Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays

I'll be in New York for the holidays. No more blogging until around January 5th. My Media Rant for the January 2008 Scene will be part 1 of a two part column on the most censored stories of the year. Previous editions can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Regardless of what each person chooses to call this time of the year, let's hope it is a season of love for everyone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Save The Date: Feb. 11

What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin? How Can We FIX it?

Monday, February 11, 2008 6:30–8:00PM
Room 227C – Reeve Memorial Union – UW Oshkosh
1748 Algoma Blvd - Oshkosh, WI


  • State Senator Carol Roessler – (R-Oshkosh)
  • State Representative Gordon Hintz – (D-Oshkosh)
  • Professor James Simmons – UW Oshkosh Political Science Department
  • Professor Tony Palmeri – UW Oshkosh Communication Department/Oshkosh Common Council
  • Kathy Propp – League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
  • Jay Heck – Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin

    Moderator: Alex Hummel – Editorial Page Editor of The Oshkosh Northwestern


    For more information: or call Scott Colson (608) 256-2686

Increase in Income Inequality Highest on Record

From the Economic Policy Institute, summarizing Congressional Budget Office data:

Earlier this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its authoritative data series on household incomes (1979-2005). The new data—highly regarded as a particularly complete source of information on this important topic—reveal a sharp increase in income inequality over the past few years. In fact, the increase in income inequality (both pre-and post-tax) as measured by the change in the shares of income going to different income classes, was greater from 2003 to 2005 than over any other two-year period covered by the CBO data. Over these years, an amazing $400 billion in pre-tax dollars was shifted from the bottom 95% of households to those in the top 5% (all income data in this report are inflation adjusted and in 2005 dollars). In other words, had income shares not shifted as they did, the income of each of the 109 million households in the bottom 95% would have been $3,660 higher in 2005 . . .

Back in 1979, the post-tax income of the top 1% was eight times higher than that of middle-income families and 23 times higher than the lowest fifth. In 2005, those ratios grew to 21 (top compared to middle) and 70 (top to bottom), a vast increase in the distance between income classes.

In looking at the increase in income inequality from 1979-2005, I can't imagine a more powerful indictment of the economic policies of Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43. Not to mention the bipartisan majorities of both houses of congress that enabled those policies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Corporate Tax Accountability Act

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future recently released an important report, "Wisconsin's Revenue Gap: An Analysis of Corporate Tax Avoidance." Kudos to Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay; yes Virgina, there are Green Bay politicians interested in something other than nativity scenes) for introducing the "Corporate Tax Accountability Act" in response to the report. According to the Cap Times:

The Corporate Tax Accountability Act is aimed at stopping what backers estimate was $1.3 billion in lost state and local tax revenue in 2006 through exemptions, credits and aggressive use of subsidiaries.

For example, three of the largest corporations in the U.S. -- Microsoft Corp., Merck & Co. and Sears Holdings, owner of Kmart and Lands' End -- paid no corporate income taxes in Wisconsin in 2005, according to information released at a Capitol news conference today . . .

A report from the Milwaukee-based Institute for Wisconsin's Future, released today, said that "corporate tax leakage" is shifting the tax burden onto small business and working families. It's also putting pressure on local government and school districts to make tough decisions.

"The resulting gap in income is creating budget shortfalls which can only be resolved by cutting services, raising property taxes or both," the report said.

My understanding is that IWF will, if requested, provide communities with a local analysis of tax accountability. At the common council's first meeting in January I plan to ask Mayor Tower to schedule an IWF tax accountability presentation as a workshop item.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Big Media's Christmas Present

From big media watchdogs

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to remove the longstanding “newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership” ban that prohibits a local newspaper from owning a broadcast station in the same market. When the Commission voted today, 3-to-2 along party lines, they did so in spite of enormous public pressure and stern warnings from Congress.

But that’s not all. In a series of late night revisions to his rule, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin fattened his holiday gift to Big Media by granting permanent waivers to companies across the country who have been in breach of the cross-ownership ban for years. Already ignoring the millions who have spoken up against media consolidation, this last-minute immunity for Big Media is a slap in the face to the American people. Read More

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dan Fogelberg

Another fallen rock star--Dan Fogelberg passed away today as a result of prostate cancer.

Fogelberg was an activist on environmental and other issues; his song "Face The Fire" was a great anthem for the no-nukes movement of the early 80s and he performed as part of Musicians United For Safe Energy during that time period.

I think Fogelberg's best tune is "Longer," a Beatlesque love song with a timeless quality to it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ike Turner

Ike Turner, most known these days as the guy who beat up Tina, died yesterday at the age of 76.

In teaching the Rhetoric of Rock and Roll class this semester, I was reminded of Ike's contributions in the early years of the genre. The song "Rocket 88" from 1951 (the first song on the tribute video below) is arguably the first rock record and features Ike's band. And who could ever forget Ike and Tina's version of "Proud Mary"?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advertising in Corporate Media: Wise Use of Tax Dollars?

As noted in Jef Hall's blog, the Oshkosh Northwestern recently included an unnecessary sidebar that provided information as to what kinds of consumer items could be purchased with the $2,208.00 tax bill of the owner of a $100,000 home. Jef correctly points out that the paper left out what services the taxes pay for.

Also left out is the amount of tax dollars that the Northwestern receives from the city of Oshkosh for advertising that is not required by statute. At the request of councilor Paul Esslinger, Finance Director Ed Nokes prepared an itemized list of 2007 advertising dollars the city has paid out to Gannett. The total advertising bill for 2007 (as of this week) is $24,363.53. That's enough money to hire another part-time librarian, or plant more trees in the city, etc. etc.

State law only requires the city to place a few legal notices in the local newspaper. While I am not sure if we should suspend all other advertising in the paper, I do think it is time for us to examine how much "bang we are getting for our buck." It may well be, for example, that the city's website and/or local blogs are more than sufficient to advertise certain activities.

One of the consequences of the print media monopoly enjoyed by Gannett in our region is that they can charge literally whatever rates they wish without any fear of competition. All I am suggesting here is that, where possible, we should compete with Gannett via use of the city's website and other sources. Who knows, perhaps Gannett might then be compelled to lower their rates or--gasp--even provide some free advertising to give the taxpayers a break.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Palmeri on Friday Week in Review + Frisch

On tomorrow's WPR "Week in Review" from 8-9 a.m. I'll be the left guy. On the right will be Dave Blaska, a former member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. You can join the discussion by calling 1-800-642-1234 or email

On another note, in today's Northwestern Dr. Ann Frisch does an excellent job of cutting through the crap in the mainstream press coverage of Venezuela's failed referendum. Excerpt:

The propaganda machine calls Chavez a dictator, but dictators don't lose elections.

This was evidence of participatory democracy.

I am, however, ashamed that the U.S. government has allegedly been using our tax money to destabilize a democratically-elected government, artificially creating some of the opposition. The CIA's alleged "Operation Pliers" plan was to foment rebellion among the armed forces by creating phony polls to show the "No" vote would prevail, releasing phony early reports that the "No" vote was winning, all against election rules. T-shirts with "fraud" had already been printed. Opposition advertising claimed that if the referendum passed, children would be taken away from their parents and businesses would be seized.

The media propaganda has not been limited to Venezuela. We have been drowning in assertions that are false and misleading.

