Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Godfather At The Grand

Tonight at 7 p.m. at the Oshkosh Grand Opera House, the classic Francis Ford Coppola directed film "The Godfather" will be shown. Admission is $4. The movie is part of the Grand's Screen Scene series.

After the movie I will be leading a brief discussion of it. My main qualification is that my last name ends with a vowel. I'll probably try to debunk a few stereotypes.

Below, Robert Duvall (played Tom Hagen in the Godfather films) has an interesting take on Brando's treatment of Don Corleone.

Civil War or "Faith Based Melee?"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lohry v. Thompson won't benefit citizens

Donna Lohry and Claud Thompson are two of the most effective members of the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors. Both are retired seniors who dedicate almost full-time effort to the part-time board. Both bring a wealth of real world experience to the board. Both are outspoken advocates for good government. Both will look you right in the eye and give you a straight answer to a question.

Lohry's and Thompson's effectiveness does not mean that they deserve to run unopposed at election time. Unfortunately, they will face each other in the next election if the full board approves a proposed redistricting map. The redrawn map is the result of the Board moving from 38 to 36 supervisors to ward off an interest group movement to place a referendum on the April ballot to reduce the size to 19. All of this is the result of awful legislation that creates confusion and court battles almost by design.

So if the proposed redistricting plan passes, it means county residents will lose at least one effective voice in government (Lohry or Thompson) for no good reason. If citizens in Lohry's or Thompson's district(s) want to go against them at election time that is great and should be encouraged, but I challenge any board size reduction advocate to show us how Donna or Claud represent "dead weight" deserving of removal from the board sheerly due to downsizing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Don't Let Telemarketers Keep You Hangin' On The Telephone

Wisconsin requires that you register your phone number every two years in order to have it remain on the No Call list. You need to register or re-register by December 1st in order to get or stay on the list in January of '07. Information on how to register can be found here.

The GB Press Gazette had a decent editorial on Monday on closing the political No Call loophole.

Dringoli: Lennon blames me

Former Neenah police detective Daniel Dringoli, the subject of a botched prosecution at the hands of soon-to-be former Winnebago County District Attorney Bill Lennon, claims that Lennon's continued pursuit of him is the result of a personal vendetta. He told the Appleton Post-Crescent that Lennon holds him responsible for his defeat in the race for circuit court judge. The story is here.

Back in January, Judge Bruce Schmidt called Lennon's brief against Dringoli "extremely confusing and extremely convoluted." He also said it contained "omissions and misrepresentations." Lennon made it through the February primary race even after Schmidt's smackdown, but suffered a landslide defeat against Karen Seifert in the April elections.

Complaints Choirs of Helsinki and Birmingham

I think we should have no trouble creating choirs like these in Oshkosh . . .

Monday, November 27, 2006

Watch Wayne Traska on Eye on Oshkosh

I don't normally promote the Eye on Oshkosh television program here on T2T, but I do think the interview that will be on this week with Oshkosh Area School District Board of Education member Wayne Traska is one of Cheryl and my better efforts. If you're in Oshkosh, you can watch it on Oshkosh Cable Access channel 2 tonight at 7 p.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Saturday at 6 p.m. Wayne does an excellent job of explaining some of the key budget and planning issues facing the Board. We spend a substantial amount of time talking about Public Management Partners' Facility Report for the District, a document which is very much worth a read.

Superintendent Ron Heilmann was supposed to be on the show also, but last minute commitments made it impossible for him to attend. We will have in on at some point in the future.

Some Eye on Oshkosh fans have asked me if the show can be placed online so that people can watch it on their computers. Cheryl and I have had minimal discussion of that possibility--let's just say it's a "work in progress."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Hypocrisy From Wisconsin Legislature

Last month the vocal critics of the UW System in the state legislature had a fit over the results of an audit suggesting that UW profs are taking advantage of the state's sick leave program. Rep. Nass (R-Whitewater) said "The entire audit is proof that the Board of Regents and UW System administrators have failed to perform their managerial duties." Nass and others were suggesting that professors were abusing the program by piling up unused sick leave days and then cashing them out after retirement to use for health care coverage.

Today in the Journal Sentinel we find that "in the past 4 years, only two lawmakers have claimed sick time." Guess what: state lawmakers get to cash out the unused sick days just like the profs! Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee) opted not to introduce a bill to repeal the sick leave perk back in 2003 because he received "a very bipartisan, jaw-dropping stare" when he suggested it.

While the UW haters in the legislature will not let UW employees forget for a moment the details of every single benefit we might be eligible for, they never criticize their own lawmaker peers who claim ignorance of their own perks. According to the Journal Sentinel story, representatives Sinicki and Berceau missed a substantial amount of time at the Capitol because of sickness, yet each claims not to be aware that they were eligible for sick leave. Senator Mike Ellis has been in the legislature 36 years, has never claimed a sick day, is eligible for $104, 000 in benefits, yet claims he never was aware of the sick leave program.

