Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Last August Oshkosh residents were hit with hefty rate increases for water and sewer. At the time, just out of curiousity, I asked Director of Public Works David Patek in open session and via email how much the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) paid in sewer fees. Here's what I found out from Mr. Patek:

*In 2007, the EAA convention delivered a total of 1,350,500 gallons of sewage to the Treatment Plant (as opposed to 1,353,500 gallons in 2006). The total volume was delivered over the length of time of several weeks.

*The 1,350,500 gallons would have generated a fee of $10,758 for disposal.

The city did not collect the fee from EAA. Why, you ask? Because in February of 1986, the Common Council approved a waiver of the sewage discharge fees for future EAA conventions.

Here's the kicker: We learned at last night's budget meeting that the waiver approved in 1986 was not even a council resolution. Rather, then City Manager Bill Freuh included the request for waiver in his City Manager Report. Apparently the council approved the report (and thus the waiver request) unanimously. Ah, you have to love the accountability in the council/manager form of government.

So do other special events in Oshkosh get their crap treated for free? Mr. Patek and Treatment Plant Director Stephen Brand could not think of any, and said that Lifest and Country USA do pay the fee.

The 1986 deal between the City Manager and EAA smells like something, and it ain't teen spirit. (Oh yes, we are covering grunge rock in my music class this week.).

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Everybody's Business School"

The UW Madison School of Business has received an $85 million gift from a group of alumni. The condition? The School must keep its current name for at least the next 20 years. According to the Wisconsin State Journal,

At a time when it's become common practice for buildings, programs, stadiums or schools to be named after major benefactors, this gift goes in the opposite direction by preventing that from happening — and paying to keep it that way . . .

This is believed to be the first time that a U.S. business school has received a naming gift of this kind. [UW System Chancellor] Wiley anticipates that the Wisconsin deal could be precedent-setting.

"It is counterintuitive to go out to donors and say we want you to give us a lot of money to NOT name something after you," Wiley said. "But the simple idea behind this is something that's going to be copied by other schools around the country.

"It probably changes namings and philanthropy forever."

Activist and Madison alum Ben Manksi (Liberty Tree) says: "Students, faculty, and staff have over the past decade had many run-ins with UW Chancellor Wiley over the corporatization of the university. I have said some unkind - though deserved - things about the Chancellor in the past. But when someone does the right thing, you recognize that fact. This is a promising initiative. Take note."

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Tommy Walker Midterm

I teach a class called "Foundations of Speech Communication," which essentially covers the theories of rhetoric outlined by the major philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome (especially Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintillian). A huge percentage of the grade involves students having to write speech manuscripts that are informed by the rhetorical theories of the thinkers mentioned above.

Below are two video clips: Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson endorsing Rdy Giuliani and writer Alice Walker (The Color Purple) endorsing Barack Obama. The midterm exam this semester required the students to watch the videos and then (1) explain the rhetorical features of each and (2) make an argument as to which video would be more persuasive with genuinely undecided voters.

Which one do you think is more persuasive?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Palmeri, Egelhoff on Friday "Week in Review"

On tomorrow's WPR "Week in Review" from 8-9 a.m. I'll be the "left" guy. On the "right" will be Jo Egelhoff, publisher and editor of You can join the discussion by calling 1-800-642-1234 or email

Teaching the rhetoric of rock music class this semester has got me very wrapped up in pop music trivia, so it's hard not to include some kind of rock reference in each posting. Did you know that October of 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the release of the Doors' "Strange Days"? I would like to dedicate "People Are Strange" to all who dare view this blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do The Freddie

In the rock music class, students got a big kick (pardon what you'll see as the obvious pun) out of Freddie and the Dreamers, a mid-1960s British Invasion band known for the leggy antics of 5'3" lead singer Freddie Garrity. Early Freddie did seem quite a bit like Babblemur:

Freddie was still kickin', bless his heart, in 1999 (one year before his death)[Oct. 21 update: Many thanks to a reader who alerted me to the fact that Freddie actually passed away in 2006!]:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Council Matters

I haven't been blogging that much lately due to time constraints. Full-time teaching and the fact that the Common Council is "part-time" in name only makes it difficult to maintain a regular blogging schedule. But here are my thoughts on a few issues facing the Council:

*Nuisance Ordinance: Last Tuesday we defeated, on a 4-3 vote (Palmeri, King, B. Tower and McHugh voting in the majority), revisions to the city's nuisance ordinance that would have changed the abatement process and included new language attempting to clarify what are appropriate "temporary weatherization" products that can be used on homes. That last part should have been called the "Todd Sohr" provision. Mr. Sohr is a Grand St. resident who has been in a running feud with Inspections and Community Development officials about the use of plastic on his windows.

