Thursday, May 29, 2008
Greenwashing McCain and Obama
By Tony Palmeri
In his book Crimes Against Nature, Bobby Kennedy Jr. calls George W. Bush “the worst environmental president in our nation’s history.” Kennedy told Mother Jones magazine that the Bush administration uses Orwellian newspeak to hide their true agenda: “When they want to destroy the forests, they call it the Healthy Forest Act; when they want to destroy the air, they call it the Clear Skies bill. Most insidiously, as part of this stealth attack, they’ve put polluters in charge of the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution . . . these individuals have not entered government service for the public interest, but rather to subvert the very laws they’re now charged with enforcing.”
As I write this column in mid-May Senator Clinton has yet to throw in the towel, but let’s assume that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party nominee. Obama or his Republican rival John McCain will be better than George W. Bush on environmental and energy issues, though both are too cozy with the culture of official Washington that stands in the way of meaningful reform. By exaggerating the environmental records and proposals coming from the McCain and Obama, mainstream media is “greenwashing” the campaigns.
Greenwashing is defined as “act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” A Greenpeace sponsored website, http://www.stopgreenwash.org/, shows how big business polluters would much rather clean up their image instead of their act.
Let’s stop greenwashing the presidential campaigns. John McCain has been able to cultivate the maverick, “not a rubber stamp Republican” image on the environment even though his track record is hardly green. He says that global warming presents a test of political courage, yet eagerly signed on to a “gas tax holiday” proposal. He supports taxpayer subsidies for the nuclear industry while claiming, “nuclear power is green.” He promotes oxymoronic “clean coal” technologies as a partial solution to our energy needs. McCain opposed Bill Clinton’s “roadless rule,” which put nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forests off-limits to most logging and road construction. He has a lifetime score of 24 percent from the League of Conservation Voters.
The most unappealing part of McCain’s environmental record is that, like most mainstream Republicans, he espouses the free market as the ultimate solution. According to John Nichols in the Nation Magazine, McCain in Oregon tried to present himself as some kind of new era eco-warrior at the same time failing to embrace genuine green proposals. Nichols concludes:
“He’s not really serious about climate change. What he’s serious about is neutralizing the environment as an issue in a presidential campaign season that will see millions of American voters — including a great many wavering Republicans — treat climate-change as an exceptionally serious election issue.”
Barack Obama, mimicking plans that were originally put forward by John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, wants to spend $150 billion to create 5 million “green-collar jobs.” Another $60 billion would go toward the creation of a “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank” to rebuild bridges, highways, and other public infrastructure.
Writing for Bloomberg News, Lorraine Woellert tried to discover what the green-collar job proposal entails. It’s not all rosy: “Even advocates say there's no guarantee that many of the new jobs will require much skill or pay a livable wage. `Green'’ jobs can encompass solar-panel installers and bio-diesel mechanics; they can also include security guards at wind farms, bicycle messengers and even maintenance workers.”
Woellert spoke to Dana Stein, executive director of Civic Works Inc., a green-jobs-training program in Baltimore, who said his employees start at $7.50 an hour. Upon graduation, some work in positions that are low paying and not even “green.” She also spoke to Bracken Hendricks, an Obama advisor and founder of the Apollo Alliance, a San Francisco based advocacy organization dedicated to the proposition that “going green” is good economics. Hendricks said that a job shouldn't be called ``green'' unless it pays a livable wage or offers career advancement. We’re still waiting for Barack to tell us what percentage of the green-collar jobs he is proposing to create will be living wage, family sustaining positions.
Though he has tried to present himself as an opponent of official Washington culture, Obama’s track record suggests something different. Writing for Counterpunch, Joshua Frank argues “Obama’s ties to the nuclear industry are stronger than any other candidate in the hunt for the White House this year.” His campaign has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from employees of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator. Why do they like Obama? Because he took the teeth out of a bill that he himself had introduced, a bill that would require nuclear facilities to immediately notify state and federal agencies of all leaks, no matter how big or small. Frank concludes that the nuclear industry pulled from this episode “the Obama machine was worth investing in.” The Senator is also a proponent of “clean coal” and voted for Bush’s horrendous 2005 corporate giveaway Energy Bill.
Though better than Bush, McCain and Obama are too much a part of mainstream Washington culture to be taken seriously as green reformers. Mainstream media should stop greenwashing their records and proposals.