Will this blatant hypocrisy result in less criticism of the UW from the legislature? Don't count on it. Our administrors and too many faculty suffer from a serious case of spinal weakness when it comes to dealing with legislative bullies, and bullies will always pick on those who allow it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

County Board Votes 24-12 To Support Repeal Of Underheim Bill

On November 14th the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors voted 24-12 to support a resolution sponsored by supervisor Donna Lohry and urging repeal of one of the most badly written revisions of state statutes ever passed in the history of the state of Wisconsin. I did not blog about this earlier because I did not see the board's actual discussion of the resolution until Tuesday night, when it was replayed on cable access channel 10 in Oshkosh.

I learned by watching the discussion, and then verified by looking at the statute, that citizen petitions can be filed only to DECREASE the size of county boards. This would mean, for example, that if a county board was reduced from 38 to 19 (or any other number--the statute allows for setting the number arbitrarily), and proceeds to spend more money and become more tools of special interests as smaller boards tend to do, the citizens would have no power to INCREASE the board size after the next census. The Wisconsin legislature and Governor Doyle should be ashamed of themselves for passing and signing such a discriminatory revision of the statutes. Persons who support increasing the size of the board ought to have just as much right as the cutters to petition the government and get a referendum on the ballot.

Supervisor Lohry deserves much credit for arguing persuasively that since this badly written, almost embarrassing tarnish on the state statutes originated in Winnebago County (it was sponsored by soon to be former State Rep. Gregg Underheim), it should be the responsibility of Winnebago County fix it. To reduce the board size on the strength of sham legislation is to make a mockery out of representative democracy.

Supervisor Bill Wingren, one of the supporters of cutting the board who has yet to offer a compelling argument for doing so, kept repeating the line "everyone deserves to be heard." Well Bill, that's not true under the Underheim legislation, because according to it those people who might someday like to see an increase in the board size via referendum cannot be heard.

I don't expect the state legislature to fix the statute on the basis of a 24-12 vote in Winnebago County, but I do believe the statute will be revisited when those counties that have voted to reduce their size by half or more discover that they have become more expensive and less efficient.

One of the saddest part of this entire board size affair is that the local corporate press--enemies of county government--have practiced journalistic and editorial negligence in refusing to examine the Underheim statute in any critical manner. They've also not taken the responsibility to inform the public of the truth about smaller county boards in the real world.

The Cost of War

Today's Christian Science Monitor compares the cost of Iraq/Afghanistan with ten previous US wars. During the "Big Lie" period leading up to the war, the Bush Administration estimated that Iraq would cost $50 billion. (Remember how it was going to be paid for by Iraq oil revenue?). We are now spending $8 billion per month in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the UW Oshkosh Advance-Titan before the Wisconsin elections thought that Green Party candidate for governor Nelson Eisman was living in a fantasy world for arguing that free tuition is possible for college students. They called it a "pipe dream." Okay, but look at what we CAN afford: "Overall, each individual soldier deployed in Iraq for a year costs about $275,000, according to CRS. The cost rises to $360,000 if required additional investments in equipment and facilities are added."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Let's Hold The Dems Accountable, Part II

The Sunday New York Times had a depressing cover story on how so-called ethics reform is likely to fare in the new Congress. Here's the kind of "boldness" we can expect:

"None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously insert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all."

Some Dems are content to blame increased corruption on the Republicans, but:

"Democrats, of course, have also cultivated close ties to lobbyists, who play a major role in campaign fund-raising for members of both parties. Indeed, ethical violations and house-cleaning efforts have both been bipartisan activities over the years. Congress has seesawed between public calls for changes and a reluctance to cramp incumbents’ campaign fund-raising and political power."

Democrats probably won't pass even something as simple as legislation that bloc a lawmaker from requesting an earmark that benefits family members or former staff members. Such legilsation probably won't pass, "in part because many have close ties to former staff members or family members in the lobbying business."

The full story is here (registration required).

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No Blogging Until Monday

On Friday morning I am traveling to San Antonio, Texas to participate at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association. There will be no more blog entries until Monday. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Supermax = "Gulag"

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

That's the text of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. Yesterday a federal appeals court ruled that the amendment has been missing in action at the Supermax Prison in Boscobel. The Cap Times summarizes the decision here. Writing for the court, Judge Terence Evans' intro paragraph describes a harrowing scene:

"Stripped naked in a small prison cell with nothing except a toilet; forced to sleep on a concrete floor or slab; denied any human contact; fed nothing but 'nutri-loaf;' and given just a modicum of toilet papers - four squares - only a few times. Although this might sound like a stay at a Soviet gulag in the 1930s, it is, according to the claims in this case, Wisconsin in 2002."

Such conditions at the prison are part of a "Behavioral Modification Program," the perfect Orwellian descriptor for practices that reek of Stalinism.

Judge Evans was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton, which some looney wingnuts will interpret as "soft on crime." However, the three-judge panel was unanimous; Chief Judge Joel Flaum and Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple were appointed by Ronald Reagan.

Congratulations and thanks to Ed Garvey for his successful involvement in this case.

Locating the WMDs--Ours

I don't believe any country in the world should have weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons are, after all, so damn 20th century. But can you imagine how absurd it must look to the rest of the world when US leaders lecture them on that topic? Not only do we lead the league in numbers of WMDs, but we also are the

only country in the world that deploys nukes in foreign countries. Hardly a non-proliferation role model.