I was not on the Common Council when the nuisance ordinance was first passed, but I voted against the proposed changes because I thought the new language was both vague and overbroad. I don't believe that realtors and apartment associations need to be consulted for feedback on every change made to the ordinance, but in this case it seemed to me like some dialogue would have been helpful. Justified or not, Inspections and Community Development in our city have developed a reputation in some circles as not being friendly or cooperative. I'd like to see some progress made toward developing a "kinder, gentler" reputation before providing what I perceive to be additional powers to each of these departments.

*Advisory Referendum. The Esslinger/McHugh proposal to place 4 options on an April ballot failed 3-4 (King, Bain, and both Towers voting against ballot placement.). I moved to amend the resolution to include only 2 choices (to address the charge that the 4 choices were "confusing"), but I could not even get a second on the amendment. King and B. Tower clearly do not want to see any council led referendum on the ballot, F. Tower wanted the referendum placed on a November ballot (which no one else supported), and Bryan Bain again said that there should be community discussions about what citizens want to see in government. It's still not clear if he is going to call for those discussions and lead them or how they are supposed to happen.

One of the great ironies of all this, I believe, is that form of government referendums in Oshkosh are most opposed by people who support the manager form of government. I don't understand why a supporter of that form of government would be against trying to find out what kind of public confidence the current system employs. The people who would most benefit from having that information are potential applicants for the city manager position. If a person is a potential manager applicant and he finds out that barely half of the population of Oshkosh support the current form of government, then that will have great consequences for the kind of working conditions and buy out provisions negotiated. (Just as an aside, can you even imagine the kind of buy-out provision the next manager will negotiate?).

There will be a referendum at some point. Babblemur is seeking Oshkosh Democracy Campaign recruits here.

City Clerk Pam Ubrig today provided the council with information about a timeline for citizens to get a referendum on the April ballot. Citizens would have to obtain 3,682 signatures with the first and last signature obtained in a 60-day time frame. According to Pam, here's the timeline:

-January 17, 2008: Clerk receives petitions
-February 1, 2008: Clerk's review of the petitions are complete
-February 11, 2008: Corrections completed by citizen group (if necessary) & clerk certifies peitions and informs council on her report at Feb. 12, 2008 meeting.
-March 11, 2008: April ballots available for absentee voting.
-April 1, 2008: Spring election.

*Acting City Manager: Before the last meeting, Dick Wollangk recommended that we appoint Personnel Director John Fitzpatrick and Community Works Director David Patek as co-acting city managers. The Council did not seem too keen to that idea, so we appointed just Fitzpatrick. I don't know John very well, but in my brief time on the Council I have heard all positive things about him and he has struck me as reliable and trustworthy in my limited interaction with him. Because we have decided to continue our search for interim manager candidates, John will be in the acting position for at least a month and maybe longer.

*Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement: Mayor Tower signed the agreement on Wednesday, and afterwards Madison Mayor Dave Ciesliewicz talked about sustainability. Mayor Dave gave a great talk, and while listening to him I wondered about all the great things we could do in Oshkosh if we had executive level leadership that was actually accountable to the people.

*Settlement with Ganther: In closed session, the council decided to accept a mediated settlement with Ben Ganther regarding tax obligations connected to the 100 block development. We were told that failure to accept the settlement would mean bankruptcy for Ganther and the city could be in the position of recovering no money. I was against the settlement because I thought justice dictated going forward with the lawsuit. The bankruptcy threat just did not strike me as credible, but even if it was/is I don't think it matters. I felt that the council and administration seemed to be in too much of a hurry to settle, a stance that will only produce more public suspicion.

*Retirement of city attorney Warren Kraft: Though Mr. Kraft had been under increasing pressure from the council and the press over a variety of issues, I did not expect him to announce his retirement. Last week I had called for a special meeting to discuss allegations of staff secrecy regarding the 100 block, and after that call Mr. Kraft provided the council with a memo explaining his actions. I did not sense that the majority of the council supported a special meeting, so I said that I would instead place a notice to questions Mr. Kraft about the memo during the council member statements at the next meeting. Now that Mr. Kraft has retired, it is not clear to me how we will go about getting all of our questions answered. Curiously, the Oshkosh Northwestern today argued that it's time to "move on" as regards the 100 block.

If I could place my media critic hat on for a moment here, I have to say that the Northwestern's performance on the 100 block would be funny were it not so much a part of the problem. Last week Mr. Rieckman berated attorney Kraft for an alleged secrecy scheme to protect Ganther, yet as late as April of 2006 Mr. Rieckman himself was referring to bloggers and pundits critical of Ganther as having the attention span of "gnats on crack" because we did not report that "poor old Ben" had made a tax payment. And as I noted back in August, the Northwestern has yet to apologize for its role in creating the conditions under which such a bad deal could be signed for the 100 block.

