Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Miller's Bay Pier Construction Starts Today (4/30)

And at least one group of city residents is very pleased (click image):

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What the Wright Flap Is Really About

Jon Stewart gets it:

So does Andrew Sullivan:

Obama is a freshman senator; he is 46 years old; he is African-American; he is a liberal - even if he is very gifted in talking to conservatives. He has taken on the biggest brand and machine in American politics, the Clintons, and won. If you didn't think this would be an uphill struggle, you've been deluded. Of course, race will not go away; it will come back again and again and again. Of course, generational resistance will not go away: Obama is a big leap for the over 50s for all sorts of reasons. Of course, the usual Rovian tactics will be used against him - brutally. He does represent real change - culturally, politically, and in terms of global politics. Politicians who represent real change do not win easily; they usually require a real crisis to rise. That's how RFK and MLK emerged - in crisis, after being smeared (sometimes with a grain of truth) and finally assassinated. That's how Reagan and Thatcher emerged. We forget how their chances were considered flimsy for so long.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Not A Very Bright Light

Lori and I attended a private screening of the new Martin Scorsese directed Rolling Stones rockumentary "Shine a Light" on Friday night at the Marcus Hollywood movie theater in Appleton. Oh, we didn't know it was going to be a private screening but--and I'm not making this up--at the 9:30 p.m. show we were literally the only two people in attendance. I realize the Stones ceased being a serious band a long time ago (1976's Black and Blue is the last great record, IMHO), but especially given that the film is still pretty new I thought we'd see at least some aging boomers or their curious kids. Nobody.

You'd think that pairing a legendary rock band with a legendary film director would produce something memorable. Not so in this case. It pains me to say that "Shine a Light" is a mostly awful film and quite possibly Scorsese's worst effort ever. The problem is Mick Jagger: now in his 60s, he insists on looking, singing, and dancing around like he's still 25; it's almost like a "Rolling Stones Mania" tribute to the 1960s and 70s band in which Mick Jagger gets to the play the first Mick Jagger impersonator.

Worse, the Stones for some reason cling to racey songs like "Some Girls" and "She was Hot" that might have made them appear macho to some people 30 years ago, but now emit a dirty-old-pervert persona. It's kind of disgusting. Thankfully, Mick's on-stage flirtation with Christina Aguilera during "Live With Me" was mercifully brief.

There are two highlights in the film that almost make it worthwhile. Blues legend Buddy Guy joins the Stones for an exuberant cover of Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer." The early Rolling Stones (1963-1965) played blues almost exclusively; I never cared too much for that early stuff because it imitated the blues greats like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters to the point of sounding like karaoke. How ironic that the when the Stones are now at the age when they have the experience to play some authentic blues, they choose instead to relegate themselves to the role of museum pieces playing popular tunes of yesteryear.

The other excellent part of the film is Keith Richards singing "You Got The Silver" (a genuine Stones classic) with Ronnie Wood on slide guitar. Mick is off stage during that performance, a fact which I found to be oddly soothing.

Before "Shine A Light," the Stones' most noteworthy film was the 1970s documentary "Gimme Shelter." Back then a filmmaker could suggest, as the makers of Gimme Shelter did, that the Stones' cutting edge rock-and-roll had the power to provoke chaos and define the end of the Woodstock era. Today, Scorsese's film suggests that the Stones can . . . still stand?

I just found out that K.T. Tunstall is coming to Milwaukee in August. She's an example of someone with the authenticity and rock spirit that Scorcese--unintentionally I think--displays the demise of in reference to the Stones.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Chamber Purchase: NOT a Backup Plan

By now all readers of this blog have heard that the Akcess Aquisition Group's proposed office building is in trouble. The most troubling part of the Northwestern story, for me, was this:

". . . Chamber officials have contacted several councilors about reviving a resolution authorizing the city to acquire the Chamber building as part of a plan to realign Marion Road."

For the record, I was not one of the councilors contacted. The story indicates that Mayor Tower met with Chamber representatives, while Councilor King says that Akcess' Tim Rikkers called and she was not able to schedule a meeting with the Chamber's John Casper.

No other councilors are mentioned in the story, yet Frank Tower apparently told the paper that "several other councilors" had discussions with Chamber representatives similar to his. Meanwhile John Casper "confirmed that he has talked with several councilors this year about reopening negotiations with the Chamber."

