Friday, September 28, 2007

Protest Vote On Akcess (AKA Gotta Have Faith)

I was the only member of the Common Council to vote No on the Akcess Acquisition Group's plan to put an office building and hotel/restaurant (Supple Group developers) on the Fox river. It was mostly a protest vote, as the real vote on the office building was when we voted on the "revised term sheet" agreement with Akcess in July. For the Council to turn down the project at this point, said the city attorney, could be a breach of contract. So even though the words "office building" and "hotel/restaurant" appear nowhere in the term sheet, it was the vote on that term sheet that constituted agreement to them.

The office and hotel/restaurant may end up being successful. Jay Supple said that the hotel may include a Montreal Bread Company, a European style deli which his restaurant group is opening in Milwaukee's old third ward. A Montreal Bread Company would represent at least something unique about the development.

I had several problems with the proposal that resulted in the protest no vote:

*We approved the proposal as part of our "Consent Agenda." Consent agenda items, unless they are laid over, get only one reading. Because the office building and hotel/restaurant were actually approved during a term sheet vote in which the project names do not appear, the public never had a meaningful chance to talk to the council about the projects when it mattered. In that sense, this process was as closed and sneaky as the ill-fated "Five Rivers Resort" fiasco.

*As of Tuesday's meeting, the Akcess group says that it has one "letter of intent" from a financial institution to move into the office building (even if that's true, do we really need a bank on the river?). Other pledges, we were told, were waiting for the Council approval of the project (even though it's now agreed to by everyone that the July vote WAS the approval). But even if Akcess succeeds in getting tenants, by their own admission the tenants will largely be drawn from already existing space in town. We are told that when that happens, the owners of the newly open space will be forced to upgrade in order to compete. Interesting theory, but not realistic given the state of the economy and the fact that it's hard to find examples of such a thing anywhere in the country.

*We already have one failed hotel downtown. I think the Supple Group can make a new hotel work, but I simply think we needed more evidence to support the claim that it can. Especially since we do not have a commercial airport in Oshkosh, I am struggling to understand why someone would fly into Outagamie, drive out of a city (Appleton) that has lots of great restaurants and a nightlife, to stay in an expensive hotel in Oshkosh located next to an office building. The hotel will probably have no problem getting guests during EAA, but what will happen during all other times of the year? Let's hope for the best.

*The Department of Community Development went out of its way to argue that this development does not come with the financial risks that plagued the 100 block of North Main St. project. I don't think a convincing case was ever made to that effect, but let's assume for the sake of argument that the Ackess proposal carries no financial risks at all. I argued at the meeting that financial is only one kind of risk a city council needs to be concerned with. The other is "quality of life" risk. If in several years we are left with underutilized buildings on prime riverfront property, that is a real quality of life issue.

One snag that may get in the way of all of this is environmental remediation of the site. Mr. Kinney tried to assure us that this will not be a problem. Like every other part of this project, we just have to have faith that he is right. This is, after all, a classic case of faith based river development.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

$17.2 Million For Nothing

Legislative inaction on the state budget has cost the taxpayers $17.2 million in salaries, fringe benefits, and other costs, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

One of the great ironies of the impasse is that, since Wisconsin's governor has virtual dictatorial control over the budget and can use his "Frankenstein Veto" to crunch the numbers however he sees fit to do so, the legislative wrangling is largely hot air. Or worse, it is the most vile kind of "bumper sticker politics" designed to put up a front of loyalty to the monied interests needed during reelection time.

It's hard to imagine a more rotten system.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lemberger on Outsourcing

UWO Education Professor/Oshkosh Northwestern community columnist John Lemberger had an excellent piece on outsourcing in yesterday's paper. Money quote:

It is important to understand with the implementation of GATT, NAFTA, and CAFTA, American workers have also outlived our usefulness to corporations. Off-shoring is the modern version of being “sold down the river.” For all the grit and determination of the American worker (we are the most productive in the world), we are simply too expensive. We expect safe workplaces, decent housing, healthcare and pensions. In China there are plenty of workers who have had these expectations beaten out of them.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

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).

Rock 'n Roll Founders

I must say that YouTube is helping to make my "Rhetoric of Rock Music" course more enjoyable this semester. This week in class we've been talking about some of the rhythym and blues artists that really were the founding fathers and mothers of rock and roll. Most of them were performing and recording well before Elvis Presley or Bill Hailey and the Comets, and include

the great Louis Jordan

Big Joe Turner

Ruth Brown

Louis Prima

and the legendary Howlin' Wolf

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Shock Doctrine

Culture critic Naomi Klein's latest work argues that the "free" market has a "secret history" in which natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other horrific events serve to "soften" populations so that they will accept the "economic shock therapy" treatment of unrestrained Capitalism advocated by the late economist Milton Friedman and his followers. Klein's cover story for the latest issue of Harper's (not online yet) summarizes her latest book on "disaster capitalism." She's also produced a short film (see YouTube clip below) with Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") to accompany the book.