The full opinion piece can be found here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Council Needs Waterfront Backup Plan

The optimism once associated with the Akcess Group's office building development seems to be absent in today's Northwestern blip. Securing tenants for the building--which the common council and city administration should have required as a condition before approving the project--is apparently proving to be much more difficult than the developers expected.

I'm going to ask that the Waterfront development be placed on council member statements at the next meeting so that we can have an open discussion of possible backup plans.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 2007 Tony Awards

What you've all been waiting for! (Yeah, right). The 2007 Tony Award recipients can be found here.

"When I wrote the first Tony Awards column in 2002, I never imagined it would become an annual tradition. But with corporate media in our region now bad beyond belief and getting worse each year, it has become vital to recognize worthwhile alternatives."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Former Member of Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority Going To Prison

Read about it here.

Happy Birthday Jimi

Yes, another rock star post. Jimi Hendrix would have been 65 years old today. It's hard to imagine a more influential guitar player.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rock Star In Australian Government

Australian voters booted conservative Prime Minister (and Bush toady) John Howard out of office last week. Howard was beaten so badly that he became only the second Australian in 129 years not only to lose the PM position, but also his seat in parliament.

The new PM, Labor's Kevin Rudd, campaigned strongly on environmental themes. Part of his leadership team includes Peter Garrett, a Labor member of parliament who for many years fronted the rock band Midnight Oil (best known in the States for the their 1988 smash hit "Beds Are Burning").

Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown calls Garrett a sell out, claiming that once he joined the Labor party he compromised his progressive environmental values out of existence.

A while back conservative treasurer Peter Costello lampooned Garrett on the floor of the parliament:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Let's Hold The Dems Accountable, Part IV

If the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" had passed a Republican led House of Representatives, the Democrats would have rightly called it the most repressive piece of paranoid legislation since the USA PATRIOT Act. Yet the Democrat led HOR passed Rep. Jane Harman's (D-California) bill by a 404-6 vote and passage in the Senate is almost a certainty.

Historian Ralph Shaffer and co-author R. William Robinson characterize the legislation as a case of "Here Come the Thought Police." They write:

Ms. Harman, a California Democrat, thinks it likely that the United States will face a native brand of terrorism in the immediate future and offers a plan to deal with ideologically based violence.

But her plan is a greater danger to us than the threats she fears. Her bill tramples constitutional rights by creating a commission with sweeping investigative power and a mandate to propose laws prohibiting whatever the commission labels “homegrown terrorism.”

The proposed commission is a menace through its power to hold hearings, take testimony and administer oaths, an authority granted to even individual members of the commission - little Joe McCarthys - who will tour the country to hold their own private hearings. An aura of authority will automatically accompany this congressionally authorized mandate to expose native terrorism.

Ms. Harman’s proposal includes an absurd attack on the Internet, criticizing it for providing Americans with “access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda,” and legalizes an insidious infiltration of targeted organizations. The misnamed “Center of Excellence,” which would function after the commission is disbanded in 18 months, gives the semblance of intellectual research to what is otherwise the suppression of dissent.

While its purpose is to prevent terrorism, the bill doesn’t criminalize any specific conduct or contain penalties. But the commission’s findings will be cited by those who see a terrorist under every bed and who will demand enactment of criminal penalties that further restrict free speech and other civil liberties. Action contrary to the commission’s findings will be interpreted as a sign of treason at worst or a lack of patriotism at the least.

While Ms. Harman denies that her proposal creates “thought police,” it defines “homegrown terrorism” as “planned” or “threatened” use of force to coerce the government or the people in the promotion of “political or social objectives.” That means that no force need actually have occurred as long as the government charges that the individual or group thought about doing it.

Did voters create a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress for this? Harman faced a surprisingly strong primary challenge from Marcy Winograd in June of 2006. Democrats should insist that she be challenged again.

*Part I (Nov. 13, 2006): The Dem Agenda
*Part II (Nov. 20, 2006): Ethics Reform
*Part III (Dec. 5, 2006): Robert Gates' Free Ride

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Correction: EAA Won't Pay Until 2008

Well, I blogged too early I guess. Turns out that acting city manager John Fitzpatrick did not receive a check from EAA to cover sewage treatment for 2007. Rather, Fitzpatrick received a letter from EAA president Tom Poberezny saying that they would pay the fee starting with the 2008 convention. That's still good news, though it would be even better if EAA would consider compensating the city for 20 years worth of free treatment.

Along similar lines, at the budget hearing on Thursday I brought up the issue of Oshkosh's "hospitable taxes." If Mercy Medical Center and Aurora paid property taxes, approximately $1.4 million would come into the city coffers. Almost $1 million would go to Winnebago County.

We learned at the budget hearing that the city receives about $140,00 per year from several nonprofit organizations as "payment in lieu of taxes." These organizations, which include Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh, voluntarily make payments to the city to help cover the costs of city services they receive even though their tax exempt status does not require them to.

With annual revenues of over $108 million (Mercy) and over $50 million (Aurora), certainly these hospitals can afford to make some kind of payment. Before next year's budget we need to see leadership at the county and city levels to try and arrange voluntary payments in lieu of taxes from the hospitals.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

EAA Pays 2007 Sewage Fees

At Thursday's budget session (4:30 p.m.), acting city manager John Fitzpatrick will announce that he has received a check from the Experimental Aircraft Association to cover the cost of sewage treatment for the 2007 convention. After the sewage fee waiver (approved in 1986 by a common council that rubber stamped then city manager Bill Freuh's city manager statement request for it) was revealed at the October 30th budget session, councilor Paul Esslinger called EAA president Tom Poberezny to request that EAA voluntarily pay the fee. Kudos to Esslinger for taking the leadership to call Poberezny and kudos to EAA for making the payment.

What's still not clear is whether the city can recover unpaid fees from the prior 20 years, or whether a formal resolution from the council is still necessary to ensure payment of the fees for all following years. I will raise these questions at the Thursday session.

The EAA sewage fee waiver is an excellent example of local "corporate welfare." Do other examples exist in Oshkosh? Absent a Budget Committee or other citizen led body charged with looking critically at the city's finances, it is difficult to know. The EAA fee waiver lasted for 20 years without anyone asking a question about it, so we can only imagine what else has been forgotten. Anyone with the time and desire should try and get hold of the city manager reports from around 1970-1996 and review them closely--who knows what kind of goodies might be turned up!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Worst Rhyme of all Time?

I always liked the song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" but thought that "ruby throated sparrow/sing a song, don't be long/thrill me to the marrow" was one of the lamest rhymes of all time.

But now the striking Hollywood writers have created a rhyme that makes Stephen Stills look like Shakespeare: "For Eva Longoria, we write the storia." Notice how long it takes for these word slingers to figure out that poor Eva is on their side (note also how at the end she is almost moved to tears over the prospect of her hair and makeup artists not getting a pay check. You could not make any of this up.).

The writers actually have a strong case:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tom and Toby and the Teaching of History

Last week in the music class we listened to and discussed post 9/11 political music. Two of the selections were Tom Morello's "The Road I Must Travel" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)." Morello plays with Rage Against the Machine and is a political activist who founded Axis of Justice with Serj Tankian of System of a Down.

Toby Keith's song was part of a wave of post 9/11 "patriotic" themed country music. Back in 2004 NPR broadcast a segment showcasing the divisions between country artists.

