Monday, December 28, 2009

Censored In 2009, Part I

The following Media Rants column will appear in the January, 2010 edition of The SCENE.--TP

Censored in 2009, Part I

Media Rants


Tony Palmeri

Annually since 1976, Project Censored has identified news stories "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States." Censored 2010 (Seven Stories Press) cites the Congress’ sell out to Wall St. as the top censored story. Mainstream media minimized or ignored the fact that “Nearly every member of the House Financial Services Committee, who in February 2009 oversaw hearings on how the $700 billion of TARP bailout was being spent, received contributions associated with these financial institutions during the 2008 election cycle.

Inspired by the Project, every year I dedicate two columns to the top ten stories censored by the local and state corporate media.

And now the censored stories:

No. 10: Obama’s Big Sellout: In punting away campaign promises, Barack Obama is no different from all 43 politicians preceding him over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Still, it’s rare to see such a complete 180 degree reversal on something as fundamental as economic policy. The Obama sellout is narrated in excruciating detail by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi:

What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.”

Probably because corporate media barons perceive they’ll benefit from a Wall St. friendly White House, the mainstream press rarely comment on the real ideological makeup of the president’s policy makers. The Obama administration on economics is still presented to us as governing from the “left”. Thus the tea baggers, birthers, and other Obama foes, of which there are many in the Fox Valley, really do believe that the administration is teeming with “socialists.”
[Note: An excellent recent interview of Taibbi by Thom Hartmann can be seen/heard below; the interview starts at about the 3:50 mark.].

No. 9: Democracy Now! Alone In The Bella of the Beast: The most important international conference in world history was held December 7-18 in Copenhagen’s Bella Center. On opening day, 56 newspapers from 45 countries ran a common editorial arguing, “Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security.” Only two US newspapers (one a Spanish language paper) ran the editorial.

Mainstream media failed to cover Copenhagen with the urgency required. Thank goodness for Amy Goodman; her Democracy Now! program staked out “In the Bella of the Beast” and provided the finest grassroots reporting of the event available.

No. 8: GAB Website FUBAR: I asked the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s politics watchdog Mike McCabe for an opinion on underreported stories. He said in part: “At or near the top of my list is the failure or at least serious shortcomings of outsourcing of government services. ABC News made a big deal out of screwed-up information on the federal government's website showing how stimulus funds have been used. The next day the problem was fixed. But we tried calling attention to data on the GAB's campaign finance website that was totally FUBAR for the better part of a year, and there was next to no media coverage. The state contracted out this project; the initial cost estimate was $1 million but now the tab has been run up to over $2 million and the meter is still running.” [Note: GAB is Government Accountability Board and FUBAR means F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition.]

No. 7: The Twisted Saga Of Mercury Marine. The October Media Rants column discussed Mercury Marine’s low road strategy of extracting huge concessions from workers at the Fond du Lac plant. Also in October, the nonpartisan Institute for Wisconsin’s Future told the true story, a “twisted saga” that Merc’s corporate media lapdogs won’t tell:

The story of Mercury Marine is a sad documentary on how large corporations can reward executives for failure while dismantling the manufacturing structures that generate real value. Wisconsin’s income tax didn’t scare the company. Workers didn’t drain the firm’s cash. Rather, the company’s senior executives and directors presided over an internal fiscal meltdown while collecting massive incomes. Employees, stockholders and taxpayers are paying the price for their mismanagement and their luxuries.

No. 6: The Councilor Appointment Process. The election of Paul Esslinger as Mayor of Oshkosh created a vacant city council seat. In a ridiculous display of press arrogance, the Oshkosh Northwestern refused to report or editorialize accurately or fairly about procedures used across the state to fill such vacancies. Anxious to pressure the Council into appointing the Northwestern’s endorsed candidate, the editorialists became his mouthpiece. I’m proud to say the Council stood up to the bullying, applied procedures commonly used across the state, and appointed an individual (Harold Bucholtz) who’s everything the corporate press isn’t: fair, independent, and trustworthy.

Next month: The top 5 censored stories of 2009.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Not Quite Blowin' In The Wind . . .

. . . but Bob Dylan is now using music to help feed the hungry. Proceeds from his "Christmas in the Heart" recording will support anti-hunger efforts. From Investment News:

“The problem of hunger is ultimately solvable,” Mr. Dylan said in a statement. That “means we must each do what we can to help feed those who are suffering and support efforts to find long-term solutions,” he said.

The recording features Dylan's cover of Brave Combo's cover of "Must Be Santa."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Buyer Beware Care Passes Senate

I had an opportunity to watch some of last night's US Senate "debate" over health insurance reform. Earlier in the day, the extent of the sell-out to lobbyists was depressingly documented, so the end result was no surprise.

The saddest speech had to be Senator Dick Durbin's (D-Illinois). Durbin, usually one of the more sane members of the Senate, with a straight face tried to compare passage of what is, at best, a national version of Romney Care (i.e. mandating the purchase of private insurance) to the battles over Social Security and Medicare. He wants to call the new law "Kennedy Care."

