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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Arguing With Dining Room Tables

Kudos to Barney Frank for his workshop for elected officials on how to effectively confront dining room tables masquerading as town hall participants.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gannett: Don't Gut Our Advertising Client

I found out on Monday that in 2008-2009, the Grand Opera House management has expended approximately $6,000 in local media advertising. One can only imagine how many dollars have gone to local corporate media since 1990 (the Northwestern's former advertising manager lists "Grand Opera House Playbill" as one of her accomplishments), when the Grand Opera House Foundation assumed responsibility for managing and promoting the facility.

With Craig's List and other Internet sources pretty much dismantling the corporate press' (especially print media) monopoly on classified advertising, things are getting desperate for the corporatistas. Locally, Gannett argued strenuously for private management of the Leach Amphitheatre--without ever bothering to communicate to readers that PMI was an ad client.

The same nonsense is now at work in the debate regarding how to fund repairs to the Grand Opera House. On Sunday, the editorial writers tell us that the City Council (especially Mr. Esslinger and I) face a "defining" vote at our next meeting. Here's the intro:

Make no mistake. The Oshkosh Common Council under the leadership of Mayor Paul Esslinger and Deputy Mayor Tony Palmeri will be defined by the outcome of the vote on repairs for the historic Grand Opera House. The question the pair face is this: "Do you want to be known as the council that gutted the Grand?"

Hmm . . . let's cut through the Gannett speak, shall we?:

Make no mistake. The
Oshkosh Common Council under the leadership of Mayor Paul Esslinger and Deputy Mayor Tony Palmeri will be defined by the outcome of the vote on repairs for the historic Grand Opera House. The question the pair face is this: "Do you want to be known as the council that gutted Gannett's commercial relationship with an advertising client?"

The now defunct water tower was every bit the historic treasure that the Grand Opera House was/is, and based on communications I received from citizens that structure seemed to have as many fans. Yet the vote failing to preserve it was not "defining." Why? Because the Tower and its supporters didn't do enough corporate media advertising?

What do Gannett's ethical principles say about all of this? They claim that "We will be free of improper obligations to news sources, newsmakers, and advertisers."

What's really sad is that Gannett has effectively removed itself from having any constructive role in the debate about how best to save the Grand Opera House. Instead of reporting and editorializing intelligently about models for managing historic structures, pros and cons of city vs. private ownership of historic structures, etc., the paper chooses to engage in crass and self-serving bloviation that seems designed to intimidate and shame Councilors into supporting their business agenda.

I don't expect that this Council will be intimidated, and I also KNOW that the private sector is taking the Council's challenge to step up the fundraising for the facility very seriously. I'm confident that a compromise can be worked out that will satisfy taxpayers, Grand supporters and Grand management. Too bad it has to be done with the corporate media serving an obstructionist and self-serving role.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doemel Walkin' The Walk On The Grand

Oshkosh Common Councilors just received this email from Jon Doemel of Glass Nickel Pizza:


I am writing in response to your call to show interest in the Grand Opera House. I am rallying around other businesses to "Raise a grand for the Grand." We hope to not only tell you that we highly value the Grand's presence, but are willing to walk the walk as well. So far, I have about 100 businesses on board to raise money for the roof. I agree that there are more pressing matters for the funds to be allocated, but there are too many memories with the Grand to let it go to waste. Let us respond to your challenge by raising our own funds through a truly grass roots campaign. Maybe we can raise enough to change your mind about the importance of this historic and useful building. Thank you for lighting my fire! -

Jon Doemel Glass Nickel Pizza Company "No Gimmicks...Just the Goods"

I have emailed Jon privately to tell him that I appreciate his efforts. For me the issue on the Grand renovation is whether "public-private partnership" is simply idle chatter rambled on about during political campaigns and cocktail parties, or is it a driving force behind downtown redevelopment. The LDR downtown revitalization report of a few years ago, along with the more recent visioning report produced by Nellessen and Associates clearly take the latter view.

Yes, I understand that the private sector does contribute to the Grand's programming mission. But clearly we are going to have to see an expanded private role for the building to be sustainable well into the future.

We received an email from a couple that had recently come from Iowa City, where the Englert Theater is a venue very similar to our Grand Opera House. From the website, it appears that Iowa City purchased the building in 1999, then held it in trust until such time that a private group could raise enough funds for renovation:

For the next 5 years, this group of citizens mobilized to purchase the theater from the City of Iowa City and rebuild the Englert as a community cultural center. They began the “Save the Englert” campaign to raise the funds necessary to renovate the theater to its former grandeur.

