Author: Steve Prestegard

In the booth with Uke

Once the baseball postseason begins, Bob Uecker will be announcing the Brewers in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but only the seventh time since he’s been a Brewers announcer.

Uecker started with the Brewers in 1971 with Merle Harmon. After Harmon left for NBC to announce the Moscow Olympics, Uecker became the Brewers’ number one announcer.

Will Sammon took time to interview a few of Uecker’s on-air partners, including his current partners:

Listening to Bob Uecker call Brewers games on the radio is like hearing the soundtrack of baseball — with unrehearsed and outlandish outtakes included. So just imagine the hilarity that takes place when the mic is off. As the Brewers celebrate the 50th anniversary of Uecker in the booth, The Athletic asked his former and current radio partners in Milwaukee to describe working alongside Mr. Baseball. They shared their behind-the-scenes moments, from the hilarious to the profound to the time they ate a brat covered with raspberry sherbet.

What’s it like having this 87-year-old Hall of Famer as a co-worker? Only this special club truly knows.

The Scottsdale Test

Those who were hired to work with Uecker first had to pass a nerve-wracking final hurdle of meeting Uecker himself, usually at Don & Charlie’s, which was once a popular Scottsdale restaurant and hangout. This was their first glimpse of what working alongside a legend would look like.

Jeff Levering (2015-present): The first time I ever met him was the day before Christmas Eve 2014. He was my last interview. The Brewers sent me down to Arizona. We had dinner at Don & Charlie’s.

Cory Provus (2009-11): You’re sitting in that booth. Bob’s there. And right above Bob, it’s his picture with his shirt off.

Joe Block (2012-15): He would dine there all the time. It was a cool place. It had sports memorabilia from the previous three decades on the wall. A lot of baseball people would go through there. Ueck kind of had his own seat because he’d go in there all the time, knew the owner, that kind of thing.

Provus: We had the same dinner. We had Miller Lites and we had shrimp scampi and I think we had salad.

Block: I’m at the bar because I’m there a little early. I’m nervous. And so, of course, what do I order? A Miller Lite. He had one with me and then we went over to the seat and we just started talking.

Provus: We were already probably two or three beers in before we even got food.

Levering: Within five minutes, he’s making me laugh.

Block: I’m nervous but things are going all right. He’s making me feel more at ease. Fergie Jenkins comes over, sends us each a round first and then comes on over to say hi to us. Ueck says, “Hey, Fergie, meet my new partner Joe Block.” I think to myself, I just got the job, this is great.

Levering: Within another five minutes of our conversation, Bud Selig walks around the corner and Ueck stands up and says, “Hey, Al, how are you?” He’s the only guy in the world who could get away with calling him Al. He said, “Al, I want to introduce you to Jeff Levering; he’s going to be working with us next year.” I didn’t have a job yet. Throughout the course of the rest of the dinner you’re sitting there and you’re going, “Oh my God, did he really just say that?”

Provus: In every story, someone incredible was there. Joe Torre was there that night.

Levering: Your mind is blown. He’s telling me stories about the Miller Lite ads and everything else about baseball and how he spent time with Mickey Mantle and when he was writing skits with Billy Crystal for “SNL.”

Block: I think the restaurant closed at 9. But it was pushing 10 o’clock by the time I realized the restaurant had closed. There was no one else in it. I started to hear “What’s My Name” by Snoop Dogg blasting out of the kitchen. They were cleaning up for the night, and that’s when we decided to call it. Three and a half hours passed. It felt like it was 10 minutes.

Favorite day at work

Anyone who has shared a booth with Uecker is armed with a favorite story. The problem for them is limiting themselves to just one. So we let a couple of them share more. It was worth it. 

Block: We were at Wrigley. Somehow in the first inning — sometimes he’s just observing things — he picked out the rooftop seats. And he mentioned, as an aside, it would be funny if there were some behind the ballpark, where you couldn’t see anything and then they sell it to you for all this money and you get up there and you’re all excited that you have this rooftop seat but you can’t see into the ballpark. So it just started with just a stray comment like that. Then it kind of went away and it kind of came back. In the early innings, it started to develop some legs and certainly by the later innings, it was full bore.