Students had no trouble identifying the nationalist rhetoric in Keith's song or the fact that Morello's video identifies him with his favorite historical agitators. Morello's video flashes quotations from Frederick Douglass, Che Guevara, Joe Hill, Emma Goldman, Huey Newton, Subcomandante Marcos, Malcolm X, and Mohandas Gandhi, but almost none of my 26 students (almost all seniors) had heard of any of these activists except for Malcolm X and Gandhi. With all of the right wing accusations of the left slant in the academy,you'd think the students would already have those quotes burned into their biceps as tattoos.

College students' lack of "civic literacy" made the news last September, but most college profs were aware of the problem long ago. Probably it would be a good idea to mandate more teaching of history in K-12 and the universities, but I don't really think that will produce any dramatic changes in what students know. The students (and non-students for that matter) most interested in history, it seems to me, are those who see themselves as history makers. Wanting to make history (especially as regards social justice issues) gets them excited and interested in the historic struggles of the past. Those least interested in history are those for whom history is over: the world is the way it is, you really can't change anything even if you wanted to, and so you just make the best of what's available.

Toby Keith's video can't be embedded but you can see it here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Krause's Two Cents

Jonathan Krause, News Director at local radio station WOSH, maintains a blog called "My Two Cents." In his Friday posting he argues that the Common Council should continue with the interim city manager search in order to provide time for a referendum on the form of government to get on the ballot. Money quotes:

You may recall, the council decided to hire an interim manager to give residents a chance to circulate petitions for a government change--or to at least talk about what format they might want to consider. That came after the council rejected a referendum on government format out of hand--saying there needed to be more "discussion" on the topic . . .

Hopefully the council will stick with its original plan--interim first, referendum on the form of government--and the hire of a permanent manager if the position still exists. Otherwise the cities of Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee will have to continue to fail on their own with their out-dated elected mayor-council forms of governments.

The complete posting is here.

My concern, as noted in my previous post, is with the ethics of recruitment, though Krause's post did remind me of what other councilors have said previously. From an earlier post:

King and B. Tower clearly do not want to see any council led referendum on the ballot, F. Tower wanted the referendum placed on a November ballot (which no one else supported), and Bryan Bain again said that there should be community discussions about what citizens want to see in government. It's still not clear if he is going to call for those discussions and lead them or how they are supposed to happen.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

No Compelling Reason To Suspend Interim Search

Friday Update: Today's meeting will be in OPEN session. My apologies for stating below that it would be a closed meeting. I still can't make it due to teaching obligations (what the Northwestern calls "previous commitments").

Tomorrow the Oshkosh Common Council will meet in closed session at 10:30 a.m. to discuss Mayor Tower's recommendation to suspend the search for an interim city manager. I will not be at that meeting because I teach at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. If I were at the meeting, here's what I would say:

So far I have heard no compelling argument to justify suspending the search for an interim city manager.

At the November 6th meeting, the council decided that five applicants for the interim city manager position should be named as finalists and brought to Oshkosh for interviews. After the meeting, the mayor in open session announced the names of the finalists. Shortly thereafter, the local newspaper reported the names of the candidates along with information about each. One local blogger has referred to the quality of that reporting, correctly in my view, as a "train wreck."

All candidates applied in good faith for the position. On paper, each of the five finalists is qualified according to the position description the council agreed to. To announce their names in public and then cancel the search is, it seems to me, a violation of the basic standards of fairness in recruiting. No applicant for any position deserves to be treated that way.

Some would argue that we should keep the acting city manager in place until we are ready to begin a search for a permanent city manager, probably in January. Such a search would take at least 6 months and quite possibly a year (or more). An acting city manager, especially one who already has other responsibilities in city hall, is in no position to take a leadership role in key economic development, supervisory, and other issues facing the city. None of those issues disappear while we are taking a year to hire a permanent city manager.

I urge the councilors attending the November 6th meeting to be fair to the finalists and continue the search for an interim city manager.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hollywood Writers on Strike

Another great cartoon from Lahey:

Waterfront Faces Delays

No surprises here. Whatever happened to all of the businesses that were waiting for the Common Council to approve the office complex before signing up to lease space?

Maybe some dance space on the first floor will attract tenants .

Friday, November 02, 2007

Kucinich in this World

Dennis Kucinich is taking some flak for admitting, during a debate, to witnessing a UFO. Paul Waldman argues that the exchange says more about Tim Russert than Kucinich. He says a candidate should respond this way to inane questions:

“You know what, Tim, I’m not going to answer that question. This is serious business. And you, sir, are a disgrace. You have in front of you a group of accomplished, talented leaders, one of whom will in all likelihood be the next president of the United States. You can ask them whatever you want. And you choose to engage in this ridiculous gotcha game, thinking up inane questions you hope will trick us into saying something controversial or stupid. Your fondest hope is that the answer to your question will destroy someone’s campaign. You’re not a journalist, you’re the worst kind of hack, someone whose efforts not only don’t contribute to a better informed electorate, they make everyone dumber. So no, I’m not going to stand here and try to come up with the most politically safe Bible verse to cite. Is that the best you can do?”

As for Dennis Kucinich, I bet he's a big fan of Moby's "In This World" video (yes, we're moving toward electronic music in the music class).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Media Rant: Healthy Wisconsin Needs Healthy Media

The November Media Rant deals with the Wisconsin budget, the Senate Democrats' Healthy Wisconsin proposal, and the media. The Rant can be found here or in the body of this blog post.

Note that Senator Kathleen Vinehout, one of the chief sponsors of Healthy Wisconsin, will speak before the meeting of the Winnebago County Democrats on November 14.

Healthy Wisconsin Needs Healthy Media
Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

from the November 2007 edition of The Valley Scene

Once thought of as a progressive state, Wisconsin is now one of the last places citizens from other regions look to for fresh ideas, bold public policy initiatives, or courageous leadership. The "leadership" in Madison, badly compromised by an out of date campaign financing system and the well-connected special interests skilled in exploiting it, could not even pass a budget by the legal date of July 1. As I write this in mid-October, legislators and the governor finally agreed to a compromise budget after a 111-day delay.

It would be one thing if budget tardiness were the result of a group of LaFollette-like legislators holding out for the implementation of innovative, reform minded legislation. But the reality is that the budget compromise includes nothing particularly progressive, making the delay more embarrassing than anything else. Especially nauseating is the Republicans’ mantra that their refusal to pass a budget on time was about “holding the line on taxes,” when they have continuously supported pro big business tax scams that have increased the tax burden on the middle class. And as noted by nonpartisan reform advocates at Common Cause and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, legislators continued to hold reelection fundraisers even as the legislature was in session and budget talks languished. For this legislature, “progress” and “reform” are nothing more than buzz words employed in partisan press releases.

The closest the budget came to progressivism was its early inclusion of the Senate Democrats’ "Healthy Wisconsin" (HW) health care proposal. Though not a single-payer, Canadian style universal health care plan, HW if passed would make Wisconsin the state with the fewest number of uninsured citizens. According to David Riemer, former Doyle budget director and chief architect of HW, the plan provides “those who don't quality for Medicaid or BadgerCare, and who aren't yet eligible for Medicare - with the same, excellent benefit package that taxpayers now provide to state legislators, the governor, and the courts.” Citing a study prepared by Washington, D.C. based health cost consultants the Lewin Group, Riemer claims HW would cut overall health spending by over $750 million, save families $432 million, save currently insuring employers $686 million, and save government employers $1,360 million. HW’s prescription for getting government employee health care spending under control would cut property taxes statewide from over $8 billion to under $7.5 billion.