As usual, you have to go to Canadian media to get a good explanation of something, in this case greenwashing:
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
According to my unofficial calculations, as of 9 a.m. this morning the common council has received 30 emails in opposition to the Chamber building purchase, and 6 in favor. Of the 30 opposed, I do not know or have never received any communication on any issue from 19 of them. Of the 6 in favor, most (perhaps all--I am not sure) hold some kind of leadership position in the Chamber, OAEDC, or CHAMCO.
I've received about a dozen phone calls on this issue; there too most are in opposition except for Chamber connected parties.
Councilors have received two hard copy letters related to the project. One is a copy of a May 21, 2008 letter sent from Jeff Pauly, Managing Partner of the City Center, to Director of Community Development Jackson Kinney. Pauly writes: "Since we haven't discussed this project for almost a year, we would like to state that we are still concerned with the impact the Marion Road project would have on City Center. We would like to discuss this with you as soon as possible." Attached to that letter is a copy of a July 3, 2007 letter sent from City Center Associates to the Oshkosh Plan Commission stating the concerns. That letter says: "We have not been involved with any portion of this request since the Strand Report was developed in 2003. We have not been in favor of the Marion Road option sine its inception four years ago. Based on the lack of information and lack of involvement, we are not in favor of this option at this time."
Mr. Kinney sent a memo to Mr. Fitzpatrick dated May 22, 2008 in which is says that Mr. Pauly is in Dallas and that they will meet when he gets back. Better late than never!
The other letter is a two page, single-spaced missive from UW Oshkosh Chancellor Rick Wells. I am in full agreement with his opening sentence: "Providing leadership in support of the public interest can be difficult at times, but when you embrace a longer-term perspective, you can often see matters with a special clarity of focus."
Reading the word "focus" got me thinking about the Dutch progressive rock band of the same name from the early 1970s. Some might remember that Focus had a minor hit with "Hocus Pocus" around 1973. I hereby nominate "Hocus Pocus" as the official theme song of tonight's Council meeting. Its lyrics and vocal stylings perfectly capture what I am thinking about the Chamber proposal.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Whether the votes on this project are "yes" or "no," the city council must demand an explanation of how this move makes sense in the long-term. If the only answer is repeatedly "This is the best we can do right now" or "Who knows if something better will come along?' those answers should be unacceptable.
When just about everyone agrees that this river front redevelopment plan falls short of our community's hopes and aspirations for the Fox River redevelopment zone, taxpayers should not be asked to financially underwrite the bailout of the very agents that have not met the community's expectations.
But this we already know: The people of Oshkosh aspire to something amazing, all-inclusive and long-lasting along our span of the Fox certainly. They aren't dreaming of the plan we've got, a plan that only benefits a privileged few.
We have reached an unhealthy point in our redevelopment mission where frank self-examination of our efforts is dispelled as "negativism." We are wearing blinders, paralyzing our objectivity out of desperation for a redevelopment "win." It is the same desperation that gave us the 100 Block project.
This time around it's doubly-bad because the people calling the shots are, themselves, part of the blueprints.
There may actually be 4 votes on the council for the Chamber purchase, so if you have interest in this topic the time to contact us is now. I won't be able to attend the Redevelopment Authority meeting today, but I am looking forward to reading about that group's deliberations on this matter.
On the Water Tower (WT), we had a special workshop last night that, in spite of the fact that few people in town knew about it, still had a decent attendance.
City staff and Councilor B. Tower have made much of the fact that the council had a workshop on this matter back in July of '07 and were told that the WT would be demolished. Before last night's workshop we were given copies of the materials from last July. There is nothing in those materials alerting the council to the fact that (a.) the WT has some historical significance, (b.) a promise was made to citizens that the WT would not be demolished, (c.) the Landmarks Commission had not been asked to weigh in on the demolition.
Had the council known a, b, and c in July of '07, I dare say the tone of that workshop would have been significantly different. We're now in a horrible position where even though the city's finance director says that financing issues need not drive the decision, we are in a rush to vote next Tuesday on whether to demolish or rehabilitate the WT. Given the budget times we are in, a vote to rehab is very difficult. That's why I think we need to slow this down, initiate a landmarking process, work with preservationists, and search for possible funding sources.