Durbin is smart enough to know that Social Security and Medicare analogies went on life support the moment genuine single-payer was taken off the table; and smart enough to know that the analogies died when even a diluted public option could not make the cut through the insurance industry's Senate. I realize he and other Dems desperately want to score a legislative victory for Barack Obama, but c'mon.

If the legislation gets through conference and becomes law, I think it should be called "Buyer Beware Care." The main feature of the reform, after all, is the provision to buy private health insurance. Think of how distinguished this Senate will sound when the history of the era is written 50 years from now: "In the 1930s FDR and the Democrats in Congress created Social Security to ensure some measure of retirement security for seniors. With Medicare, LBJ and the Dems expanded the New Deal vision. Then at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Barack Obama and a Congress bought by the private insurance industry gave us Buyer Beware Care. Some called it de-evolution."

And Russ Feingold? The "maverick" ultimately took one for the team. Apparently he has decided he's going to pacify Wisconsin libs by blaming Barack Obama for the lack of a public option in the final bill. I didn't think the Republicans had any chance of unseating Feingold in 2010, but as more details of this monstrous bill become known, anything can happen.

Barack Obama is sending Democrats into the 2010 elections having to defend:

*The TARP (Wall St.) bailout
*Escalation of the war in Afghanistan
*A mandate to buy private insurance

Good luck with that.

Actually, some statistics in this month's Harper's Index now makes sense. It said since assuming the presidency, Obama has attended 26 party fundraisers. At the same point in his presidency, GW Bush had attended 6.

Even Jay Leno gets it: "I'm trying to...sum up President Obama's first 11 months in office. He gave billions to Wall Street, cracked down on illegal immigrants getting healthcare, sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. You know something? He may go down in history as our greatest Republican president ever."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tell Feingold to vote NO on Lieberman Bill

Back in June Senator Feingold said he was "not interested passing health care reform in name only." He called a strong public option "fundamental" to reform.

The Lieberman Bill (i.e. the current "reform" bill under consideration in the Senate) is a travesty, shown by Howard Dean and many others to be much worse than anything Senator Feingold could have imagined in June. Go here to tell the Senator to vote against the bill.

Below is Feingold's statement from June followed by Keith Olbermann's "special comment" from last night.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dean: Vote NO on Health Bill

Howard Dean urges the Senate to kill a "reform" bill that no longer includes even a diluted public option. Russ Feingold, who ought to be tough enough to stand up to the insurance and big pharma lobbies that wrote the bill, should be speaking out against this mess as forcefully as Dr. Dean.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

House Honors "Kind of Blue"

Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), who recently received a request from the POTUS to stop "demeaning" him, hasn't been able to get the House to vote on or even talk about a genuine single-payer health care plan.

But Conyers was able to get 409 votes for a resolution honoring the late Miles Davis' jazz classic "Kind of Blue."

Given that Conyers is from Detroit, perhaps he might see fit to get the House to recognize the 40th anniversary of the Detroit-based MC5 classic "Kick Out The Jams." The album is #294 on Rolling Stone's top 500 and includes the rebel anthem "Motor City Is Burning." Somehow I don't think Conyers would get 409 votes for that one, and he might even end up getting another tense call from the POTUS.

HRES 894

1st Session
H. RES. 894
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the recording of the album ‘Kind of Blue’ and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure


November 5, 2009
Mr. CONYERS (for himself, Mr. SCOTT of Virginia, Mr. GRIJALVA, Mr. MCGOVERN, and Mr. ABERCROMBIE) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the recording of the album ‘Kind of Blue’ and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure
Res. 894

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,

December 15, 2009.

Whereas, on August 17, 1959, Miles Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, and Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley collaborated to record the album ‘Kind of Blue’;

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ ranks 12th on the list of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ published by Rolling Stone magazine;

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ was recorded in 1959, the year Columbia Records declared ‘jazz’s greatest year’;

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ marked the beginning of the mass popularity of jazz in the United States;

Whereas in 2008, the Recording Industry Association of America awarded ‘Kind of Blue’ quadruple-platinum status, meaning 4,000,000 copies of the album had been sold;

Whereas in 2002, the Library of Congress added ‘Kind of Blue’ to the National Recording Registry;

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ was recognized as the bestselling record in the history of jazz;

Whereas 50 years after the release of ‘Kind of Blue’, MOJO magazine honored the Legacy Edition of the album by giving it the ‘Best Catalogue Release of the Year’ award;

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ both redefined the concept of jazz for musicians and changed the perceptions of jazz held by many fans;

Whereas today, the sole surviving member of the Miles Davis Sextet, Jimmy Cobb, is performing and touring with his So What Band in tribute to the 50th anniversary of ‘Kind of Blue’; and

Whereas ‘Kind of Blue’ continues to be the standard masterpiece of jazz for American musicians and audiences: Now, therefore, be it



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brooklyn Guerrilla Bike Lane Painters

Thanks to Lo for passing this on. I'm actually from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where this biketroversy is taking place.

