Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 2007 Tony Awards

What you've all been waiting for! (Yeah, right). The 2007 Tony Award recipients can be found here.

"When I wrote the first Tony Awards column in 2002, I never imagined it would become an annual tradition. But with corporate media in our region now bad beyond belief and getting worse each year, it has become vital to recognize worthwhile alternatives."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Former Member of Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority Going To Prison

Read about it here.

Happy Birthday Jimi

Yes, another rock star post. Jimi Hendrix would have been 65 years old today. It's hard to imagine a more influential guitar player.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rock Star In Australian Government

Australian voters booted conservative Prime Minister (and Bush toady) John Howard out of office last week. Howard was beaten so badly that he became only the second Australian in 129 years not only to lose the PM position, but also his seat in parliament.

The new PM, Labor's Kevin Rudd, campaigned strongly on environmental themes. Part of his leadership team includes Peter Garrett, a Labor member of parliament who for many years fronted the rock band Midnight Oil (best known in the States for the their 1988 smash hit "Beds Are Burning").

Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown calls Garrett a sell out, claiming that once he joined the Labor party he compromised his progressive environmental values out of existence.

A while back conservative treasurer Peter Costello lampooned Garrett on the floor of the parliament:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Let's Hold The Dems Accountable, Part IV

If the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" had passed a Republican led House of Representatives, the Democrats would have rightly called it the most repressive piece of paranoid legislation since the USA PATRIOT Act. Yet the Democrat led HOR passed Rep. Jane Harman's (D-California) bill by a 404-6 vote and passage in the Senate is almost a certainty.

Historian Ralph Shaffer and co-author R. William Robinson characterize the legislation as a case of "Here Come the Thought Police." They write:

Ms. Harman, a California Democrat, thinks it likely that the United States will face a native brand of terrorism in the immediate future and offers a plan to deal with ideologically based violence.

But her plan is a greater danger to us than the threats she fears. Her bill tramples constitutional rights by creating a commission with sweeping investigative power and a mandate to propose laws prohibiting whatever the commission labels “homegrown terrorism.”

The proposed commission is a menace through its power to hold hearings, take testimony and administer oaths, an authority granted to even individual members of the commission - little Joe McCarthys - who will tour the country to hold their own private hearings. An aura of authority will automatically accompany this congressionally authorized mandate to expose native terrorism.

Ms. Harman’s proposal includes an absurd attack on the Internet, criticizing it for providing Americans with “access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda,” and legalizes an insidious infiltration of targeted organizations. The misnamed “Center of Excellence,” which would function after the commission is disbanded in 18 months, gives the semblance of intellectual research to what is otherwise the suppression of dissent.

While its purpose is to prevent terrorism, the bill doesn’t criminalize any specific conduct or contain penalties. But the commission’s findings will be cited by those who see a terrorist under every bed and who will demand enactment of criminal penalties that further restrict free speech and other civil liberties. Action contrary to the commission’s findings will be interpreted as a sign of treason at worst or a lack of patriotism at the least.

While Ms. Harman denies that her proposal creates “thought police,” it defines “homegrown terrorism” as “planned” or “threatened” use of force to coerce the government or the people in the promotion of “political or social objectives.” That means that no force need actually have occurred as long as the government charges that the individual or group thought about doing it.

Did voters create a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress for this? Harman faced a surprisingly strong primary challenge from Marcy Winograd in June of 2006. Democrats should insist that she be challenged again.

*Part I (Nov. 13, 2006): The Dem Agenda
*Part II (Nov. 20, 2006): Ethics Reform
*Part III (Dec. 5, 2006): Robert Gates' Free Ride

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Correction: EAA Won't Pay Until 2008

Well, I blogged too early I guess. Turns out that acting city manager John Fitzpatrick did not receive a check from EAA to cover sewage treatment for 2007. Rather, Fitzpatrick received a letter from EAA president Tom Poberezny saying that they would pay the fee starting with the 2008 convention. That's still good news, though it would be even better if EAA would consider compensating the city for 20 years worth of free treatment.

Along similar lines, at the budget hearing on Thursday I brought up the issue of Oshkosh's "hospitable taxes." If Mercy Medical Center and Aurora paid property taxes, approximately $1.4 million would come into the city coffers. Almost $1 million would go to Winnebago County.

