Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Big Brother's Greatest American Hits

Here's the Media Rant column that will appear in the June, 2009 edition of The Scene.

Big Brother’s Greatest American Hits

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

June 8th marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of 1984, George Orwell’s classic tale of life under brutal totalitarian rule. During the halcyon years of the old Soviet Union, American and Western European leaders praised the book because of the ease with which it could be interpreted as an indictment of the “Evil Empire.” Yet Orwell’s formulations of a “Ministry of Truth” indoctrinating the masses according to the principles of Big Brother’s “Party Line,” and doing it with “Newspeak” propaganda, were meant to be a warning about where the Western democracies were headed as much as a criticism of the Soviet state. Indeed, Orwell almost titled the book The Last Man in Europe.

Orwell’s fictional society found itself gripped in a permanent war economy that squandered resources in the interest of The Party’s evil elites. Via gentle persuasion or forceful coercion, citizens accepted the truth of three slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Those not fully brainwashed and dumbed down were pursued and prosecuted by the “Thought Police,” and persecuted in the “Ministry of Love.”

Even given the excesses of the Bush Administration, mind control in the United States never quite reached the totalitarian extremes envisaged by Orwell. But since 1949 we’ve certainly been a permanent war economy, as articulated most astutely by the late Seymour Melman. The squandering of resources in the name of “national security” has contributed to the debasement of our political language. Below are the top ten Orwellisms of the last 60 years. Corporate mass media have been complicit in the promotion of every single one.

10. Changing the name of the War Department to the “Department of Defense”: The name change actually took place two years before the publication of 1984, but that only provides evidence for the view that Orwell was in fact talking about the western democracies. When a government entity says it stands for “defense,” chances are good it intends to engage in aggressive war. Therefore we have “defended” ourselves in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places since 1949. War is Peace.

9. Atoms For Peace: The title of President Eisenhower’s nuclear program. Author Catherine Collins describes it as a "nuclear Marshall Plan which would promote the safe and peaceful uses of atomic energy and at the same time monitor the use of it, so it couldn't be diverted to weapons programs." Collins and others have shown how the Atoms For Peace program was actually a public relations scheme designed to distract the world from hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific. The Atoms For Peace program also increased nuclear proliferation, contributing to the development of weapons stockpiles in India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel

8. Pacification: A term not invented by US war planners, but used during Vietnam. Pacification is the violent displacement of a defenseless civilian population, by aerial bombardment or other aggressive means.

7. Vietnamization: Also known as the “Nixon Doctrine.” Nixon’s strategy for withdrawal from Vietnam was to equip and train pro-US forces in the country as replacements for US troops. President Bush and now Obama are essentially following an “Iraqization” policy in that country.

6. The Vietnam Syndrome: The Vietnam Syndrome refers to the government’s belief that Americans had become “soft” after Vietnam and would no longer tolerate aggressive wars fought for no reason. The first Gulf War became a key test of whether the Vietnam Syndrome had been overcome.

5. Star Wars: The Reagan Administration’s name for the “Strategic Defense Initiative,” a space-based missile defense system. Clinton changed the name to “Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.” We’ll probably never have a full accounting of the billions spent on such programs.

4. Smart Bombs: Contrasted with “dumb” bombs, “smart” ones are precision guided and presumably end up killing fewer innocent civilians. “Smart bomb” language is used to downplay the human cost of war; we can “shock and awe” a population without killing it in substantial numbers.

3. Collateral Damage: Generally, the accidental killing of civilians during military strikes. Sometimes caused by smart bombs.

2. Humanitarian Intervention: Almost all US military action in other countries is now “humanitarian intervention.” If a civilian population must be pacified in the process, it is for their own good.

1. The USA PATRIOT Act: The classic Orwellism of the Bush era. Stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. When the Congress passed it (without reading it and with only Russ Feingold objecting in the Senate) in 2001, I had a student in class ask the perfect question: “who thinks up this crap?”

Thousands of other terms and phrases could have been listed along with the greatest hits mentioned above. What the ten have in common, however, is their largely uncritical use in the mainstream media. Big media have always been steady accomplices to the military-industrial-complex assault on language.

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell wrote that “in our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” The same hold true today, probably and unfortunately much more so. For assistance in deciphering our Orwellian media, go to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SourceWatch

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mayor Ousts Head Of Transit Panel Who Opposed Him

The mayor in question is not Paul Esslinger. Rather, it's Madison's Dave Cieslewicz. Story here. Apparently the Madison Common Council recently created a 12-year limit for service on committees. I have mixed feelings about that: if there are a shortage of applicants, it hardly makes sense to term-limit someone who does want to continue serving.