Palmeri, Egelhoff on Friday "Week in Review"

Jo Egelhoff of and I will join Joy Cardin for WPR's Week in Review on Friday, Dec. 11 from 8-9 a.m. You can call in during the program at 1-800-642-1234 or email

One topic that will certainly come up is President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech. You can watch it below.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The 2009 TONY Awards

Yes, what everyone's been waiting for . . . the 2009 TONY Awards Media Rants for excellence in local media. The hard copy can be seen in the December SCENE. Here's the column:

In its annual report, the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism late last year identified an important emerging trend: “Power is shifting to the individual journalist and away, by degrees, from journalistic institutions. The trend is still forming and its potential is uncertain but the signs are clear. Through search, e-mail, blogs, social media and more, consumers are gravitating to the work of individual writers and voices, and away somewhat from institutional brand.” Given the low journalistic quality of, and citizen disgust with, local corporate media, that trend can’t come fast enough to the Fox Valley.

Every December since 2002 I've given TONY Awards to local independent media practitioners who think outside the corporate box and show excellence in educating, agitating, enlightening, or entertaining Valley audiences.

And now the 2009 TONY Award recipients. Drum roll please.

Most Missed Editorial Writer: Alex Hummel. For years Oshkosh Northwestern editorials often featured cheap shots, ornery gripes, and a general dumbing down of the issues under discussion. All that changed when Alex Hummel became the editorial writer. Though I frequently disagreed with Alex, his editorials were always well argued, civil, and demonstrated a desire to move the community forward as opposed to the traditional Northwestern model of settling scores or serving as mouthpieces for favored special interests and ad clients. Disagreeing with Alex’s editorials required reflection and contemplation of counter-argument.

Not anymore. Early in 2009 Hummel announced he was leaving the Northwestern for a position as Community Outreach and Education Coordinator for Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services in Oshkosh. No one is indispensable, but it’s difficult to exaggerate the depths to which the editorial page has sunk since his departure. The ornery dumbing down returned with a vengeance, making it too easy to ignore the page. Alex, you’re missed.

Best Investigative Journalism: “Rumors of Murder” by Daphne Young in The Scene. The State Department of Justice recently announced that felony vehicular homicide charges in the 2004 death of Kevin McCoy would be filed against Rory Kuenzi, one of the rocket scientists also facing charges for the snowmobiling massacre of deer in Waupaca County. No doubt the DOJ was aided by Daphne’s Scene piece, which exposed in depth the incompetence that resulted in Kuenzi avoiding charges for 5 years. Daphne’s follow up piece, “Remembering Kevin McCoy,” provided readers with a moving portrait of McCoy as told by his family.

Best Independent Local Film: Dr. Kickbutt’s “Kick Savin’ a Beauty.” A project of Leif Larson and Aaron Baer, the film’s slapstick comedic antics evoke marriage of Monty Python, the Three Stooges, and Laurel & Hardy. Shown at the Time Community Theater in Oshkosh in September, the production represented grassroots filmmaking at its bedraggled best.

Community Arts Award: The Time Community Theater. Not only did the Time provide space for Dr. Kickbutt, but also fine musical acts. Great young bands were featured at the “Oshstock” concert, while the alt-country sound of the Blueheels, smooth jazz of Amina Figarova and soulful singing of Eli Mattson graced the Time’s stage in 2009. If you believe in supporting venues that provide a space for local artistic talent, then you need to go to the Time website ( and make a contribution. Do it today.

The Snyder-Jarman Award For Excellence in Radio. Randall Davidson. A former newscaster for Wisconsin Public Radio, Randall Davidson in 2008 replaced Ben Jarman as Director of Radio Services for UW Oshkosh radio station WRST. Randall has already expanded the station’s outreach efforts, brought new alternative programming, and established himself as a mentor for students seeking to become radio professionals. Under Randall’s guidance, students produce excellent public affairs programs and special features like election night programming. Quite the refreshing alternative to commercial radio.

Best Blogging About A Local Issue: Roger Bybee. During the Mercury Marine Corporation’s summer of heavy handed tactics in extracting concessions from union workers while at the same time demanding boat loads (pardon the pun) of taxpayer money to keep jobs in Fond du Lac, it was impossible to find any quality local news coverage of the travesty. Roger Bybee, a Milwaukee-based freelance writer, wrote about the issue in the “Working In These Times” blog with the kind of guts and integrity rarely found in the mainstream press. Sample Bybee:

“The onslaught of plant closings and relocations—both threatened and real—will continue until the Obama administration comes up with an industrial policy that prevents corporations from playing off workers and states against each other in order to further drive down wages.”