I will have a resolution on the agenda on Tuesday that will ask the council to initiate the process of landmarking the WT. That would slow this entire process down and give citizens the chance to search out opportunities for funding a rehab. According to city attorney Lorenson, if the council initiates the landmarking process, here's what would happen:
The Landmarks Commission conducts the initial review which would include a public hearing on the matter, then they would make a recommendation that would be forwarded to the Plan Commission. The Plan Commission would also review and forward to the Council with the recommendations from both Commissions. The actual designation would be done by ordinance then which would require two readings before the Council.
I would find it just awful if the council votes to demolish the WT without giving the Landmarks Commission a chance to hold a public hearing. As we found out last night, the Landmarks Commission was not even apprised of the demolition plan until February of 2008. That's not acceptable, and we need to give the Commission a chance to do its job properly.
My interest in this issue is not rooted in some nostalgia for history or historic structures. Rather, I believe that it's time to start actively developing the "Historic Oshkosh" brand. Other cities have done this with great success.
Can you imagine if on Tuesday the Council decides to demolish the WT at the same time voting to allocate funds to raze the Chamber building? Perhaps at that point we could come up with a new city slogan: "Oshkosh: Razin' in the Sun."
Monday, May 19, 2008
I also hope he invites the great Bill Miller to perform at the inauguration.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
If the 2-year-old Lowe's home improvement store in Wauwatosa were to go under in this economic downturn - and no one is suggesting it will - residents in that Milwaukee suburb wouldn't have to look at its empty shell for long.
Like many communities across the country, Wauwatosa has taken steps to protect itself against so-called ghost boxes, the hulking remains of what are often big box stores left vacant when retailers downsize or relocate . . .
Wauwatosa's provision, adopted as part of its big-box ordinance in 2005, requires developers of buildings 50,000 square feet and larger to set aside 20 cents a square foot in the city's land conservation fund - about $28,000 in Lowe's case - which can be tapped to raze the building if it sits empty for more than a year.
"This is exactly the climate we were anticipating when we adopted this," Wauwatosa Community Development Director Nancy Welch said shortly after Home Depot announced this month that it would close 15 stores, including three in Wisconsin.
Widely criticized in the development community at the time, Wauwatosa's provision has been touted by the American Planning Association as one of the innovative ways communities can protect themselves if a retailer departs.
Others include higher architectural standards that make buildings easier to reuse; requiring developers to take out demolition bonds; and banning clauses in leases that prohibit the owner of a building, once vacated, from renting it to a retailer's competitor.
The lack of such policies has really hurt Oshkosh. Notice how the Wauwatosa Director of Community Development talks about a "climate we were anticipating," suggesting a future-orientation that ought to be at the core of all development.
Perhaps a good question for the city manager candidates would be, "What kind of economic climate do you expect we will see over the next 10-20 years and how do you propose the city plan for it?"
As for the big box stores, Wal-Mart is of course the Big Kahuna. Hillary Clinton now criticizes their practices, but such was not always the case as revealed in this ABC report:
Friday, May 16, 2008
If I had to predict I'd say we will probably stay with the sundial for a good long while, but if people really do want to see a change I guess the time to speak up is now, as the excitement of "Public Enemies" has given us the chance to talk seriously about the look of our city and we will be reconstructing Main St. in the next few years.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I'll be the "left" guy opposite Owen Robinson of Boots and Sabers on the "right" on Friday's WPR Week in Review with Joy Cardin from 8-9 a.m.
You can join the conversation by using the toll-free call-in number 1-800-642-1234. You can also e-mail comments/questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm sure one topic that will come up is John Boy's endorsement of Obama. Not sure why it took him so long to endorse, as it has been clear since last year that there was no way he could endorse Hillary.
The Oshkosh Common Council should:
1.) Reconsider the vote and close out the 4imprint TIF. Make sure the taxpaying public here hears and celebrates the job-growing success story we have seeded in our downtown. Return that TIF's taxable value to the property tax rolls. Our school district and county could use their shares sooner than later.
2.) As it reconsiders the vote, direct staff to make the first spans of Oshkosh river walk are a priority in the 2009 and 2010 capital improvement budgets and beyond. Oshkosh believes in that project and its unifying vision. So, let's pay for it the right way.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Seriously, here are some highlights of the day:
*At 3 p.m. the Council met with Karl Nollenberger of the PAR Group (the executive search firm). He summarized for us the content of the applications of the 13 city manager candidates the firm thought should be taken seriously by the council. He also summarized his phone interviews with the candidates and their references. I thought this was a very productive meeting, and I was pleasantly surprised at the level of agreement between the 7 of us as to who were the top candidates. I was against using the search firm, and still think that the council in cooperation with the personnel department could pull this off easily and save some cash, but I have to admit that Karl is really doing an excellent job for us.
