Monday, October 31, 2005

Public Problems, Private Solutions: Finding Dignity at Work

My uncle Eddie loves his job. A few times a week, he hops on a bus and rides halfway across Milwaukee to get to Pizza Hut, where he’s worked for seven years. He jams his hat down over his eyebrows, throws on his headphones, and listens to the Brewers while washing pizza pans, prepping vegetables and doing other chores.

You see, Eddie has Down syndrome. To him, his job is more than a chance to take home a check. While many new workers may see scrubbing greasy pans and doing dishes as beneath them, Eddie relishes the chance to be responsible, to make money (to support his insatiable appetite for 70’s classic rock CDs), and to enjoy the camaraderie with other co-workers. His job is his worth, and he lives for the daily accomplishment of a job well done.

The irreplaceable self worth that Eddie feels isn’t due to any government program. In fact, the opposite is true – the more he works, the more it jeopardizes his Social Security checks, which means the government is providing a disincentive for him to work more hours (which he is more than willing to do).

Many people with good intentions would find value in government programs that work to get people like Eddie into the workforce. In fact, the state Department of Workforce Development houses the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps individuals with disabilities find janitorial, food service, and other types of jobs. But as is the case with many government programs, DVR has been criticized in the past for poor bookkeeping, wasting money, and doing a substandard job of finding work for those it served.

What state lawmakers often don't realize is that there are private sector answers for many of the problems our society faces. There are actually companies who specialize in finding work for the disabled, and our lawmakers can help the process not by imposing more regulations, but by providing incentives for businesses to utilize their services. Private companies can do good work more efficiently, as the incentive is there for them to be streamlined, effective, and to provide good service.

A bill currently pending before the Wisconsin Legislature would provide an excellent opportunity to apply conservative, free market principles in getting more disabled citizens to work. The bill, AB 622, would provide tax incentives to businesses that employ disabled citizens through a registered community rehabilitation program, which is an organization that specializes in finding jobs for the disabled. While it would result in less revenue brought in to the state's treasury, there is a big difference between a new program "costing" the state more money and a tax break depriving the treasury of taxpayer money it should have never had to begin with.

At 45 years old, Eddie is living on borrowed time. Over 50% of individuals with Down syndrome suffer from congenital heart disease, which often cuts their lives short before their 40th birthday. If it is his heart that ends his life it will be a cruel irony, as it is the depth of his heart that keeps him getting on that bus and showing up for work. There are no doubt thousands of individuals just like him willing to do small tasks with the expertise of a neurosurgeon.

You’ll never see Eddie when you go to Pizza Hut, but you’ll know when he’s gone. Let’s just hope there’s another disabled citizen there to make it their life’s work to provide you with a clean plate.

Bush Picks Alito; White Guys Run Country Once Again

For the story, go here.

In more important news...

In 1993, I dated a girl named Laura briefly. We probably went out three or four times. After each date, we would go back to her parents' house and talk to her family, including her sister Maureen, who is a year older. After three dates, it dawned on me: I am dating the wrong sister!

I stopped calling Laura, and obviously, it would have been awkward to immediately ask her older sister out, so I let it drop. We lost touch, and I hadn't seen either of them since then...

...Until Saturday night. I was at a wedding where the whole family was congregated. After dinner, Laura started walking over to my table. I straightened up, thinking she was coming to say "hi." Instead, she walked to the guy sitting next to me, and started chatting about the one time they had met a few years ago at a tailgate party. She then left, completely snubbing me. So she remembers a guy she met once, but not a guy she played tonsil hockey with?

I immediately braced for a confrontation. There was no way she was getting away with that. (Needless to say, my wife was less than sympathetic, although she admired my ability to hold grudges). Unfortunately, she and her new husband of less than a month slipped out of the wedding early, foiling my plot to engage her.

After about six 7 and 7's, I unveiled my new plot. I had to go talk to Maureen. So I went and told her all about how I wish I had actually dated her 12 years ago and that she was way better than Laura. She seemed flattered, but her husband was less enthusiastic about this display of liquid honesty. Fortunately, I emerged from the wedding reception unscathed, and I didn't really look like that much of a jackass compared to the guy going table to table complaining about how bad the halibut was (it was actually Chilean sea bass).