In the spirit of open government, I hope the "several councilors" who have had conversations with Chamber representatives and/or Mr. Rikkers will reveal their identities to the public as well as the contents of those conversations. Given that such behind-the-scenes conversations took place, any attempt to revive the resolution to buy the Chamber building will be more difficult than was already the case.

The Oshkosh Northwestern editorialists got it right in criticizing the attempt to revive the buy the Chamber building resolution as "ill-advised," though it's not clear why the self-proclaimed advocates of openness and transparency on the editorial board are not upset with the behind-the-scenes conversations cooking up this deal. Perhaps they will be upset if it turns out that Mr. Esslinger or Mr. McHugh were one of the councilors contacted by Rikkers or the Chamber.

Mr. Rikkers of Akcess submitted a near 500-word response to the Northwestern editorial (forwarded to each member of the Council) that he hoped to have published on Sunday. The paper had apparently already gone to press before the letter arrived, but will publish it sometime this week. In it, Rikkers expresses surprise and disappointment at the editorial and says that "In my experience, negativity only drives a project further away from reality."

Rikkers claims, in contrast to the Northwestern editorial, that the Chamber and other organizations have been "excellent resources" in the effort to try and secure tenants. The Chamber's motivation for wanting city taxpayers to purchase their building to finance a move to fancier digs is not "avarice," but the fact that "they recognize the importance of contributing to growth in their community and they realize the critical role they can play in making a key Oshkosh redevelopment project a success."

Last December I called for discussion of a Waterfront Backup Plan when it became clear that Akcess was not going to be able to deliver, at least not within a reasonable time frame, on what they had proposed. My call was rejected by Mr. Kinney, Mr. Fitzpatrick, the majority of the Council, and much of the local media. Akcess now acknowledges that the project is in serious trouble. Can we NOW have a discussion of backup plans? Ya think?

Let me be clear: Buying the Chamber building, a proposal that was defeated 7-0 last year, is NOT a backup plan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Northwestern Credits Blog

On April 20th this blog reported on citizen Russ Meerdink's discovery that the EAA has not been paying for traffic services provided by the Winnebago County Sheriff's Department and that Sheriff Brooks will begin billing this year.

Northwestern reporter Crystal Lindell called me yesterday, looking for my opinion on the matter. I said that my opinion was stated on my blog, which the Northwestern should properly give credit to as the source of the story. She said she would have to talk to her editor about that.

The Oshkosh Northwestern reported the story today and, thankfully, has this statement: "The change in policy for the billing was first reported on Oshkosh Common Councilor Tony Palmeri's blog earlier this week."

The issue of mainstream media not giving credit to blogs is a serious one that has been widely discussed. I like the way blogger Josh Marshall framed the issue in 2006:

Writing up or following up on a story and not crediting the news organiztion that first reported it is not a journalistic felony. It's more on the order of a misdemeanor or moving violation. But it is a breach. And mainstream news outlets, a few of which I've actually written for, don't seem to think it applies to blogs that are doing original reporting . . . Conventional news outlets frequently chide blogs for not doing any original reporting but rather feeding off the original reporting of the mainstream media. In many cases, the criticism is merited. But if that is the criticism it behooves every mainstream media outlet to enforce their own standing policies and not allow reporters to rip off blog writers who are doing original reporting.

Gannett's own code of ethics would seem to demand giving credit to sources of news, be they blogs or others:

"We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news."

Congrats to the Northwestern for upholding that principle in this case.

Few local bloggers, myself included, have the resources or the time necessary to do much original reporting. But on those occasions when original reporting does appear, it deserves to be given credit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

And please check out some great UW Oshkosh events happening this week.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

EAA: More Taxpayer Fleecing Discovered

Last year T2T reported that a 1986 waiver granted by then Oshkosh city manager Bill Freuh resulted in the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) not paying sewage treatment fees. While all other special events paid the fee, EAA in 2007 was able to get taxpayers to pony up $10,758. Thanks to the efforts of councilor Paul Esslinger, EAA in 2008 will finally start reimbursing the city for sewage treatment.

The self-proclaimed advocates of openness and transparency, the Oshkosh Northwestern, refused to report on or get outraged by the special treatment shown to one of their major clients. (Notice how the Northwestern can "report" on "Hops & Props" at the same time being listed as one of the event's sponsors on the EAA website.).

But it gets worse. At the Jul7 27, 2007 meeting of the Winnebago County Board Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, Sheriff Mike Brooks reported that the total cost of covering 43 special events in 2006 was $184,586.27. Total reimbursement from all the events came to $141,476.75. Total amount not billed/reimbursed came to $43,109.52, of which $40,758.85 was from EAA.

Sheriff Brooks told the Committee EAA was not billed due to the agreement/contract between Winnebago County and EAA. In other words, Brooks was under the impression that the County's lease with EAA included a provision waiving them from paying fees for traffic services. The minutes indicate that Oshkosh Northwestern reporter Jennifer Woldt was at the meeting, yet no attempt was made to verify Brooks' comments.

We now know that Brooks was in error. In an April 1, 2008 letter to Russ Meerdink of Meerdink & Associates, Inc. (given to T2T by Mr. Meerdink), the Sheriff says this:

As you will note, traffic services are not included in the current contract. At the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting, I had advised my committee that it was my understanding that traffic services were [emphasis in Brooks' letter] covered in the contract and that I would research this issue.

In early September of 2007, I had a conversation with the Head Security of EAA and informed him that I was unclear as to why previous sheriffs, including me, had provided this service without billing the EAA. I further informed him that we would be billing the EAA for this service effective in 2008.

We do not yet know for how many years the EAA has been erroneously exempted from paying the fee for Sheriff Department services. Chances are that county taxpayers have been fleeced for hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum.

What's needed at this point is a complete investigation of the Winnebago County/EAA lease to find out if the proper amount of rent and other payments owed to the county have been made over the years. Regardless of what benefits EAA brings to the region, principles of transparency and openness require that a full investigation be done immediately. The Oshkosh Northwestern clearly has no intention of pursuing transparency when a story involves a client (at least not when the client is EAA), so it will be left for independent media to find the truth.

Friday, April 18, 2008

News and Advertising at Gannett

From a Louis Hau essay on called "Newspapers confront the enemy within":

Like it or not, the newspaper industry's increasingly grim financial outlook leaves editors with little choice but to work across the aisle. During a recent meeting at the Des Moines Register to discuss ways of revamping the paper's online local business directory, an editorial staffer asked why the newsroom was involved in a project that was so clearly aimed at generating more advertising, Register Editor Carolyn Washburn says. Washburn's response?

"This isn't a news story, but it's content and we know how to organize it better than anyone,'' she recalled saying.

Washburn says cooperation between the news and advertising staff at the Gannett (nyse: GCI - news - people )newspaper now runs far deeper than in the past. For instance, before key state high school sports tournaments get under way, the paper's sports editor confers with advertising to determine what they can do together.

"It wouldn't have happened 10 years ago,'' Washburn says. "Five years ago, it wouldn't have happened."

Hat Tip: Jim Romenesko

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cost of Spring yard clean up ad

The ad below will run twice in the Oshkosh Northwestern. For that privilege, Gannett collects $815 of taxpayer money.
The City of Oshkosh will be collecting yard waste starting April 21st and continuing through May 9th, 2008. Material must be placed only in PAPER BIODEGRADABLE BAGS. No other containers or bags will be collected. Bags must be out for collection by 7:00 a.m. on the normal solid waste collection day. Brush that has a diameter of less than three (3) inches will also be collected during this period. Brush should be tied in bundles not to exceed four (4) feet in length or fifty (50) pounds in weight.

Residents may also take yard waste and brush to the City Garage drop-off facility located on Idaho Street just south of Witzel Avenue. Note: A PERMIT IS REQUIRED TO ACCESS THE DROP-OFF FACILITY. The hours of operation are Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday or Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The yard waste drop-off facility is closed on holidays. Please empty all bags and containers at the drop-off facility. For more information, call (920) 232-5383 or (920) 232-5380, Monday through Friday, between 7:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Why no fierce bid competition in Oshkosh?

From today's Fond du Lac Reporter:

Fond du Lac Public Works Director Mark Lentz said the city — and ultimately, the taxpayers — will save millions of dollars on construction costs this year as a result of fierce competition for municipal projects.

Bids for public works contracts have come in far below city estimates. The city's radium removal project is one example, Lentz said.

The city expected to pay about $41 million to build new water treatment facilities and upgrade equipment to meet mandates from the Environmental Protection Agency. But bids on all seven of the project's contracts came in below the estimates of city staff. The savings came out to be about $8.9 million, Lentz said.

"Contractors are a little more hungry, so they are being more aggressive," he said. "We are seeing significant reductions that are very favorable to the taxpayer."