For the record, the applications were not very diverse. There were 52 of them, yet just 2 women and 1 racial minority. I believe 17 of the applicants were already in Wisconsin positions. The feeling that you get is that the world of city management is primarily a white, male, middle-aged, somewhat insulated universe. Nothing against middle-aged white guys, since they tell me I fit that demographic myself. Still, it is disappointing that an allegedly "progressive" form of government seems to have trouble attracting as leaders anyone that might make Archie Bunker sit up and take notice.
So we agreed on six finalists (in alphabetical order):
- Kevin Brunner, currently the city manager of Whitewater
- Larry Delo, currently the city administrator of DePere
- Bret Jones, currently the city administrator of Gillette, WY
- Jeff Muzzy, currently a consultant for the International City Management Association (and currently in Lebanon).
- Gary Rogers, Jr., currently the city administrator of Waupun
- Mark Rohloff, currently the town administrator in Grand Chute
The council will meet next Tuesday at 4 p.m. to work out details of how we want to handle the interviews that will take place on June 6 and 7. One thing we have to work out is a process for getting citizen input. If you any ideas, please email or call us.
The Northwestern and several citizens have asked why acting city manager John Fitzpatrick was not named as one of the finalists. I can only speak for myself: John has done more in the city manager position than anyone could have dreamed. Not only has he ensured that city services continue to be delivered effectively during this transition time, but he has also shown some excellent leadership on potentially contentious issues like the Westhaven golf course and urban deer. While doing that he has managed to bring some high quality new people into the organization (i.e. Chris Strong in transportation and Peggy Steeno in finance). But the candidates chosen as finalists simply have had more time to establish track records in the key areas that we are looking for (e.g. economic and community development, managing a staff, etc.).
We were done with Karl at around 5:15, then went into open session to announce the finalists. We then all left city hall to grab a quick bite (I went back to my home across the street from city hall and had a can of tuna fish, then went to Starbucks to get a coffee because I though the regular meeting would go on very long and I'd need a caffeine boost.).
At the council meeting I ended up voting against quite a few items. Res 08-157 granted a conditional use permit to the university to construct two parking lots on Woodland Ave. No university rep was there to answer questions about it, and I did not have time in the few days before the meeting to contact anyone, so I ended up voting against it. My concern is that the "green campus" seems to be very good at creating parking lots; I wanted to know if perhaps we could do with just one lot on Woodland and turn the other half of the street into a greener walking area or something. All academic now, as it passed 6-1.
I voted for closing TIF District #15, which would put the properties in it back on the tax rolls and distribute monies to the school district, county, and city. Cities throughout the Valley are having to make major cuts in their school districts, so I'm a little surprised that education advocates are not raising hell about "donor TIF" schemes that continue to keep tax revenue from them in the name of "progress." The problem is that TIF is still too mysterious to most people, even the so-called educated.
That was my view, and also Mr. McHugh's to an extent, but 5 councilors voted to keep district #15 open so that monies from it can be used for the Riverwalk project. I support the Riverwalk, but I think this so-called "donor TIF" scheme is not good practice to get into. There will always be public works projects worthy of support, and quite frankly I can't see why we would ever close down a TIF. My view is that if we want to build a riverwalk (or any public works project), we should have whatever it takes to go to the taxpayers and say, "we need this and here is why." That's essentially what we did with the Convention Center. "Donor TIF" is being used in other Wisconsin cities; not surprising since very few people understand TIF and the proposals are almost always made to look like "free money." (I also think that when we propose a public works project--be it the riverwalk or something else--we should have a good idea in advance how it will be financed before we approve it. The idea that we'll just grab whatever pot of money seems to be available at any given time just doesn't seem like wise fiscal policy. It's too Washingtonian or Madisonian (as in the cash strapped, shell-game playing capitals, not as in George and James).
Res 08-163 asked us to approve the Urban Deer Management recommendations. I wanted to vote for this, but then Mr. Bain amended the resolution to include a formal date by which a culling proposal should come before us. I don't believe we need a formal timeline not because I am necessarily against a culling proposal (I still need more information before making a decision on that), but because I felt we need to make sure we have ample time to test whether the non-lethal suggestions that the Humane Society of the United States will make to us have worked. We also need better and more complete research on culling experiences from around the region. I felt that a rigid timeline will pressure us into giving mostly "lip service" to the non-lethal methods and not allow us the time necessary to find out exactly what works and doesn't work in other communities.