HW is hardly a revolutionary approach to health coverage, yet the Republicans immediately blasted it as “socialist.” Democratic governor Doyle gave support to the Republicans by claiming he could not support HW because “I live in the real world.” Note that there’s no room in Doyle’s “real world” for HW, but ample space for single sales tax formulas, job creation acts, and other Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce initiatives that benefit only the wealthiest Wisconsinites. With no support from their own governor, Senate Democrats agreed to remove HW from the budget. There’s not even a firm guarantee that the proposal will get stand alone hearings and votes in both houses of the legislature. Senator Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa) says it’s dead but might be an “impetus” for future reform. Once again, Wisconsin missed an opportunity to be a national leader on one of the great moral issues of our time.

But Doyle and the Republicans are only partially to blame. For any kind of reform legislation to have a fighting chance, establishment media have to be a healthy fourth estate in the best sense: educate the public on the legislation, expose the forces controlling the enemies of reform, and advocate editorially on behalf of the people. A growing number of blogs and alternative media serve this role, but it will be a long time before they reach even a fraction of the mainstream media audience.

Wisconsin’s corporate fourth estate did not kill Healthy Wisconsin, but did commit a fair share of journalistic and editorial malpractice. The state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was especially bad. As noted by Bruce Murphy, the paper allowed weekly business section attacks on HW without balancing commentary. Says Murphy, “The issue is too important to be covered in such a biased fashion.”

Locally, establishment media failed to communicate the urgent need for health care reform in our region. Health care costs in our area are among the highest in the nation. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office ranked physician costs in 319 metro areas around the country. Eight of the top ten were in Wisconsin, with the Appleton-Oshkosh-Neenah area coming in ninth. Our physician prices were 27% above the national average. With numbers like that, you’d think any proposal to lower health care costs would get sustained, serious reporting and editorial endorsements.

As a member of the Oshkosh Common Council, I can tell you that health care costs continue to eat up larger shares of local tax dollars. Our preliminary 2008 budget shows a 19% increase in health insurance rates, a staggering amount in an era of ever decreasing financial assistance from Madison. If for no other reason than to help keep local taxes under control, Fox Valley media should have done much more to keep Healthy Wisconsin alive.

Without a healthy media, we’re not likely to have a healthy Wisconsin.

Tony Palmeri ( is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh and holds a seat on the Oshkosh Common Council.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Last August Oshkosh residents were hit with hefty rate increases for water and sewer. At the time, just out of curiousity, I asked Director of Public Works David Patek in open session and via email how much the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) paid in sewer fees. Here's what I found out from Mr. Patek:

*In 2007, the EAA convention delivered a total of 1,350,500 gallons of sewage to the Treatment Plant (as opposed to 1,353,500 gallons in 2006). The total volume was delivered over the length of time of several weeks.

*The 1,350,500 gallons would have generated a fee of $10,758 for disposal.

The city did not collect the fee from EAA. Why, you ask? Because in February of 1986, the Common Council approved a waiver of the sewage discharge fees for future EAA conventions.

Here's the kicker: We learned at last night's budget meeting that the waiver approved in 1986 was not even a council resolution. Rather, then City Manager Bill Freuh included the request for waiver in his City Manager Report. Apparently the council approved the report (and thus the waiver request) unanimously. Ah, you have to love the accountability in the council/manager form of government.

So do other special events in Oshkosh get their crap treated for free? Mr. Patek and Treatment Plant Director Stephen Brand could not think of any, and said that Lifest and Country USA do pay the fee.

The 1986 deal between the City Manager and EAA smells like something, and it ain't teen spirit. (Oh yes, we are covering grunge rock in my music class this week.).

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Everybody's Business School"

The UW Madison School of Business has received an $85 million gift from a group of alumni. The condition? The School must keep its current name for at least the next 20 years. According to the Wisconsin State Journal,

At a time when it's become common practice for buildings, programs, stadiums or schools to be named after major benefactors, this gift goes in the opposite direction by preventing that from happening — and paying to keep it that way . . .

This is believed to be the first time that a U.S. business school has received a naming gift of this kind. [UW System Chancellor] Wiley anticipates that the Wisconsin deal could be precedent-setting.

"It is counterintuitive to go out to donors and say we want you to give us a lot of money to NOT name something after you," Wiley said. "But the simple idea behind this is something that's going to be copied by other schools around the country.

"It probably changes namings and philanthropy forever."

Activist and Madison alum Ben Manksi (Liberty Tree) says: "Students, faculty, and staff have over the past decade had many run-ins with UW Chancellor Wiley over the corporatization of the university. I have said some unkind - though deserved - things about the Chancellor in the past. But when someone does the right thing, you recognize that fact. This is a promising initiative. Take note."

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Tommy Walker Midterm

I teach a class called "Foundations of Speech Communication," which essentially covers the theories of rhetoric outlined by the major philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome (especially Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian). A huge percentage of the grade involves students having to write speech manuscripts that are informed by the rhetorical theories of the thinkers mentioned above.

Below are two video clips: Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson endorsing Rdy Giuliani and writer Alice Walker (The Color Purple) endorsing Barack Obama. The midterm exam this semester required the students to watch the videos and then (1) explain the rhetorical features of each and (2) make an argument as to which video would be more persuasive with genuinely undecided voters.

Which one do you think is more persuasive?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Palmeri, Egelhoff on Friday "Week in Review"

On tomorrow's WPR "Week in Review" from 8-9 a.m. I'll be the "left" guy. On the "right" will be Jo Egelhoff, publisher and editor of You can join the discussion by calling 1-800-642-1234 or email

Teaching the rhetoric of rock music class this semester has got me very wrapped up in pop music trivia, so it's hard not to include some kind of rock reference in each posting. Did you know that October of 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the release of the Doors' "Strange Days"? I would like to dedicate "People Are Strange" to all who dare view this blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do The Freddie

In the rock music class, students got a big kick (pardon what you'll see as the obvious pun) out of Freddie and the Dreamers, a mid-1960s British Invasion band known for the leggy antics of 5'3" lead singer Freddie Garrity. Early Freddie did seem quite a bit like Babblemur:

Freddie was still kickin', bless his heart, in 1999 (one year before his death)[Oct. 21 update: Many thanks to a reader who alerted me to the fact that Freddie actually passed away in 2006!]:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Council Matters

I haven't been blogging that much lately due to time constraints. Full-time teaching and the fact that the Common Council is "part-time" in name only makes it difficult to maintain a regular blogging schedule. But here are my thoughts on a few issues facing the Council:

*Nuisance Ordinance: Last Tuesday we defeated, on a 4-3 vote (Palmeri, King, B. Tower and McHugh voting in the majority), revisions to the city's nuisance ordinance that would have changed the abatement process and included new language attempting to clarify what are appropriate "temporary weatherization" products that can be used on homes. That last part should have been called the "Todd Sohr" provision. Mr. Sohr is a Grand St. resident who has been in a running feud with Inspections and Community Development officials about the use of plastic on his windows.

I was not on the Common Council when the nuisance ordinance was first passed, but I voted against the proposed changes because I thought the new language was both vague and overbroad. I don't believe that realtors and apartment associations need to be consulted for feedback on every change made to the ordinance, but in this case it seemed to me like some dialogue would have been helpful. Justified or not, Inspections and Community Development in our city have developed a reputation in some circles as not being friendly or cooperative. I'd like to see some progress made toward developing a "kinder, gentler" reputation before providing what I perceive to be additional powers to each of these departments.