Literally hundreds of local businesses and individuals contributed countless hours and millions of dollars to bring the theater back to life. Their contributions are forever recognized on the large Capital Campaign plaque in our lobby, on the nameplates on our seats, and on numerous signs around the building.

A member of the Iowa City Common Council today told me that about $75,000 in local taxpayer money was directed toward the facility during the renovation campaign, and that local taxpayers will contribute about $50,000 to the facility over the next 3 years or so. Iowa City's population is roughly the same as Oshkosh.

I'm not saying that the Iowa City/Englert Theater model is necessarily the best one for Oshkosh. But what I am saying is that it is neither fair nor realistic to think that big-ticket renovations of historic buildings can be financed strictly by taxpayers. Indeed, a majority on the city council last year were willing to raze the historic water tower rather than even allow time to see if a private capital campaign could get started. With the Grand, I sense that there is at least a willingness to see what the private sector will commit to the project.

To be clear: I am a fan of the Grand and want to see it survive and thrive well into the future. But that cannot happen unless and until we clarify what is the appropriate balance of public/private expenditures at a time when we are seeing drastic cuts in state aids, more demands for essential city services, school closures, and scores of additional unmet needs.

My hope is that there are many others out there like Mr. Doemel willing to walk the walk.

P.S. Anyone willing to walk the walk with Jon can email him at

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sheboygan Council Rejects Plan To Shoot Urban Deer

Hat Tip:

By a 12-1 vote, the Sheboygan Common Council voted against shooting deer identified by some residents of the city as a "neighborhood and traffic nuisance." Alderman Mark Hanna told the Sheboygan Press that "the issue is dead." Other items of note:

*The Common Council and the Public Protection and Safety Committee "spent more than six months discussing the deer issue, including several meetings with neighbors."

*The city sent out 240 surveys, with half of the 79 responses in favor of killing the deer and half for leaving them alone.

*On November 12, 2008 the Public Protection and Safety Committee had a discussion of the methods available for handling deer perceived by some as a nuisance (Emphasis added):

Com. No. 46-08-09 (14-18) from Susan Smies regarding problems with deer in her neighborhood destroying landscaping, running onto porches and running in and out of the road. Several solutions to this matter were discussed. This included hired sharpshooters, trapping, or possibly lifting of the firearms ordinance in the City and allow hunters to hunt these deer. Issues of potential danger, costs, and if this issue is actually a private nuisance versus a public nuisance. Also, possibly this deer issue should be addressed in all areas of city, not just this area. Deterrents don’t seem to work. It costs about $400 per deer to dispatch. DNR personnel explained this problem is not unique to Sheboygan. The DNR has issued 57 deer removal permits in WI. If this matter is addressed, it should be addressed on a large scale, with a possible management plan for whole city. Over half these communities use sharpshooters. The sharpshooters can come from anywhere. There is no certification is required. There are several companies that do this.

Numerous factors should be looked at, including safety, nuisance complaints, habitat destruction, and budget. As long as it’s safe, any area of city should be open for hunting deer. Perhaps sharpshooters could be used for pockets of problem deer, versus open season all over City. Winter is best time for sharpshooters. They hunt over bait.

Motion made by Alderman Rindfleisch, seconded by Alderman Heidemann to open hunting season for city and allow discharge of firearms. Motion failed to pass, 3 no, 2 yes, Aldermen Heidemann and Rindfleisch voting yes. Motion made to hold by Alderman Ryan, seconded by Alderperson Kittelson. All ayes.

*It appears as if members of the Sheboygan Common Council actually researched the issue and invited ALL points of view to be heard before taking action. From the Public Protection and Safety Committee minutes of June 10th (Emphasis added):

Discuss deer issue referral from Committee of the Whole. Chairman Hanna provided some background and history of this issue. Alderpersons Surek, Wangemann, and Bowers spoke about their individual research. Chairman Hanna opened the discussion to the public, and the following individuals voiced opinions: Alice Schmitt, in favor of lethal means, Susan Theys of Wildlife of Wisconsin in favor of non-lethal means, Sharon Weiss in favor of non-lethal means, Sue Clark of Cedar Ridge Wildlife, Glenn Pilling in favor of lethal means, Pam Markelz in favor of non-lethal means, Lawrence Freitag in favor of non-lethal means. Chairman Hanna closed the discussion and advised that the committee will meet on this topic two weeks from tonight.