Councilors need to know that the moment a culling proposal comes forward it will be met with vocal resistance and we will probably have a very divisive situation on our hands. That's not an argument against eventual culling, but it is an argument against leaving the impression that inviting Sandy Baker of HSUS to Oshkosh is only some kind of "going through the motions" charade while we get ready to cull.
As if that wasn't enough "no" votes for one night, I then voted against Bryan's resolution to thank Universal Studios for bringing "Public Enemies" here. Yeah, I know such resolutions are harmless, but I couldn't get around the fact that Universal received a $4 million tax credit to come to Wisconsin. I'm glad the film came here, but we can't lose sight of the fact that the big film studios are now involved in a "race to the bottom" which is forcing states across the nation to "up the ante" for the privilege of getting films made. Here's Wisconsin, up to its ears in debt, that somehow has millions in tax credits to distribute. (Like TIF, it's usually presented as free money). Meanwhile the small businesses of the city and state--the backbone of the economy--keep having to pay more and more and rarely get a break. All I'm saying is that the common council did not have to thank Universal because the taxpayers have already thanked them--with their pocketbooks.
After the meeting we had a fascinating workshop with Parks Director Tom Stephany to talk about the future of the Leach Amphitheatre. After 4 years, there seems now to be consensus that the facility should be run by a non-profit or the city. Tom's report to the council is not online yet, but when it does arrive you should give it a read. He shows the problems that PMI has had in managing the facility and provides a general outline of how a non-profit entity like the Grand Opera House and/or the Parks Department could run it. What's increbible in the report is that there is very little in it that was not already known in 2004. Unfortunately at that time, neither the council, the committee that chose PMI, nor the local establishment press seemed interested in doing their homework or listening to reason. (Instead at the time we had then-Mayor Harris lecturing us on how the Leach/PMI relationship was going fill all our hotels and restaurants; "cha ching" I think he said.).
Alright, after finals I'll try to be less cranky. Promise.
Monday, May 12, 2008
The efforts of many individuals are required to make such events work, but special thanks must go to Grand Opera House Executive Director Joe Ferlo. He was able to recruit and rehearse performers, while he too performed in the show. Joe's passion for the cause and for the arts inspired the entire cast.
All seven of us on the Common Council performed the "Do Re Mi" bit from "The Sound of Music" with local singer/songwriter Dorothy Zerbe in the Julie Andrews role. In our take, Dorothy was a citizen asking the council to support music. We micromanaged her statement, which she responded to by teaching us how to sing. The audience was in hysterics through most of the routine, I think in part because the image we presented on stage was so contrary to the uptight and tense tone that too often pervades our meetings.
So thanks again to Joe Ferlo and the Grand Opera House, two Oshkosh treasures.
Below is the Do Re Mi scene from "The Sound of Music." I'm pretty sure in the first grade I had a major crush on Julie Andrews.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Friday, May 09, 2008
*Even if she wins all the remaining primaries, she will not have enough pledged delegates to win the nomination.
*Even if some compromise is worked out with the Michigan and Florida delegations, she will still trail Obama in the popular vote.
*Her staying in the race will only further tarnish Obama, to the benefit of John McCain, thus costing the Democrats the fall election.
None of those reasons, in my judgment, are enough to warrant withdrawal from the race. Even though Obama has won more states, pledged delegates, and popular votes than Hillary, he is in the same boat she is in: he needs the support of more so-called "Super Delegates" to get the nomination. By staying in the race, Hillary will force those delegates to do their job.
If the super delegates gave the nomination to Clinton at this point, would I find that to be outrageous? Sure, but I might at least respect them for taking a stand.
As I see it, Hillary (at least as of this week) is not willing to give the super delegates an "easy way out." I'm quite sure that in her mind she feels that the fact that she has won most of the big states, and most of the states where only registered Democrats can vote, gives her a legitimate claim to the nomination. She too will find it "outrageous" if and when Obama gets the nomination because the votes of super delegates put him over the top.
This post is in no way a defense of the Clinton candidacy. I have found much of her campaigning over the last few weeks to be pandering of the most repulsive kind. Still, if there are any "bad guys" in all of this, it is the so-called super delegates (or is it super cowards?) like Herb Kohl who for some reason refuse to take a stand.