Scientists associated with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the National Resources Defense Council have spent years trying to identify the locations of our WMDs. In the FAS summary of a new report, they say:

The highest concentration of nuclear warheads is at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific in Bangor, Washington, which is home to more than 2,300 warheads – probably the most nuclear weapons at any one site in the world. At any given moment, nearly half of these warheads are on board ballistic-missile submarines in the Pacific Ocean.
Approximately 1,700 warheads are deployed on Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines operating in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and about 400 warheads are at eight bases in six European countries – Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Great Britain . . .

The overview finds that more than two-thirds of all U.S. nuclear warheads are still stored at bases for operational ballistic missiles and bombers, even through the Cold War ended more than 16 years ago. More than 2,000 of those warheads are on high alert, ready to launch on short notice. Only about 28 percent of U.S. warheads have been moved to separate storage facilities. The largest of these, an underground vault at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, stores more than 1,900 warheads.
The 10 U.S. sites that currently host nuclear weapons are: the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific, Bangor, Washington; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico; Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana; Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota; Pantex Plant, Texas; Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri; and the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic, Kings Bay, Georgia.

See a map of the locations here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Barrett: "I Shall Return"

Official UW Villain Kevin Barrett claims that mainstream media reports about his employment status are inaccurate and that he is planning to apply to come back next fall. Today he sent out a press release which said in part:

Barrett Not Leaving U.W.-Madison
Lecturer Taking “Poor Man’s Sabbatical,” Plans to Return Next Fall

Contrary to a recent flurry of inaccurate reports in the corporate media, University of Wisconsin lecturer Kevin Barrett will not be leaving the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As long ago as last June, Barrett made it clear that he would almost certainly not be applying for a position in spring 2007, but would instead be taking a “poor man’s sabbatical” to work for the nonprofit Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth ( He intends return to teaching in fall 2007.

“This is not the university’s choice, this is my choice,” Barrett explained. “As a lecturer on a semester-to-semester contract, I get to decide which jobs I apply for. If I’m the best guy for the job, they hire me. It ain’t rocket science. But this simple procedure seems too difficult for the corporate media hacks to grasp. And for some reason they don’t want to call up the University and check the facts. They’d rather put out an unsubstantiated myth. Sound familiar?”

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Barrett gets good student evaluations of teaching for the class he is teaching this semester, without any complaints that he uses his class as a forum for 9/11 conspiracism. In fact let's assume that he's a popular teacher who upholds high academic standards in the classroom. Assume further that when he applies to teach a class next fall, he is in competition with other applicants who are not as qualified and/or cannot demonstrate the same level of effective teaching. Would the UW hire the less qualified teacher just to avoid more criticism from Rep. Nass and others bothered by Barrett's presence on the campus? If so, what would that say about the ethics of the UW system?

Reedism Meets Reidism: The Abramoff Factor

As I understand it, one of the major problems with the outgoing Republican Congress was its grounding in Reedism (as in Ralph), an insider-based philosophy based on pay-to-play, political favoritism, and old style influence peddling.

The new Democratic US Senate will replace Reedism with Reidism (as in Harry). Reidism is guided by the motto, "the most corrupt Democrat is still preferable to an honest Republican."

Jack Abramoff goes to prison today, but he's still singing and his tunes may let us know just how deep is the corruption in the Reid Senate. He has reportedly named "six to eight seriously corrupt Democratic senators."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who Will Fill The UW Villain Void?

Kevin Barrett won't be coming back to the UW next semester. No surprise there. That leaves us with a Villain Void in The System. Who will fill it?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Let's Hold The Dems Accountable

Now that the Democratic Party controls the United States House of Representatives, and probably the US Senate if Joe Lieberman remains in the The Party, are you wondering what they plan to do right after being inaugurated in January? I suggest everyone watch the speech below from incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Delivered on June 13, 2006 at the "Campaign For America's Future" conference, Pelosi identified what the Dems would do not just in their first week, but on their First Day in power. On the first day, we can expect:

*Passage of a "Civility Package" that will replace the "most corrupt and closed" Congress in history with the most honest and open.
*Passage of a bill that would mandate no new deficit spending. [Note: The problem with deficit spending in Washington has never been deficits per se; using the family metaphor employed by Pelosi in her speech, everyone agrees that it is okay for a family to go into debt for things like purchase of a home, quality transportation, or education. The problem is that since Reagan we have, as a nation, been going into debt in order to enrich mostly hi-tech and military producers--we have NOT been going into debt to benefit the population at large.).

So civility and no new deficits are just the first day. In the first week, Pelosi says that we can expect:
*Passage of legislation putting into place the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
*Passage of an increase in the minimum wage.
*Passage of legislation making prescription drugs more affordable.
*Passage of legislation cutting interest rates for student loans in half.
*Passage of legislation rolling back tax cuts for the oil industry and other energy producers.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the conservative, "blue dog" Democrats sign on to this agenda. Is it a progressive agenda, or even a moderate one? Consider this:
*The 9/11 Commission Report is deeply flawed, casting all of its recommendations in doubt.
*We need national living wage legislation; another paltry minimum wage increase does little to help struggling workers.
*The Democrats' allegiance to the pharmaceutical companies is almost as great at the Republicans' and will make any reform of prescription drug pricing difficult. Even if we do get it, that gets us no closer to a national health care plan.
*Making student loans more affordable is nice, but progressivism requires legislation to REPLACE loans with GRANTS.
*Cutting back breaks for the oil industry is necessary, but the Dems like the Republicans still haven't a clue as to what real "energy independence" means. See Jim Kunstler's blog for November 13th.

