Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Censored in 2008, Part I

Yes, what everyone has been waiting for. This piece will appear in the January 2009 edition of The Scene.

Censored in 2008, Part 1

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

Every year since 1976 Sonoma State University's Project Censored has identified news stories "underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored in the United States." Censored 2009 (Seven Stories Press) identifies the blackout of a true casualty count in Iraq (independent sources estimate that as many as 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 US invasion) as the top censored story of 2008. A summary of Project Censored’s top censored stories of the year can be found here.

Inspired by Project Censored, every year I dedicate two columns to the top ten stories that were in my judgment censored by the local corporate media. As long as corporate media remain the most watched, read, and listened to sources of information, we need to demand more ethical and thorough coverage of issues.

And now the censored stories:

No. 10: Journal Communication Laps For Lazich. This censored item was suggested by Oshkosh blogger The Chief. Journal Communications owns the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, smaller community newspapers, and a horde of radio and television stations. They also run websites serving the Milwaukee ‘burbs. One of them, FranklinNow, offers free blog space (called “Community Voices”) to state senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and her legislative aide Kevin Fischer. A glance at the blogs reveals that Lazich and Fischer don’t hesitate to use the space to launch partisan attacks against Jim Doyle and legislative Democrats. The Chief argues that Journal Communications is essentially providing Lazich with a “free permanent online advertisement,” and wonders if there might be a violation of campaign finance law involved. Now there’s something a less lap doggy media would be looking into.

No. 9: Isn’t Anyone Against TIF? In October the Oshkosh Common Council approved the use of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for a retail Shopko development on the city’s north side. The use of TIF for big-box retail development is controversial even among those generally in support of taxpayer financing of private development, yet you would never know that from reading the Valley’s corporate press. Oshkosh is now in the odd position of using TIF for a neighborhood big-box at the same time all reliable forecasts show that retail is headed for its worst slump in history. A rigorous press would have educated the public and the City Council about the consequences of going down that road.

No. 8: Keeping the Key Hidden. In late April Oshkosh Mayor Frank Tower and then acting City Manager John Fitzpatrick decided it would be a good idea to award a “Key to the City” to Mark Har, the location scout instrumental in getting Johnny Depp’s “Public Enemies” filmed partially in ‘Kosh. Har was crowned at a private event, somewhat strange given that the entire purpose of awarding a Key to the City is to provide an individual with public recognition. I personally only knew about it because a citizen found out from a friend in attendance at the celebration and asked me if the City Council was aware of it. Har was at least more deserving of the honor than Jack Pelton, the CESSNA CEO who received a Key in spite of buying two “degrees” from a diploma mill. Corporate press indifference to these events really does make Oshkosh look like a backwater.

No. 7: ALEC’s Wisconsin Pull: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 by ultra conservative Paul Weyrich. It’s membership consists of over 2.400 state legislators from both political parties. ALEC drafts “model legislation” that frequently gains high visibility and succeeds in framing state issue debates. Environmental groups have called ALEC a "tax-exempt screen for major U.S. corporations and trade associations that use it to influence legislative activities at the state level." The National Resources Defense Council says that companies "like Enron, Amoco, Chevron, Shell, Texaco, Coors Brewing, Koch Industries, Nationwide Insurance, Pfizer, National Energy Group, Philip Morris, and R. J. Reynolds pay for essentially all of ALEC's expenses".

In January, long-time telecom analyst Bruck Kushnik identified Wisconsin as “a classic example of how ALEC operates.” Kushnik revealed how four “AT&T friendly” bills made their way through the Wisconsin legislature, each bill virtually identical to ALEC’s “model” legislation. Writes Kushnik, “In Wisconsin as elsewhere, corporations write laws and control the public agenda to a great extent through a well-entrenched group of legislators and corporate money.”

Reform organizations like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and have been writing about ALEC’s pull for some time, but the corporate press remains largely silent. Absent a hard hitting mainstream press, ALEC can be expected to rule Wisconsin indefinitely.