Would the Oshkosh Common Council have reached a different decision on deer culling if it had actively invited all points of view to the table? Maybe yes, maybe no. But we almost certainly would not have had the high level of anger, distrust, and divisiveness that still exists. If nothing else, the creation of an Urban Wildlife Management Committee might bring the issue back to a civil playing field.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Woodstock At 40

The legednary Woodstock concert is now 40(!) years old. The August Media Rants column celebrates the anniversary with a hypothetical conversation between two fictional attendees. Here 'tis:

Woodstock at 40

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

The legendary Woodstock concert, billed as “three days of peace and music,” attracted a half million people to Max Yasgur’s Bethel, NY farm during the weekend of August 15, 1969. Michael Wadleigh’s Academy Award winning 1970 documentary film remains the best source for those curious about what it must have been like to trip on acid at 3 a.m., in a muddy field surrounded by fellow travelers, listening to The Who jam tunes from “Tommy.”

A favorite scene in Wadleigh’s flick features long lines of hippies waiting for pay phones to become available so they can call mom. The absence of cell phones, laptops, iPods and other toys makes the setting seem prehistoric. On the other hand, the baby boom generation that attended Woodstock have become smitten with technology; I’ll bet that quite a few people who were at the “Aquarian music and art fair” have found kindred spirits on Facebook.

Imagine one of those Facebook conversations. Merecedes “Mercy” Metoxen and Jerry McCann were both 19 years in 1969. She came to Woodstock all the way from Green Bay with a half-dozen friends on a colorful hippie bus decked out with peace and love symbols. He was a New York City boy, a student at Queens College in part to avoid the draft. Jerry and a few buddies hitchhiked to Woodstock and back. We pick up their Facebook dialogue as they reminisce about the concert and its meaning for today.

Mercy: Jerry, did you know that the same guy who directed “Brokeback Mountain” is coming out with a film about Woodstock this month?

Jerry: Yeah, I think it’s called “Taking Woodstock.” To tell you the truth, I gave up listening to anything Woodstock related about 20 years ago. Just can’t handle the way the media gets all nostalgic about it.

Mercy: Or trivializes it.

Jerry: Right. After Woodstock I went and earned two Master’s Degrees and have been teaching in K-12 and community colleges for almost 30 years. You’re an attorney and been in the nonprofit sector for a long time. I didn’t plan my career during that weekend in August of ’69, but I know that the event transformed me in ways that I probably still don’t understand.

Mercy: Look at my situation. Here I was, half Spanish and half native-American. In Green Bay I didn’t feel genuine bonds with anyone, even most of my friends on the bus that weekend. Then we get to Woodstock, and the atmosphere of love and acceptance overwhelmed me. We smoked joints and there was lots of LSD and mescaline around, but the real high was in the relationships and camaraderie.

Jerry: Same with me, an Irish kid from Queens. But ethnicity did not matter very much that weekend. We were all rolling around as equals in the same mud. The whole “identity politics” thing hadn’t developed yet.

Mercy: “Woodstock Nation” was supposed to be our new identity: black and white, man and woman, gay and straight. Everyone united against “The Man” or bullying in general. Some of the musicians there that weekend never sold out on those ideals, especially Richie Havens, Joan Baez, and Country Joe McDonald.

Jerry: You and I met while Richie sang “Handsome Johnny.” Remember that? It’s funny now because the studio version of that song has a line that says something like “what’s the use of singing this song, some of you are not even listening.”

Mercy: The media tend to make it sound like the kids were mesmerized by the musicians. Janis Joplin blew me away in a female power kind of way, but it was difficult to see and hear any of the artists.

Jerry: They assume we were mesmerized by the artists and all became Democrats or Republican sellouts. I regret it now, but I actually voted for Reagan in 1980 after convincing myself that Woodstock values stood a better chance with him.

Mercy: How did you possibly reach that conclusion, especially since Reagan was one of the real bad guys for youth in the 1960s?

Jerry: Artie Kornfeld and Mike Lang, the two major Woodstock promoters, are to this day hard core capitalists and entrepreneurs. I thought Reagan’s “small government” program would be good for capitalism with a human face such as that represented by Woodstock. By 1984 I came to understand that Reagan was a moron who didn’t even grasp the policies coming out of his own administration.

Mercy: Did you know that Kornfeld and Lang both have books coming out to coincide with the 40th anniversary? I think Kornfeld is releasing his memoirs by the title The Pied Piper. Lang’s is called The Road to Woodstock. Every now and then I listen to Kornfeld’s “Spirit of the Woodstock Nation” radio show. But you talk about Reagan; I wonder if Obama is the liberal version of him?

Jerry: Maybe, especially in how good he is on television. He’s got some great lines about change, but it won’t happen unless he’s pushed.

Mercy: Absolutely. What we need to do is get off Facebook and start organizing people the old fashioned way; knock on their doors and get in their faces.

Jerry: We can do it. We are stardust and golden after all.