General Excellence: Jo Egelhoff, This is Jo’s second TONY. Though the former Appleton alderperson leans much more to the right than Media Rants, her site is a treasure trove of useful information. Every morning, usually before 8 a.m., Jo sends subscribers to her email list a huge archive of northeast Wisconsin news, news from around the state and nation, provocative pieces on politics and elections, and opinion pieces. Jo wrote something in a blog post not too long ago that we agree on completely: “It continues to be time to participate in our local media – and indeed – to hold our local media accountable to ask the tough questions and persist as long as it takes to get meaningful answers.”

Prior TONY Awards columns can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Referendum on Domesticated Animals in City Parks

Back in August, the City Council passed Resolution 09-315, the purpose of which was to "amend ordinance to allow dogs at Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park." During the deliberation about the resolution, it was revealed that dogs had been in Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park for a long time because most people considered the area to be a trail. But because Rusch/Sawyer Creek is legally defined as a park, in order to continue with the accepted behavior (i.e. allowing dogs to walk on the trail), we had to change the municipal code. The language of Res 09-315 said the following:

"Persons will be allowed to have domesticated animals at Rusch/Sawyer Creek Park provided that such domesticated animals shall be on a leash no longer than six feet (6') and shall be under full control of their owners."

Also during that evening's deliberations, it became clear that there is a segment of the citizenry that would like to see dogs allowed in all city parks. I suggested that evening that we should have an advisory referendum to find out how large that sentiment is. In late September I met with City Attorney Lynn Lorenson and Acting Parks Director Bill Sturm to work on referendum language. My view was that the language of a referendum should be similar to what we passed in Res 09-315. Thus, here is what the Council will be voting on tomorrow:

WHEREAS the issue of whether domesticated animals should be allowed in Oshkosh city parks is one of great interest to citizens at-large; and

WHEREAS the Common Council desires to receive advice from City voters about whether or not to adopt an ordinance that would allow domesticated animals in City parks.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Common Council of the City of Oshkosh that the following advisory referendum question be placed on the April 6, 2010 ballot:

Should persons be allowed to have domesticated animals at city parks--except in areas such as zoos, playgrounds, golf courses, the water park, cemeteries, and athletic fields--provided that such domesticated animals shall be on a leash no longer than six feet (6') and shall be under full control of their owners?

Yes_______________ No______________________

My gut feeling is that a majority of people in Oshkosh would like to allow dogs in parks. That is based on the commentary about it I've seen over the years. However, I do not know if those comments represent a vocal minority or the majority of citizens. I personally lean toward allowing dogs in city parks, but if a clear majority of citizens in a referendum said that they did not want them there, then I would not support it. This strikes me as a classic case of an issue where an advisory referendum is appropriate and useful. Perhaps it might even increase voter turnout in April.

If you'd like to contact the City Council and provide input on whether we should place the referendum question on the ballot, click here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Media Rants: A Socratic Dialogue

The November Media Rant for the The Scene reveals that the great philosopher Socrates anticipated the schlock that today we call corporate media. --TP

MAD Media: A Socratic Dialogue

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

Classical Greek scholars were shocked recently when an Athenian farmer tilling soil in his olive grove accidently stumbled across a manuscript dating back to the 4th century BCE. Believed to be a lost dialogue of Plato, the manuscript features the great philosopher Socrates in conversation with a dimwitted character called Hannityus. The best scholarly guess is that Hannityus was a disciple of Euthydemus, a popular public speaker in 380 BCE known to practice what Socrates called the “eristic” mode of communication. For Socrates, eristic wasn’t a form of argument designed to educate, but rather a method of humiliating opponents by showering them with verbal abuse. In the newly discovered manuscript, Socrates warns of a future world featuring eristic as the dominant mode of public discourse, with partisan verbal bullies presented to the masses as patriots. In what might be the earliest critique of media corporations, Socrates says that that “in a distant future, those organizations making profit by polluting the public discourse will be guided by the values of Mediocrity, Anti-intellectualism, and Disrespect. They will be truly MAD.” Media Rants is pleased to present an excerpt of the lost dialogue.

Hannityus: Good day Socrates. I noticed you in attendance at my debate with Democritus. You were impressed by my performance, yes?

Socrates: Good day Hannityus. Well, I heard Democritus arguing that the State ought to guarantee equality for all. To great applause, you mocked him, questioned his integrity and loyalty to Athens, and continually interrupted his attempts to substantiate his claim. Your performance . . .

Hannityus (interrupts): Certainly one as wise you does not sympathize with Democritus’ nonsense?

Socrates: As I was saying, your performance entertained the crowd with much ridicule and vivid condemnation of your opponent.

Hannityus: Much deserved ridicule and condemnation, good sir.

Socrates: And I must say that I was quite impressed by how you turned the tables and made into an enemy of the people a man who from his perspective was arguing in support of expanded rights and benefits for the people. You are quite clever Hannityus.