He said we could make this into a sitcom, you know, like the people, they get hoodwinked and they go up there and it’s like this landlord, who is trying to take advantage of people. … And then it just kept expanding and we got to one point where the residents of these buildings would rent out their place to just random fans, maybe even allow them to take a shower on a hot day at Wrigley or whatever. They’d knock on the door, “Hey, can I get into your shower?” And he’d say, “Honey, who’s in the shower right now?” Then another one would have people teaching the kids, do their kids’ homework for them. Just random fans coming into these people’s houses and stuff, because they don’t ever make it up to the top of the rooftop.

I mean, this is the stuff that’s coming off the top of his head. “We’re writing a sitcom, Joe,” he’d say. “We’re writing a sitcom.” And then Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa came in, and we decided he was going to be a restaurateur at the bottom floor of the building, and he was gonna sell pizza. But the pizza made everybody sick. He sold bad pizza to everybody. We just couldn’t stop laughing, and I’m looking at social media and people are just from all over the world chiming in with some ideas. I’d tell him, “Ueck, someone has another idea.” And then that would just spur his mind. There were probably 12 different storylines that got revealed throughout this game, in which Mike Fiers ended up striking out like 13 or 14 guys. He was just motivated to create this whole story arc of the first season of a sitcom based on the rooftop seats and those buildings around Wrigley Field.

Pat Hughes (1984-95): After each game, I would be doing the postgame show on radio. He would be packing up his suitcase and preparing to leave the booth. His big goal was to try to get me to laugh out loud, on the air, while I am doing out-of-town scores or recapping, playing highlights from the Brewers game we just did. And it was absolutely hysterical the things he would do. He would, for example, stand right behind me, and make a sound. Like a wounded seal or a wounded dog. He would bark. Ar roof. Ar roof. Ar roof. 

Sometimes he would use props. I’m live on the air broadcasting, and I’m trying to maintain my composure and be a professional. One time, he said, “Hey, Pat, look over here.” And I knew it was going to be something bizarre. I turned around and there’s pretzels sticking out of both of his ears.

That was his big goal, to try to get me to laugh out loud. Once I laughed, then he’d say, “OK, see you tomorrow.”

Provus: When I got the job, Pat Hughes told me, he said, “Hey, you’ll know when Bob likes you the moment that he makes you laugh on the air and you have to continue. So when that moment happens, pinch yourself and tell yourself you’re in.” And that happened midway through the 2009 season.

We were in Cincinnati. There was some kind of on-field event going on before the game. And there was music. There was dancing. It was a very festive environment. And there was this one woman. Imagine Marge Simpson. She had this towering tower of produce. I mean, every piece of produce you can imagine. It was like 2 feet in the air, and it was on her head, and it was quite the scene. So the way that the pregame format was done is that Bob would take it out of the anthem, and then throw it to me for the lineups. So we caught the last few bars and this woman that had the produce sang the anthem. So we’re coming out of the anthem, and Bob would normally say this person’s name and then throw it to me for the lineups. And at this particular moment, the last bars of the anthem are done and he goes, “The Chiquita banana, with our national anthem. The lineups, here’s Cory …”  And I just lost it. I just lost it. I had to read a bank-sponsored starting lineup card, and I had nowhere to go. Zero. And he said, “You OK?” And I’m like, “No, I am not.” And he says, “You sure? OK, we’ll just hang out. No problem.” And I am laughing. And I have to get through this because we’re getting close to game time. So when that happened, I thought about what Pat said, and I said, he’s right.

Lane Grindle (2016-present): It was this past spring training. We mentioned on the air that it had snowed back home. I mentioned something on the air about the piles on both sides of my driveway. He said, “Piles, you used to have to get a prescription for those.” Well, an alternative term for hemorrhoids is piles, which was kind of over my head, to be honest with you. So we have a chuckle about it. I say to him, “You’re kind of like an astronaut because you can go places the rest of us can’t go.” Without hesitation or taking a breath, he says, “I’m just glad you put the -tronaut at the end.”

Levering: On the air a couple of years ago, he was talking about an exhibition game that they played in El Paso where he dyed his hair, and they put eye black in his hair. He started sweating so bad that it started coming down his face, and then he got blown up at home plate by somebody. And that story somehow morphs into him singing the song, “El Paso,” and singing the lyrics about a gal named Felina in a cantina. You can’t make this stuff up.