Whether you agree or disagree with Pelosi's direction, we should all be sure to make sure she and the Dems stick to their word.

Kraft Launches PYA Defense

As noted on the Oshblog, City Attorney Warren Kraft has responded to the Department of Justice's finding that the City Council broke the Open Meetings Law by attacking the messenger: "the assistant attorney general's opinion is based on a view of what the AG's office wants the open meetings law to be, rather than based on what the law currently provides." Cheryl Hentz takes on the nonsensical nature of Kraft's response here.

Rather than contribute toward making Oshkosh city government compliant with the state's sunshine laws, Kraft's response seems designed to defend the bad advice he provided the Common Council back in February. The DOJ response acknowledges that on the meeting notice and the second part of the closed meeting, it would be difficult to prosecute anyone under current state law.

However, the DOJ response is quite clear that the first part of the closed session held on February 14th was illegal under current state law. The DOJ response includes copies of supporting documentation culled from prior open meetings disputes to bolster the case for illegality. Reading that material makes it clear that the first part of the closed meeting held on February 14th was illegal under a plain reading of the open meetings statue as well as according to prior legal precedent.

If anything, the DOJ response to the Council's actions and Kraft's advice is much too kind to both (the only reason the DOJ concluded that the second part of the meeting wasn't illegal is because they accept as true the city administration's disingenuous claim that the agreement with developer Tom Doig was not a "done deal" on February 14th. Everyone who has their head above ground knows that the resort complex would be under construction right now if Doig had been able to come up with the money--it was a done deal.) . The response goes out of its way give city leaders the benefit of the doubt even while admitting that Kraft's and Wollangk's reasons for supporting a closed meeting do not withstand serious scrutiny.

The Common Council needs to expect more from the City Attorney's office than "Protect Your Ass" responses to serious legal matters. The fact of the matter is that we have now had two DOJ findings against the city in the last two years. The Common Council needs to establish some kind of accountability standards for city staff. Failure to do so will only further reduce public confidence in city government.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Andy Griffith Sues Andy Griffith--Sort Of

Grant County, WI candidate for sheriff Will Fenrick legally changed his name to "Andrew Jackson Griffith" before running for the office this year. He lost by a wide margin. Now to make matters worse for this poor guy, the REAL Andy Griffith is suing him for violating trademark and copyright laws. Andy is suing for damages and court fees, and asking that the fake Andy publish an apology in the local papers. Read about it here.

All of us know at least one person for whom the television town of Mayberry and Andy Griffith represent that epitome' of moral character and decency. I remember sitting in the Lizard Lounge tavern in Oshkosh sometime in 1999 or thereabouts; the bartender had the television turned on to coverage of the Clinton impeachment. A guy sitting several chairs down from me had clearly had one too many and he blurted out something like, "none of this crap would be happening if Andy Griffith was President." Think about it--would Clinton have been able to reject the advances of the jailhouse groupie?:

Rylance on Last Radio Commentary

Last Friday was the last "Radio Commentary" for the fall semester, and maybe longer than that. Between a heavy teaching load, scholarly activities, serving as President of the Wisconsin Communication Association for 2006-2007, maintaining a blog and website, co-hosting Eye on Oshkosh, thinking seriously about running for Common Council, and trying to have a life outside of those things, something had to give. Many thanks to all who have supported the radio show, especially Bob Knudsen (the founder of "Wild Eyed Radio" who last year invited me to start Radio Commentary on WRST), Frank McCandless (always offers great encouragement to independent media activists and a great help with uploading content to the web), Justin Mitchell (composed last semester's Radio Commentary intro tune, "Two Miles From Brooklyn"), Drew Van Wyk and Sarah Garfinkel (this semester's Radio Commentary producers), Keith Kinter and Bill Kerkhof (engineers), and Ben Jarman (WRST Director), and all our guests and listeners.

I think radio is a great medium for independent news, as Amy Goodman has skillfully demonstrated. Radio Commentary will almost certainly return at some point in the future, maybe as live radio but perhaps or also as a podcast.

Here's last Friday's interview with regular guest pundit Dan Rylance.

Classic Orson Welles' Radio Broadcast of War of the Worlds:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

New Look For Talk To Tony

Some regular readers of T2T have told me in the last few weeks that the white letters on the black background was getting tough to read, especially for longer posts. So let's go with black on white for a while. And, if you're thinking of being a troll, it don't matter if the text is black or white.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Council's "Kraft Defense" Doesn't Wash

The Wisconsin Department of Justice will not prosecute six members of the Oshkosh Common Council for going into an illegal closed meeting because they were acting on the advice of the City Attorney Warren Kraft. The DOJ report says: "Here, several Council members contacted the City Attorney, who advised every member prior to the meeting that that a closed session was justifed. Though he arrived 15 minutes after it started, the City Attorney also attended the closed session. His attendance and failure to object to the substance or scope of any part of the closed session is further support that he endorsed it."