*Advisory Referendum. The Esslinger/McHugh proposal to place 4 options on an April ballot failed 3-4 (King, Bain, and both Towers voting against ballot placement.). I moved to amend the resolution to include only 2 choices (to address the charge that the 4 choices were "confusing"), but I could not even get a second on the amendment. King and B. Tower clearly do not want to see any council led referendum on the ballot, F. Tower wanted the referendum placed on a November ballot (which no one else supported), and Bryan Bain again said that there should be community discussions about what citizens want to see in government. It's still not clear if he is going to call for those discussions and lead them or how they are supposed to happen.

One of the great ironies of all this, I believe, is that form of government referendums in Oshkosh are most opposed by people who support the manager form of government. I don't understand why a supporter of that form of government would be against trying to find out what kind of public confidence the current system employs. The people who would most benefit from having that information are potential applicants for the city manager position. If a person is a potential manager applicant and he finds out that barely half of the population of Oshkosh support the current form of government, then that will have great consequences for the kind of working conditions and buy out provisions negotiated. (Just as an aside, can you even imagine the kind of buy-out provision the next manager will negotiate?).

There will be a referendum at some point. Babblemur is seeking Oshkosh Democracy Campaign recruits here.

City Clerk Pam Ubrig today provided the council with information about a timeline for citizens to get a referendum on the April ballot. Citizens would have to obtain 3,682 signatures with the first and last signature obtained in a 60-day time frame. According to Pam, here's the timeline:

-January 17, 2008: Clerk receives petitions
-February 1, 2008: Clerk's review of the petitions are complete
-February 11, 2008: Corrections completed by citizen group (if necessary) & clerk certifies peitions and informs council on her report at Feb. 12, 2008 meeting.
-March 11, 2008: April ballots available for absentee voting.
-April 1, 2008: Spring election.

*Acting City Manager: Before the last meeting, Dick Wollangk recommended that we appoint Personnel Director John Fitzpatrick and Community Works Director David Patek as co-acting city managers. The Council did not seem too keen to that idea, so we appointed just Fitzpatrick. I don't know John very well, but in my brief time on the Council I have heard all positive things about him and he has struck me as reliable and trustworthy in my limited interaction with him. Because we have decided to continue our search for interim manager candidates, John will be in the acting position for at least a month and maybe longer.

*Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement: Mayor Tower signed the agreement on Wednesday, and afterwards Madison Mayor Dave Ciesliewicz talked about sustainability. Mayor Dave gave a great talk, and while listening to him I wondered about all the great things we could do in Oshkosh if we had executive level leadership that was actually accountable to the people.

*Settlement with Ganther: In closed session, the council decided to accept a mediated settlement with Ben Ganther regarding tax obligations connected to the 100 block development. We were told that failure to accept the settlement would mean bankruptcy for Ganther and the city could be in the position of recovering no money. I was against the settlement because I thought justice dictated going forward with the lawsuit. The bankruptcy threat just did not strike me as credible, but even if it was/is I don't think it matters. I felt that the council and administration seemed to be in too much of a hurry to settle, a stance that will only produce more public suspicion.

*Retirement of city attorney Warren Kraft: Though Mr. Kraft had been under increasing pressure from the council and the press over a variety of issues, I did not expect him to announce his retirement. Last week I had called for a special meeting to discuss allegations of staff secrecy regarding the 100 block, and after that call Mr. Kraft provided the council with a memo explaining his actions. I did not sense that the majority of the council supported a special meeting, so I said that I would instead place a notice to questions Mr. Kraft about the memo during the council member statements at the next meeting. Now that Mr. Kraft has retired, it is not clear to me how we will go about getting all of our questions answered. Curiously, the Oshkosh Northwestern today argued that it's time to "move on" as regards the 100 block.

If I could place my media critic hat on for a moment here, I have to say that the Northwestern's performance on the 100 block would be funny were it not so much a part of the problem. Last week Mr. Rieckman berated attorney Kraft for an alleged secrecy scheme to protect Ganther, yet as late as April of 2006 Mr. Rieckman himself was referring to bloggers and pundits critical of Ganther as having the attention span of "gnats on crack" because we did not report that "poor old Ben" had made a tax payment. And as I noted back in August, the Northwestern has yet to apologize for its role in creating the conditions under which such a bad deal could be signed for the 100 block.

When the history of the 100 block debacle is written, it will show that the mess was in large part the result of an old boy network gone wild--a network that INCLUDED the local press. That same press is now calling for some kind of "redevelopment bill of rights," yet somehow the new commitment to transparent finances and feasible developments did not apply to The Waterfront proposal for an office building and hotel. While it is true that the Waterfront developers are not receiving a development assistance grant as was the case with the 100 block, it's still not clear exactly what the "master developer" concept commits the city to, especially if the projects fail. In other words, just as with the 100 block, the time when it was vital to ask tough questions about the Waterfront has passed, and it would not be surprising if 5 or 6 years from now we get "after the fact outrage" from the same people who stayed silent when their voices were most needed.

Stay tuned, and keep reading alternative media!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Drug War's Dopey Media

My Media Rant for the October edition of The Valley Scene deals with corporate media and the so-called "War on Drugs." The piece includes comments from Dr. Stephen Richards, UW Oshkosh criminologist and former drug war prison inmate. Last year I did a "Radio Commentary" interview with Richards that can be found here.

"The Drug War's Dopey Media" can be found in the text below or in this link.
Critics of “big government” point to the alleged excesses of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs of the 1960s to make their case. The critics have prevailed: by the late 1990s a Republican backlash aided by Democratic capitulation succeeded in dismantling the Great Society’s “War on Poverty.” By the mid 1990s the poverty war had become, in the words of sociologist Herbert Gans, the “war on the poor,” with Project Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid the only major surviving programs.

The now almost 30-year-old “War on Drugs” is one of the biggest government programs in the history of the nation, requiring taxpayer contributions at the federal, state, and local levels. Premised on the idea that the user is the moral equivalent of the dealer, and that a street punk delivering a bag of pot is the same as an international drug lord, the War on Drugs ushered in an era of dramatic increases in the prison population. We now have 35 million (!) felons in the United States, with drug crimes constituting an ever higher percentage of that. Huge increases in prison spending coupled with a belief in prison as a cure for all social ills became the foundation of what journalist Eric Schlosser in 1998 called the “prison industrial complex.”

The dismantling of the war on poverty could not have happened without the cooperation of the corporate media. Criticisms of “welfare queens,” “freeloaders,” and the “culture of dependency” never failed to get prominent space in broadcast or print media. When it comes to the war on drugs, corporate media have been mostly dopey. We need sober analysis (pun intended), yet too often get sensationalism.

In preparing this rant I shared some email with UW Oshkosh Criminal Justice Professor Stephen Richards, PhD. A drug war veteran, Richards before earning his doctorate was charged with “conspiracy to distribute marijuana” and sentenced to nine years in federal prison. He has co-authored two books with Jeffrey Ian Ross, the best selling Behind Bars: Surviving Prison (Alpha/Penguin) and Convict Criminology (Wadsworth). I asked Dr. Richards to comment on the elite media’s responsibility in the drug war:

The elite media has for the most part aided and abetted the military style of the war on drugs, which has really been a police war on poor people who publicly consume recreational chemicals. The mainstream media was and is all too ready to report almost word for word what they receive from drug czars, drug squad police reports, and prosecutors.

