he’s governor. But remember, he doesn’t know them.

    Chris Conley
    12/4/12

  • OPINION - Stepping out of his box

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NBC's Bob Costas criticizes gun culture 120212

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you listen to WSAU you know me as the morning news anchor. That’s my job on the radio. If that’s all you know of me, I’m a caricature.

    I love jazz. My ideal night out is a fancy dinner and a live theater performance. I build model trains in my spare time. I write. The Packers are must-see-TV for me. I consider myself a good father to my four children. Yet you probably think of me as just ‘the news guy’.

    Bob Costas is like that, too. You and I probably think of him as the sports host. The big football game comes on, and there he is during the pregame and halftime show. ‘Tell us about the game, Bob,’ we think to ourselves.

    Well, Bob Costas is no different than me. He has interests, likes, passions and pastimes that are outside of his role on NBC Sunday Night Football. I believe Costas is a news junkie – he’s well-versed on the issues of the day beyond sports and can speak intelligently on those topics. And on Sunday, his interest in sports and news intersected. During his sports commentary he spoke in support of gun control after the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.

    I disagree with Costas. But I also disagree with people who want to put him back in the stereotyped ‘sportscaster’ box. Two of his interests – sports and news/current events – intersected. He voiced his opinion during a segment of the halftime show that’s usually devoted to sports-commentary. His opinion was well-reasoned and intelligently stated, even though it may differ from mine and yours. But today a sportscaster-turned-news-commentator is being lambasted for going over some imaginary line that we’ve created in our minds. In reality, he’s done nothing wrong.

    Chris Conley
    12/3/12

  • OPINION - Going over the cliff

    Posted by Chris Conley

    U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on the U.S. "Fiscal Cliff" in the East Room of the White House as Vice President Joe Biden (L) looks on in Washington, November 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  People sometimes ask me about current events. ‘What do you think will happen?’ On the fiscal cliff, I would have told you that a compromise is coming. It’ll be at the 11th hour. It always is with the federal government.

    Until yesterday.

    As of now, my thinking is that we're going over the fiscal cliff.

    What changed my mind?

    President Obama’s proposal, delivered to Capital Hill by Treasury Secretary Timothy Giethner, is such a step back that an agreement probably isn’t possible. Usually in negotiations both sides move closer together. The President’s proposal moves further apart.

    What’s in it? The tax hikes begin immediately. Spending cuts, which aren’t specifically spelled out, won’t happen until a year from now. There’s no plan for entitlement reform. Or tax reform. There’s a mini-stimulus program of $50-billion for the new year. And the proposal would allow the President, not Congress, to raise the debt ceiling. Even Republicans who might go squishy on higher taxes for the rich, can’t go along with the rest.

    There are two lessons the GOP should remember: spending cuts, when promised later, never happen. The entire debate over sequestration, which was part of the deal for raising the debt ceiling last year, now centers on keeping spending cuts from occurring. Of course, the debt ceiling has already been raised – and will need to be raised again in late 2013. The other lesson is that temporary tax deals, like the kind George W. Bush pushed through Congress, are always a bad idea. It’s impossible for citizens and companies to make financial decisions when tax policy is nothing more than shifting sand. And our government has never met a deadline that it can’t procrastinate up to and past.

    President Obama says he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to levels of the Clinton administration. He notes that the economy did very well back then. Republicans are such bad negotiators that they can’t even land on the right response: "well then, let’s return all of our nation’s finances to Clinton-era levels.” Pre-Bush, taxes were higher for everyone. If we return to Clinton-era budgeting, federal spending would be $6-trillion less than it is today. That's not realistic -- the number of people drawing government retirement benefits, medical benefits, and food assistance are much higher now.

    The President won the election. There’s no incentive to compromise. Most rank and file Republicans believe that a vote for them - for divided government - is just as legitimate a choice from the voters.

    The political spin will be fascinating. The news coverage and the blame game would be entertaining. Come January 1st, I think we’ll be talking about going over the cliff.

    Chris Conley
    11.30.12

  • OPINION - The fight over religion in the public square

    Posted by Chris Conley

    A nativity display

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) They’re in the news so much, I was curious enough to go to their web site.

    You’ve probably heard about the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison. They’re in the news a lot during the holiday season for threatening cities and towns with lawsuits if crèches or crosses are put up on public property for Christmas. Many communities cave without putting up a fight.

    If you don’t know about this group, it was founded by Dan Barker. He’s a former evangelical minister, who became a ‘free thinker’ in the 1980s.

    Barker and his supporters are free to be atheists and are free to use their voices and money to tell people about it. What rubs so many people the wrong way, aside from the lawsuits, is how strident they are against people who are faithful.