I think Klein exaggerates the impact of Friedman's ideas on global economic policy, but her work is useful in debunking the popular myth that market forces are "natural."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One For The Chief, or Academia at its Worst, Part III

I wasn't planning to comment on the recent decision of UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to rescind an offer to prominent liberal law professor Erwin Chemerinsky to become the founding Dean of the campus' new law school. But then I saw that The Chief started a blog post on Chemerinsky with this sentence: "Here's a story I give Tony Palmeri about a 100% chance of saying something about in the next few days." I guess by saying something we have a win-win: I get to alert T2T readers to yet another example of academia at its worst while The Chief gets to be correct in the prediction.

The Chemerinsky case is similar to Norman Finkelstein's in that outside influence was the key factor in determining the chancellor's hesitation to side with a leftish public intellectual no matter how outstanding his credentials. An article in Saturday's LA Times quotes an Orange County Republican party leader as saying that the GOP had organized 20 prominent Republicans against Chemerinsky, calling him a "longtime partisan gunslinger" and "too polarizing" for the job. Chancellor Drake also received pressure from conservative justices on the California Supreme Court.

Chemerinsky has been opposed by conservatives for much of his legal career, but he gained the ire of the most vile elements of the wingnut faction when he acted on behalf of Guantanamo detainees. Read his account here. In an effort to pacify his right wing critics, Chemerinsky actually asked Viet Dinh to sit on his UC-Irvine Law School Board of Advisors. Mr. Dinh is the chief (not to be confused with The Chief) architect of the USA PATRIOT Act.

The Saturday article in the LA Times says that negotiations are ongoing to restore the job offer to Chemerinsky, but it appears as if he will be offered the position only if he agrees to silence himself: "Drake has insisted that Chemerinsky didn't lose the dean's position because of his politics, saying that it was only because he expressed himself in a polarizing way. Any deal would therefore require Chemerinsky to 'successfully transition from being a very outspoken advocate on many causes to being a dean of the stature that we expect in a start-up law school,' said [attorney Tom] Malcom, a prominent Orange County Republican who was going to be a member of Chemerinsky's advisory board." (Malcom has been a participant in the talks to bring back Chemerinsky.).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Council Approves Climate Protection Agreement

Last night the Oshkosh Common Council approved the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. We become the 668th city to sign on nationally and the 15th in Wisconsin.
Soon Mayor Frank Tower will be naming an environmental committee which will be charged, in part, with looking at ways to green Oshkosh based on elements of the agreement.

Mayor Tower deserves praise for his leadership in getting the agreement on the council agenda. Many thanks also to citizens Steve Barney, Andy Robson, and former councilor Shirley Mattox for their activism on behalf of the agreement and for speaking out on it at last night's meeting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Once Worth Seeing Twice

Lori and I got a chance to see the critically acclaimed "Once" over the weekend. It's a simple, touching love story/musical without a predictable Hollywood-type ending. The songs are magnificent. Between Once and "Hairspray," this has been a pretty good year for film and music.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Academia at its Worst, Part 2

Part 1 included a discussion of Norman Finkelstein's predicament at DePaul. After denying him tenure, the DePaul administration canceled his 2007-2oo8 courses (his contract allowed him to come back for one more year of teaching) and tried to place him on administrative leave. As noted in the Chronicle, Finkelstein threatened acts of civil disobedience if he could not teach his classes.

Today, DePaul and Finkelstein reached an agreement under which he will leave. The terms of the agreement have not been released, but here's the kicker: as part of the agreement, DePaul has said in writing that, "Professor Finkelstein is a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher."

Faculty at most institutions of higher education are judged for tenure on three criteria: teaching, scholarship, and service. To deny tenure to someone whom the university itself refers to as a "prolific scholar and outstanding teacher" demonstrates the extent to which DePaul allowed itself to be intimidated by forces outside the university calling for Finkelstein's ouster.

Through its shameful handling of the Finkelstein case, DePaul has certainly earned a place on the AAUP's list of censured administrations. I hope to see them on that list soon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Store Memorial

Thanks to Oshkosh citizen JH for passing this on: