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  • OPINION: Law enforcement double-standard

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) If you were involved in a car crash at 2am, imagine what would happen if you refused to talk to the police. "Blow in this tube, sir" would be the likely response. If you say no to that, wanna bet you'll be booked into the county jail for the night?

    Now consider the case of Tiger Woods. There's evidence of some type of domestic disturbance and a crash into a fire hydrant and tree. He made no statement to police when it happened, nor on Saturday or Sunday.

    There is a huge double-standard for how celebrities are treated in cases like this.

    If I was Tiger Wood's publicist or advisor, I'd counsel him to tell the truth... even if the truth includes the affair that's been reported in the National Inquirer. A lie, or being evasive, only drags the story out longer and causes more damage. Tiger, Inc. may take a hit. Affairs are bad for endorsements. (Certainly a celebrity who's having an affair can't pitch sporting goods where the tag line is "Just Do It".) But the public has a surprisingly large capacity to forgive those who come clean and apologize. The most celebrated are the rehabilitated.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Hialeah's comeback

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Hialeah Park in its heyday (postcard)

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) This time of year used to be the end of the horse racing season in New York. The championship races were traditionally held in October. The best horses would get a month off, and would be vanned to Florida to prepare for next year.

    And for generations the best winter racing was at Hialeah, the most picturesque racetrack the world has ever known. Live flamingos inhabit the infield lake. The Mediterranean grandstand and Bougainvillea Fountain are architectural masterpieces. Horses race under palm trees and walk to and from their stables along paths lined with crushed seashells. The Hialeah turf course was regarded as one of the best in racing.

    But Hialeah is an an unspeakably-bad neighborhood, a Cuban-American slum south of Miami. The ritzy jet-set of Hallandale Beach migrated north of Miami, where Gulfstream Park became the racetrack of choice. In the 1980s, Gulfsteam took over the important winter-racing dates in Florida. Hialeah, forced to race in the early-spring, instead shut down for good in 2001.

    Until yesterday.

    Closed for eight years, Hialeah has decided to run a brief quarter-horse meeting. By scheduling some racing, Hialeah will qualify for a slot machine and gaming license. The plan is to return to thoroughbred racing in a year or two.

    Lambeau Field is a football shrine. Wrigley Field is hallowed ground for baseball fans. A shut-down or torn-down Hialeah Park is just as unthinkable. She is the Grand Dame of horse racing, and as of now, she is back.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Ready, set, shop

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Early bird shoppers run into a Target store looking for bargains at the beginning of  "Black Friday"

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) You wouldn't step over the body of an injured man who's writhing on the ground to save $50 on a DVD player?

    But that's what happened at a Long Island Wal Mart last year. A security guard was trampled to death by a throng of shoppers. Of course they're in a rush, the people in the front of the line had waited in the cold for hours. Anticipation had been building. And common sense (and decency) were cast to the wind when the doors opened. There were bargains to be had inside the store. Someone else can worry about the guy who's being trampled.

    I'm very glad that many stores have seen the foolishness behind creating a mob mentality in the name of boosting Black Friday sales. Many Wal Marts will be open 24-hours during the weekend, so there will be no mad rush at the door. Other chains are doing away with limited in-store bargains that encourage shoppers to dash from one aisle to another. I applaud all these changes.

    But I'm also concerned. Stores are doing a better job this year of managing the behavior of so-called aggressive shoppers. But the underlying behavior is still there. Some people are hyper-competitive about bargain-hunting. Some people pull and grab and yell to get a scarce item to put under the Christmas tree. Since when did shopping become a contact sport?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Let us give thanks

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Before they landed at Plymouth, they arrived at Cape Cod. The journey had taken longer than expected. No one expected the crossing to take two months. It was late in the growing season when they made land, and imagine their horror to find that near today's Provincetown was nothing but sand. None of their seeds would grow. Starvation seemed a likely ending.

    They set sail again for the mainland of Massachusetts, where the ground was more hospitable. The new problem was sickness. The close quarters below ships deck and unsanitary conditions had weakened the settlers. Some days only a half-dozen were well enough to pick berries and build their common house. Half died that first winter. By springtime, only five women of child-bearing age were still alive.

    And then in April the Mayflower was scheduled to return to England. The settlers, after 6 months in the new world, had to decide if they would stay or go. Some decided that staying would be their death. Who could blame them?

    You know the happy ending. Native Americans helped the Pilgrims plant. There was a good harvest that fall. Seven houses were built that first year, and their numbers multiplied. And during their second November, they had a feast and gave thanks.

    There are some people today who tell us that times are hard, and that we have less to be thankful for than past generations. Those people, of course, are mistaken.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: The Arsonist

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Seven years later, the Kevin Zarm arsons are still fresh in our minds. His fire-spree went on for a long time. And he was a murderer. And he was careful, difficult to catch.

    And after seeing five fires set in Wausau over an 18-hour period last Sunday, we wonder if we’re in for a replay. Will someone die from a fire that spreads to their house? Will someone die if they walk in on this arsonist doing his work? Where will he strike next? How will it end?