No 6: Silencing the Winter Soldiers. In March a gathering of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans met in Silver Spring, MD to offer public testimony about war crimes they had participated in or observed. These “Winter Soldiers” showed great courage and honor in coming forward. Writing for the March Scene, I asked: “Will the press finally take its watchdog responsibility seriously and provide anti-war dissent with the space necessary to allow Americans to make informed judgments about the war?” Not surprisingly, the answer was a resounding NO. The Winter Soldiers were silenced nationally and locally. How sad.

Next Month: The Top 5 Censored Stories of 2008.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Status of Single Stream Recycling/Automated Collection

Below is a memo from Director of Public Works David Patek to City Manger Mark Rohloff. It was included in the packet of material received by Councilors on Friday.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tuesday Common Council Agenda

The Oshkosh Common Council will have its final meeting of 2008 on Tuesday, December 23rd at noon. The agenda can be found here. A couple of items of note:

*Under "Council Member Announcements, Statements, and Discussion" I asked that a discussion item be listed:

"Single-Stream Recycling and Automated Pick-Up: What Decisions Have Been Made and What Decisions Still Need to be Made?"

I asked for this item to be placed on the agenda because we are getting many phones calls and other communications against single-stream recycling, with people asking if this is a "done deal." I'm hoping that staff can simply provide some focus to this discussion so that we can at least head into 2009 with clarity about where the issue(s) are headed. If you have questions about this matter that you think need to be answered, please let me know those questions before Tuesday's meeting.

*At the last meeting we laid over approval of the 2009 Summer Farmer's Market so that alternatives to the City Hall parking lot location could first be discussed. If you believe the Farmer's Market should be at the Leach amphitheater or some other place, please let the Council know that before Tuesday's meeting. Go here to email all members of the Council.

*Ordinance 08-503 will have its first reading on Tuesday. This ordinance is the "Approval of Variance to Deer Feeding Ban & Firearm Discharge Ordinances/Culling of Urban Deer/Osborn Ave. Area." I'm sure most of you saw Ms. Amy Haberkorn's letter to the Northwestern, in which she says that an email to the Council ended up getting her a phone call from police chief Scott Greuel. She says that she will show the email to anyone who wants to see it, so I will just reproduce it here:

Dear Council Members,

Two days before leaving on an extended vacation, I sat and watched the city council meeting with great sadness. I was so surprised to see you, the council who is put in place to do what's best for our city, make such an ignorant decision regarding the killing of the deer in the quarry area. Only one of you, Tony Palmeri, brought up any valid questions. Why would we make a decision like this based on the complaints of 25% of the people polled? More importantly, why wasn't this question posed to the rest of the city?? Since when does 25% rule? Regardless, I vowed that when I returned from vacation I would try to do something to change your minds.

You see, I live on nearly four heavily wooded acres. My neighbors each have between three and four heavily wooded acres and we're surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods and fields. It is no exaggeration to say that every single day I see no less than 12 deer in my yard. One morning we awoke to find 32 deer laying on our mound system. The fact that we live in a heavily wooded area would go to reason that we would have a large deer population. But, what's remarkable is that my yard is surrounded by approximately 12,000 square feet of gardens. I have hosta and cone flowers of every variety (a deer favorite), impatiens by the basketful and planted in mounds on the ground. Impatiens are like dessert to deer. Along with these I have hundreds of varieties of flowering plants and shrubs and yet, the deer and rabbits cause my beds no harm. That mound system that the deer sleep on is less than 10 feet behind the largest flower bed I have. I have a bird bath in that flower bed that the deer often use for water and yet, they don't try to eat any of my flowers. You see, I've concocted a spray that was derived from a recipe that's been out there for years. I just tweaked it a bit. It is made in my kitchen in less than 5 minutes, costs pennies, is so safe you can drink it (although I wouldn't advise that) and I can spray my entire garden area in less than 15 minutes. I believe that the people who have complaints about damage haven't tryed hard enough to live with the deer. What about the rabbits? When the deer are gone are you going to hire sharp shooters to kill the bunnies? Rabbits can and will do as much damage as deer. It is such a beautiful thing to have both your yard and the wild life that lives within it. I've attached two photos. One is from July and the other is from August 14th as we were setting up a garden brunch the day after my daughters wedding. Not one minute did I worry that the deer would damage those beds before the brunch.

So, there I was, trying to enjoy my vacation but this was weighing so heavily on my mind that I decided to get to work right from Florida. I've contacted several animal rights organizations and it's our intention, along with many citizens of this county, to have a huge, very public presence the day of the killings. I have at least 100 people that I know will be there and that's before I put out a public invitation to join us. I believe that will number in the thousands. Please keep in mind that I am not a anti-hunter. Personally, I could never shoot a deer but I was raised in a deer hunting family and venison was a staple at the dinner table. I can understand the need to thin a herd for the well-being of the deer. I can see why, during the harsh winter months when food is scarce, it would be necessary to hunt rather than have the deer starve to death. This kill, however, has nothing to do with the well-being of the deer. It has to do with protecting Mr. and Mrs. Jones' tulips. That is no reason to kill an animal.

The argument made about the deer-car accidents may be a valid one but, if that is a main point, we'd need to kill deer along all major roads. What about the dump? You see deer there by the dozens and there is always dead deer along hwy 41. I live by Hwy 45 & cty S...accidents all the time. Hwy's 91, 44, see where this is going, don't you? The fact is that we live in an area surrounded by deer and we choose that as a life style rather than a concrete jungle. The majority of us would never trade beautiful Winnebago County for New York City. But along with that comes the deer population.

I believe that this deer kill will be an embarrassment on the city and we certainly don't need any more of those. When I write my Letter to the Editor with an invitation to our citizens to join ranks in the prevention of this unnecessary kill, it'll be important to let them know that Mark Schultz of Glacier Ridge and who is contacted by the police department weekly to assist with injured, sick or dead animals, has offered to come tranquilize the deer and transport them to an area in Pickett. Neither the DNR or you, our city council, bothered to mention that at the council meeting. I'm sure the public will wonder why this much more humane alternative wasn't considered. Also, the cost of this option would be far less expensive than the sharp shooters.

I would welcome a call from any one of you. I would love to volunteer my time to the residents affected by the deer and offer up the spray that has worked magically for me and my neighbors for twelve years. If the affected residents complaints are valid and their only problem is with the deer (and rabbits) eating their vegetation, I'd think they'd be thrilled to know that they can have the best of both worlds. They can live with the deer and still enjoy their yards.


Amy Haberkorn

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Anniversary to the Bill of Rights

On December 15, 1791 the US Bill of Rights formally took effect as a result of being ratified by three-fourths of the states. Here's to all the bloggers who responsibly uphold the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Feet The Press

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday's Meeting

First, did anyone notice this puzzling editorial in the Tuesday Northwestern? The editorial questions the appropriateness of the City hiring a new Communication Coordinator while not funding a Victim/Witness Coordinator in the Police Department. Puzzling, because it's not clear why an editorial like this would appear AFTER the City Council had extensive deliberations and a vote on the budget. The editorial might have had some impact before the budget adoption.

For the record, I tried to amend the budget to eliminate the Purchasing Agent position via attrition and thus eliminate also the new Communication Coordinator position. I didn't call for using the funds from the Purchasing Agent position to fund the Victim/Witness Coordinator, but certainly would have been open to such a suggestion. Only McHugh and Esslinger supported my amendment. Perhaps some proactive editorializing could have swung another vote.

As for Tuesday's Council meeting, we had three issues worth a summary here:

*First, Mr. Bain proposed tabling approval of another season for the Farmer's Market (FM) until representatives of FM and Parks discuss with the Council the possibilities of possibly moving the event from the City Hall parking lot to the Leach Amphitheater. The tabling passed 5-2 (Frank Tower and Dennis McHugh voting no). FM vendors apparently want to stay in the parking lot, which benefits me personally (I live literally a minute away from City Hall), but I really think the event and city would flourish at the Leach or another location like Main St. (Appleton's College Ave. Farmer's Market is one of the most lively and fun in the state; I've never understood why we couldn't close down our Main St. for the same purpose and for the same excitement.).

If I had to predict, I'd say the FM will be staying in the City Hall parking lot for at least the next year and probably much longer, but kudos to Mr. Bain for keeping this important discussion going.

*Second, we raised the bus rates according to the recommendation of the Transit Advisory Board. The Board did recommend that 4 of the rates (for rides mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act and servicing low income people) not be raised at this time, and we took that advice. The Transportation Director wanted even those rates raised, claiming that the transit budget might end up another $42,000 short without it. I argued that the 2009 budget was based on a diesel fuel per gallon rate on $4.50, which is much higher than what the actually price will be in 2009. I cited a Department of Energy press release:

The average U.S. prices for regular-grade gasoline and diesel fuel, at $1.70 and $2.52 per gallon respectively on December 8, were both more than $2 per gallon below their highs in mid-July. With the assumption of a fragile economy throughout 2009, along with lower projected crude oil prices, annual average retail gasoline and diesel fuel prices in 2009 are projected to be $2.03 and $2.47 per gallon, respectively.

I also argued that if we find ourselves truly in need of $42,000, then maybe administration could rethink the Communication Coordinator position, which is being budgeted for $41,0000 - $53,000.

*Finally, we were asked to cover operational and maintenance costs (including electrical costs) for the Main St. LED lights donated to the city by Progress Oshkosh. From what I understood from the discussion, Progress Oshkosh had originally committed to cover these costs (which they argued could be as little as $300 per year), but have not been able to raise funds for that purpose even though they were able to raise over $50,000 for the project. By a 4-3 vote (both Towers, Bain, and King voting in the affirmative), the Council approved paying the operational costs. The 4 believed that in paying the costs, the project becomes a true "public private partnership," and will provide us with lights that improve the appearance and image of the city.

I did not speak on this issue, but thought that Esslinger and McHugh made stronger arguments against it. They said that the city would probably have to rent out a barge every time a light needs to be fixed. No one refuted that claim, and it was not clear how much additional that would cost. They also argued the City, a few years ago, shut off many street lights to save costs. How ironic that people who had their lights shut off would then have to support with taxes the powering up of another set of lights. McHugh also made the point that Progress Oshkosh had originally pledged to fund the entire project, and we should hold them to that.

I can see the arguments for both sides, and I applaud Progres Oshkosh's heroic efforts to help beautify the City. But I just couldn't understand why a group that has already raised $50,000 for a project could not find another $300. Heck, we could probably request the Farmer's Market to set up a special booth for bridge funding. Perhaps people could be given some free tomatoes or asparagus spears if they make a contribution to the bridge. I mean if we truly only need $300, it could probably be raised on one Saturday at the FM. Just a thought.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Citizens Asked To Help City Of Oshkosh During Snow Removal

A press release from City Manager Mark Rohloff's office:

In anticipation of the heavy snowfall expected from late Monday, December 8th through Tuesday, December

9th, the City of Oshkosh is asking residents for help. City Manager Mark Rohloff is asking residents to voluntarily remove their vehicles from city streets from Monday evening, December 8th, through Wednesday, December 10th. This voluntary removal will enable city snowplows to more efficiently and easily clean city streets.

"Until we know the extent of this snow event, we would appreciate it if vehicles could be moved from city streets", said City Manager Mark Rohloff. "This cooperation will facilitate snow removal, and allow public safety vehicles easier access in emergencies."

Residents and businesses are also reminded that no one may move any snow into city streets and the right-of-way. "Aside from the fact that pushing snow onto the street is against city code, it also makes it more dfficult for our snowplow drivers to remove snow and ice from city streets", said Rohloff.

For more information or questions, please contact the City Manager's Office at 236-5000.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yes, I Am Running Again

If the voters bring me back, I would be honored to serve another term on the Oshkosh Common Council. If there are enough candidates, a primary will be held on February 17, 2009. The general election will be held on April 7th (which also happens to by my older brother Frank's 50th birthday).

Two years ago the message of the Palmeri for Oshkosh campaign was this: "City government at all levels must be held to higher standards of performance and accountability." I would argue that we have made some progress in that direction, but there's a long, long way to go.

If you are a supporter and interested in helping the campaign, please email me at or give me a call at 920-235-1116.

As was the case two years ago, I will neither raise nor spend more than $1,000. As a result, and especially if big money candidates get in the race, the only way to win another term will be with grassroots support.