In Oshkosh, one of the duties of the mayor is "to appoint, subject to Council approval, members to the various Boards and Commissions within the city." Individual councilors who disapprove of a mayor's appointments should simply vote no.

I don't have the time to do the research, but it would be interesting to do a historical study of the applicants in Oshkosh who never made it to a Board or Commission while others were continually reappointed. One example is Dr. Michael Burayidi, a nationally recognized urban planning scholar who never made it on to the Plan Commission. Michael is leaving UW Oshkosh at end of this semester, so it's now an academic issue as regards his case.

All of Esslinger's suggested appointments can be found here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

E-Mail To School Board

I just emailed the following to the School Board:

Dear Board of Education:

I read in the paper today about the idea to suspend your salaries during these tough budget times. For what it's worth, I don't think that's a very good idea. All of you obviously work hard and take your responsibilities very seriously; as a voter and taxpayer I do not expect that elected officials work for free (though if someone wants to return their compensation to the District that is certainly fine.).

Last year I voted against raises for the Common Council and Mayor. I thought raising our compensation in a difficult budget year sent out the wrong message. However, I would NOT have supported a proposal to suspend compensation. Such a move would make for good theatre, but would probably deter possible candidates from running for office and would be perceived by some (correctly I think) as a substitute for making more difficult budget cuts.

Thank you for your service to the citizens of the District.


Tony Palmeri
Oshkosh Common Council

Monday, May 11, 2009

Single Payer Advocates Arrested

With the United States in dire need of a single-payer health care system, and with Democrats controlling both branches of Congress and the White House, you'd think the prospects for change would be great. But the Congress' and Obama Administration's unwillingness to stand up to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will result in, at best, sham reform. Obama and the Democratic majority need to get behind Rep. Conyers and Rep. Kucinich's HR 676, the only health care bill in Congress that will truly cover all and cut costs.

The video below shows how--as of now--the Democratic majority will not even allow single-payer advocates a seat at the table. Shameful.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Eye on the Bailout

ProPublica has an outstanding archive of federal government bailout expenditures. It's quite shocking. (Though "obscene" might be a more accurate descriptor.).

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's in bad need of a bailout.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Free Press Infrastructure Project

The May Media Rants column summarizes Bob McChesney and John Nichols' proposal to save American Journalism. Here it is:

A Free Press Infrastructure Project

Media Rants


Tony Palmeri

President Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” allocates over $80 billion to creating what he calls a “21st century infrastructure.” The money will be used mostly to repair crumbling roads and bridges, invest in rail and other transportation initiatives, increase support for public housing projects, and clean up our environment. With hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money already wasted on Wall St. bailouts, Obama deserves credit for channeling some support down to Main St.

But if the president truly wants a 21st century infrastructure, he’ll have to broaden his scope. The nation’s information infrastructure, especially newspapers, appears ready to go the route of Minneapolis’ late Mississippi River Bridge: Complete Collapse. Democracy’s cracked foundation, a critical footing of which is a free press, desperately needs rebuilding.

Obama and a bipartisan majority in Congress argue that federal government intervention is necessary and appropriate to rescue banks and build roads. Does it then follow that similar assistance ought to go toward saving American journalism?

Bob McChesney and John Nichols (MN) think so. Founders of the media reform outfit Free Press and authors of numerous works on media, MN will in the fall release a new book called Saving Journalism: The Soul of Democracy (New Press). MN summarize the book’s key concerns and proposals in the March 18, 2009 edition of The Nation Magazine (in an essay called “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers”).

The kind of government assistance for journalism advocated by MN does NOT include bailouts for corporate media giants akin to what Congress did for the banks. Nor do they support loosening regulatory rules to allow for easier consolidation. Indeed, corporate media’s addiction to the Wall St. model, more than any other single factor, created today’s journalism crisis.
MN instead argue for government intervention to save American journalism that would lead the way toward guaranteeing the survival of quality, independent, hard-hitting newspapers in every city, town, village, and hamlet in America. You know, the kind of publication vital for democracy, yet largely dismantled by a corporate press willing to sacrifice civic and citizenship values for the profit values of shock and schlock.