We learned at the budget hearing that the city receives about $140,00 per year from several nonprofit organizations as "payment in lieu of taxes." These organizations, which include Lutheran Homes of Oshkosh, voluntarily make payments to the city to help cover the costs of city services they receive even though their tax exempt status does not require them to.

With annual revenues of over $108 million (Mercy) and over $50 million (Aurora), certainly these hospitals can afford to make some kind of payment. Before next year's budget we need to see leadership at the county and city levels to try and arrange voluntary payments in lieu of taxes from the hospitals.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

EAA Pays 2007 Sewage Fees

At Thursday's budget session (4:30 p.m.), acting city manager John Fitzpatrick will announce that he has received a check from the Experimental Aircraft Association to cover the cost of sewage treatment for the 2007 convention. After the sewage fee waiver (approved in 1986 by a common council that rubber stamped then city manager Bill Freuh's city manager statement request for it) was revealed at the October 30th budget session, councilor Paul Esslinger called EAA president Tom Poberezny to request that EAA voluntarily pay the fee. Kudos to Esslinger for taking the leadership to call Poberezny and kudos to EAA for making the payment.

What's still not clear is whether the city can recover unpaid fees from the prior 20 years, or whether a formal resolution from the council is still necessary to ensure payment of the fees for all following years. I will raise these questions at the Thursday session.

The EAA sewage fee waiver is an excellent example of local "corporate welfare." Do other examples exist in Oshkosh? Absent a Budget Committee or other citizen led body charged with looking critically at the city's finances, it is difficult to know. The EAA fee waiver lasted for 20 years without anyone asking a question about it, so we can only imagine what else has been forgotten. Anyone with the time and desire should try and get hold of the city manager reports from around 1970-1996 and review them closely--who knows what kind of goodies might be turned up!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Worst Rhyme of all Time?

I always liked the song "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" but thought that "ruby throated sparrow/sing a song, don't be long/thrill me to the marrow" was one of the lamest rhymes of all time.

But now the striking Hollywood writers have created a rhyme that makes Stephen Stills look like Shakespeare: "For Eva Longoria, we write the storia." Notice how long it takes for these word slingers to figure out that poor Eva is on their side (note also how at the end she is almost moved to tears over the prospect of her hair and makeup artists not getting a pay check. You could not make any of this up.).

The writers actually have a strong case:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tom and Toby and the Teaching of History

Last week in the music class we listened to and discussed post 9/11 political music. Two of the selections were Tom Morello's "The Road I Must Travel" and Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)." Morello plays with Rage Against the Machine and is a political activist who founded Axis of Justice with Serj Tankian of System of a Down.

Toby Keith's song was part of a wave of post 9/11 "patriotic" themed country music. Back in 2004 NPR broadcast a segment showcasing the divisions between country artists.

Students had no trouble identifying the nationalist rhetoric in Keith's song or the fact that Morello's video identifies him with his favorite historical agitators. Morello's video flashes quotations from Frederick Douglass, Che Guevara, Joe Hill, Emma Goldman, Huey Newton, Subcomandante Marcos, Malcolm X, and Mohandas Gandhi, but almost none of my 26 students (almost all seniors) had heard of any of these activists except for Malcolm X and Gandhi. With all of the right wing accusations of the left slant in the academy,you'd think the students would already have those quotes burned into their biceps as tattoos.

College students' lack of "civic literacy" made the news last September, but most college profs were aware of the problem long ago. Probably it would be a good idea to mandate more teaching of history in K-12 and the universities, but I don't really think that will produce any dramatic changes in what students know. The students (and non-students for that matter) most interested in history, it seems to me, are those who see themselves as history makers. Wanting to make history (especially as regards social justice issues) gets them excited and interested in the historic struggles of the past. Those least interested in history are those for whom history is over: the world is the way it is, you really can't change anything even if you wanted to, and so you just make the best of what's available.