For the six Councilors to resort to the "Kraft Defense" (i.e. "We were only following the City Attorney's advice.") is crafty, but just doesn't wash. When we elect people to the Council, we should be able to expect that they are capable of comprehending the plain language of the state statutes governing open meetings. We should also expect that they will act independently and according to their own conscience, especially when millions of tax dollars are involved. In the case of the February 14th closed meeting, the impropriety was so clear that the Councilors should not even have had to ask for Kraft's advice before refusing to attend. Or at the very least, they should have listened to the citizens who warned them of the probable violation of law that would take place should they attend, and ask Kraft to solicit advice from the AG's office before proceeding.

As noted in today's Northwestern coverage of the open meetings violation, this was not the first time Mr. Kraft has given the Council bad advice:

Councilor Paul Esslinger, the only member of the board who protested the meeting and did not attend, said he believed Kraft should apologize to the public.

"I'm concerned that our own city attorney couldn't see that we should not have had that meeting to begin with," Esslinger said.

. . .

Esslinger said he felt his protest of the meeting was appropriate at the time based on the issues Palmeri, Hentz and The Northwestern raised at the time of the meeting. But he also was concerned that this is the second ruling against the city's practices by the attorney general's office.

"The other one was not bidding out the bathrooms (at Leach Amphitheater)," Esslinger said. "And when you have two such transgressions in two years, that's troubling."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Department of Justice Vindicates Five Rivers Five

Back in February of this year, when it looked like the Oshkosh city administration was intent on forcing developer Tom Doig's Five Rivers Resort project down the throats of an unwilling public, I argued that the Common Council had broken the open meetings law when going into closed session with Doig. Five citizens ended up crashing the Council's closed meeting, a move which earned praise from Oshkosh News.

Shortly after crashing the meeting, Cheryl Hentz and I filed a formal open meetings complaint against the Common Council with Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. Almost 10 months later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has finally responded to the complaint. Today we received a 15-page, single-spaced response. We are a bit peeved that it took so long for the AG's office to make a decision, but we are content that the response's findings, conclusions, and recommendations should contribute to better government in Oshkosh.

The response was written by Assistant Attorney General Paul L. Barnett. He starts by saying that, "The Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit received a complaint from Ms. Hentz and Mr. Palmeri alleging violations of the Open Meetings Law by members of the Oshkosh Common Council in connection with a closed session of the Council held on February 14, 2006. Subsequently, District Attorney Lennon referred a similar complaint from the Oshkosh Northwestern to this office after determining that he had a conflict of interest."

The DOJ investigated two major allegations made against the city. First, the Oshkosh Northwestern's allegation that in the closed meeting, the Common Council discussed subjects that fell outside of the scope of the agenda notice for the closed session. Second, the Hentz/Palmeri allegations that the Council's closed session was illegal according to a plain reading of Wisconsin statute 19.85(1)(e).

On the Northwestern's compaint, the DOJ found that the closed session notice failed to reasonably apprise the public of subjects that would be under discussion; "however, we must acknowledge that, based on the majority decision in H.D Enterprises, a reasonable argument can be made that the notice complied with the Open Meetings Law."

As regards the Hentz/Palmeri complaint regarding whether the closed session was proper, the DOJ treated the closed session as consisting of two parts. The first part included the Common Council's discussion with Doig regarding the term sheet, status of financing, etc. The second part included the Common Council's discussion of its strategies in light of what was said in part one.

The DOJ argues that the second part of the meeting justifiably took place in closed session, claiming in essence that the fact that the city had already signed a term sheet agreement with Doig did not mean that the city could not reconsider that agreement based on what Doig said in the first part of the meeting. The DOJ claims that such reconsideration is allowed to be held in closed session under the statute language.

It is in the discussion of the first part of the closed session that the DOJ vindicates the Five Rivers Five: "It is harder to justify a closed meeting for the first part . . . The contents of the term sheet were public knowledge. The developer's adherence to those terms, including important deadlines which were set forth in the document, was clearly a matter of public interest for this major project in which the City had committed millions of public dollars. Given the presumption in favor of openness, it was incumbent upon the City to establish a sufficient basis for conducting the question and answer period in closed session." (empahsis added). Interpreting the statute under which the Council went into closed session, the DOJ writes that "inconvenience, delay, embarrassment, or frustration is an insufficient basis on which to close a meeting for competitive or bargaining reasons. Similarly, a general concern that the subject matter might have an indirect effect on negotiations will not suffice either."

Examining the City Mananager and City Attorney's reasons for keeping the first part of the meeting closed, the DOJ claims that "none of these reasons survive serious scrutiny . . . There is no doubt that information which revealed that the developer may not be able to comply with some of the terms is both embarrassing and frustrating. However, that is no reason for withholding the information from the public. Moreover, given the extent of the City's commitment of public funding to support the project, this is precisely the kind of information that should be in the public domain." (emphasis added; those lines represent exactly the position of the Five Rivers Five).

The DOJ goes even further: "Mr. Doig's concern about revealing the status or substance of his financial negotiations was a relevant factor for the City to consider in determining the propriety of closing this meeting. However, his concern cannot drive that decision unless it directly implicates a public interest at stake if the meeting were not closed. Here, none of those interviewed, including Mr. Doig himself, identified a specific concrete reason why a public discussion of whether he would be able to meet certain terms of the agreement, including with respect to financing, would directly and adversely affect an important public interest sufficient to justify a closed session for that purpose . . . Besides, the session was closed not because Mr. Doig requested it but rather because the Community Development Director did in his January 19, 2006 memo."