Provus: It’s 2010. We’re playing Washington. It’s a day game. Adam Dunn was an active player but not playing that particular game. So Ueck started talking about Adam Dunn, how much he likes Adam Dunn. Phil Rozewicz was the visiting clubhouse guy. It’s during the game. He brings up Adam Dunn in full uniform, sneakers on, and he just kind of hunkers down. Massive dude. Right between Ueck and I during a game, in full uniform, just hanging out. Jim Riggleman was pissed. He was the manager and he thought about, you know, fining him because he left the dugout during the game. He just wanted to see him. This was after Bob had the two open-heart surgeries in 2010 so I think Adam just wanted to see him and see how he was feeling. But it was like, how many guys can get an active player to just come up to the booth during a game?

Grindle: Usinger’s Famous Sausage is a big sponsor on the radio and another sponsor is Cedar Crest Ice Cream. A lot of our messaging combines the two of them. They deliver a lot of their products to the booth. One night on the air, Ueck was talking about how we had some sherbet that we had had out, and we were trying it earlier in the day. And then he says, “You know, as a matter of fact, I think it’s so good you could put it on a sausage and it would be good.” It kind of devolved into, like, well, let’s all try this … Let’s actually put sherbet on a brat and eat it tonight, taste-test it and then report on air how it is. It was raspberry sherbet, and we used it like it was mustard or ketchup. Honestly, it wasn’t bad. We all kind of liked it.

Jim Powell (1996-2008): This would never happen with any other partner that I would ever have.

We would just get on the bus to go to the stadium, you know, 3:30 in the afternoon, for a 7 o’clock game. We were in Montreal to play the Expos. I don’t know why he saw that as like a clean palette on which he could go to town, but he did. So on the bus ride, he would start reading the billboards, you know as the bus was passing along, and he sort of developed a character, just goofing off on the bus rides. This happened over multiple years. After a while, it became pretty refined. Like, he was really funny with this character. So I had to do a pregame interview for every game. And I asked him, “Hey, what do you think about if I interview you on the pregame show, and you’re in that character?” And he’s like, “No, no, no, I’m not doing it for that.” I said, “That’s fine; it doesn’t have to go on the air. What if we just do an interview just for us to laugh at?” Under that circumstance, he was fine with it.

So we did this interview, and out of nowhere, I just plucked what I thought was a French Canadian type of name, Jean Jacques Smythe. So I do this interview with Jean Jacques Smythe, who was, as I labeled him in the interview, a renowned French Canadian journalist, highly esteemed, blah, blah, blah. When we start, he did something he had never done on the bus. He became completely hostile. He started ripping me. He was ripping the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig. Anybody he could think of. He was anti-everything. For whatever reason, that’s the way he took the character in this interview. Of course, the best part was he began to rip himself. And it was absolutely hysterical.

This tells you just what a genius he is. He would be doing this interview in the radio booth inside the stadium. And Bob would be looking around, while he’s talking, and he would take a word off one of the billboards that he had no idea what it meant and then he would use the word in a sentence in his stuttering French Canadian accent, and then he would give a definition of what it was, which, of course, had no relation to what the word actually meant. But that was just part of his shtick. You would think that this guy had rehearsed the Jean Jacques Smythe character for 25 years.

So we finished the interview, and we all thought it was hilarious. And Bob, after some cajoling, Bob reluctantly allowed us to air it as the pregame interview. And what I had not anticipated was that he was so good in this character that nobody back in Milwaukee or on the Brewers Radio Network, recognized that that was actually Bob Uecker doing this interview. So, when he’s ripping Bud Selig, he’s ripping the Brewers and then he starts ripping Bob Uecker, I mean, the phones light up at WTMJ because it’s, like, who is this guy and why are they even talking? I mean, there was an uproar.

I’m not aware of us hearing from a single person who said that that was Bob doing a bad imitation of someone. It aired, and we made no comment. It was just up there. WTMJ heard from a ton of people.

Every time we went back to Montreal as long as they had baseball and we were going there, we would have Jean Jacques Smythe on our pregame show.