So how come just a few miles up the road in Oshkosh, bids for the convention center came in about a million bucks over the projected costs?

It's one of those things that make you go "hmmm . . ."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Waste Hotline + Budget Committee

The Legislative Audit Bureau now provides citizens with an opportunity to report fraud, waste, or mismanagement involving state resources. The LAB provides a form or we can call:

1-877-FRAUD-17 or 1-877-372-8317 (toll free)

I agree with Mike McCabe, who says that "Maybe the first phone or Web tip should be about the Legislature."

Locally, at next Tuesday's Common Council organizational meeting I am going to once again bring up the topic of creating a citizen led Budget Committee. Such a committee would be very helpful in identifying possible waste in local government. If you agree, please contact the Council and let us know that you support the creation of such a committee.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Government on the Cheap?

I ended up voting against increasing the council/mayor stipends last night not because I don't think an increase is needed, but because all signs are pointing toward a budget crisis. With the acting city manager acknowledging that departmental budget cuts are a probability, to me it just didn't make sense to vote the politicians a raise until we see just exactly what the budget numbers will look like. I moved to table the motion to increase until our budget hearings later in the year. The tabling motion failed. The motion to increase the stipend passed on a 4-3 vote (King, Esslinger, Palmeri voting no).

One thing bothering me about the stipend discussion over the last few weeks has been the impression left in the minds of people that somehow Oshkosh is getting government on the cheap because our $2,400 stipend is the lowest on the list provided by Burk Tower. I did some thinking about that list over the last couple of weeks, and as I pointed out last night, it's misleading because it does not include the cost of executive level leadership in each city.

Here's what I mean: as a result of the vote last night, Oshkosh in 2009 will expend $28,500 for councilor stipends ($3,750 for 6 councilors + $6,000 for the mayor). However, the new city manager will probably make $130,0000 per year. That makes Oshkosh's combined council/executive total $158,500.

Now compare that with the city of Menasha. They pay 8 councilors $5,190 + $5,490 for their council president (the equivalent of Oshkosh's elected mayor) for a total of $47,010. However, their chief executive, a full-time mayor, makes $64,000. That means Menasha's combined council/executive compensation is $111,000.

Or how about Lacrosse? They pay 17 councilors $2,400 with each allowed $1,500 for expenses. Let's assume all 17 take the entire $1,500. That adds up to $66,300 in council compensation. But the LaCrosse executive, also a full-time mayor, makes $70,000. That means LaCrosse's combined council/executive compensation is $136,300.

How about Neenah? They pay 8 councilors $3,600 + $3,650 for the council president for a total of $32,450. The chief executive (also a full-time mayor) makes $75,620. That means Neenah's combined council/executive compensation is $108,070.

Acting city manager John Fitzpatrick tried to argue that these comparisons are unfair because many full-time mayor cities also have full-time administrators and so they end up spending more than Oshkosh. Maybe true, but irrelevant; few of the cities on Mr. Tower's list have full-time administrators along with full-time mayors.

Here's something else the full-time mayor cities don't have:
*Payouts for a retiring city manager.
*Legal fees associated with the manager position.
*Executive search firm fees.
*Fees associated with interviewing manager candidates.
*Buyout provisions in the manager's contract.

Menasha just changed their executive level leadership for the first time in 20 years and the only cost was the cost of an election. No buy out, no legal fees, no search firms, no major hike in salary to attract good candidates. Only the cost of an election.

My point here is that while it is true that a stipend increase for the Oshkosh common council and mayor is warranted, it is not fair to even hint that we are somehow getting government on the cheap in comparison with other cities in the state. We aren't. When taking into consideration the combined compensation of the council/executive branches, and when looking at all of the costs associated with the manager position, we are actually spending more on government than most cities.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Dylan Wins A Pulitzer Prize

Bob Dylan won a special Pulitzer Prize today for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." I wonder if that includes his Victoria's Secret ad.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV

The best short essay I've ever seen on Martin Luther King, Jr. is Jeff Cohen's and Norman Solomon's (1995) "The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV." On this 40th anniversary of King's death, you can find it here.

Five years ago I wrote a Media Rant that included a short summary of King's visit to the Fox Valley in 1967. Excerpt:
The Oshkosh Northwestern of Thursday, May 11, 1967 printed a brief announcement headlined "Broadcasts Set For King Talk." King would speak the next evening at 8:15 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin Fox Valley Center in Menasha. Radio stations WHBY in Appleton and WMKC in Oshkosh planned to broadcast the speech (entitled "The Future of Integration") live. Lawrence University's campus radio station WLFM planned to tape the speech for a Sunday broadcast. The announcement said King would speak also at the UW Marathon County Center in Wausau.