MN outline four major parts of a “journalism economic stimulus, to be revisited after three years,” and which they estimate would cost $60 billion. They are:

1. Eliminate postal rates for periodicals that garner less than 20 percent of their revenues from advertising. High postal rates deter small publications, yet MN argue correctly that “it is these publications that often do investigative, cutting-edge, politically provocative journalism.” In 2007 a coalition of small magazines from the political left to right banded together to fight postal rate increases. With all other costs associated with publishing on the rise, for small publications the elimination of postal rates is needed literally in order to survive. Such a policy might have the added benefit of allowing independent papers like The Scene to expand their reach.

2. Give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. This would help halt the trend of daily newspapers going to online only formats or ceasing publication altogether. In return for the tax credit policy, “The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial ‘news hole,’ say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising.” Legitimate concerns could be raised about the potential for such a policy to induce self-censorship if, for example, newsroom personnel felt that a tough editorial stance on a particular issue might jeopardize the continuation of the tax credit. On the other hand, after Rod Blagojevich it’s hard to imagine an elected official being stupid enough to threaten to take away a paper’s subsidy because of editorial criticism.

3. Have the government allocate funds so every middle school, high school and college has a well-funded student newspaper and a low-power FM radio station, all of them with substantial websites. Probably the most important of all the proposals. According to MN, “We need to get young people accustomed to producing journalism and to appreciating what differentiates good journalism from the other stuff.” It’s no exaggeration to say that producing critical young journalists is essential not only to media survival, but to the survival of democratic processes.

4. Expansion of funding for public and community broadcasting, with the requirement that most of the funds be used for journalism, especially at the local level, and that all programming be available for free online. Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States spends a pittance on public and community broadcasting. Consequently, those nations produce “dramatically more detailed and incisive international reporting, as well as programming to serve young people, women, linguistic and ethnic minorities and regions that might otherwise be neglected by for-profit media.” Continuing to ignore and underfund community broadcasting in an age of mainstream media sensationalism is misguided and irresponsible.

McChesney and Nichols argue that their plan should be thought of as a “free press ‘infrastructure project’ that is necessary to maintain an informed citizenry, and democracy itself.” What’s appealing about their plan is that it seeks to rescue journalism, not media corporations. For more information, visit http://www.freepress.net/.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Eau Claire Process For Filling Council Vacancy

A vacancy exists on the city of Eau Claire Common Council due to a situation very similar to Oshkosh. In April, at-large council member Kerry Kincaid was elected Council President (the equivalent of our Mayor). That left a vacancy in the at-large seat held by Kincaid. The election runner-up, Scott Gunem, will not be automatically appointed to the seat (see his response to a previous post on this blog). Instead, the city council will accept applications to fill the vacancy. Below is a copy of the resolution/process approved by the Eau Claire common council on April 28th. Ms. Kincaid told me that a similar process was used 4 years ago when a seat became vacant. The process is also similar to what Appleton, LaCrosse, and other cities in the state have used.


WHEREAS, a vacancy currently exists in one of the at-large positions of the Eau Claire City Council; and

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to appoint someone to fill this position in a timely manner.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council of the City of Eau Claire, that the City Council does hereby approve the process as outlined on the attached page to be followed to fill the position of at-large representative on the City Council.

April 28, 2009

Suggested Process to Fill At-large vacancy on City Council

*From date of appointment to April 2010.

*18 years of age
*U.S. Citizen
*Resident of the City
*Qualified to register to vote

*Council approves process.
*Advertisement placed on city website.
*Advertisement placed in Leader Telegram on Saturday, May 2 & Sunday, May 3.
*Advertisement will be forwarded to Community Television to run on the government channel.
*A news release will be sent to the local media.
*Interested citizens submit letter of interest / application to City Clerk by 10:00 am on Friday, May 8.

Letters should include
*applicant’s name and address
*telephone number or method of contact
*brief statement, not exceeding one page, explaining why they wish to be appointed.
*Letters may be sent via the U. S. Postal Service OR e-mail:
USPS address:
Eau Claire City Clerk
203 S. Farwell St
Eau Claire WI 54701
E-mail address:

*Letters must be received by 10:00 am on Friday, May 8.
*Applicant information forwarded to City Council members with packets the afternoon of Friday, May 8

Consideration of appointment
*Applicants make brief presentation to Council on Monday, May 11.
*Selection procedure for Tuesday, May 12.
*Selection made by open – public ballot – show of hands. OR
*Council members will be given prepared ballot with applicants’ names. Council members will vote and sign their names to the ballots. Ballots will be collected and the votes read aloud and tallied.
*Successful applicant must receive a majority vote of ‘all members’ – six votes required.
*If there are more than two applicants, a first ballot will be taken. If no one receives a majority (six votes), all but the top two leading candidates are dropped and a second vote will be taken on the two remaining candidates.