Finally, the DOJ pointedly disagree with certain City officials: "Of course, the City Attorney's and City Manager's non-particularized fear of avoiding an 'anti-development' reputation can never justify a blanket closing of a meeting. Given the Open Meeting Law's presumption of openness coupled with the restrictive language governing the specific exemption relied upon here, much more than this generalized concern is needed to justify a closed session for competitive or bargaining reasons."

The clincher: "In our opinion, a court that engaged in a searching inquiry as contemplated in Pleva would find that the first part of the closed session was not justifed and did violate the Open Meetings Law." (empahsis added).

The DOJ will not prosecute members of the Common Council who attended the closed meeting because "it is a recognized defense to prosecuting an open meetings violation that a body's members relied on legal advice by someone authorized to give it." Thus, because the 6 members of the Council who went into closed session did so on the advice of City Attorney Warren Kraft, that advice is the "out" that saves them from being prosecuted. The DOJ does say that the fact that one member of the Common Council (Mr. Esslinger) voted against the motion to convene in closed session and refused to participate in it "should have given pause to the other members." However, "the refusal of a lone member to 'go along' in unlikely to overcome the other members' reliance on the City Attorney's advice, even when . . . the advice may be in error."

The DOJ response closes by recommending that the City revisit the manner in which it prepares closed meeting notices. "Given the legal and practical importance of a proper meeting notice, we disapprove of the apparent practice employed by the City in preparing its meeting notices, particularly for a closed session, where, as here, the specific contents of the final notice are left to a subordinate in the City Clerk's office who can simply borrow language from a prior notice without regard to (and probably without knowledge of) the specific matters that were known by others would be discussed at the meeting. We strongly urge the City to require that someone in a position of authority, such as the Mayor or the City Manager, review and ensure that the final draft accurately and adequately notifies the public of the subject matter to be taken up at Common Council meetings."

Of course, the implication of the DOJ's suggestion is that if the City does accurately notice the meeting, it will be that much more difficult to go into closed session. Indeed, it SHOULD be difficult to go into closed session.

The six Common Councilors who went into closed session will not be proseduted because they have the "out" that they merely followed the legal advice of the City Attorney. Still, they should at the very least apologize to the public for their violation of the law and pledge to be more vigilant in demanding openness. They should also advocate openly for putting the DOJ's recommendations in place.

Hintz Wins A Decisive Victory In The 54th

Gordon Hintz won a decisive victory in the 54th assembly district. He did it in part because of a great showing on the UW Oshkosh campus: 72% support for Democrat Hintz over Republican Julie Pung-Leschke.

I'm sure some Republicans will claim Hintz ran a negative campaign. The reality is that the race was nasty on both sides, but Gordon worked hard and was able to overcome huge amounts of outside spending by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, "All Chidren Matter," and other "go for the jugular" groups. The only way to defeat the viciousness coming out of groups like that is to go door-to-door and meet voters one-on-one. Gordon did quite a bit of that kind of retail campaigning, and it shows in the election results.

I like and respect Julie Pung-Leschke, but she never quite found her voice during the campaign. She never seemed able to see the irony of rejecting the label "politician" at the same time refusing to answer--or taking very long to answer--some basic questions about political reform in the state. And while everyone running for office wants to believe that when they get elected they will be the most independent representative who ever lived, the fact of the matter is that in Wisconsin there is a very high correlation between who pays the campaign bills and what policies get passed. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, All Children Matter, the realtors, and others attempted to so completely hijack the Pung-Leschke campaign that I think it had a backlash effect: swing voters were able to see all too clearly the attempt that was being made by outside groups to buy the seat and they resented it. After this experience, I hope Julie will become a leader in the much needed effort to reform the way politics is played in this state.

What can we expect from Gordon Hintz? Because we are living in a time when the Republicans win even when they lose (almost all the major issues in our state and nationally are framed in ways that benefit the Republican agenda), I think Gordon (like Jim Doyle) will spend much time trying to restrain Republican excesses. Things that would actually benefit the population (e.g. progressive income taxes, guaranteed health care, tuition freeze, instant runoff voting, ending the closed partisan caucuses, etc.) are off the table in the lobbyists' legislature, but Gordon can still be a strong voice for restoring shared revenue, making sure financial aid keeps pace with tuition increases, and other moderate measures. He will also be much more responsive to local governments than his predecessor, Republican Gregg Underheim, ever was.

For those of us who have spent more than a decade trying to move the politics of the Fox Valley in a more progressive direction, Gordon's victory tonight represents a step in that direction. I guess we'll have to see what he does once he gets to Madison to see how big or small of a step it really is.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Marriage Amendment Post-Mortem

As everyone knows by now, the misnamed "marriage amendment" (it's actually a ban on civil unions) passed. CNN demographic survey data as regards the amendment voters reveals few surprises: voters under age 30, college educated voters, and those who attend church only occasionally or not at all were most likely to vote "no." Elderly voters, those with high school educations or less, and frequent church goers were most likely to vote "yes."