Hannityus: Euthydemus says that turning the tables is the height of communicative excellence.

Socrates: No, it is one of the many forms of communicative mediocrity. Like your calling Democritus an “idiot.”

Hannityus: A tactic I learned from Glennbeckus.

Socrates: Whatever. The point is that communicative excellence requires an honest attempt to discover the truth. I heard none of that in your so-called debate with Democritus.

Hannityus: Surely you are not saying that there could be any truth in Democritus’ claim that the State should guarantee equality for all?

Socrates: I do not know, as he was never allowed to elaborate. Does he mean the State should guarantee equal opportunity for all? Or does he mean the State should guarantee equality under the law? Does he mean the State should guarantee equal compensation for all regardless of effort? Or does he mean equal pay for equal work? These questions are all worth asking and thinking about, yet with all due respect your eristic approach to debate urges participants not to think. Or at least not to think very critically.

Hannityus: Euthydemus warned me that you are nothing but an elitist intellectual snob, Socrates. I must say that your comments validate his judgment of your character.

Socrates: As you wish. I am sorry to have sparked your antagonism, but the problem is not that you, Euthydemus, and Glennbeckus are anti-Socrates or anti-Democritus or anti-anyone else.

Hannityus: Pray tell oh wise one, what is the problem?

Socrates: The problem is anti-intellectualism. The refusal to take anything other than a black and white, good and evil, us and them approach to serious issues. Positions are taken not on the basis of principle or rigorous analysis, but on the basis of whether or not such positions support whatever particular team you happen to be on. It’s quite pathetic.

Hannityus: Are the so-called intellectuals any better? I’ve seen them in debates. Your student Plato, for example, and others in his Academy succeed only in putting people to sleep or leaving them in utter confusion.

Socrates: I would hardly hold up the academic intellectuals as role-models of how to debate in public. They too can be boorish, disrespectful, and willing to serve the team instead of search for the truth. In fact I can imagine a future in which intellectuals become a professional class that uses its brain power to aid and abet extremely abusive governments, businesses, and other institutions. They’ll create lies instead of expose them. Such “intellectuals” will be worthy of contempt.

Hannityus: You enjoy forecasting the future. Tell me, what will be the future of my brand of public debate? Surely it will someday rule the world?

Socrates: Those who can profit by polluting the water and air will do so. They can be stopped only when people acting collectively decide they no longer will tolerate drinking dirty water and breathing toxic air.

In a distant future, those organizations making profit by polluting the public discourse will be guided by the values of Mediocrity, Anti-intellectualism, and Disrespect. They will be truly MAD. They will be stopped only when people acting collectively decide they no longer will tolerate madness.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mercury Marine and Media: The Low Road

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

The nonpartisan think tank Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) distinguishes between “low road” and “high road” business strategies. The low road “is associated with downward pressure on wages, increasing job insecurity, more outsourcing of work to low-wage regions, greater environmental damage, underinvestment in productive public goods, and resistance to public standards on private firm behavior.” The [unfortunately] less common high road “is associated with higher and more equal wages, better labor relations, more environmentally sustainable practice, greater investment in productive public goods, and affirmative support for public standards on the private economy.”

Sadly, low road management conduct has become a badger state occurrence every bit as common as beer and brats at a Packer tailgate bash. In just the recent past, corporate cunning ended GM’s 100 year history in Janesville, Chrysler moved its engine work from Kenosha to Saltillo, Mexico, and we all know about private equity firm Cerberus’ contemptible closing of Kimberly Papers’ profitable mill.

In terms of sheer guile and gross bullying, it would be hard to find an example of low road posturing more outrageous than Mercury Marine’s recent extraction of huge concessions from International Association of Machinists (IAM) workers at the company’s Fond du Lac plant.

Let’s review the facts: in July, management of the boat engine maker Mercury Marine announced that unless union workers agreed to reopen a recently negotiated contract and accept concessions, the company would close operations and move manufacturing jobs and the corporate offices to Stillwater, Oklahoma. The proposed concessions, which union officials claim were non-negotiable, included 170 changes to the contract, most notably a seven year wage freeze, 30% pay cuts for new hires, and equal cuts for laid off workers brought back. The IAM, for its part, offered to accept pay cuts until the easing of the recession, on the condition that the company provide a written commitment to keep the jobs in Fond du Lac. Mercury rejected the offer without giving it any serious consideration.

On August 23, IAM workers voted to reject Mercury’s demands. Mercury immediately announced an intention to move to Stillwater, but left open the door for the union to vote again for the same package of concessions. On August 29, after intense pressure from the general public and media, the union voted again but failed to get the results in by Mercury’s deadline. A third vote finally yielded acceptance of the concessions. Mercury subsequently received $53 million in incentives from the city and county of Fond du Lac to keep jobs in the area. The county’s incentive package will be financed by a half-cent increase in the sales tax. The company also received an “aggressive” aid package from the state, part of which is designed to assist Mercury in moving jobs from Stillwater to Fond du Lac.

The most charitable thing that could be said of corporate media coverage of the Mercury affair is that it was worthless. Print and broadcast media enabled Mercury’s low road strategy by minimizing or flat out ignoring the very blatant labor violations taking place.

Indeed, sane commentary and reporting on the Mercury situation could only be found in the blogosphere. Writing in his Fighting Bob blog, Ed Garvey wrote that, “It used to be illegal for a company to threaten to close or move jobs as a bargaining tactic . . . They (Mercury) were not negotiating. They were the third grade bullies threatening to take their ball and bat and go home. ‘My way or the highway.’”

By far the best reporting on Mercury was done by freelance Wisconsin writer Roger Bybee in the “Workers’ Rights” blog on the progressive magazine In These Times website. In the Mercury situation Bybee finds a typical and disturbing pattern:

Mercury officials are congratulating themselves for carrying out what has become a standard corporate game plan when shutting down a major plant. The two key elements of this plan typically include: (1) Inciting the public against the union by continually asserting that it is the workers, not the corporation, that are making the decision to close the plant. The workers' refusal of utterly unacceptable concessions is equated with stubbornness and a selfish unwillingness to consider the overall impact on the community--as if the workers themselves will have a bright future after the shutdown . . . (2) Portraying the workers' wages as astronomically high by comparing them with the regional average, conveniently limiting the frame to exclude the standards of skill and pay in the particular industry.

The Fox Valley Gannett papers were, as to be expected, uniformly awful in reporting and editorializing about Mercury. Gannett’s Fond du Lac Reporter, to its credit, did allow UW Oshkosh Human Resource Management Professor Barbara Rau to state the obvious: "Unions are being blamed for the economy, but how is that possible, when only 7.6 percent of the workers are unionized?"

Corporate media enabled Mercury’s low road strategy via shoddy and incomplete reporting and cowardly editorializing. Are more Merc-like messes on the way? Roger Bybee says it well: “Until we put an end to this race to the bottom, we will see many more bottom-feeders like Mercury Marine manipulating states and even nations against each other.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Week in Review on Friday

I'll be on WPR's Week in Review on Friday (8-9 a.m.) opposite Ann Althouse. You can join the conversation live by calling in at 1-800-642-1234. You can also email

Friday, September 18, 2009


hat tip: Counterpunch

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The State of Working Wisconsin

From a recent report released by the nonpartisan Center on Wisconsin Strategy:
  • Wisconsin has lost over 137,000 jobs, almost 5 percent of its pre-recession job level
  • Nearly half of those jobs, 66,100, were in manufacturing.
  • Manufacturing employment is down 13 percent from pre-recession levels and down 25 percent since 2000
  • Wisconsin's 9.0 percent unemployment rate is twice its pre-recession level
  • Wisconsin's real (inflation corrected) median wage is now $15.48, below the $15.74 national median and only 32 cents above its 1979 level, despite a near doubling in worker productivity
  • While improving, the gender gap in Wisconsin wages persists. Women's median wage is 82 percent of men's. If men's wages hadn't fallen over the past 30 years, the gap would be 72 percent.
Read the full report here.

From the conclusion:

On this Labor Day, working Wisconsinites have little to celebrate about the economy. Despite a few “green shoots” and a slowdown in the rate of job loss, the state of their state’s economy — and the region’s — is grim.

What Wisconsin’s workers need is a real strategy for economic development. This strategy needs to follow from a sober and disinterested assessment of our current challenges, resources, weaknesses, strengths, needs, and viable opportunities. To actually raise living standards, it needs to be “high road” — competing on value rather than price, taking sustainability seriously, sharing created wealth more equally, friendly to any business that will do the same. This strategy needs to be clear in its policy priorities, implied investments, and funding sources. It needs to gain support from a critical mass of key actors — business, labor, state and local government, education, our Congressional delegation, the general public — whose cooperation and contribution are critical to its success. And it needs to be articulated forcefully and clearly by diverse champions — not just elected leaders — and widely and generally understood. This is a considerable organizing challenge.

Wisconsin can meet this challenge. We have more than enough intellectual resources, leading firms, progressive labor leadership, dedicated public servants, and good citizens to build a high road economy in our state. But will we?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Friday: Amina Figarova Sextet Live At The Time

In Oshkosh, the Grand Opera House is not the only historic theater in need of restoration. Just a few blocks from the Grand, at 445 N. Main St. community activists are trying to raise the funds necessary to restore the historic Time Community Theater. According to the Community Theater Group website: "We began our meetings in March 2007. The concept of the Time Community Theater was crafted by people interested in developing a place for community activity and creating a platform for local talent to perform. In order for this opportunity to take shape, a lot of reconstruction work needs to happen. Funds are needed to make the space performance-ready."

This Friday (September 4th) the Time features the Amina Figarova Sextet, an internationally acclaimed modern jazz troupe. They play in Minneapolis on Thursday and Chicago on Saturday;Time organizers are thrilled that the band to make a stop in Oshkosh on Friday.

The show starts at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door.

Friday, August 28, 2009

ObamaCare: Bad Press, Bad Policy, Bad Politics

The September Media Rant for the Scene takes a look at ObamaCare. Here it is.:

ObamaCare: Bad Press, Bad Policy, Bad Politics

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

Make no mistake: corporate media coverage of healthcare reform ranges from shallow to shameful. Need examples? How about the treatment of the proudly witless Sarah Palin as a serious critic of reform proposals? Or reporting on town hall chaos with a journalistic curiosity that has more in common with World Wrestling Entertainment than the late Mr. Cronkite? Or the sickening way in which mainstream media minimize or flat out ignore the fact that health insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies have literally bought the key congressional committees charged with enacting reform legislation?

Let’s x-ray that lobbying point for a moment. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), chair of the all powerful Senate Finance Committee, according to the Center For Responsive Politics raised $3 million from the insurance and health sectors from 2003-2008. The National Journal reported that protesters outside Baucus 10th annual “Camp Baucus” three day dude ranch fundraiser held up signs saying “Buy Back Baucus.” Most heavy Congressional hitters in the healthcare debate could and should face similar protests. Why is that not a repeated front page story or editorial topic?

And why do mainstream talking heads refuse to provide clear explanations of health reform proposals under Congressional consideration? As I write in mid-August, five different proposals circulate in the House and Senate, yet if you relied exclusively on corporate media for news, you’d know little to nothing about each. What you would know about are the bogus “death panels,” a product of Palinesque wingnut distortion and demagoguery. Maybe you’d know that the “blue dog” (i.e. corporate) Democrats, who never met an insurance or pharmaceutical company they couldn’t play lapdog for, somehow represent “moderation” on healthcare. You’d certainly know that congresspersons accustomed to spewing unfettered propaganda at town hall meetings are now getting shouted down by opponents from right to left. But would you know about the content of any plans, especially HR 676 (the single-payer option)? Methinks not.

But as bad as the media (non)coverage of health care reform has been, President Obama’s major problem isn’t bad press. Rather, he’s chosen to get behind a very bad policy prescription for healthcare reform. Similar to President Clinton’s failed approach to reform in 1993, Obama starts with the presumption that a single-payer, truly national health insurance plan just isn’t possible in the United States. No, we just can’t have Medicare For All. Instead we need a “uniquely American” solution to healthcare; code for “reform legislation written by and for the private insurance lobby.”

The President doesn’t even talk about healthcare reform anymore. Rather, he argues for health “insurance” reform, a linguistic shift that’s part and parcel of what progressive journalist Norman Solomon calls “the incredible shrinking healthcare reform.” Instead of guaranteed access to healthcare for all Americans, Obama appears to be leaning toward a national model of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts nightmare: force everyone to purchase health insurance, with subsidies in place to help the poor buy into an inferior “public option.”

Some believe Obama’s a pragmatic politician who understands that even a weak public option would establish some competition for the private insurance companies and lead to their eventual demise. But as of mid-August, it’s become clear that Obama won’t even fight for the meager public option. Somewhat disgustingly, he’s begun to employ a Clintonesque “triangulation” to justify abandoning the public option. Triangulation is a rhetorical strategy of framing the Left and Right as loonies so as to make policies hostile to Main St. but friendly to Wall St. sound “centrist” or “moderate.” Here’s what the president told a Colorado audience: "The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform. This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it's both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else."

I suppose it’s not surprising that Obama won’t fight for real healthcare reform. In our corrupt political establishment, by the time a Democrat or Republican gets to be a serious presidential contender, he or she has sold out so many times that when they assume office we are left having to pray for the best but always be ready for the worst. Obama still strikes huge numbers of Americans as something different; as a person who actually experiences pangs of conscience that might make him stand up and struggle for socially just policies in the letter and spirit of his heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve got to believe that somewhere in his being Barack Obama knows that HR 676 (the Medicare For All bill) is the most moral, most workable, and the most cost effective proposal on the table. His handlers probably think it’s just bad politics. But is it? Listening to public radio today, I heard an Obama voter named Paul talk about his disenchantment with the president’s healthcare plan. Said Paul, “I need something to fight for. Mr. Obama, God bless his soul, he needs to give us something that’s solid.”