Toby Keith's video can't be embedded but you can see it here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Krause's Two Cents

Jonathan Krause, News Director at local radio station WOSH, maintains a blog called "My Two Cents." In his Friday posting he argues that the Common Council should continue with the interim city manager search in order to provide time for a referendum on the form of government to get on the ballot. Money quotes:

You may recall, the council decided to hire an interim manager to give residents a chance to circulate petitions for a government change--or to at least talk about what format they might want to consider. That came after the council rejected a referendum on government format out of hand--saying there needed to be more "discussion" on the topic . . .

Hopefully the council will stick with its original plan--interim first, referendum on the form of government--and the hire of a permanent manager if the position still exists. Otherwise the cities of Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee will have to continue to fail on their own with their out-dated elected mayor-council forms of governments.

The complete posting is here.

My concern, as noted in my previous post, is with the ethics of recruitment, though Krause's post did remind me of what other councilors have said previously. From an earlier post:

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.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

No Compelling Reason To Suspend Interim Search

Friday Update: Today's meeting will be in OPEN session. My apologies for stating below that it would be a closed meeting. I still can't make it due to teaching obligations (what the Northwestern calls "previous commitments").

Tomorrow the Oshkosh Common Council will meet in closed session at 10:30 a.m. to discuss Mayor Tower's recommendation to suspend the search for an interim city manager. I will not be at that meeting because I teach at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. If I were at the meeting, here's what I would say:

So far I have heard no compelling argument to justify suspending the search for an interim city manager.

At the November 6th meeting, the council decided that five applicants for the interim city manager position should be named as finalists and brought to Oshkosh for interviews. After the meeting, the mayor in open session announced the names of the finalists. Shortly thereafter, the local newspaper reported the names of the candidates along with information about each. One local blogger has referred to the quality of that reporting, correctly in my view, as a "train wreck."

All candidates applied in good faith for the position. On paper, each of the five finalists is qualified according to the position description the council agreed to. To announce their names in public and then cancel the search is, it seems to me, a violation of the basic standards of fairness in recruiting. No applicant for any position deserves to be treated that way.

Some would argue that we should keep the acting city manager in place until we are ready to begin a search for a permanent city manager, probably in January. Such a search would take at least 6 months and quite possibly a year (or more). An acting city manager, especially one who already has other responsibilities in city hall, is in no position to take a leadership role in key economic development, supervisory, and other issues facing the city. None of those issues disappear while we are taking a year to hire a permanent city manager.

I urge the councilors attending the November 6th meeting to be fair to the finalists and continue the search for an interim city manager.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hollywood Writers on Strike

Another great cartoon from Lahey:

Waterfront Faces Delays

No surprises here. Whatever happened to all of the businesses that were waiting for the Common Council to approve the office complex before signing up to lease space?

Maybe some dance space on the first floor will attract tenants .

Friday, November 02, 2007

Kucinich in this World

Dennis Kucinich is taking some flak for admitting, during a debate, to witnessing a UFO. Paul Waldman argues that the exchange says more about Tim Russert than Kucinich. He says a candidate should respond this way to inane questions:

“You know what, Tim, I’m not going to answer that question. This is serious business. And you, sir, are a disgrace. You have in front of you a group of accomplished, talented leaders, one of whom will in all likelihood be the next president of the United States. You can ask them whatever you want. And you choose to engage in this ridiculous gotcha game, thinking up inane questions you hope will trick us into saying something controversial or stupid. Your fondest hope is that the answer to your question will destroy someone’s campaign. You’re not a journalist, you’re the worst kind of hack, someone whose efforts not only don’t contribute to a better informed electorate, they make everyone dumber. So no, I’m not going to stand here and try to come up with the most politically safe Bible verse to cite. Is that the best you can do?”

As for Dennis Kucinich, I bet he's a big fan of Moby's "In This World" video (yes, we're moving toward electronic music in the music class).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Media Rant: Healthy Wisconsin Needs Healthy Media

The November Media Rant deals with the Wisconsin budget, the Senate Democrats' Healthy Wisconsin proposal, and the media. The Rant can be found here or in the body of this blog post.

Note that Senator Kathleen Vinehout, one of the chief sponsors of Healthy Wisconsin, will speak before the meeting of the Winnebago County Democrats on November 14.

Healthy Wisconsin Needs Healthy Media
Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

from the November 2007 edition of The Valley Scene

Once thought of as a progressive state, Wisconsin is now one of the last places citizens from other regions look to for fresh ideas, bold public policy initiatives, or courageous leadership. The "leadership" in Madison, badly compromised by an out of date campaign financing system and the well-connected special interests skilled in exploiting it, could not even pass a budget by the legal date of July 1. As I write this in mid-October, legislators and the governor finally agreed to a compromise budget after a 111-day delay.

It would be one thing if budget tardiness were the result of a group of LaFollette-like legislators holding out for the implementation of innovative, reform minded legislation. But the reality is that the budget compromise includes nothing particularly progressive, making the delay more embarrassing than anything else. Especially nauseating is the Republicans’ mantra that their refusal to pass a budget on time was about “holding the line on taxes,” when they have continuously supported pro big business tax scams that have increased the tax burden on the middle class. And as noted by nonpartisan reform advocates at Common Cause and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, legislators continued to hold reelection fundraisers even as the legislature was in session and budget talks languished. For this legislature, “progress” and “reform” are nothing more than buzz words employed in partisan press releases.

The closest the budget came to progressivism was its early inclusion of the Senate Democrats’ "Healthy Wisconsin" (HW) health care proposal. Though not a single-payer, Canadian style universal health care plan, HW if passed would make Wisconsin the state with the fewest number of uninsured citizens. According to David Riemer, former Doyle budget director and chief architect of HW, the plan provides “those who don't quality for Medicaid or BadgerCare, and who aren't yet eligible for Medicare - with the same, excellent benefit package that taxpayers now provide to state legislators, the governor, and the courts.” Citing a study prepared by Washington, D.C. based health cost consultants the Lewin Group, Riemer claims HW would cut overall health spending by over $750 million, save families $432 million, save currently insuring employers $686 million, and save government employers $1,360 million. HW’s prescription for getting government employee health care spending under control would cut property taxes statewide from over $8 billion to under $7.5 billion.

HW is hardly a revolutionary approach to health coverage, yet the Republicans immediately blasted it as “socialist.” Democratic governor Doyle gave support to the Republicans by claiming he could not support HW because “I live in the real world.” Note that there’s no room in Doyle’s “real world” for HW, but ample space for single sales tax formulas, job creation acts, and other Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce initiatives that benefit only the wealthiest Wisconsinites. With no support from their own governor, Senate Democrats agreed to remove HW from the budget. There’s not even a firm guarantee that the proposal will get stand alone hearings and votes in both houses of the legislature. Senator Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa) says it’s dead but might be an “impetus” for future reform. Once again, Wisconsin missed an opportunity to be a national leader on one of the great moral issues of our time.

But Doyle and the Republicans are only partially to blame. For any kind of reform legislation to have a fighting chance, establishment media have to be a healthy fourth estate in the best sense: educate the public on the legislation, expose the forces controlling the enemies of reform, and advocate editorially on behalf of the people. A growing number of blogs and alternative media serve this role, but it will be a long time before they reach even a fraction of the mainstream media audience.

Wisconsin’s corporate fourth estate did not kill Healthy Wisconsin, but did commit a fair share of journalistic and editorial malpractice. The state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was especially bad. As noted by Bruce Murphy, the paper allowed weekly business section attacks on HW without balancing commentary. Says Murphy, “The issue is too important to be covered in such a biased fashion.”

Locally, establishment media failed to communicate the urgent need for health care reform in our region. Health care costs in our area are among the highest in the nation. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office ranked physician costs in 319 metro areas around the country. Eight of the top ten were in Wisconsin, with the Appleton-Oshkosh-Neenah area coming in ninth. Our physician prices were 27% above the national average. With numbers like that, you’d think any proposal to lower health care costs would get sustained, serious reporting and editorial endorsements.

As a member of the Oshkosh Common Council, I can tell you that health care costs continue to eat up larger shares of local tax dollars. Our preliminary 2008 budget shows a 19% increase in health insurance rates, a staggering amount in an era of ever decreasing financial assistance from Madison. If for no other reason than to help keep local taxes under control, Fox Valley media should have done much more to keep Healthy Wisconsin alive.

Without a healthy media, we’re not likely to have a healthy Wisconsin.

Tony Palmeri ( is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh and holds a seat on the Oshkosh Common Council.