When the history of the 100 block debacle is written, it will show that the mess was in large part the result of an old boy network gone wild--a network that INCLUDED the local press. That same press is now calling for some kind of "redevelopment bill of rights," yet somehow the new commitment to transparent finances and feasible developments did not apply to The Waterfront proposal for an office building and hotel. While it is true that the Waterfront developers are not receiving a development assistance grant as was the case with the 100 block, it's still not clear exactly what the "master developer" concept commits the city to, especially if the projects fail. In other words, just as with the 100 block, the time when it was vital to ask tough questions about the Waterfront has passed, and it would not be surprising if 5 or 6 years from now we get "after the fact outrage" from the same people who stayed silent when their voices were most needed.

Stay tuned, and keep reading alternative media!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Drug War's Dopey Media

My Media Rant for the October edition of The Valley Scene deals with corporate media and the so-called "War on Drugs." The piece includes comments from Dr. Stephen Richards, UW Oshkosh criminologist and former drug war prison inmate. Last year I did a "Radio Commentary" interview with Richards that can be found here.

"The Drug War's Dopey Media" can be found in the text below or in this link.
Critics of “big government” point to the alleged excesses of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs of the 1960s to make their case. The critics have prevailed: by the late 1990s a Republican backlash aided by Democratic capitulation succeeded in dismantling the Great Society’s “War on Poverty.” By the mid 1990s the poverty war had become, in the words of sociologist Herbert Gans, the “war on the poor,” with Project Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid the only major surviving programs.

The now almost 30-year-old “War on Drugs” is one of the biggest government programs in the history of the nation, requiring taxpayer contributions at the federal, state, and local levels. Premised on the idea that the user is the moral equivalent of the dealer, and that a street punk delivering a bag of pot is the same as an international drug lord, the War on Drugs ushered in an era of dramatic increases in the prison population. We now have 35 million (!) felons in the United States, with drug crimes constituting an ever higher percentage of that. Huge increases in prison spending coupled with a belief in prison as a cure for all social ills became the foundation of what journalist Eric Schlosser in 1998 called the “prison industrial complex.”

The dismantling of the war on poverty could not have happened without the cooperation of the corporate media. Criticisms of “welfare queens,” “freeloaders,” and the “culture of dependency” never failed to get prominent space in broadcast or print media. When it comes to the war on drugs, corporate media have been mostly dopey. We need sober analysis (pun intended), yet too often get sensationalism.

In preparing this rant I shared some email with UW Oshkosh Criminal Justice Professor Stephen Richards, PhD. A drug war veteran, Richards before earning his doctorate was charged with “conspiracy to distribute marijuana” and sentenced to nine years in federal prison. He has co-authored two books with Jeffrey Ian Ross, the best selling Behind Bars: Surviving Prison (Alpha/Penguin) and Convict Criminology (Wadsworth). I asked Dr. Richards to comment on the elite media’s responsibility in the drug war:

The elite media has for the most part aided and abetted the military style of the war on drugs, which has really been a police war on poor people who publicly consume recreational chemicals. The mainstream media was and is all too ready to report almost word for word what they receive from drug czars, drug squad police reports, and prosecutors.

The corporate media has spent most of the 20TH Century using drug stories to attract an audience. Mass-market media venues are all about revenue, market share, and corporate profit. As far back as the 1920s newspaper reporters were writing copy about musicians and pot addiction. In the 1960s, San Francisco became the place to get stoned, trip out, and see God. Since 1980, when Ronnie Reagan officially began the “war of drugs,” the media has run countless accounts that sensationalized crack epidemics, crack babies, drug whores, meth labs, date drugs, ecstasy and other designer drugs.

Defendants are declared guilty by the media before they ever enter a plea in court. Their names and faces are paraded across local newspapers pages and television screens. The media has participated in the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of millions of Americans for use and abuse of small quantities of exotic substances.

I asked Richards what role the mass media should play in the drug war:

I wish the media would run stories about people who experiment with illegal substances, get bored, and eventually give them up, without legal intervention, and return to an occasional beer or glass of wine. In effect they tried and probably liked it, but like most of us just got too busy with work and family obligations. Maybe they wished they had more free time to get stoned, high, and wasted, but have bills to pay, schedules to keep, and no vacation till next summer. So, they look forward to their next trip to Jamaica, or the once a year camping trip when an old friend has a joint. Meanwhile, they make do with alcohol, the legal liquid drug, the most dangerous of all.

Dr. Richards paints a bleak picture of drug war USA:

Most of the advanced industrial nations must think we Americans have gone mad. It reminds me of our nuclear weapons strategy, remember MAD, mutually assured destruction. The Europeans think of drug abuse as a medical problem, while we call it a crime. Maybe if we had European or Canadian style national health care we could convert some of these silly prisons into hospitals.

We grow up in urban and suburban communities of concrete and lawn, march to school and work, and lose our minds watching junk on TV. Reality is manufactured and imposed on each one of us, and then, when we try to challenge or change our consciousness, the thought police come and bust us, cart us off to jails and penitentiaries, all in the name of what, protecting the children we never were, or if we were, for far too short a time. Whatever happened to Peter Pan? Is she (he) in prison for flying too high once too often?