The passage of the amendment shows how irrelevant the mainstream, corporate press editorial pages have become. Corporate newspapers in virtually every major city came out against the amendment, yet that opposition along with the well-funded "A Fair Wisconsin Votes No" drive of the organization Fair Wisconsin came up short. Why?

We know that newspaper readership is down and that even those who continue to read them no longer look to the editorial page for guidance. So scratch that as a factor.

I suspect when all the votes are in we will find that the 18-30 year old vote, while perhaps higher this year than expected, still was not close to the numbers turned out by the over-50 year old group. Fair Wisconsin spent a great deal of time and resources trying to mobilize the youth vote, and I certainly don't want to second guess them, but in hindsight maybe a stronger appeal was needed for the likely voters. Fair Wisconsin srupulously did not want to debate the theology of marriage--a strategy which I thought would make sense IF the majority of elderly voters were not also religious in some way. But again, I don't want to second guess especially since activists in other states HAVE debated the theology and lost by even bigger margins than what we saw in Wisconsin.

The good news is that the amendment created thousands of new social justice activists around the state. At UW Oshkosh this semester I have met scores of students who never were interested in politics until they became mobilized by this issue. In exploiting a wedge issue to help Mark Green in the short term, the Republicans may have ended doing much long term damage to themselves.

Palast: How They Stole The Midterm Election

Greg Palast's frightening prediction (see essay below) suggests that the energy spent keeping after Diebold has taken voting rights activists' attention away from some of the more low tech--but extremely powerful--methods of voter suppression in place. Brace yourself for a long night.

How They Stole The Mid-Term Election

Greg Palast
London Guardian
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Here’s how the 2006 mid-term election was stolen.

Note the past tense. And I’m not kidding.

And shoot me for saying this, but it won’t be stolen by jerking with the touch-screen machines (though they’ll do their nasty part). While progressives panic over the viral spread of suspect computer black boxes, the Karl Rove-bots have been tunneling into the vote vaults through entirely different means.

For six years now, our investigations team, at first on assignment for BBC TV and the Guardian, has been digging into the nitty-gritty of the gaming of US elections. We’ve found that November 7, 2006 is a day that will live in infamy. Four and a half million votes have been shoplifted. Here’s how they’ll do it, in three easy steps:

Theft #1: Registrations gone with the wind

On January 1, 2006, while America slept off New Year’s Eve hangovers, a new federal law crept out of the swamps that has devoured 1.9 million votes, overwhelmingly those of African-Americans and Hispanics. The vote-snatching statute is a cankerous codicil slipped into the 2002 Help America Vote Act — strategically timed to go into effect in this mid-term year. It requires every state to reject new would-be voters whose identity can’t be verified against a state verification database.

Sounds arcane and not too threatening. But look at the numbers and you won’t feel so fine. About 24.3 million Americans attempt to register or re-register each year. The New York University Law School’s Brennan Center told me that, under the new law, Republican Secretaries of State began the year by blocking about one in three new voters.

How? To begin with, Mr. Bush’s Social Security Administration has failed to verify 47% of registrants. After appeals and new attempts to register, US Elections Assistance Agency statistics indicate 1.9 million would-be voters will still find themselves barred from the ballot on Tuesday.

But don’t worry: those holding passports from their ski vacations to Switzerland are doing just fine. And that’s the point. It’s not the number of voters rejected, it’s their color. For example, California’s Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson figured out how to block 40% of registrants, mostly Hispanics. In a rare counter-move, Los Angeles, with a Hispanic mayor, contacted these citizens, “verified” them and got almost every single one back on the rolls. But throughout the rest of the West, new Hispanics remain victims of the “Jose Crow” treatment.

In hotly contested Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell, Secretary of State and the Republican’s candidate for Governor, remains voter-rejection champ — partly by keeping the rejection criteria a complete secret.

Theft #2: Turned Away - the ID game

A legion of pimple-faced Republicans with Blackberries loaded with lists of new voters is assigned to challenge citizens in heavily Black and Hispanic (i.e. Democratic) precincts to demand photo ID that perfectly matches registration data.

Sounds benign, but it’s not. The federal HAVA law and complex new ID requirements in states like New Mexico will easily allow the GOP squads to triple the number of voters turned away. Rather than deny using these voter suppression tactics, Republican spokesmen are claiming they are “protecting the integrity of the vote.”

I’ve heard that before. In 2004, we got our hands on fifty confidential internal memos from the files of the Republican National Committee. Attached to these were some pretty strange spreadsheets. They called them “caging lists” — and it wasn’t about zoo feeding times. They were lists (70,000 for Florida alone) of new Black and Jewish voters — a very Democratic demographic — to challenge on Election Day. The GOP did so with a vengeance: In 2004, for the first time in half a century, more than 3.5 million voters were challenged on Election Day. Worse, nearly half lost their vote: 300,000 were turned away for wrong ID; 1.1 million were allowed a “provisional” ballot — which was then simply tossed out.

Tomorrow, new federal ID requirements and a dozen new state show-me-your-ID laws will permit the GOP challenge campaign to triple their 300,000 record to nearly one million voters blocked.