The May 12 Northwestern carried an item headlined "Large Crowd Expected For King Speech." UW Center English professor and event organizer David Price said that over 600 mostly students and faculty were expected to attend. Thirty-five Menasha police officers were assigned to the event.

Some time ago one of my undergraduate students named Heather Evert researched King's Menasha speech. She identified individuals in addition to professor Price involved with the planning. Communication professor Ken Anderson handled closed circuit television. Economics professor Val Kopitzke organized a reception. Cliff Miller, former Appleton Post-Crescent Madison Bureau chief, covered King's visit for the Twin City News Record along with his editor John Turinas. Lutheran Pastor Gerald Kissell's church held a reception for King. UW Menasha Campus Dean Jim Perry, who in 1967 was President of the UW Marathon County student government, shared the dais and introduced Dr. King at the Youth Building in Marathon Park. All were moved by the event. Dean Perry told me recently about King's influence: "I'm a firm believer that when people get to know people, be they African-American, Hmong, or Iraqi, Christian, Hindu, Islamic or Atheists, the insanity of war and political strife begins to come tumbling down. Dr. Martin Luther King started me on this path of personal conviction."

The May 13th, 1967 Northwestern carried two stories about the speech, headlined "Racial Injustice Still Negro Burden: King," and "Police 'Cover' King Speech." In an accompanying photo, two young women are carrying signs saying "There's no link between the Vietnam War and Civil Rights" and "King Let Your People Go!!" The Northwestern photo caption said, "Approximately one dozen local high school students marched outside the Fox Valley Center Friday night protesting the anti-war views of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They refused to reveal which school they attend. King barely touched on the subject of Vietnam in his speech." The paper reported expectations of 3 separate demonstrations, but only the one materialized.

The King Center in Atlanta does not have the Menasha speech, nor unfortunately did any of the Valley media keep copies of recordings. I spoke to Cynthia Lewis of the King Center Library and Archives who said that in 1967-68 King delivered "The Future of Integration" often. She sent me a manuscript delivered at Kansas State University in January of 1968. The Northwestern Menasha speech coverage and the Kansas speech indicate that King's main points centered on providing a history of racial injustice in America, a progress report on the accomplishments of the civil rights movement, a debunking of myths that get in the way of creating change, and calls for guaranteed employment and income. The Vietnam War he identified as not only "unjust and ill-considered," but a diversion from our domestic problems.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Barack Lemberger

About a year ago, the Oshkosh Common Council asked representatives of the Oshkosh Area School District to participate in a Council workshop on the District's facilities plan. I asked for the workshop because I thought closing Oshkosh schools would be one of the worst possible things we could do if we were sincerely interested in creating and maintaining strong neighborhoods. I still think that, and so does John Lemberger.

The workshop, unfortunately, did not lead to any meaningful dialogue between school and city officials about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of closing schools. In fact, the majority of political insiders in town agreed that school closures were necessary. Just as the Hillary Clinton backers in the early days of the campaign tried to make her nomination sound inevitable and therefore not worthy of a serious challenge or debate, advocates for school closures did not even seem to take the "keep all schools open" position seriously. The Oshkosh Northwestern, for example, takes it as a given that "some schools will close."

Barack Obama dismantled the air of inevitability surrounding the Clinton campaign. She still might find a way to get the nomination, but not without political crash and burn maneuvers that could easily put John McCain in the White House.

John Lemberger has dismantled the air of inevitability surrounding the issue of school closures. His was the only campaign that clearly, unapologetically, and repeatedly called for keeping all schools open. District bureaucrats and a board majority might still find a way to close schools, but Lemberger's election gives grassroots opponents to closure an official "seat at the table." Getting a referendum passed that includes school closures was already going to be difficult; with Lemberger on the board it's sure not going to get any easier.

Can we repair and keep open all Oshkosh schools? In Obama-ish fashion, John Lemberger's election says, "Yes, We Can."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Baseball Owners and Big Media Strike Out on Decency

The new Scene arrives today. With another season of baseball upon us, Media Rants takes on one of most shameful parts of the modern game: the exploitation of Latino players in the name of owner greed. The Scene version can be found here. A hyperlinked version can be found on my site and below.

Exploiting Latinos: Baseball Owners and Big Media Strike Out on Decency

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

Bart Giamatti, the late Major League Baseball Commissioner famous for banishing Pete Rose from the game, believed that social justice ought to be a concern of management. He said, “on matters of decency, baseball should lead the way.”

Since Giamatti’s death in 1989, decency’s been in a slump. If anything, baseball’s indecency exploits deserve hall of shame induction. Team owners pursue greed agendas with a swagger that rivals Shoeless Joe Jackson. Milwaukee, for example, is only one of many cities victimized by the “build us a new stadium at taxpayer expense or we leave” routine. One of the most sordid national scandals of our time is the ease with which cities of crumbling infrastructures and dilapidated schools can be compelled to take an economic fastball in the teeth for the team. Or more accurately, for the team ownership.

The greed agenda results in lavish “naming rights” deals that diss tradition and turn the act of attending a game into an exercise in having obnoxious advertising thrown right in your face. And while the image of Brian McNamee injecting Roger Clemens’ butt with Human Growth Hormone is enough to make fans throw up their overpriced ballpark hot dogs, let’s not forget that the owners’ greed agenda enabled the players’ juicing regimen.

For its part, big media is like an indecent baseball owner on steroids. If the media titans won’t dedicate the resources necessary to investigate corporate abuses in general, it should hardly be surprising that the specific business of baseball is able to hide some of its major league misdeeds in the bullpen. Case in point: the shameful exploitation of Latino players.

Almost thirty percent of all major league baseball players were born in Latin America, including last year’s American League batting champion Magglio Ordonez (Venezuela). Last year’s Colorado Rockies, an underdog team that won 21 of its last 22 regular season games and almost took the World Series, did it with Latino talent. According to “Where would the Rockies be without starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and closer Manny Corpas? How can you replace the contributions from catcher Yorvit Torrealba and center fielder Willy Taveras in the NLCS? You can't. It's that simple.”

Mostly hidden from the public is the fact that the Rockies, like almost all big league teams, set up exploitative baseball “academies” in Latin America. The Dominican Republic (DR), a third world country of 8.8 million people, provides nearly 10 percent of all major league baseball players and almost 25 percent of minor leaguers. reports that some of the DR academies include the Oakland Athletics’ "Campo Juan Marichal" in La Victoria, one hour north of Santo Domingo; the Chicago Cubs’ "Ciudad de Beisbol" in Boca Chica, east of Santo Domingo; the Dodgers’ Campo Las Palmas; and the Reds’ "Loma del Sueno Liga."

There is nothing “academic” about these academies. They are simply ways for major league clubs to harvest talent on the cheap. Roberto Gonzalez Echevarría, professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Yale and author of a history of Cuban baseball, wrote in the New York Times, “For every Pedro Martinez, there are hundreds of Dominican boys who are cannon fodder -- academies are stocked with young players who even the coaches likely realize have no chance at the big time, but who are needed to fill out rosters.” Youth in these “baseball factories” are sold the dream of stardom, receiving no education or job training while they serve the needs of American baseball owners. The same is true in Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez’ insistence that American teams offer just compensation for ravaging the nation’s youth was met with derision by the owners. The Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and San Diego Padres all left Venezuela before regulations were even put in place.

In mainstream media, most sports reporting has degenerated into a kind of glorified locker room or saloon chatter. Exploitation of Latino players is not something that gets the kind of pointed and sustained coverage and commentary necessary to end the injustice. The best reporting on this travesty is by independent sports journalist Dave Zirin (pronounced Zeye-rin; see his website at His brilliant 2007 book Welcome to the Terrordome (Haymarket Books) includes a stunning chapter on “Beisbol: How the Major Leagues Eat Their Young.” Zirin places the issue in the proper social justice frame: “The question we need to ask is this: Does baseball have a broader responsibility to the Dominican Republic and these ten and eleven-year-old kids who think they have a better chance of emerging from desperately poor conditions with a stick and milk-carton glove than by staying in school? Does a highly profitable organization like Major League Baseball have an obligation to cushion the crash landing that awaits 99.9 percent of DR kids with big league dreams, or the 95 percent of players who are good enough to be chosen by the academy but are summarily discarded with nothing but a kick out of the door?”

We know the answer is “yes.” But given the incestuous relationship of the big leagues and big media, on matters of decency independent media will have to lead the way.

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