Paul’s touching on the right prescription: we need a solid presidential proposal, an engaged populace, and a responsible media. Go to to help support the movement for real reform.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grand Efforts

The outcome of last night's vote to use tax dollars to repair the Grand Opera House was never in any serious doubt. The difficulty was in trying to forge a true public-private partnership to fix the facility in the face of a self-interested corporate media bent on preventing any meaningful discussion from taking place. Councilors Tower and Esslinger deserve much credit for challenging the private sector to come forward at a time when the city is in a budget bind that's only going to get more difficult in the coming years. Tower and Esslinger's leadership provoked me to issue the "walk the walk" call and investigate how the ownership/operation model in place might actually be hurting the Grand. The project will still be largely funded by city of Oshkosh taxpayers, but we did manage to get some meaningful participation from others:

*A $250,000 pledge from the Grand Opera House Foundation.
*The "Raise A Grand For The Grand" campaign launched by Jon Doemel of Glass Nickel Pizza.
*A donation will be forthcoming from the Business Improvement District (BID).
*Winnebago County might donate $30,000 (not close to the millions for the UW Fox Communication Arts Center, but given that the county is as strapped financially as the city, at least it's something.).

Additionally, we have a commitment from Grand Executive Director Joe Ferlo and Opera House Foundation Chair Jim Macy to participate in discussions of alternative ownership models of the Grand. That's a long overdue discussion that is now unavoidable because of a budget situation that will become more and more challenging in the next few years.

Finally, Joe Ferlo is committed to providing as much low cost/free entertainment options as possible when the facility reopens. He understands that the owners of the building (i.e. taxpayers) ought not be priced out of quality entertainment.

In my remarks at the meeting I tried to argue that our votes to expend money do not occur in a vacuum; the city has real, unmet needs (e.g. poverty, unemployment, etc.) that NEVER achieve the level of urgency from local government (and the local press) that the Grand has. After the meeting I received the following email from a local fire fighter. I think it represents the true Grand Effort:

Mr. Palmeri,

I am one of the Firefighters that cover the south side of the city, from the Airport firehouse. We always watch the council meetings and I wanted to comment on your statements about your vote on the Grand. I thought your comments were very powerful, correct and the timing was ironic, as I will explain.

During the meeting we watched as many lined up and spoke, which was great to see. As we were watching the meeting, we received a call for service in the 400 block of 18th Ave. It was for a woman in her 70’s who had lost her husband last year, living with her disabled son and just trying to make ends meet. She was having an emotional break down, as she held a rummage sale today and did not sell enough to make her mortgage payment. Today as well, her car broke down and she didn’t have any money to fix it and that was all she could take. We held her hand as she cried and she started to feel better knowing that someone cared to listen about her problems.

Obviously we couldn’t make her problems go away. But I can tell you that I took great pride in knowing that during these very difficult economic times, when she called the City of Oshkosh for help, within four minutes we were walking in her front door. I also took great pride in knowing that it was not just me and my crew, but it was the City of Oshkosh and her tax dollars at work, holding her hand as she cried and carried her to the ambulance to get some help for her. I also noticed that she did not have the council meeting on in her living room and she even commented that she couldn’t afford cable, which makes your comments hit home even more. It broke my heart to see this.

Unfortunately, we are seeing this more often and our calls for service are climbing and yes there are people actually living on our streets without homes.

Keep up your good work and I do think you are doing the best that you can in these tough times.

You would also be proud to know, that one of our guys went to where her car was broke down and helped get it going.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Taxpayer Support For The Grand

Quite a few people have contacted me in the last few weeks to tell me (in some cases yell) that "the Grand only gets about $65,000 a year in taxpayer dollars." For anyone still interested in looking at this issue seriously, here are the facts:

*Since 1983, the city's Capital Improvement Budget has allocated $1,515,820 to the Grand. That includes $1,045,000 during the restoration years (1983-1986).

*In 1997 the city began levying for the Grand as a separate line item in the Operations Budget for facilities and maintenance. Since that time, the Grand has received $742,178 in Operations Budget funds.

*In 1986 the Grand started to receive funds from the Hotel/Motel Room Tax. In fact the Grand Opera House Foundation and the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau are the only two non-city entities expressly designated in the city's municipal codes as tax recipients (see section 8-1.1(1)(B)(1)(c)). The Grand Opera House Foundation has received $2,014,329 in hotel/motel tax revenue.

So the grand total of taxpayer contribution to the Grand since 1983 has been $4,272,327. That's an average of about $158,000 per year.

None of this is an argument for or against taxpayer support for the truss repairs. On the other hand, the suggestion in some corners that taxpayer assistance to the facility has been insignificant compared to private sponsors is simply not accurate. Taxpayer support has been significant, annual (since 1985), and more than generous given the realities of the city budget and unmet needs of many of our neighborhoods.

Private donors were able to build the 20th ave. YMCA ($14 million raised), the Pollock Water Park (over $6 million raised), the teen center at the Boys and Girls Club ($2 million raised), and the Oshkosh Community Foundation loaned us a million bucks for the Convention Center. I understand that private sources are feeling "tapped out" when it comes to the Grand, but guess what: taxpayers are feeling pretty tapped out too. Again, that's NOT an argument for voting no tonight (I'm leaning toward Yes for reasons I'll explain tonight), but just a plea to put this issue in perspective.