Theft #3: Votes Spoiled Rotten

The nasty little secret of US elections is that three million ballots are cast in national elections but not counted — 3,600,380 not counted in 2004 according to US Election Commission stats. These are votes lost because a punch card didn’t punch (its chad got “hung”), a stray mark voided a paper ballot and other machinery glitches.

Officials call it “spoilage.” I call it, “inaugurating Republicans.” Why? According to statisticians working with the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will “spoil” this way is 900% higher for Black folk and 500% higher for Hispanics than for white voters. When we do the arithmetic, we find that well over half of all votes spoiled or “blank” are cast by voters of color. On balance, this spoilage game produces a million-vote edge for the GOP.

That’s where the Black Boxes come into play. Forget about Karl Rove messing with the software to change your vote. Rather, the big losses occur when computers crash, fail to start or simply don’t respond to your touch. They are the new spoilage machines of choice with, statistically, the same racial bias as the old vote-snatching lever machines. (Funny, but paper ballots with in-precinct scanners don’t go rotten on Black voters. Maybe that’s why Republican Secretaries of State have installed so few of them.)

So Let’s Add it Up

Two million legitimate voters will be turned away because of wrongly rejected or purged registrations.

Add another one million voters challenged and turned away for “improper ID.”

Then add yet another million for Democratic votes “spoiled” by busted black boxes and by bad ballots.

And let’s not forget to include the one million “provisional” ballots which will never get counted. Based on the experience of 2004, we know that, overwhelmingly, minority voters are the ones shunted to these baloney ballots.

And there’s one more group of votes that won’t be counted: absentee ballots challenged and discarded. Elections Assistance Agency data tell us a half million of these absentee votes will go down the drain.

Driving this massive suppression of the vote are sophisticated challenge operations. And here I must note that the Democrats have no national challenge campaign. That’s morally laudable; electorally suicidal.

Add it all up — all those Democratic-leaning votes rejected, barred and spoiled — and the Republican Party begins Election Day with a 4.5 million-vote thumb on the vote-tally scale.

So, what are you going to do about it? May I suggest you… steal back your vote.

It’s true you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it. The regime’s sneak attack via vote suppression will only net them 4.5 million votes, about 5% of the total. You should be able to beat that blindfolded. If you can’t get 55%, then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to win back America.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Democrat/Republican Wacko Analysis Of The 54th

By all accounts the race for the 54th assembly district should be a close one. The race has been expensive and nasty, but I think ultimately the winner will be the candidate who has visited the most households. Each candidate says they have been to thousands of doors--tomorrow we will know who really has visited more.

In the above paragraph I am arguing that the hardest working candidate will win the race. But it might be fun to do a little Democrat and Republican wacko analysis too. There are some upstanding Democrats and Republicans who really believe in small-d democracy and encourage citizens to vote their conscience and interests. Then there are the wackos who see elections merely as establishment thuggery designed to limit choices and guarantee the continuation of what has become, in effect, a spoils system for well-connected special interests.

The wacko analysis of the 54th starts by looking at the results of the 2004 election:

*Underheim (R) 14,040 (47%)
*Hintz (D) 12,025 (40%)
*Palmeri (G) 2,653 (9%)
*Carpenter (I) 1,157 (4%)

According to the wacko analysis, all of Palmeri's votes go to Hintz. But that would give him only 49%, not a majority, so the swing voters become those who voted for Carpenter. Turnout probably won't be as large for this midterm election, but this is the wacko analysis so none of that matters. The wackos love to "target" voters; maybe they should spend today trying to find those Carpenter voters and give them one more reason to vote against the other candidate.

Wednesday will be a tough morning for Democrat and Republican wackos in the 54th--one of them will not be able to blame other candidates for their defeat.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Playwright and WIPIRG Organizer on Radio Commentary

Last night I had the opportunity to interview UW Oshkosh Associate Professor of Theatre and Playwright Richard Kalinoski. That interview can be found here.

I also interviewed Bethany Parker, UW Oshkosh campus organizer for WISPIRG (Wisconsin Public Research Interest Groups). That interview can be found here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Finally Some Editorial Integrity

The Rockford (Illinois) Register Star has endorsed Rich Whitney, the Green Party candidate for governor. According to Editor and Publisher:

But the editorial stressed that its pick of the Green Party was not a protest vote.

“We believe Whitney, a 51-year-old attorney from Carbondale, could clean up state government while leading Illinois toward school finance reform, job growth, environmental responsibility and social justice,” the editorial said.

What a shame that Wisconsin, the "progressive" state, does not have any major corporate newspapers willing to act with that kind of integrity in their endorsements.

Palmeri and Sharpless on Week In Review

The broadcast of this morning's Week in Review can be found here.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Palmeri on Friday WPR "Week In Review"

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

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

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

Neil Young: Let's Impeach The President

Neil hasn't been this pissed since Kent State. In less than a week we'll see how pissed the rest of the country is--though in an age of rigged, safe districts, issues framed in such a way so that the Republicans win even when they lose, and touch screen voting machines, we have little assurances that next week's election results can be trusted or that they will result in any meaningful policy shifts. Pelosi and Reid have gone out of their way to distance themselves from calls for impeachment hearings, for example.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Media Rants: Buy Nothing On Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving has become an exercise in commercialism and consumer excess. The good news is that we don't have to participate. That's the theme of my November Media Rant.