    I’m hopeful for a quick end to this case. This arsonist was not careful. Five fires in one night is someone with a reckless passion, not a meticulous calculating criminal. These crimes don’t appear to be planned out. They seem to be more a random lunacy, perhaps the kind of thing one does out of drunken vengeance. This is the kind of person who makes a mistake and gets caught, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Firewall breached

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) New circumstances sometimes call for reevaluation of one’s opinions. I’m reevaluating what I think will happen in the health care debate in congress.

    Two moths ago I blogged that President Obama’s prime-time speech to Congress was a failure, and that health care would die on Capital Hill. While I’m still under-whelmed by the White House's pitch, I now believe that Obama will get a bill that meets most of his policy goals.

    The firewall – the chance to kill the bill – was Saturday night in the U.S. Senate. By blocking floor debate, the issue would have been dead for the rest of the year. And after two months of punditry on the magnitude of the defeat, I’m not sure the Obama administration would try again. Not in 2010. Not in an election year. And from there it would have died.

    But now that the bill is on the floor I believe success is at hand for supporters of health care reform. There’s a certain momentum, especially in the Senate, to “get a bill”. The debate now shifts on two issues: abortion and the public health option. On the surface, tilting to from either side of either issue could damage a fragile voting coalition. But now that the bill is on the floor, there are limitless deals that can be brokered to cobble 60 votes together. We’ve already seen some of them: financial triggers for the public option, allowing states to opt out, creating insurance cooperatives, having the Health and Human Services Secretary certify which reproductive services get covered. There are dozens of other similar proposals that will be offered to make the bill more palatable. And several Senators like to think of themselves as great negotiators who relish the role of deal-broker. Republicans like John McCain, Olympia Snow, Lindsey Graham could all be involved in those kinds of ‘what do we have to do to get you vote?’ talks.

    And if all else fails, one or two votes could always be bought. And Mary Landrieu’s vote was purchased on the cheap. She secured $200-million in special Medicare benefits for Louisiana. Considering the health care bill costs $850-billion over ten years, supporters would make a similar deal again to secure the votes they need.

    For better or worse, health care reform is coming.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications

  • OPINION: A developer of talent

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Even if you’re a big sports fan, you probably don’t know who Bobby Frankel is. He’s a legendary trainer of thoroughbred race horses. He died of cancer earlier this week.

    When you train horses for Mary Lou Whitney, Overbrook Farms, and the Crown Prince of Dubai you are expected to win many horse races. You’re working with the best-bred horses in the world. Superior bloodlines give you an edge. He’d trained many horses that were purchased for $1-million or more from their breeders, and would be worth tens of millions as stallions when he was done with them.

    But that’s not where Bobby Frankel started. He built his reputation over 40 years as a person who could take bad horses and make them better. For many years Frankel trained mostly low-class claiming horses.

    Claiming races are horse races where the animals are being offered for sale. They can be purchased by a registered owner or trainer up until the race begins. The trainer can look at the horse in the paddock before the race, but needs to submit their purchase slip before the race begins. The buyer is making a bet that horse will be worth what they’d paid for it. A trainer of claiming horses makes their living by making those animals into better runners than they’d otherwise be.

    And Bobby Frankel excelled at developing claiming horses into high-class runners. $10,000 purchases would turn into $100,000 stakes horses. And in time, he got the attention of higher class owners who sent their better horses to him.

    But even as his stable filled with blue-blooded animals, Frankel would still make regular trips to Chile and Argentina. Each winter he’d buy one or two horses to race in his own name, or to race in partnership with his friends. It’s hard to make intelligent choices about foreign horses. They race against interior competition. Their breeding is more obscure. Only someone with a shrewd eye for horseflesh could make intelligent purchases in South America and run those horses successfully in the United States. And year after year, Bobby Frankel’s “imports” would find their way into the winners circle at Belmont Park and Del Mar.

    Seeing potential and helping to develop it…. great qualities that Bobby Frankel saw in horses. These are qualities we should try to develop in ourselves.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Mammograms and health care reform

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Politically, new federal guidelines on mammograms couldn't come at a worse time. Women everywhere are wondering if this is what health care rationing will look like. And it involves the type of cancer women are most scared about.

    A federal panel says women should get breast cancer screenings starting at age 50 instead of 40. But the report is based on a cost-analysis. It's not a group of doctors reviewing what's best. It's a group of medical accountants looking at the costs of screening people 10 years earlier. And numbers look cold when lives are at stake.

    1 in 69 women will get breast cancer in their 40s. It increases to 1 in 42 in their 50s. So the analysis says if a mammogram costs $200, we'll spend $13,800 in preventative screenings before we find an actual cancer case. If breast cancer can be treated for less than $13,800, as most cancers can with today's minimally evasive procedures, "the system" comes out ahead.