The idea that anybody else in baseball would actually attempt something like that is preposterous.

Uecker lessons

Uecker received no formal broadcasting education or training. Soon after his playing days — he was a catcher in the big leagues, and his career is the butt of his longest, self-deprecating joke — he began calling play-by-play for the Brewers’ radio broadcasts. Despite that, he has mentored every announcer who has come through Milwaukee’s booth. With his distinct, grandfatherly voice, unmistakable home run call — “Get up! Get up! Get outta here! Gone!” — and gift for painting a scene, it’s no wonder his former partners picked up so much through working with him. 

Provus: I learned this from him, because it’s the opposite of what you learn in school: You don’t have to fill every moment with air … you can stop and let the game and broadcast breathe because the sounds of baseball help tell the story. So that’s what I’ve done here. There’s a lot of time where I just will stay silent. And it’s a few seconds. It’s not for a minute, but I’ll stay silent for a few seconds because on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, that’s the part of the story to me that’s part of the game that people can hear. And when you have the technology, the equipment that we have, let the audience hear that. So that’s something that I learned from Bob. You don’t have to talk every minute, and he’s right.

Hughes: I really noticed the way he would listen to people say anything or do anything, and immediately have his own fresh take on what he just heard or what he just saw, and it’s just a gift that he has that I’ve never seen anyone else really possess the way he has it.

Grindle: I learned how to keep your energy at a good level throughout the broadcast, how to handle a game that’s lopsided in the wrong direction for your team, how to thread that delicate needle of putting it in perspective in 162 and still enjoying yourself. You don’t want to be totally goofy and crazy, but you can strike a balance with that, and I think he’s as good at that as anybody.

He is a genius in the big moments. We learned that on Sunday when Daniel Vogelbach hit the grand slam. He’s 87 and he nailed that call. I was sitting next to him in the booth because I was on the air with him, and I was in awe. Once Vogey made contact, I knew it was gone. So I kind of slowly turned and just watched Ueck because it was such a big moment and I just wanted to take that in, see him do it because he’s a legend.

Uecker’s coaching tree

The small list of Uecker’s former partners runs like a who’s who of baseball radio. Hughes has served as the Cubs’ lead play-by-play announcer since 1996. Powell has been with the Braves since 2009. Provus left Milwaukee for the Twins after the 2011 season and has stayed in Minnesota. Block has been the voice of the Pirates since 2016. Levering and Grindle are destined for big things.

Powell: We all are close. We’re our own little fraternity. The Uecker Partner Mafia. We all look out for each other. We all have a shared experience that nobody else has. We know it. We appreciate it. And we talk about it.

Levering: He might be my partner, but he’s more my friend, and he treats us that way. He treats my kids like they’re grandkids. When my son — he’s 6 years old, he’s been doing this since he was 2 — goes up and says, “Hi, Bob,” and Bob will have gumballs in his briefcase and Brock will go grab those gumballs. That’s their thing.

There have been other opportunities that I’ve had, that have been presented to me to move on from the Brewers. And the first person I call is Bob. And he’ll shoot me straight. And then he’ll tell me, “You’re in a great place here. And I like working with you.” And that weighs really heavily in all those decisions that I’ve made in the past.

Hughes: I learned so much from Uecker. So it was not just comedy and laughter but it was an intelligence that he has regarding baseball, and, frankly, in life as well.

Provus: He’s the best remedy for a bad day.

Hughes: I laughed every day working with Uecker.

Block: Madness and good fun is always right around the corner.

Provus: This is my 10th season doing the Twins. My favorite compliment that we get as a crew is, “It sounds like you guys are having fun.” And the Twins — outside the last two seasons — have had a lot more losing seasons than winning seasons since I have been here. And so when I hear that, it’s my favorite compliment because that comes from Bob, because Bob was — and still is — a champion of having fun.

Broadcaster, not a character

To those outside of Milwaukee, Uecker is known for so many things. Maybe it’s the movie “Major League.” Or his appearances on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Perhaps it could be that WrestleMania segment when André the Giant pretended to choke him. But throughout it all, Uecker has remained synonymous with the Brewers. For good reason.

Levering: With everything he has done in his life — the movies, the stand-up, the commercials — everything was around the Brewers. He made sure of it. Nobody will ever be like him ever again.

Powell: His personality is unmatched by anything I’ve come across in my entire career or entire life.

Provus: Bob, he’s an amazing comedian. That we all know. But, man, he calls a great game.

Grindle: He’s unbelievably gifted as a play-by-play guy. I do think that a lot of the attention gets focused on, he’s funny, he’s a great entertainer, and he played the game, and he has a fun time making fun of himself. But at the same time, the reason he’s done this for so long and the reason he’s in the Hall of Fame is because he can call a damn good game. And that should never get lost in the translation because he is one of the best that’s ever called the game.

Hughes: He is still darn good at what he does. He’s detailed. He’s accurate. He’s got the good pace. He has unbelievable knowledge of the game. He’s still fun. There’s an old song by Neil Young, “Long May You Run.” Long may you run, Bob Uecker.

Why do I want the Brewers to win the World Series? For Uke.


Presty the DJ for Sept. 24

We begin with an odd moment today in 1962: Elvis Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, declined an invitation on Presley’s behalf for an appearance before the Royal Family. Declining wasn’t due to conflicting film schedules (the stated reason) or anti-royalism — it was because Parker was an illegal immigrant to the U.S. from the Netherlands (his real name was  Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk), and he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S.

Number one in Britain today in 1964:

Number one in Britain …

… and in the U.S. today in 1983:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 24”

Presty the DJ for Sept. 23

The number one song today in 1957:

The number one song today in 1967:

Today in 1969, the Northern Star, the Northern Illinois University student newspaper, passed on the rumor that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash in 1966 and been impersonated in public ever since then.  A Detroit radio station picked up the rumor, and then McCartney himself had to appear in public to report that, to quote Mark Twain, rumors of his death had been exaggerated.

(Thirty-five years to the day later, in 2004, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor issued a statement denying his death after a Des Moines radio station announced he had died from a drug overdose, then correcting to say Taylor had died in a car crash.)

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 23”

Sinking as fast as the Titanic after the iceberg

National Review:

President Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda is floundering as Democrats struggle to hold competing factions of their party together. House Republicans should not come to the rescue.

Democrats are in a bind because they have grand ambitions of transforming the United States by dramatically expanding the social safety net, but the American people only gave them slim majorities. They are attempting to forge a path forward by more or less simultaneously passing two pieces of legislation — a $550 billion infrastructure bill that passed with Republican support in the Senate, and a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill (into which they are trying to cram Biden’s entire domestic agenda). More moderate Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed at the price tag of the massive social-welfare bill, while progressives have been insistent that they would not support the smaller infrastructure bill if the larger one doesn’t also pass. This conflict, which has been building for months, is about to reach an inflection point.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi promised moderate House Democrats that the chamber would consider the smaller bipartisan bill by next Monday, September 27. Progressives claim they have the votes to block it, absent agreement on the massive $3.5 trillion package, which does not appear to be close to final. But now moderates are flexing their muscles, too — arguing that if Pelosi reneges on holding the vote, they will bail on the bigger bill. Meanwhile, according to Politico, Senator Kyrsten Sinema privately told Biden that “if the House delays its scheduled Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan — or if the vote fails — she won’t be backing a reconciliation bill.”

In a 50–50 Senate, Sinema has the ability to tank any piece of legislation. And Pelosi can lose no more than three votes, which means less than a handful of moderates or progressives could tank any legislation. But there is one group of people that could make it much easier for Pelosi to get out of this jam — and that is House Republicans. If a critical mass of House Republicans end up voting for the smaller infrastructure bill, then it would allow Pelosi to pass the bill even while losing progressives, and it would pave the way for Democrats to strike a bargain among themselves on the larger reconciliation bill.

We repeatedly warned Senate Republicans that it was a bad idea to negotiate with Democrats on an infrastructure bill, which was not only reckless at a time of historic debt, but obviously tied to the even-worse $3.5 trillion bill. Yet 19 of them voted for it anyway, and a number of House Republicans have indicated a desire to do the same. But the argument for Republicans to vote for the bill has become even weaker. Beyond the policy considerations, for House Republicans to save Pelosi from navigating the difficult dynamics of a divided caucus by providing her the votes she needs would be political malpractice. The back and forth between progressives and moderate Democrats over the past few weeks has underscored the fact that the two bills are inextricably linked. Any Republican who votes for the smaller infrastructure bill is making the passage of the larger reconciliation bill more likely.

In the reconciliation bill, Democrats want the government to pay for child care, universal pre-K, and community college. At a time when the current system is going broke, they want to add dental and vision coverage to Medicare. And they want to use it as a vehicle to advance their destructive Green New Deal environmental policies. They have proposed more than $2 trillion in taxes, but even that won’t cover all their spending, likely meaning more debt.

With Biden’s approval ratings tumbling and the nation reeling from his botched handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, the border crisis, and the vaccine-booster rollout, on top of his daily miscues, it is understandable why he is desperate for a win. But there is no reason for House Republicans to help him get it.

Presty the DJ for Sept. 22

Britain’s number one song today in 1964:

Today in 1967, a few days after their first and last appearance on CBS-TV’s “Ed Sullivan Show,” the Doors appeared on the Murray the K show on WPIX-TV in New York:

Today in 1969, ABC-TV premiered “Music Scene” against CBS-TV’s “Gunsmoke” and NBC-TV’s “Laugh-In”:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Sept. 22”

Pandemic logic

Michael Smith:

Perhaps I am unique in this, but I find the arguments around the pandemic panic induced vaccine hysteria quite interesting, not for what they appear to be, but what the arguments really are about.

The arguments, as popularly stated, are allegedly based on the selfishness and ignorance of the people who choose not to be vaccinated. They begin from the premise that the unvaccinated present not only a serious risk to the vaccinated, but a potentially deadly risk.

“Do the right thing for your community”, the self-righteous vaccinated say. “Get your poke and put on your mask, go back to social distancing, and stay at home or we are all gonna die!”

It never dawns on them that making this argument is the very reason people see the vaccinations as a sham. The new “Paper of Record” in America, the Babylon Bee, summed this up in a headline a few weeks ago, writing “To Defeat Delta Variant, Experts Recommend Doing All The Things That Didn’t Work The First Time”.

A little application of basic reasoning would lead a rational person to say, “Whachu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”

We get the shots, but are still vulnerable to the virus, plus we are going to be required to do the same things we did before we got the shot? What’s the damn point?

Those questions have nothing to do with the efficacy of the vaccine or anything else other than trying to resolve the contradictions in the statements of the government and those of the vaccinated scolds.

Given these unresolvable contradictions, one must consider that there are other motivations at work here. Some I have deduced are, but not limited to, the following:

  • A desire to be socially validated by other vaccinated cool kids
  • A desire to be validated by the authorities
  • An irrational fear of risk and how to manage risk
  • A fundamental lack of understanding data
  • A fear that the vaccines don’t really work
  • A fear that if the vaccines don’t really work and the vaccinated person gets sick, there will not be a hospital resources available for them
  • A desire to be seen as superior to others – smarter, more moral, more fit for participating in “modern” society

Every one of the preceding motivations does indicate a state of selfishness, but not on the part of the unvaccinated – it is the vaccinated who are the selfish.

There was a particular letter to the editor in our local paper, the Park Record, that included the statement, and I quote: “Personal freedom ends when it puts another at risk.”

Dear God. This person took the time to write this down and email it to the editors. Too bad they didn’t think about what it really means before they did.

Imagine this applied to the flu or even to driving a car.

Brain dead morons. They walk among us – and they are hangry.

Presty the DJ for Sept. 21

First, the song of the day …

… whose writer upon hearing the open called it the happiest song of all time.

The number one song today in 1959 was a one-hit wonder …

… as was the number one song today in 1968 …

… as was the number one British song today in 1974 …

… but not over here:

The number one song today in 1985:

Today in 2001, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC and 31 cable channels all carried “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” a 9/11 tribute and telethon:

The first of the three birthdays today is not from rock and roll, but it is familiar to high school bands across the U.S. and beyond:

Don Felder of the Eagles:

Tyler Stewart, drummer of the Barenaked Ladies:

More dangerous to kids: COVID or Milwaukee?

Dan O’Donnell asks that question posed in the headline:

On the whole, human beings aren’t especially great at risk assessment.  Far-fetched, exotic terrors fill us with dread, but we all but ignore the dangerous yet mundane.  We fret, for instance, about an upcoming flight but drive to the airport with one eye on our phone and one hand on a burrito.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn this phenomenon into sharp relief, especially as it pertains to the disease’s impact on children.  We closed schools almost instantly, cancelled play dates and extra-curricular activities by the millions, and forced children to wear masks nearly everywhere they went.

Even now, we panic because younger children aren’t eligible for the COVID vaccine and obsess over the rising rate of pediatric hospitalizations to the point that we have blinded ourselves to the truth: COVID-19 is far less dangerous to children in Wisconsin than the streets of Milwaukee.

COVID-19 has yet to kill a single child younger than 10 in this state.  10 children under 10 have been murdered in Milwaukee since the start of 2020.  Among children older than 10, three have died with or from COVID, while 35 have been the victims of homicide over the past 21 months.

Put another way, a child has died of COVID in Wisconsin every 208 days, but a child has been murdered in Milwaukee once every two weeks.  An additional 149 children have been injured in nonfatal shootings, meaning that a child is 65 times more likely to be shot or killed in Milwaukee than to die of COVID.

Guess which issue Wisconsin’s media and policymakers have focused on and which they have largely ignored.  Their obsession with school closures and mask mandates may have succeeded in convincing a percentage of parents that COVID is a grave danger to their children, but the statistics simply don’t support the fearmongering.

As of this writing, a total of 120,247 children have been infected with COVID-19.  Three have died.  That’s a death rate of 0.025 percent.  A child in Wisconsin has a 1-in-40,082 chance of dying from COVID-19, but a 1-in-15,000 chance of being struck by lightning at some point in his or her life.

Not only is COVID almost universally survivable for Wisconsin’s children, it has also not hospitalized them in overwhelming numbers.  Just 1,376 children have been hospitalized with COVID out of the more than 120,000 who have been infected—a hospitalization rate of 1.1 percent.

What’s more, new research suggests that the real percentage might be far lower.  A Harvard University study published this week indicates that that “roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely or had only a mild presentation of disease.”

pair of earlier studies of pediatric patients published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics “found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent.”

In one study, researchers concluded that 45 percent of hospitalizations “were unlikely to be caused by SARS-CoV-2” and were actually due to “surgeries, cancer treatment, a psychiatric episode, urologic issues, and various infections such as cellulitis, among other diagnoses.”

In the second study, “the authors classified 40 percent of patients as having ‘incidental’ diagnosis, meaning there was no documentation of COVID-19 symptoms prior to hospitalization.”  The obvious conclusion is that the patients were not hospitalized for COVID-19, but rather tested positive once they visited the hospital for treatment of some other malady.

Extrapolating these studies to Wisconsin’s pediatric hospitalizations would suggest that only about 550 children were actually hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19, not the 1,376 that the Department of Health Services has logged.  It would also mean that the actual child hospitalization rate in Wisconsin is closer to 0.046 percent.

This is not to suggest that COVID-19 cannot be a serious disease for children, but it is not at all likely to be.  Only a small percentage of those who contract it had to be hospitalized for it and three died either with or of it.

With the emotional school board battles over masks in the classrooms accompanied by a constant drumbeat of media doomsaying, one can be forgiven for thinking COVID is a far greater threat to children than it is.

The data, though, is conclusive: COVID-19 is nowhere near as dangerous to children as we have been led to believe it is.

Biden’s upcoming middle class tax increase

Eric Boehm:

Central to President Joe Biden’s plan to hike federal spending by $3.5 trillion is a promise that middle-class Americans won’t face a tax increase.

That’s a claim that is looking less and less true with each passing day. The bill Congress is drafting to pay for all that new spending includes tax hikes on tobacco products, electronic cigarettes, and cryptocurrencies—taxes that will apply to the rich and poor alike. And while the bill does not raise income taxes on anyone earning less than $200,000 annually in the immediate future, Americans earning as little as $30,000 could face a tax hike by 2027 under Biden’s plan, according to an analysis published Tuesday by the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), a nonpartisan number-crunching agency housed inside Congress.

The culprit for that future tax increase is the expanded child tax credit, which the House tax plan would extend through 2025 (the JCT’s report only provides estimates for every other year, so 2027 is the first child tax credit–less year included in its analysis). More accurately, the culprit is Congress’ unwillingness to address the full cost of that tax credit in this bill. By promising to raise taxes later, Democrats are able to manufacture about $700 billion in “savings” that will likely never materialize.

Let’s back up a little. The new JCT report shows that taxpayers earning less than $200,000 annually would see a net tax cut in 2023 under the changes that the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled earlier this week. The House Democrats’ plan would shift the tax burden toward wealthier Americans next year, largely because of how Biden’s proposal relies on hiking income tax rates for high earners and raising the capital gains tax rate, which is applied to investment earnings.

Skip ahead to 2027, however, and things look quite a bit different. By then, the changes House Democrats are now proposing would result in higher taxes for nearly all taxpayers—even those making as little as $30,000 per year. Middle-class Americans earning between $50,000 and $100,000 would owe, on average, several hundred dollars in additional taxes, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s breakdown of the JCT’s analysis.

That sudden shift in the tax burden is caused by the expiration of the newly expanded child tax credit. As part of the COVID-19 relief bill passed in March, Congress approved a one-year increase in the child tax credit from $2,000 per child annually to $3,600 per child under the age of 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 to 17—delivered as monthly payments of $300 per child under age 6 and $250 for older kids. In the reconciliation bill, Democrats are proposing to maintain the expanded tax credit through 2025.

Why 2025? Because the tax credit—which isn’t really a tax credit at all, but rather a direct subsidy since it is paid out even if recipients have no income and owe no federal taxes—is expensive. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the child tax credit will cost about $110 billion annually, and extending the tax credit through 2025 will cost $450 billion. Making it permanent would cost $1.1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Those amounts could make a big difference in the ultimate fate of Biden’s plan. Democrats need to use the reconciliation process to bypass the filibuster in the Senate, but the rules governing the reconciliation process forbid legislation that expands the federal budget deficit over the next decade. That means every dollar of new spending has to be offset somehow. And $1.1 trillion is a lot more than $450 billion.

Most Democrats would probably love to extend the expanded child tax creditpermanently. At least a few Republicans would probably agree to that too. But by setting the expanded tax credit to expire four years from now, Democrats are able to ignore roughly $700 billion in future costs that have to be offset in order to use the reconciliation process.

“Democrats have no intention of taking away the child credit expansion after 2025—it is both popular and central to their poverty-reduction strategy,” says Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and former Senate Republican staffer. “But sunsetting the policy after 2025 in this bill provides $700 billion in fake savings over the decade, as future Congresses will surely extend the policy.”

In other words, it’s a gimmick. A gimmick that, yes, Republicans have also used when trying to route major tax policy changes through the reconciliation system, but a gimmick nonetheless.

As a result of that gimmick, the JCT’s estimates for fiscal year 2027 do not include the child tax credit. And that’s why it looks like taxes will go up for a lot of middle-income families a few years from now.

This sets up a clever game. Democrats will be able to wave away objections about those future tax increases because of course Congress will extend the child tax credit beyond 2025…eventually. But they don’t have to account for the future cost of that inevitable extension in the bill they want to pass within the next few weeks.

Compared to what experts say are the other likely long-term consequences of passing this $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill—including slower economic growth, more debt, and lower wages—the gimmickry involved in gaming the reconciliation process over the child tax credit is relatively small potatoes. But make no mistake: The child tax credit is adding to the future size of government, even if that amount doesn’t show up on a balance sheet past 2025 yet.

These cynical maneuvers are one of the main reasons why it is so hard for Congress to get its hands around America’s long-term debt problem. Lawmakers are quite literally crafting legislation not in pursuit of the best policy, but in order to avoid the very barriers that have been put in place, within the reconciliation process, to limit deficit spending.

Gaming the system is no way to produce the best outcomes—and that’s especially true for today’s kids, ostensibly the beneficiaries of this policy, who are going to have to pay for it in the long run.