    Consider the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s billboards and bus cards:

    One says “Heathens Greetings”

    Another says “Sleep In On Sundays”

    “Every Day is Judgment Day – Use yours, use reason”

    And “Yes Virginia, There is no God”

    They have every right to share those views. What takes me aback is how strident they are towards people who are religious. There’s no room for reasonable compromise.

    I’m opposed to teachers leading prayers in school, but I’d support a few quiet moments before the school day for students to pray on their own. I’m opposed to coaches or PA announcers reading prayers on a loudspeaker before a football game, but see nothing wrong with players taking a knee and giving thanks after a game.

    So – here’s a challenge to the Freedom From Religion Foundation: the lawsuits against cities and towns are skirting on the edge of the issue. Sue the federal government. Demand that the image of Moses be removed from above the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives chamber, and that the sculpted image of the tablets of the Ten Commandments be removed from the U.S. Supreme Court building.

    While we have no official national religion, we’ve always allowed space in our public square for people who are faithful. That’s our nation’s tradition. Even though non-churchgoers are in the majority, we’ve always considered religion to be a virtue. Freedom From Religion Foundation treats it as vice. Their hostility is scary.

    Chris Conley
    11/28/12

  • OPINION - Small Business Saturday, Giving Tuesady

    Posted by Chris Conley

    A crowd of shoppers browse at Target on Thanksgiving Day in Burbank, California November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You’ve heard about Black Friday. This year we also had Grey Thursday, the “soft opening” to the holiday shopping season on Thanksgiving night. We also have Cyber-Monday.


    Perhaps you’ve also heard of Small Business Saturday and the new Giving Tuesday.
    The last two “days” are not like the others. I’m not sure they’ll last.


    The Thursday, Friday and Monday shopping days are all about consumerism. For better or worse, people are shopping on those days because they expect their gift-giving needs, wants, and desires to be met. I personally don’t have any inherent loyalty to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience compared to on-line. Like many, I’m a situational shopper. Buying from a store makes returns easier and lets me see the merchandise up close; shopping on-line gives more variety and lends itself to comparison shopping. What gets bought where depends on the item I’m looking for.


    Small Business Saturday is fundamentally different. Obviously the retail environment has changed and is much more corporate than ever before. It makes sense for small businesses to want to highlight their uniqueness during the shopping season. Many of us like the concept of buying from hometown merchants who are a part of the community.


    But, bottom line, most of us are price shoppers. Very few of us will pay more for exactly the same item just in the name of supporting the corner store over a big box. If the message of the day is “help these ma-and-pa stores out, buy local” – the day will fail. If the message is more about a uniquely different (and better) shopping experience by shopping local, more of us will be receptive. I don’t “shop local” as a generic term. I shop at my favorite stores – some of which happen to be local – because they meet my needs.


    Giving Tuesday is in a similar boat. I love the idea of a day to raise awareness towards charitable giving. But most of us don’t give “to charity”. We give to specific causes and groups that we like. Giving Tuesday won’t sustain itself unless the individual charities step forward and tell their stories. The day won’t succeed if it’s just about a logo and a marketing plan.


    We’re all going to have the feeling of being pushed and pulled between now and Christmas. We fundamentally like shopping and giving. The message and situation are more important than the name of the “day”. Create the right shopping experience, and I might buy on any day. Show me the right cause, and I might give at any time.


    Chris Conley
    11/28/12

  • OPINION - Road delays

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Governor Walker has an interesting budget decision to make. It concerns funding for the state highway construction fund. The state has many road projects on the planning board – and not enough money to pay for them. The state will have a shortfall of about $5-billion over the next decade.

    What are the possibilities? Governor Walker, who is usually rock-solid against tax increases, used an interesting choice of words when he said “there isn’t an appetite [in the legislature] for raising the gas tax.” Toll roads, something new assembly speaker Robin Vos is willing to consider, is a non-starter under federal law. Or, the state’s wish list could be trimmed down. Some projects that are deemed non-essential could be dropped. Others could be delayed, or be reconfigured to cost less.

    This is a tricky choice because the state’s highway builders, a powerful lobby, are Walker supporters. Many of the highway projects that are in the pipeline were dreamed up by the construction industry with the state’s blessing. They see the state’s transportation fund as their private account. (Hence the opposition to the Milwaukee-Madison train. Road-builders don’t want to compete with other modes of transportation for their money.)

    The right choice is to scale back. Wisconsin is not getting out of the road-building business. We’re living within our means. That’s been the message for Scott Walker’s political opponents since he got into office. It’s the right message for his friends, too.

    Chris Conley
    11.27.12

  • OPINION - Let 'em drink

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I remember my first night alone as a freshman on the Syracuse University campus. I moved into the dorm on Saturday. That night night was free time. Classes didn’t start until Monday. My newfound friends and I went out to explore our newfound independence.