The corporate media has spent most of the 20TH Century using drug stories to attract an audience. Mass-market media venues are all about revenue, market share, and corporate profit. As far back as the 1920s newspaper reporters were writing copy about musicians and pot addiction. In the 1960s, San Francisco became the place to get stoned, trip out, and see God. Since 1980, when Ronnie Reagan officially began the “war of drugs,” the media has run countless accounts that sensationalized crack epidemics, crack babies, drug whores, meth labs, date drugs, ecstasy and other designer drugs.

Defendants are declared guilty by the media before they ever enter a plea in court. Their names and faces are paraded across local newspapers pages and television screens. The media has participated in the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of millions of Americans for use and abuse of small quantities of exotic substances.

I asked Richards what role the mass media should play in the drug war:

I wish the media would run stories about people who experiment with illegal substances, get bored, and eventually give them up, without legal intervention, and return to an occasional beer or glass of wine. In effect they tried and probably liked it, but like most of us just got too busy with work and family obligations. Maybe they wished they had more free time to get stoned, high, and wasted, but have bills to pay, schedules to keep, and no vacation till next summer. So, they look forward to their next trip to Jamaica, or the once a year camping trip when an old friend has a joint. Meanwhile, they make do with alcohol, the legal liquid drug, the most dangerous of all.

Dr. Richards paints a bleak picture of drug war USA:

Most of the advanced industrial nations must think we Americans have gone mad. It reminds me of our nuclear weapons strategy, remember MAD, mutually assured destruction. The Europeans think of drug abuse as a medical problem, while we call it a crime. Maybe if we had European or Canadian style national health care we could convert some of these silly prisons into hospitals.

We grow up in urban and suburban communities of concrete and lawn, march to school and work, and lose our minds watching junk on TV. Reality is manufactured and imposed on each one of us, and then, when we try to challenge or change our consciousness, the thought police come and bust us, cart us off to jails and penitentiaries, all in the name of what, protecting the children we never were, or if we were, for far too short a time. Whatever happened to Peter Pan? Is she (he) in prison for flying too high once too often?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Protest Vote On Akcess (AKA Gotta Have Faith)

I was the only member of the Common Council to vote No on the Akcess Acquisition Group's plan to put an office building and hotel/restaurant (Supple Group developers) on the Fox river. It was mostly a protest vote, as the real vote on the office building was when we voted on the "revised term sheet" agreement with Akcess in July. For the Council to turn down the project at this point, said the city attorney, could be a breach of contract. So even though the words "office building" and "hotel/restaurant" appear nowhere in the term sheet, it was the vote on that term sheet that constituted agreement to them.

The office and hotel/restaurant may end up being successful. Jay Supple said that the hotel may include a Montreal Bread Company, a European style deli which his restaurant group is opening in Milwaukee's old third ward. A Montreal Bread Company would represent at least something unique about the development.

I had several problems with the proposal that resulted in the protest no vote:

*We approved the proposal as part of our "Consent Agenda." Consent agenda items, unless they are laid over, get only one reading. Because the office building and hotel/restaurant were actually approved during a term sheet vote in which the project names do not appear, the public never had a meaningful chance to talk to the council about the projects when it mattered. In that sense, this process was as closed and sneaky as the ill-fated "Five Rivers Resort" fiasco.

*As of Tuesday's meeting, the Akcess group says that it has one "letter of intent" from a financial institution to move into the office building (even if that's true, do we really need a bank on the river?). Other pledges, we were told, were waiting for the Council approval of the project (even though it's now agreed to by everyone that the July vote WAS the approval). But even if Akcess succeeds in getting tenants, by their own admission the tenants will largely be drawn from already existing space in town. We are told that when that happens, the owners of the newly open space will be forced to upgrade in order to compete. Interesting theory, but not realistic given the state of the economy and the fact that it's hard to find examples of such a thing anywhere in the country.

*We already have one failed hotel downtown. I think the Supple Group can make a new hotel work, but I simply think we needed more evidence to support the claim that it can. Especially since we do not have a commercial airport in Oshkosh, I am struggling to understand why someone would fly into Outagamie, drive out of a city (Appleton) that has lots of great restaurants and a nightlife, to stay in an expensive hotel in Oshkosh located next to an office building. The hotel will probably have no problem getting guests during EAA, but what will happen during all other times of the year? Let's hope for the best.

*The Department of Community Development went out of its way to argue that this development does not come with the financial risks that plagued the 100 block of North Main St. project. I don't think a convincing case was ever made to that effect, but let's assume for the sake of argument that the Ackess proposal carries no financial risks at all. I argued at the meeting that financial is only one kind of risk a city council needs to be concerned with. The other is "quality of life" risk. If in several years we are left with underutilized buildings on prime riverfront property, that is a real quality of life issue.

One snag that may get in the way of all of this is environmental remediation of the site. Mr. Kinney tried to assure us that this will not be a problem. Like every other part of this project, we just have to have faith that he is right. This is, after all, a classic case of faith based river development.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

$17.2 Million For Nothing

Legislative inaction on the state budget has cost the taxpayers $17.2 million in salaries, fringe benefits, and other costs, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

One of the great ironies of the impasse is that, since Wisconsin's governor has virtual dictatorial control over the budget and can use his "Frankenstein Veto" to crunch the numbers however he sees fit to do so, the legislative wrangling is largely hot air. Or worse, it is the most vile kind of "bumper sticker politics" designed to put up a front of loyalty to the monied interests needed during reelection time.

It's hard to imagine a more rotten system.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lemberger on Outsourcing

UWO Education Professor/Oshkosh Northwestern community columnist John Lemberger had an excellent piece on outsourcing in yesterday's paper. Money quote:

It is important to understand with the implementation of GATT, NAFTA, and CAFTA, American workers have also outlived our usefulness to corporations. Off-shoring is the modern version of being “sold down the river.” For all the grit and determination of the American worker (we are the most productive in the world), we are simply too expensive. We expect safe workplaces, decent housing, healthcare and pensions. In China there are plenty of workers who have had these expectations beaten out of them.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Palmeri on Friday WPR "Week in Review"

I will be the "liberal" guy opposite UW Madison History Professor John Sharpless (the "conservative" guy) on Friday's WPR "Week In Review" with Joy Cardin from 8 - 9 a.m.

John Sharpless earned 49% of the vote against incumbent Tammy Baldwin in the year 2000 election to represent Wisconsin's 2nd congressional district.

You can call in to the show at 1-800-642-1234 (263-1890 if you are in Madison).

Rock 'n Roll Founders

I must say that YouTube is helping to make my "Rhetoric of Rock Music" course more enjoyable this semester. This week in class we've been talking about some of the rhythym and blues artists that really were the founding fathers and mothers of rock and roll. Most of them were performing and recording well before Elvis Presley or Bill Hailey and the Comets, and include

the great Louis Jordan

Big Joe Turner

Ruth Brown

Louis Prima

and the legendary Howlin' Wolf

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Shock Doctrine

Culture critic Naomi Klein's latest work argues that the "free" market has a "secret history" in which natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other horrific events serve to "soften" populations so that they will accept the "economic shock therapy" treatment of unrestrained Capitalism advocated by the late economist Milton Friedman and his followers. Klein's cover story for the latest issue of Harper's (not online yet) summarizes her latest book on "disaster capitalism." She's also produced a short film (see YouTube clip below) with Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") to accompany the book.