The super delegates could have the nominee chosen today if they wanted to. Hillary deserves criticism for lots of things, but forcing the super delegates to come out of the shadows is not one of them, at least not for me.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
No one questions the need for the government to protect information about intelligence sources and methods, troop movements or weapons systems. But there's a big difference between withholding information about military or intelligence operations from the public and withholding the law that governs the executive branch. Keeping the law secret doesn't enhance national security, but it does give the government free rein to operate without oversight or accountability. Even the congressional intelligence committees, which are supposed to oversee the intelligence community, have been denied access to some of these legal opinions.
Monday, May 05, 2008
"a newspaper supporting the status quo for too long." Ya think????
Paul Geremia has a great line about papers. See if you can catch it.
On May 13th at 3 p.m., the council will meet with Mr. Nollenberger to try and narrow the candidate list down to 5 or 6 people we would like to bring to Oshkosh for interviews on June 6th and 7th. On May 13 we will also decide how to get citizen input on the candidates.
Our city policy, very reasonably, is to reimburse candidates for expenses. However, Mr. Nollenberger says that "it has become more the standard to also pay for candidates' spouses expenses since the decision on whether to accept the city manager position is a family decision." He says that cities differ on that policy.
I don't currently support spousal reimbursement, but am certainly open to arguments as to why it would be a good idea. The fact that "it's a family decision" for the candidate by itself is not a strong enough reason--at least not for me.
Not to sound like a broken record, but I still find it shocking that any community would choose to select its executive level leadership in this manner. In our region Neenah, Appleton, Menasha, and Green Bay elect mayors to serve as the chief executive of the city. The cost of choosing the executive is the cost of the election. We choose to spend thousands of dollars on buy outs, search firms, travel reimbursement costs, legal fees, etc. etc.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
Obama's NC Communications Director is Dan Leistikow, Jim Doyle's former press secretary and communications director. A more complete list of Barack's North Carolina operation can be found here.
North Carolina was originally thought to be a cakewalk for Obama, but now Hillary Clinton thinks she has the Wright stuff to narrow her opponent's margin of victory or even score an upset. The Los Angeles Times today does a profile on Clinton's NC State Director Averell "Ace" Smith, a hard-nosed PR guru known for employing brutal "opposition research" tactics. In the L.A. Times piece, a Democratic strategist compares political operatives in general and Smith specifically to fictional mafia thugs:
"Some people are Fredos; at game time they disappear. There are Sonnys, who yell and scream. . . . The most effective ones are the Michael Corleones. Very quiet, they know under which rib to insert the knife. . . . Ace is a Michael Corleone."
A more complete list of Hillary's North Carolina consiglieres can be found here.
The primary election is on Tuesday. Can Barack's Badgers beat the Clinton Family headed by Consigliere Ace? My prediction: Badgers 54, Clinton Family 46.
Friday, May 02, 2008
In Memory of The PICAN Man: Robert L. “Doc” Snyder (1928-2008)
By Tony Palmeri
from the May, 2008 edition of The Scene
In April the Fox Valley lost a media giant. Robert L. “Doc” Snyder, founder of the UW Oshkosh Radio-TV-Film program, passed away after suffering a stroke following surgery. He is survived by Irene, his wife of 55 years, 4 adult children and their families, two sisters, and thousands of former students and fans of his long running “Doc’s Jazz City” radio program.
The UW Oshkosh Department of Communication hired me in 1989, and Doc immediately became an unofficial mentor. I loved his cool radio voice and classy demeanor, and stood in awe of his wonderful rapport with students. Doc encouraged me to get active as a producer and host of campus radio and television public affairs programs while offering me invaluable advice on how to communicate with an audience. He was a great department leader and colleague. Current Radio-TV-Film program coordinator Doug Heil says it best:
“Bob consistently and universally treated everyone the exact same way. Whether he was interacting with students or colleagues, it was impossible to determine whom he liked and whom he didn’t like. There were no perks or pork or privileges for special pets, nor was there any silent treatment or back of hand for people he didn’t care for. This is a leadership attribute — I am now convinced — that helps establish a more positive, stable, and productive work environment. I will never possess this grace to the extent that Bob did, but it is a quality I seek to emulate, and I think of him often as I struggle to attain his admirable impartiality.”