Needless to say, the headache that accompanied me yesterday was not conducive to blogging about the Packers. In fact, some events are just self-explanatory, so I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

McCann in the Tank

I found a quote in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from District Attorney E. Michael McCann to be absolutely perplexing. The quote appeared in the article about Chuck Chvala’s guilty plea to two felonies for campaign law violations, and signals that McCann has drunk the Kool-Aid from the nutso campaign finance reform crowd. From the story:

But if campaign finance laws are never reformed, he said, future
legislators may be tempted to engage in behavior similar to that of the two
disgraced Senate Democrats.

"Ten years down the road, (if) the law stays the same, it invites
exactly what happened here," McCann said.

Huh? So we have a DA who just succeeded in convicting the former majority leader of the state senate of felony counts of misconduct and he thinks we need to change the laws? Wouldn’t these very convictions be evidence that the law is working? Would Chvala have been found guilty if he didn’t break any current laws?

Additionally, this appeal for campaign finance reform is a complete sham. Campaign finance reform, as it is currently understood by its advocates, involves a complex system of taxpayer funding of campaigns and unconstitutional limits on free political speech.

Chvala was found guilty of two crimes – one, for sending a capitol worker on state time to run a campaign, and two – for organizing donations to a campaign in excess of current limits.

How exactly would this new system have dissuaded Chvala from committing these crimes? It would not. In any way. Chvala knew the current laws were on the books, and he violated them. Is there any reason to think he wouldn’t have violated some other phony laws given his tyrannical control of his caucus?

What’s more interesting is McCann’s sudden insistence on new campaign finance reform laws when he has clearly shown a resistance to enforce the ones currently on the books. Remember when Marvin Pratt was running for Mayor of Milwaukee and his campaign finances were written in crayon, scrawled on napkins, kept in his head, and the like? Anyone remember that he was paying for trips to Kansas City, Las Vegas, New York, St. Louis and Hawaii, and Washington D.C. from his campaign account and then being personally reimbursed by the city? Anyone? McCann let Pratt off the hook with a slap on the wrist, never charging him criminally with anything.

Before McCann calls for a kooky new campaign finance reform system, he might want to brush up on the laws currently at his disposal, and show a willingness to use them.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Packer Blog: Week 7 (Vikings)

As I stated in an earlier post, I bleed green and gold, like the rest of Wisconsin. Seeing as how the season has gone to this point, I thought it would be somewhat therapeutic for me to jot down some of my thoughts during today’s game versus the Vikings. Consider this a semi-return to the blogging world.

A little background on the game today – the Vikings come in at 1-4 after what could generously be considered a couple of disastrous weeks. Every joke that can be made about boat-gate has been made, but let’s just say that the only bigger public relations disaster for the Vikings would have been if Harriet Miers was on board one of the boats. In fact, that might be the only job she is overqualified for.

Despite Mike Sherman’s determination to run the Packers completely into the ground, they have managed to show a little life lately. However, the Packers usually see the same hospitality on their trips to the Metrodome that Jeffrey Dahmer received on his trip to prison.

Before the game starts, there are a couple things I need to get out of the way. First, I am in two fantasy football leagues, and in one I am playing against the team that has Brett Favre and in the other I am playing against the team that has Daunte Culpepper. So an ideal game for me would be a 2-0 Packer win where nobody enters the other team’s side of the field. Happens all the time.

About a half hour before the game, I did something unprecedented – I saw a Taco Bell commercial that made me immediately run out to get Taco Bell. This has never happened to me before. I purchased a Grilled Stuf’d Steak Burrito, a Steak Nachos Bellgrande, a soda, and three beef soft tacos. Total bill: 48 cents. I mean seriously, you could feed all of Botswana at Taco Bell and still have change left over for some cheesy potatoes.

A note on some of the pregame shows – what is with all of these grown men laughing and touching each other? I mean, seriously – if I were Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw touched me on the arm, I’d cold cock him in his grill. These pregame shows are like slumber parties for grown men with jock itch. ESPN’s pregame show actually billed an interview with Michael Irvin and Keyshawn Johnson “The Great Debate.” As we speak, the Lincoln Library is building a shrine to Keyshawn , relegating Stephen A. Douglas to the basement.

As the game gets started, the home crowd – the home crowd – boos the Vikings like they were Elton John at Harley Fest.

And the kickoff…

12:09 – The Packers’ first drive stalls with two penalties. Good thing we got all those kinks worked out in the bye week, huh fellas?

