Northeast Wisconsin's Iron Triangle

Media Rants By Tony Palmeri

From the August, 2003 edition of The Valley Scene

After serving two terms as Titletown's top dog, former Green Bay Mayor Paul Jadin recently became president of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. Gannett's Green Bay Press Gazzette praised Jadin's move to the chamber, claiming that he is "well-equipped" to mend the "strained" relations between the chamber and local government.

Gannett's editorializing about Jadin's ascension to the chamber throne had it all wrong. The problem in Green Bay and the rest of northeast Wisconsin is not strained relationships between local chambers and local governments. Rather, local chambers and local governments are far too close, resulting in misuse of public resources, sweetheart deals for big business, and the shaft for small businesses and hardworking taxpayers. Government and the chamber can get away with this in large part because of an uncritical mainstream media that serves as a mouthpiece for big-business interests.

Like many regions across the country, northeast Wisconsin is beset by an Iron Triangle of government, big business, and establishment media (itself a big business) that subverts sound public policy in the interest of elite developers and well-connected insiders. Some examples:

The Iron Triangle grants the Experimental Aircraft Association unlimited and uncritical assistance and praise without even requiring the corporation to be honest about its attendance calculations and economic impact, neither of which are as great as EAA proponents insist.

The Iron Triangle has allowed the paper industry to drag its feet on cleaning up the Fox River for more than 30 years. Worse, the Iron Triangle aids and abets industry attempts to scare the populace into believing that if the polluters must pay to clean up their mess, they will leave the region.

The Iron Triangle provides cover for the "Wal-Martization" of the northeast Wisconsin economy by portraying corporate greed, rezoning space for the benefit of big retailers, and poor urban planning as the work of "natural market forces."

The Iron Triangle preaches a never ending sermon about the virtues of tax incremental financing, big business tax breaks, and other "growth and development" measures even though there exists not one shred of evidence that any such measures have actually benefited the regional economy. Indeed, a much stronger case can be made that Wisconsin's economy has been in steady decline ever since the emergence of such measures in the 1970s.

The Iron Triangle gives lip service to the needs of working people at the same time elected officials rarely if ever join strikers on a picket line, labor voices are virtually silenced in media, and local chambers support "competitiveness" measures that encourage industry to leave.

A particularly shameful Iron Triangle performance occurred just this past June. The Boeing Corporation, the cruise missile producer that regularly employs former government employees as lobbyists, announced it was looking for suitable sites to build 7E7 commercial jets. Northeast Wisconsin government officials, chamber representatives, and editorial writers virtually tripped over themselves in sucking up to Boeing and literally begging them to set up shop here.

Somehow the Iron Triangle did not think it important to inform us that through Capitol Hill influence peddling of the worst kind, Boeing earlier this year managed to land billions of taxpayer dollars for leasing B-767s to be used as military tankers. Republican Senator John McCain estimated the cost of lease deal was more than five times the cost of outright purchase. Moreover, a respected Pentagon watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight has found that since 1990:

*Boeing placed defective gears in Chinook helicopters;
*Company officials offered bribes to members of the Bahamas government as a means of securing a contract;
*Produced a defective safety system for the Apache helicopter;
*Misrepresented the progress of cleanup at Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site;
*Routinely misstated labor costs and exaggerated overhead costs.

These and other transgressions were summarized in the June 2003 issue of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's Counterpunch magazine. The authors also revealed that the Inspector General of the Air Force is currently investigating Boeing. They write, "The probe stems from allegations that Boeing executives received proprietary information from Lockheed concerning bids on Pentagon contracts." Should the allegations prove to be true, Boeing could be debarred from bidding on federal government contracts.

That northeast Wisconsin's Iron Triangle expressed not a peep of concern about Boeing's alleged and real acts of malfeasance is detestable. Government, local chambers, and the press are ethically obligated to help citizens make informed decisions about what industries to let into their communities. In the case of the Boeing recruitment drive, the Iron Triangle once again placed the needs of a big corporation above their responsibilities to citizens.

Legendary publisher Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) argued that the press should uphold some cardinal principles which would include, "always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty."

Unfortunately, northeast Wisconsin's Iron Triangle is devoted to a different set of cardinal principles that are not exactly Pulitzer Prize worthy.

Tony Palmeri is an Associate Professor of Communication at UW Oshkosh.