I think Klein exaggerates the impact of Friedman's ideas on global economic policy, but her work is useful in debunking the popular myth that market forces are "natural."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One For The Chief, or Academia at its Worst, Part III

I wasn't planning to comment on the recent decision of UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to rescind an offer to prominent liberal law professor Erwin Chemerinsky to become the founding Dean of the campus' new law school. But then I saw that The Chief started a blog post on Chemerinsky with this sentence: "Here's a story I give Tony Palmeri about a 100% chance of saying something about in the next few days." I guess by saying something we have a win-win: I get to alert T2T readers to yet another example of academia at its worst while The Chief gets to be correct in the prediction.

The Chemerinsky case is similar to Norman Finkelstein's in that outside influence was the key factor in determining the chancellor's hesitation to side with a leftish public intellectual no matter how outstanding his credentials. An article in Saturday's LA Times quotes an Orange County Republican party leader as saying that the GOP had organized 20 prominent Republicans against Chemerinsky, calling him a "longtime partisan gunslinger" and "too polarizing" for the job. Chancellor Drake also received pressure from conservative justices on the California Supreme Court.

Chemerinsky has been opposed by conservatives for much of his legal career, but he gained the ire of the most vile elements of the wingnut faction when he acted on behalf of Guantanamo detainees. Read his account here. In an effort to pacify his right wing critics, Chemerinsky actually asked Viet Dinh to sit on his UC-Irvine Law School Board of Advisors. Mr. Dinh is the chief (not to be confused with The Chief) architect of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The Saturday article in the LA Times says that negotiations are ongoing to restore the job offer to Chemerinsky, but it appears as if he will be offered the position only if he agrees to silence himself: "Drake has insisted that Chemerinsky didn't lose the dean's position because of his politics, saying that it was only because he expressed himself in a polarizing way. Any deal would therefore require Chemerinsky to 'successfully transition from being a very outspoken advocate on many causes to being a dean of the stature that we expect in a start-up law school,' said [attorney Tom] Malcom, a prominent Orange County Republican who was going to be a member of Chemerinsky's advisory board." (Malcom has been a participant in the talks to bring back Chemerinsky.).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Council Approves Climate Protection Agreement

Last night the Oshkosh Common Council approved the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. We become the 668th city to sign on nationally and the 15th in Wisconsin.
Soon Mayor Frank Tower will be naming an environmental committee which will be charged, in part, with looking at ways to green Oshkosh based on elements of the agreement.

Mayor Tower deserves praise for his leadership in getting the agreement on the council agenda. Many thanks also to citizens Steve Barney, Andy Robson, and former councilor Shirley Mattox for their activism on behalf of the agreement and for speaking out on it at last night's meeting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Once Worth Seeing Twice

Lori and I got a chance to see the critically acclaimed "Once" over the weekend. It's a simple, touching love story/musical without a predictable Hollywood-type ending. The songs are magnificent. Between Once and "Hairspray," this has been a pretty good year for film and music.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Academia at its Worst, Part 2

Part 1 included a discussion of Norman Finkelstein's predicament at DePaul. After denying him tenure, the DePaul administration canceled his 2007-2oo8 courses (his contract allowed him to come back for one more year of teaching) and tried to place him on administrative leave. As noted in the Chronicle, Finkelstein threatened acts of civil disobedience if he could not teach his classes.

Today, DePaul and Finkelstein reached an agreement under which he will leave. The terms of the agreement have not been released, but here's the kicker: as part of the agreement, DePaul has said in writing that, "Professor Finkelstein is a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher."

Faculty at most institutions of higher education are judged for tenure on three criteria: teaching, scholarship, and service. To deny tenure to someone whom the university itself refers to as a "prolific scholar and outstanding teacher" demonstrates the extent to which DePaul allowed itself to be intimidated by forces outside the university calling for Finkelstein's ouster.

Through its shameful handling of the Finkelstein case, DePaul has certainly earned a place on the AAUP's list of censured administrations. I hope to see them on that list soon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Store Memorial

Thanks to Oshkosh citizen JH for passing this on:

Friday, August 31, 2007

Academia at its Worst

My September Media Rant for the Valley Scene takes on the myth of the liberal university in the context of some recent terminations of "radical" professors at the University of Colorado and DePaul. The text of the rant can be found below and in this link.

Academia at its Worst

The myth of the “liberal” university is as widespread and false as the myth of the “liberal” media. A liberal university (like a liberal media) would be a safe space for dissent and would welcome thinking that challenges established power. Today, universities act like corporate media in treating dissent as “bad for business.” The University of Colorado’s recent termination of Ward Churchill, along with DePaul University’s decision to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee, make “liberal university” sound like the punch line to a bad joke.

Shortly after September 11, 2001 professor Churchill wrote an essay called “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” In it, he referred to World Trade Center corporate employees as “little Eichmanns,” suggesting that the people who died in the attacks were the moral equivalents of Nazi officials “just following orders” when sending Jews to the death camps. Nearly 6 years later, in July of this year, the Colorado Board of Regents voted 8-1 to approve UC Boulder president Hank Brown’s recommendation that Churchill be fired.

Hank Brown and the Colorado Board of Regents insist Churchill’s firing had nothing to do with his controversial statements, but with research misconduct uncovered by a university committee. They claim instances of plagiarism, falsification, and fabrication can be found in Churchill’s scholarly writings. Though admitting that the extensive review of Churchill’s writings (his work has been examined more thoroughly than probably any scholar in the history of academia) would not have taken place were it not for the media backlash against his 9/11 statements, Brown still claims with a straight face that he received fair treatment.

For his part, Churchill told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the Board had engaged in a “carefully managed illusion of due process.” His view is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors, each of which laments the chilling effect the Churchill decision will have on the off-campus speech of professors. The Chronicle also cited Churchill supporter Eric Cheyfitz, a professor of American Studies at Cornell who argues that the Committee making accusations against Churchill itself engaged in research misconduct in a variety of ways including the reliance on scholars who have had longstanding disagreements with him.

The situation was exploited by the conservative American Council of Trustees and Alumni, along with Bill O’Reilly, David Horowitz, and other right wing media complaining that “Ward Churchill is everywhere” in academia. The University of Colorado administration did not enjoy the negative public relations and, rather than take a stand for the principles of academic freedom and protection of free expression, made what was essentially a business decision to terminate an individual whose words offended those forces in the legislature and media that could do the campus harm.

Professor Norman Finkelstein’s tenure denial at DePaul University presents an even more shocking case of the abandonment of liberal values in the academy. Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust victims, has produced a huge body of scholarly and popular writings that show, among other things, how the Holocaust has been exploited for political gain and how the United States and Israel act in ways that contradict their stated calls for peace in the middle east. The late Raul Hilberg, much admired founder of the field of Holocaust Studies, praised Finkelstein’s scholarship as vital and rigorous.

Finkelstein’s work naturally attracts vehement condemnation, the most vocal and strident from Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein’s 2005 book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, provides evidence that parts of Dershowitz’s 2003 The Case for Israel were plagiarized. Dershowitz proceeded to distribute a dossier of materials to individuals involved in the DePaul tenure decision, identifying “Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions."