12:11 – FOX shows their first shot of cheeseheads in the crowd. This is now as obligatory, and leads to a debate I often have with myself – are the Packers a net positive or negative for Wisconsin? Obviously, the nationwide attention we get due to the Packers is great, mostly due to the presence of #4 for a decade and a half. But – and I hate to be so blunt – a lot of the coverage goes further than just portraying Packer fans as a working class crowd. In fact, I would say the nationwide perception of a Packer fan is of someone who wears their cheesehead to work, drinks beer for breakfast, and weighs about 3 Franklins. And as one who reflects all of the above, I take offense.

12:20 – Packers get the ball back. With third and about a Whizzinator to go, Ahman Green is stopped up but bailed out by an offsides call. Even before his recent injury, Ahman was having a terrible year. If he would only show the same aggression towards the Vikings that he does towards his own wife, he might actually have a decent game. (A joke every Packer fan has said to themselves but are afraid to say out loud)

12:37 – Robert Ferguson catches a long pass, but injures his knee in the process. Mike Sherman immediately subs in The Burger King to take Ferguson’s place.

12:41 – Donald Driver catches a miracle one handed touchdown. 7-0, Pack.

12:43 – Two traditions are distinctly Wisconsin: Eating raw meat and listening to the Packers on the radio while watching the game on TV. I don’t do this, but have a number of friends that do. I personally think Wayne Larivee walks on water, but there always seems to be a gap between the broadcasts, which allows you to actually see how bad the Vikings suck before you hear it.

12:52 – In an attempt to eliminate any shred of dignity they still have as a team, the Vikes fumble the ball through Culpepper’s legs on a fourth down play. Mike Tice stares blankly into space, contemplating a rumor he heard about being able to create fire by rubbing two sticks together.

12:58 – Driver makes another unbelievable catch that gets the Packers deep into Viking territory. Following the play, Driver turns the ball into fish and wine for the crowd. He’s having that good of a day.

1:02 – Antonio Chatman makes a diving catch at the back end of the end zone for a touchdown. Vikings contest the play via instant replay, which shows he actually got three feet down, it was that indisputable.

1:23 - Vikings end the half with a long incomplete pass that announcer Bill Maas calls a microcosm of their season. Um… yeah, Bill. That pass was just like their season, except for it didn’t involve drugs, a fake rubber male organ, and an orgy on a boat. Other than that, it was just like it. 17-0, Packers. It’s been a while since the Vikings scored on dry land.

1:25 – The Vikings are so bad, entire sections of fans are demanding their money back for tickets they bought from Tice.

1:34 – More tomfoolery on the FOX halftime show. I haven’t seen this many men touching each other since the last Morrissey show I attended.

1:37 – FOX shows a graphic that the Vikings have 31 passing yards in the first half. How far is that in knots?

1:43 – The Vikings are immediately on the move. Koren Robinson, three weeks out of alcohol rehab, catches a pass after receiving a lap dance from Ahmad Carroll, and tips Carroll 5 bucks. After the catch, play is halted, and Carroll is awarded a trophy for being “Worst Player on an NFL Roster.” Carroll accepts the award, and play resumes.

2:00 – Troy Williamson catches a pass for a first down on third and ten, after being “covered” by guess who? Ahmad Carroll.

2:01 – Vikings throw the ball into the end zone, the wide receiver and the defensive back collide, and a flag is thrown. I immediately begin to string together a grab bag of obscenities in a barely comprehensible rant, thinking the flag is on the Packers. Fortunately, it was on the Vikings and my blood pressure lowers from “lethal” to “deadly.”

2:02 – On the next play, Culpepper throws a touchdown to Marcus Robinson in the same spot of the end zone. I’ll give you one guess as to who was covering (or not covering, in this case) Robinson. That’s right. #1 draft pick Ahmad Carroll.

Remember the part of “The Muppets Take Manhattan” when Kermit gets run over by a car, gets amnesia, and thinks he’s a soap salesman? He shows up at work (named Phillip Phil) and comes up with terrible new slogans like “Ocean Breeze Soap – for people who don’t want to stink,” and “Ocean Breeze Soap – it’s like an ocean cruise, except there’s no boat, and you don’t actually go anywhere.”