    I was the first person in my family to go away to college. It was my first time in a drinking environment with no parental consequences. I really has no idea what to expect.

    Even though the drinking age was 21, alcohol was readily available. Our first night on campus we were put in touch with any number of people who could make fake IDs that would pass muster with most bouncers. Even those of us who couldn’t get into the bars could find alcohol at any fraternity-house or apartment. When I returned to my dorm room there were people passed out on the front lawn of my dormitory, and others throwing up in the janitors sink in the hallway utility closet.

    UW-Stevens Point is debating whether to make all on-campus housing alcohol free. It’s mostly in response to the death of Eric Duffey, who drowned on his 21st birthday after a night of drinking.

    These kinds of deaths, which happen all too frequently, are tragic. But they are independent cases where individuals over-imbibed. I’m skeptical of blanket policies that take away the privilege of drinking for those who are responsible. Yet this kind of thinking is becoming more prevalent. Some people are obese; ban large-size sodas for everyone. Some college students are problem drinkers; ban alcohol for all of them on-campus.

    When I was in college we learned own limits quickly enough. Some students drank so much they flunked out of school. A few got into trouble with the law. Most figured out that they couldn’t get a good education if they were hung over half the time. This is exactly the same calculation that other adults make: party on the weekends, work hard and generally stay sober during the week. Learning those limits is a part of going to school.

    Our laws say that a 21-year-old can legally consume alcohol. Those rights don’t suddenly go away just because a person lives in a college dormitory. If they’re of-age, let ‘em drink. Also let them deal with the consequences of not being able to handle their liquor responsibly.

    Chris Conley
    11/26/12

  • OPINION - The shopping experience

    Posted by Chris Conley

    black friday

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I remember when my aunt would take me window shopping in Manhattan during Christmastime. Tiffany & Company would always have one of the best store windows. People passing on the street would stop and look at their displays of jewelry.

    One year we went inside. The jeweler wore a tuxedo and white gloves. Everything about the store was creating the right environment.

    The Bonwit Teller department store had a man playing a grand piano just inside their front door. Toy store FAO Schwartz had a doorman dressed up as a London toy soldier. The Sharper Image had workers in every department showing off how the various gadgets on the shelves worked.

    Granted, none of these retailers compete on price. There were still meticulous about the shopping experience inside their stores.

    Even in a low-cost retail environment, management knows that the shopping environment matters. If there’s a long line at the grocery store, we expect other checkout stands to be opened. Stores spend countless hours and marketing dollars on shelf placement, lighting, mirrors, background music and in-store displays. They know the environment we’re in impacts how we shop.

    I continue to be amazed at how all that effort to control the consumer experience goes out the window on Black Friday. There’s nothing positive about a shopping experience where customers wait for hours in a cold parking lot before the doors open… or are encouraged to rush into a store and scramble for limited supplies of deep-discounted merchandise. And that assumes no one is trampled and no fist-fights break out. The idea of shopping as a combat sport should be repulsive to consumers and to the store-marketers.

    I think retailers that encourage Black Friday scrambling are ultimately hurting themselves. When the shopping experience turns negative, would-be buyers like me will avoid the stores altogether and shop at our keyboards.

    Chris Conley
    11.23.12

  • OPINION - Who do we give thanks to?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) For years we’ve heard stories about taking God out of Christmas. In a country where non-churchgoers outnumber the faithful, Christmas is more of a gift-giving holiday than a day with spiritual meaning. A sad development, but nothing new there.

    If you’re not Christian, you’re free to celebrate Christmas any way you want. Obviously there are many people who do just fine putting up Christmas trees, wreaths and plastic Santas and being festive and generous for the day. I suppose if you raise a child without any spiritual guidance, they’d come to think of it as ‘the day when you get toys.’

    In short, it’s become easy to take God out of Christmas.

    It’s not as easy to separate God from Thanksgiving.

    Here’s a day when we are supposed to take stock of the good things. We give thanks for them. I think almost all of us will spend at least moment thinking about the many blessings that we have – even in hard times.

    That begs the question give thanks to whom?

    It’s nonsense to give thanks to ourselves. We know that many of the things we’re thankful for aren’t determined by us. So should we give thanks to good fortune? I don’t think, even subconsciously, that’s what enters our head as we take account of the good things. You might be thankful for individuals in your life… thankful for children or a spouse. But you’re giving thanks for them, not to them. And most of those people are in our lives through random chance of the not-fully-explained miracle of birth.

    You see what I’m getting at.

    Even if we don’t realize it, we’re giving thanks to God. Where else did these blessings come from? Are we so shallow to just believe that we’re incredibly lucky? This Thanksgiving, even people who’ve lost their faith or aren’t part of an organized religion, should reflect on that.

    Chris Conley
    11.21.12