Doc retired in 1993 but continued to mentor faculty and staff, engage students, and host his radio show. His 2001 induction into the Wisconsin Broadcasters Hall of Fame represented official recognition of Doc’s grand accomplishments as a media educator and practitioner.
Tributes and statements in memory of Doc have rightly given prominence to his legendary love of jazz. Aldous Huxley claimed that “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Doc was fond of the idea of jazz as “expressing the inexpressible,” an idea he exposed listening audiences to for more than 40 years. On April 13th the historic Grand Opera House in Oshkosh hosted a jazz tribute concert for Doc featuring the Valley’s top jazz talents including Janet Planet, John Harmon, Marty Robinson, Tom Theabo, Mary Catterton, Tom Washatka, Janet Macklin and Donna Ruzicka. On that memorable evening the music made it possible to express the love and admiration for the departed that grief sometimes makes inexpressible. A more fitting tribute was not possible.
Though it is fitting and proper that we recognize Doc’s long-standing commitment to jazz programming, his media legacy is much bigger than that. To generations of media students, Doc preached an ethic of broadcasting as fundamentally a public interest activity. You would never know it by observing and listening to the rot that passes for most commercial television and radio these days, but “operating in the public interest” is supposed to be the operational standard for Federal Communication Commission broadcast licensees.
In 2006 I had the good fortune to do a radio interview with Doc in celebration of the 40th anniversary of WRST-FM, and he told me this:
“Commercial radio has lost a lot of what it used to be, including the legal commitment to the public interest, convenience, and necessity. One time on an exam a student used the acronym PICAN and I’ve never forgotten it. That means a lot to me and I’ve tried to instill that in our people and I wish the commercial broadcasting industry, both radio and television--and now to a degree cable--would keep that it mind.”
The public interest standard was most clearly defended in a 1937 law review article by then FCC Vice-Chairman Irvin Stewart:
“’Public interest’ is more than a phrase to which an applicant for broadcast facilities must give lip service. It is a constant reminder that the station licensee has the temporary use free of all charge of an invaluable facility which belongs to all the people. The American people control the frequencies which are the sine non-qua of broadcasting; they have made a temporary and condition loan of those frequencies to the present licensees of broadcast stations. The condition is that the operation of these stations will be in the public interest.” (quoted in Robert W. McChesney's Telecommunications, Mass Media & Democracy. Oxford UP, 1993: p. 247)
I spoke with Doc Snyder many times about the breakdown of the public interest standard in commercial broadcasting. His style over the years was never to lament that breakdown, but rather to demand high public interest standards from himself along with staff and students associated with WRST radio and other campus media. To the end he remained convinced that college media could and should provide a model of how to meet the PICAN standard.
Doc Snyder was a loving husband and father, gifted teacher and media practitioner, and legendary jazz enthusiast. These qualities will never be forgotten. But as a media professional, he will be remembered as the PICAN Man, the man who never stopped preaching the responsibility of media to operate in the public interest.
Preaching PICAN is a profound Doc legacy. And that’s no jazz.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
The city's municipal codes do give the Mayor the power to "issue all proclamations," though I have to believe that issuing them has rarely been done at events not publicly noticed. In fact it seems somewhat bizarre to issue a proclamation outside the public eye, since the entire purpose of issuing a proclamation in the first place is to give public acclaim to someone or something. The Mayor says the event was a "surprise going away gathering" and that he and acting City Manager John Fitzpatrick thought the recognition was appropriate given "the behind-the-scenes work Mark had been involved with and the fact that the advance folks (who do the bulk of the work on a project like this) usually don't receive the recognition they deserve."
I do not know if the press was invited to the event or if any elected officials other than Frank Tower attended.
I'm sure Mark Har is a great guy, but maybe it's time to take a closer look at the method of issuing keys to the city and the manner of awarding them. It appears as if Oshkosh mayors are empowered to award city keys to anyone, though that power exists nowhere in the municipal codes. The mayor and EAA award a key to the city at the annual air show; in 2006 a key was given to an individual who received fake college "degrees" from a diploma mill. The Northwestern refused to print that information.
I believe that keys to the city, even though they are purely symbolic and do not mean much in the big picture, should be issued rarely and reserved for people who have made some extraordinary contribution to the community, state, nation, or world. I'm not sure that bringing a movie to Oshkosh--excellent as that was--would meet the "extraordinary contribution" criteria. And whatever criteria are used to award keys, I certainly don't think we ought to allow them to be distributed at semi-public or private functions.
What do you think?