It’s like Ahmad Carroll was hit in the head at some point, got amnesia, and now believes he is an NFL player. He just keeps showing up for work, and nobody wants to say anything in case it hurts his feelings. One of these days he’s going to get hit in the head again, regain consciousness, and return to filling the ketchup dispensers at Culver’s. 17-7 Packers.

2:05 – If I was commissioner for a day, the first thing I would do away with is the practice of going to a commercial after a kickoff. If the league needs extra advertising revenue, let Mike Sherman wear a “Tampax” hat.

2:09 – “Cap’n Fred” Smoot holds Driver on a pass attempt. It’s the first time Smoot touched someone since he flew “Bubbles” in from Atlanta.

2:13 – Favre completes a pass to Bubba Franks. Fantasy football be damned – Packers need a touchdown.

2:19 – Ryan Longwell misses a 42 yard field goal. On turf. Indoors.

2:28 – After a long Viking drive, Nick Barnett breaks up a pass in the end zone intended for Mewelde Moore. Vikings settle for a field goal. After the ensuing kickoff, Viking kicker Paul Edinger, clearly a member of genus rodentia, is laughing about getting steamrolled on the play. Losing is funny, Paul.

2:34 – Ahman Green drops to the turf and grabs his knee after a short gain.

2:38 – Down 17-13, the Vikings get the ball back, and the Packers decide they have had enough of playing that pesky “defense” that their coaches are always harping about. Things from here on get a little hazy for me. Each pass Culpepper completes feels like a midget punching you in the groin (trust me, I know what that is like). Culpepper runs for 20 yards on a quarterback draw, the 34th time they have run that play this game. About this time, I start thinking about places in the house where I might be able to hang a noose. The only place I can really think of is the garage, as the beams are exposed out there. But then I remember that it is freezing out there and I might catch cold.

2:40 – Maas says Ahman Green’s injury “is not good news.” Really, jerkoff? I thought the Franklin Mint might be commemorating the moment with a nice collectible coin.

2:44 – Ahmad Carroll beat again for a first down, and the announcers note that he “has had trouble staying on his feet.” Guess he skipped the “ability to stay upright” drill at the NFL draft combine. Mewelde Moore catches his first career touchdown. Vikings go ahead, 20-17. I look down to my notepad where I scrawled the words “Hopeless – Dying.”

Boy, it’s a good thing Aaron Rodgers is standing over on the sideline with a clipboard. The Packers certainly couldn’t have used a first round pick to shore up the 30th rated defense in the NFL at a time like this. Rodgers is like the Harriet Miers of the NFL – he may end up being a good NFL quarterback, but picking him essentially euthanized what could be Brett Favre’s last season. I mean, all Favre is doing is leading the NFL in touchdown passes, and they are almost begging him to retire.

2:51 – Catches by Martin and Chatman have the Packers on the move, in position for at least a game tying field goal. Two minute warning.

2:56 – On a third and two, Mike Sherman calls an unconscionably bad running play. Favre had been marching the team down passing the ball, and Sherman thinks it would be a good idea to hand it off to the third string RB, who gets stuffed. In calling that play, Sherman is outcoached by a coach whose team is falling apart and who will likely be fired in a week. You think you might want to score a touchdown there, genius? You had a timeout, and you’re in the Metrodome! Longwell field goal, score tied 20-20.

3:00 – Everyone in the free world knows what is coming now. Sherman’s bad play call will result in the Vikings winning the game on a field goal. Of course, with 8 seconds left in the game and no times out, there’s only one play the Vikings can call to get the yardage they need – a 10 to 15 yard out to the sideline. This apparently befuddles the Packers defense, which allows them to get exactly that.

3:02 – Packers use their time out, Edinger kicks a 56 yard field goal to win the game for the Vikings.

3:04 – Mike Sherman calls the league office to see if they can forgo the formality of the Packers having the first pick in the 2006 Draft, and asks if he can just start Reggie Bush next week. Sherman is told that FEMA is being sent in to commandeer the franchise and Ray Nagin is being made head coach.

After an hour or so of despondency, my daughter climbed up on my lap, wrapped her arms around me, kissed me on the cheek, and said "I love you Daddy." I told her not to get too emotional - she has to suit up at running back for the Packers next week.

On to week 8, where the Pack will be clubbed like a baby seal by an angry Bengal team that lost at home today.