The department and college personnel committee, both of which found Dershowitz’s criticisms of Finkelstein’s scholarship to be baseless, granted positive recommendations for tenure. But the Dean of the College along with university president Dennis Holtschneider parroted Dershowitz’s accusations of Finkelstein’s “unprofessional personal attacks” and voted to deny. Holtschneider’s tenure denial letter, available on the web, provides little evidence that he had independently read any of Finkelstein’s work.

Finkelstein told the Chronicle: "DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they're getting all this negative publicity because of me. And they want to get rid of me. And now the question is, what's going to prevail? The principles of fairness, the principles of academic freedom, or power and money in the form of a mailed fist?" The DePaul Administration abandoned fairness and academic freedom principles not only for Finkelstein, but also for professor Mehrene Larudee. She was called an outstanding teacher and scholar at every level of review but denied tenure by Holtschneider. Her sin? Publicly supporting Finkelstein.

Universities at their best represent open and safe spaces for free thinking that challenges widely accepted opinions. At their worst, they act like corporate media and stifle dissent in the interest of the bottom line. As regards the treatment of Churchill and Finkelstein, we’ve seen academia at its worst.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tuesday's Meeting

I guess the theme of the Tuesday, August 28th meeting was "deja vu all over again," as there seemed to be lots of familiar topics raised (and not just on the change of government referendum). Some high and low lights:

*Bryan Bain's well meaning attempt to establish a workshop meeting via an ordinance change was defeated. The debate on this matter had deja vu qualities to it, as we once again spent time discussing the length of our meetings. No one on the council enjoys starting workshops at a late time, but there was not majority support for solving that problem by adding another meeting.

I did move to amend the ordinance to require that citizen input would be allowed at workshop meetings. The amendment failed. [Note: Later in the evening we had a workshop dealing with the Inspections Division of the Department of Community Development, and I thought it provided a classic example of why we should have citizen input at workshops. I'll write more about this at a later time.]. Oshkosh News covers the workshop vote here.

*Another Bain proposal, this one an ordinance to create an annual permit for all night parking, was held over until the next meeting. The ordinance as presented has an exception for one entire neighborhood of the city (the campus area.). The concern of the administration was that students in that neighborhood might buy an annual permit for parking and then leave town after 9 months, thus taking that permit out of commission for 3 months and preventing its use by someone else. The problem was/is that not everyone in the neighborhood is a student who leaves town after 9 months, and so essentially we would have a situation where people in that neighborhood would continue to have to get a monthly permit even if they do not meet the student stereotype on which the neighborhood exception is based. Hopefully the administration can find a solution before the next meeting. Oshkosh News covers the matter here.

*After much discussion at prior meetings and workshops, the proposal to renovate the Oshkosh Convention Centre passed after a brief discussion of whether or not to take the city manager's advice to use TIF financing. An amendment to use TIF financing failed 3-4 (Palmeri, King, McHugh, and Frank Tower voting against TIF). The vote on the original resolution, to renovate using monies from the Capital Improvements budget, was unanimous. I suspect the vote was unanimous at least in part because we learned that Award Hospitality is in active negotiations to purchase the Park Plaza Hotel. I voted in favor of the renovation mostly because I think the city has a responsibility to maintain buildings that it owns; the idea that we should simply tear down buildings that we have let suffer via deferred maintenance does not sit well. I also believe that if managed well (a very big IF, I know) the Convention Centre CAN add a great deal to the downtown economy.

*My resolution to set a special November election for a change of government referendum failed 2-5, with only Paul Esslinger and I voting for it. I thought, and still think, that resolving the appointed vs. elected executive issue is the key item that needs to be resolved before we can move forward productively. I completely understand the opposition to what I was proposing, but what was frustrating was the lack of coherent suggestions on how to move forward in the absence of a special referendum.

One exception was Burk Tower's opposition, which was useful in terms of articulating a point of view on how to move the city forward; Burk just doesn't think a referendum is necessary and believes we ought to proceed with a manager search no matter what citizens decide to do. I disagree with him strongly, and think that if we follow his suggestion we will simply be repeating the mistakes of 1996, but at least he left little doubt about what direction he thinks we need to go in.

Much of the other opposition was along the lines of "we might need a referendum, just not this one at this time." Or "we need a community discussion." Okay, but if history is a guide we can see where we are headed: discussions will go on endlessly and without direction or not go on at all, the council at some point will have to begin a manager search, citizens convinced a change is needed will attempt to put a referendum on the ballot, and once again we will be right back where we were in 1996.

Jim Simmons during the citizen statements suggested the idea of a "Charter Convention" to arrive at a new form of government. I think it's a good idea, but the fact that it came from Simmons will make it immediately unacceptable to those who support the manager/council form of government. Strong supporters of manager/council need to come out in favor of something like a Charter Convention if it is to have any chance.

I do hope that I am dead wrong on most of this, and that somehow in the next few months a series of discussions will miraculously arrive at "the" referendum question that meets everyone's approval. Don't hold your breath.

*We had 11 people speak during citizen statements, including two people who criticized me virulently for speaking out against David Omachinski's appointment to the redevelopment authority. One gentleman said, in what I guess was a market defense of outsourcing, that Omachinski was "simply an employee following orders." He's not wrong: read Robert Jackall's 1988 Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, for some great insight into the "bureaucratic ethic" that creates the CEO mentality. Read some Hannah Arendt or Stanley Milgram too.

Other citizens came to say that the neighborhood around the old Mercy Medical Center (not too far from where I live) is seeing an increase in deteriorating properties and criminal activities. It's good to see people speaking out about such matters; my hope is that such speaking out will lead to the creation of strong neighborhood associations capable of organizing blocks and sponsoring collective action.

*During Council Member statements, Councilor King issued what on the agenda was called "Apology to Mr. Omachinski." Several times she referred to herself as a "progressive Democrat" while seeming to blame outsourcing on the American consumer. Our vote against Omachinski was compared to McCarthyism, a charge repeated here. Pat Belongie's letter (scroll down) offered support for my view. She must not be a progressive Democrat.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Response to Attack Editorial

The Northwestern published my response to their Aug. 19 attack editorial today, leaving out the word "attack" in the first line. Yesterday the paper wrote an editorial in favor of placing a change of government referendum on the November ballot, but it is not online yet. Here's the letter I sent responding to the attack editorial.

To the Editor:

The Northwestern’s attack editorial of August 19 did not accurately summarize my reasons for voting against Mayor Tower’s appointment of former Oshkosh B’Gosh executive David Omachinski to sit on the Redevelopment Authority.

From1993-2002 Mr. Omachinski was Vice-President of Finance, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer at B’Gosh. On his resume’ he lists as one of his accomplishments: “Successfully developed and carried out 5 year plan to migrate all domestic manufacturing to offshore sources.” Oshkosh B’Gosh continued to use our city’s name even as they sent all the manufacturing jobs to the third world. During Mr. Omachinski’s reign as Chief Financial Officer the company should have changed its name to “Honduras B’Gosh.”

I also opposed the appointment because we simply need to see more diversity on the Redevelopment Authority. Industry, finance, and big business are currently very well represented on the Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority. Instead of throwing a tantrum when the Council dares to say No to a CFO, the Northwestern should urge the creation of an Authority that is truly representative of the entire community. A truly representative Redevelopment Authority is more likely to pursue policies that benefit all of the taxpayers, including victims of outsourcing.

Tony Palmeri
Oshkosh Common Council