    The problem is that for most women breast cancer is terrifying. If their insurance companies begin denying coverage for mammograms based on new federal guidelines, there are many women who will pay out of their own pockets. Some will change their minds about supporting health care reform if the "reform" involves them paying more out-of-pocket and getting less coverage. And middle and upper class women in their 40s are generally supporters of health care reform.

    This was the type of hard-hearted analysis that the for-profit insurance companies were supposed to do. The health care debate will change as the public realizes that the bean-counters will still be there, they'll just be working for the government instead.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: A school cut that makes sense

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It’s a budget cut that hurts the children! How could you! The safety of our kids is at risk!

    All of that’s true. And it’s still a budget cut that makes sense.

    The Wausau School District and the police department propose cutting crossing guard hours after Christmas vacation. Right now busy intersections near schools are manned 90-minutes before class and 90-minutes after class. The proposed cut would be 45-minutes before and after. Almost all kids cross within 20-minutes before and after school. The school district will save about $57,000.

    The purpose of having a crossing guard is help students get safely to class. The 45-minute window more than meets this obligation. If there are kids who go to school unusually early or stay unusually late, it’s reasonable to say the obligation for their safety switches back to their family.

    The story illustrates a bigger problem. There’s a small, vocal group that will always be opposed to any cut – no matter how small, no matter how logical. And that attitude must be fought. I’m opposed to most school cuts. But when one comes along that makes sense, we can’t afford to pass it up.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: Will she be Quayled?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Dan Quayle was painted as someone who was stupid, a lightweight. His opponents caricatured him as a pretty face who wasn’t ready for prime time. And it stuck. Quayle was defined by his opponents, and their labels define him to this day.

    Sarah Palin has to make sure she isn’t Quayled.

    We still remember to this day that Dan Quayle couldn’t spell potato. We remember that he took on a television character in a national debate over fatherless-families.

    Will Palin be defined by her Katie Couric interview?

    She has some factors working against her. First, she hasn’t demonstrated competency. Until she delivers a home run in a hard-news, one-on-one interview, it will be assumed that she can’t. Secondly, even the people closest to her have always had doubts about her political ability. From her own book, the McCain campaign had operatives following her, making sure she didn’t talk to reporters off-script. One had instructions to physically remove her from situations where reporters had direct access to her. Even her own advisors say Palin is more conservative style than substance.

    Not to say that Palin can’t change her image. Richard Nixon was thought of as a chronic loser. Yet he won the Presidency twice. Ronald Reagan wasn’t taken seriously when he ran for Governor in California. Conventional wisdom was that he was an empty-headed actor who was good a delivering his lines.

    Palin is the most prominent conservative on the national stage right now. She will never have an ounce of support from the political left. There are a tremendous number of people in the middle who are persuadable if Palin steps up to the plate. Her new book, released today, is a move in that direction. Her next step will be interesting.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau

  • OPINION: Why don't they like Scott Walker?

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There’s another dynamic in the Wisconsin governors race that should be talked about.

    If you don’t believe Tom Barrett is the instant-frontrunner, consider this. He will likely get his party’s nomination without a primary. Democrats will immediately be unified around one candidate. Time and time again in politics, the candidate who doesn’t have to go through a knock-down drag-out primary defeats a candidate who does in the general election.

    Republicans will be divided. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker will likely face a primary – an expensive and divisive proposition. Mark Neumann, a former congressman and LaCrosse businessman, is also in the race.

    The circumstances surrounding Neumann’s presence in the race are curious. He was recruited to run by former Governor Tommy Thompson and other top GOP operatives. Neumann has enough critical mass within the Republican Party to force a primary, but it’s doubtful he has the state-wide name recognition to win. It’s a surprising act of disloyalty to Walker, who dropped out of the race four years ago to avoid a primary against Mark Green.

    For Republicans not to unite behind him raises two questions. What doesn’t the Republican establishment like about Scott Walker? And are they willing to give the governors office to Tom Barrett because of it?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

  • OPINION: The reluctant candidate is now the front-runner

    Posted by Chris Conley


    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) With no disrespect to the supporters of Scott Walker, Tom Barrett is now the front-runner in the race for Governor.

    Barrett, to most Wisconsinites, is a blank slate. And no candidate is ever more popular when than when the voters can fill in the blanks on their own. And the one thing that most voters know about Barrett is overwhelmingly positive. He risked his life to break up a fight between a young thug and an elderly woman in the parking lot of the state fairgrounds, and paid for it with a severe beating.

    Barrett already has a war-chest of $800,000, and he will undoubtedly have access to some of the $2.5-million that Governor Doyle has on-hand. And he will be the beneficiary of landslide support in Madison and Milwaukee, our state's biggest population centers. As a matter of geography, Barrett takes away some of Walker's advantage of being from Milwaukee, too.

    What's Barrett's biggest weakness? It may be that he appears not to want the job. There's been a great deal of reporting that Barrett didn't want to enter the race. It's fairly clear that his family needed some convincing too. Scott Walker wants to be Governor. He has for a long time. His challenge is to convince the voters that it's an important difference between the two candidates.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau