Wednesday, February 3, 2016

MANY REASONS TO VOTE FEB. 16 – HERE’S THE BIGGEST

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal

By Dominique Paul Noth


Joe Donald, the best choice for
Wisconsin Supreme Court.
My dream is far more modest than Martin Luther King’s and even less likely of success. It is focused pedestrianly on Wisconsin’s February 16 primary (actually a runoff that brings down to two the  competitors in races April 5 where many more are vying for the nonpartisan office in question).

My dream won’t happen in the statewide contest. It is that common sense will triumph over conservative-liberal gridlock and move forward  to April 5 the only two truly independent and qualified judicial minds for the state’s highest court, ignoring the third appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to hold his coat if he gets into legal trouble. But  I’m not holding my breath for this self-evident truth. In fact, my idea given our current state of politics is ridiculous.

Here’s why common sense won’t  happen. The extremely conservative machine (the one that real conservatives think is on their side though the results clearly aren’t) along with Walker have leaned on the scales of justice with money and influence to try to make Rebecca Bradley one of those advancing to April 5 – and there are still enough unthinking diehards in their ranks to give her  a likely chance.

My idea is the contest for high court that should emerge in the Feb. 16  election would be the  actually experienced judges who offer some balance to a court that badly needs independence  – and then we could have  a real discussion without  the prepared blandness of  “I love everybody and will work with everybody” that Bradley has already trotted out at judicial forums.

But the really qualified --  Milwaukee court veteran Joe Donald and appeals judge veteran Joanne Kloppenburg -- will split the intelligent and truly passionate  vote, leaving only one of them  standing Feb. 16 to face Bradley, who has just been assured of a gigantic war chest.

She could still lose April 5, but that  will require the forces of Donald and Kloppenburg to forget their difference,  unite and drive Bradley into the dust, a two-step election thinking process that, frankly, progressive voters in the spring elections seldom seem capable of. 

Bradley has experience on the conservative cocktail party circuit but as a judge of Wisconsin’s diverse humanity and legal needs – hardly any. Even as she proclaims she will be free of bias she is the most biased of the candidates,  the most clumsily advanced,  the least experienced and least independent. This is   Rebecca Bradley we’re talking about, definitely not to be confused with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, no relation, one of the few respected pillars left on the high court  who has been on the bench for decades and just won re-election for a 10-year term in 2015. 

Rebecca of sunny Walker farm was appointed to the high court by the governor acting alone  on the death of Justice Crooks Sept. 21 (the same day Walker withdrew from presidential politics). That means she has held three judicial positions with only one public election, and that one was tainted.

Walker had months earlier appointed her to a vacancy caused by another death on the state’s First District Court of Appeals (she was never elected to that job) and three years ago appointed her to a Milwaukee circuit court  retirement vacancy. About a year into that appointment she won the  Milwaukee County  election for the seat but only because Club for Growth (yes, the same shadowy money that has put Wisconsin uncomfortably on national front pages as a corrupt state) contributed an unprecedented $167,000 in campaign funding to carry her through against opposition that soon won judgeship in their own right. 

Major Southwest contributors to Wisconsin Club for Growth (dumbfounding how much of this  money comes from outside the state)  were reportedly ticked off to see their money go to a Milwaukee only judicial election – they thought they would be helping Walker anchor his statewide power ahead of his presidential bid.
Rivals are already having fun adding their own captions to
the shadow ads already appearing for Bradley.

But despair not Koch Bros. types!  A shadowy outside group that does not reveal its donors -- but apparently has a lot of overlap with Club for Growth and the Koch Brothers --  just announced they would pour $4150,000  immediately into known advertising to support Bradley’s Feb. 16 and April 5 run for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, confident that she will survive Feb. 16.  The group is dubbed  “Wisconsin Alliance for Reform”  and is clearly shifting money to Bradley originally aimed at defeating Russ Feingold for Senate in November. The group, while denying any coordination with the candidate, is using exactly the same “walking and talking in her robes” footage that Bradley uses in her own campaign ads!

But this is only the surface on how the Walker machine is leaning on electing Bradley, which would give them a fifth vote of seven on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in expectations that two of their most vulnerable incumbents,  Annette Zeigler and Michael Gableman, face re-election in 2017 and 2018, when Walker could still technically be in the governor’s mansion and desperate for a court that would protect him from the law.

For citizens who long for the days when courts were the site of restorative and intelligent justice --  the place for checks and balances in interpreting the state constitution and deciding rules of evidence and the like – the mere manufactured presence of Rebecca  Bradley represents an unseemly heavy digit on the scales of justice.  

The high court has long disappeared as the balancing wheel for justice. The 10 year appointment of judges was supposed to neutralize political involvement.  But no one can look at the excesses of the current conservative court rulings and envision Bradley as any help at all in working for the little guy and standing up to corporate excess.

More than that, Walker is trying to pad her reputation as a judge.  After she was appointed to the high court, several decisions made by the 1st state appeals court in the few months she sat on it were dumped onto the supreme court for review, though eight were normally what legal experts call per curiam (routine).  But all upheld prosecutors in criminal proceedings, so they could be labeled “law and order” decisions in a raw effort to deepen her record on the bench. 

The Milwaukee circuit court is known for its camaraderie, so it is no surprise that during her time there she was treated kindly by the senior judges – including Joe Donald, a 20 year veteran on the bench who is the most practiced and praised candidate in the  high court race in terms of actual bench experience.  He was also key in starting Milwaukee’s successful drug court and has strong ideas about the need for impartiality (while the current high court majority has moved to protect itself from legal action against the boodles of money it has taken from corporations that appear before it).  Donald also would be key on the supreme court in addressing Wisconsin’s horrifying incarceration rates and practices (which include an unseemly number of minorities and minor drug offenses).

I’m a fan of Donald’s, who represents to me the center sophistication and breadth of practical life experience  the court desperately needs.

But I also understand a lot of the Democratic enthusiasm for Kloppenburg, who has strong legal credentials from serving as assistant attorney general under Jim Doyle and was elevated two years ago by voters in Southwestern Wisconsin to the Fourth Court of Appeals, where she was quickly appointed chief judge.

Many Democrats feel she was already robbed once of the high court in 2011 when she declared victory at the end of election day  with a 204 vote advantage over David Prosser – only to watch the Waukesha election clerk “discover” more than 14,000 votes uncounted from Brookfield, which gave incumbent Prosser an unchallengeable 7,000 vote margin. Democrats cried foul but election experts more accurately cried incompetence. Still  the feeling that Kloppenburg was cheated lingers into this election despite some recognition that she was hardly an experienced campaigner.

Many concede that Donald is a firmer presence and would represent a more balanced approach to the judiciary. Still I would have been fond of hearing after Feb. 16 what I won’t – a discussion of judicial ethics between Donald and Kloppenburg.


Chris Larson campaigning hard to
become new county executive.
There are other Milwaukee elections that casting votes Feb. 16 makes important.  Don’t be misled by how many races won’t appear on the ballot until April 5 since they don’t have multiple opponents.  

But there are actually four candidates for Milwaukee county executive that should in votes scale down to incumbent Chris Abele and the state senator and former supervisor Chris Larson, who is mounting a formidable challenge despite Abele’s huge financial advantage. 

Franklin’s Steve Hogan is also filed and Pirate Party’s Joe Klein is running a formidable Facebook campaign pleading not to be ignored, but Feb. 16 should bring the community the conflict it wants – the battle of the Chrises, exploring whether Abele playing footsie with Madison was bipartisan or power-hungry and whether Larson, with experience in both Milwaukee and Madison, will offer balance and working family attention to the executive office.

Both candidates have made tactical errors – Abele wasted an early fortune (and he has a fortune from this father’s  Boston Scientific empire) on a barrage of  TV ads around Christmas touting his achievements -- and already forgotten by most of the voters.  About the same time, Larson brought out early the big guns of endorsements, notably Rep. Gwen Moore, and then saw the media making hay out of how difficult it was for him to keep campaign aides (not unusual in shoestring campaigns but somewhat unusual when the last resigned over a nonpolitical issue of an affair with a minor). Both are embracing credentials as a Democrat though the race is nonpartisan, but clearly that’s stretching the definition of the party given how ferocious is their disagreement about how to work with others.

Abele has angered many in the community for his high-handed ways of dealing with employees and working groups (some call this dictatorial) and proclaiming he is responsible for keeping the Bucks in town (though Larson as senator worked to reduce what remains a horrible cost impact on county taxpayers that Abele was all too eager to embrace). Larson clearly represents a younger age more open to the needs of the underclasses, which Abele never rubbed shoulders with in his business circles.  Abele is embraced by the business community, but frankly employees need a responsible business community to help on the job front. These are not easy issues.

Many in the working community still credit Abele with downtown development that means construction jobs though there are many more naturally created downtown businesses who fear the consequences of such artificial input (such as Abele seeking from Madison sole approval in shedding non-parks county land for a dollar a parcel to outside developers).

Larson wants more community input on everything from mental health care to land sales and he has earned support from many community organizations, the Working Families Party, unions and others (though there are building trades people uncertain which way to bounce, not sure what to believe from each side – they just want the jobs). There are so many factors to weigh in this contest that Feb. 16 and April 5 voters are going to have to listen carefully and weigh hard – an exercise in mental nimbleness that is difficult to bring about in the spring elections.  This could be the ultimate test if voters can simply be bought with ads or really think the issues through.


No one looks better than returning
Tom Barrett as mayor.
City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is also facing three challengers Feb. 16 – little known James Methu,  former Ald. Joe Davis Jr. who at least resigned his seat before tackling the mayor, and Ald. Bob Donovan, who is running for both his seat AND for mayor (legal if weird for now). 

Barrett is well heeled for the campaign and despite sniping from the sidelines has steered the city through some tough waters, not as bold in tacking as some would like but hard to see anyone running against him better at the helm. One can never underestimate the redneck law and order appeal of Donovan but I suspect Davis will squeak through to face Barrett. However Davis may be  riding a black vs. white issue the African American community has outgrown and that Barrett will be understandably loathe to criticize.

Over at District 8, Donovan has Rep. Josh Zepnick among the duo opposing him, and Zepnick who has his own maverick touch leaning more to the progressive side has strong support from the growing Hispanic residents in the district. I think Feb. 16 will come out Donovan vs. Zepnick.

The busiest Common Council districts will be  2, where Davis abandoned the field;  District  7, where Ald. Willie Wade has already resigned for a position with the workforce board, and District 9, where incumbent Robert Puente is so disliked he has attracted five challengers while running himself.


Chevy Johnson gets the edge in District 2.
In District 2, there are familiar personable names such as Keith Bailey and Tracey Dent, but I suspect the top vote getter, endorsed by unions and other community groups, will be former Barrett aide Chevy Johnson, who has worked long and hard for his chance at public office, focusing mainly on youth work development. 


Khalif Rainey leads community support in District 7
In District 7, the departing Wade gave a nod to Khalif Rainey, who has acquitted himself well as county supervisor and is likely to lap a field that includes David Crowley and Michael Bonds – yes, the chair of the Milwaukee School Board whose presence in the race is a flatly mystifying signal of unhappiness.

In District 9, Puente is facing a strong field that will require a lot of loyalty shifting. Among his opponents – the newest county supervisor, Martin Weddle, who seems to be leaping quickly to seek full time pay; former union bus leader and lobbyist Penny Sikora, whom many credit with rising above a checkered past, and three others. One of those may be a surprise winner Feb. 16 given how hard she works the doors and how personable she is – Chantia Lewis, an Emerge Wisconsin graduate, military veteran and mother.


Chantia Lewis may work a surprise in District 9.
District 9, located in the extreme upper northwest portion of the county, is a difficult region to campaign and historically somewhat complacent about its representation. But this field is so busy and so active that the election could create several surprises.

Like honey attracts flies, there is also a busy field trying to knock off Ald. Milele Coggs in District 6, a vibrant chunk of the central city. But I perceive no threat to her reputation for working within the community.

There are some other curiosities on the Feb. 16 ballot affecting Common Council races. Incumbent Ald. Bob Bauman seems a shoo-in for Downtown District 4 (few have his breadth of knowledge and interest in this area) but is facing strident challenges particularly from Monique Kelly. In District 3, another alderman highly regarded for his concern with community  development, Nik Kovac, will probably brush off challenges from Ira Robins  (yes, the late  Lawrencia Bembeneck’s lawyer) and right-wing backed Shannan Hayden.

There are surprisingly few competitive county board races.  There is only one three-way I can find requiring voter decision Feb. 16  and that is for Mark Borkowski’s old seat in District 11 where a Republican operative named Dan Sebring, accused of racism when he ran against Gwen Moore, is hoping the conservative district (it is also a working families district) will yield to his tenacity of attitude. Opposing him and with early dual endorsements from neighborhood factions  are community organizer Patricia T. Najera  and former corrections officer  Yaghnam F. Yaghnam. Both may advance if the community takes umbrage to the way Sebring is trying to label them.

So Tuesday Feb. 16 (absentee voting already allowed) gets people’s feet wet on getting accustomed to the importance of regular voting despite such off-putting laws as photo ID (you don’t know much about this because the state put no money aside to educate you). But in reality  Feb. 16 only focuses direction in a few races, so you’d better motivate yourself to the polls out of recognition that voting is your only tool for real change. 

Because election power needs to get going now in Wisconsin. After Feb. 16 comes those essential races April 5  that control your community and your fate even though they lack party labels. Then in November half the state Senate is up for grabs and the contest will be competitive,  all the Assembly is fresh ground, there is  one US Senate seat (Feingold vs. Johnson), all House seats and the presidency.  Wisconsin voters have important work ahead of them.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

WHAT HAS TRUMP TAPPED INTO?

By Dominique Paul Noth


George Wallace in 1968 seems to
have similarities to Trump
It’s taken more than six months for the national media to acknowledge that Donald Trump is no mere flash in the pan but a real threat to establishment Republicans in seizing their presidential nomination.

It’s also taken that long for supporters of Hillary Clinton, the dominating figure for the Democrats, to stop laughing and concede that he may not be the easy to whack piñata they once envisioned but a serious solidification of the hatred for establishment that he feeds on.

It’s somewhat of a surprise that it has taken this long to recognize that dissatisfaction, fear and the fever to “Do Something! Anything!” is a solid part of the American makeup. It has been there for generations, sometimes lurking but sometimes leaping forward. Resistance to the two party system has long endured, sometimes quite intelligently changing the shape of our electorate and the shape of the parties, sometimes more brutally upsetting the ability to lead the nation.

Such hatred and angst still could fade, but for the first time, leaders in both parties are genuinely worried that there is something lasting underneath the bizarre random attacks on all opponents that snake out like toads from Trump’s mouth.

After all, this is an era of celebrity television in every home and Trump has been flicking his tongue as a news item for 35 years. Writer Dalton Trumbo thought the blacklist was the “time of the toad” in American politics, when people cowered in fear of being labeled Communists, but this may be the new era given how many Republicans who know better refused to attack Trump. 

There is no ideological similarity on the surface between “Feel the Bern” (for Sanders) and “feel the Trump” -- until you peel back the skin. Dissatisfaction with Beltway politics has long been part of the American makeup and there have been many attempts to move the outsider feeling into the center of our discourse. 


Ross Perot a similar outsider in 1992
Before the Tea Party was shanghaied to become pawns of the Koch Brothers, their economic concerns about Wall Street power and failing middle class were actually not much different from Sanders – and highly unlikely to be hijacked as they have been by big business Baron Von Trump.

Similarly there were threads in the Occupy movement that touched on national economic concerns. Ditto Black Lives Matter, which recognizes how much white supremacy has dominated America’s justice and economic system and whose leaders don’t believe the power structure can change that from within; in the Nader movement that many still feel cost Al Gore the presidency (and certainly felt that even more after the George Bush war in Iraq); even in the Perot movement that first looked like a threat and then became an ally for Bill Clinton.  (Remember that “giant sucking sound” from Mexico?  Imagine what words Trump would use today.)

Some think Ralph Nader cost Gore
the presidency in 2000.
Such a survey reveals something else, not directly explored in a thoughtful analysis of the cause of Trumpism by veteran political observer Norm Ornstein writing in the Atlantic.  His ideas have value, but let’s not pretend the Outsider fever is new. What is new is turning so violently to someone without any government experience whatever, to bluntly correlate what Republicans have long failed to correlate, that running a business bears any relationship to running a country. 

Normally, Trump’s boastful claim to making a business deal, itself somewhat questionable given his track record, would immediately be recognized by the voting public as no basis for governmental ability. But today as celebrity publicity and advertising invades all sectors of our lives, as people thunder for instant gratification associated with better consumer products (as if that has anything to do with step-by-step governing), as ignorance of the complexity of politics and world relations allows simple-minded thinking to dominate, all restraints are lifted from our quest for a white knight from outside D.C. to return the US to balance.

That white knight search has existed for decades, except previously we thought a governor from way outside D.C. or a junior senator still free of Beltway taints was the answer, since they had some political acumen and background to justify our belief in the Outsider.

Look at the presidential legacy back into the 1970s.  Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush even Barack Obama were considered the white knights from outside Washington to bring change to the nation.

That, of course, gives the presidency too much credit for correcting our problems. It fails to recognize how each of those names was eventually embraced by their party’s establishment, turning the Outsider concept inside out.

It is hard to conceive of our first black president as a white knight, but he was considered the acceptable change-agent  Outsider, though I do think that absolute resistance to what is clearly a Democrat eager to deal has much to do with his skin color. Without that, the ability to paint him not as a typical mainstream Outsider but an alien would be hard to do. 

The group attack even on Obama’s moderate ideas may have helped pave the way for Trumpism. (Remember in the 2012 election from the sidelines he harped on Obama as the foreign-born maybe Muslim invader? He made Obama’s birth his main target, as if his ascendance to the White House was planned from a crib in Kenya – yet he is now a serious presidential candidate?  Remember, too, how back then, the Republican establishment laughed up their sleeves at him but failed to take on his idiocy directly, which may also have laid a red carpet for his entry into presidential politics.)

America is still looking for a white knight but this time seems willing to go even further than in the past, to someone totally lacking in governmental ability, someone willing to shoot from the hip at long-established constitutional principles. It is the triumph of P.T. Barnum, clearly believing that a “sucker in born every minute” and selling the White House is not much different than selling Ivory soap.

Ironically the second choice on the Republican side is a totally dislikable no-holds-barred non-negotiator on issues named Ted Cruz, also fighting the Beltway from his Senate seat. And then comes yet another Cuban American who has lost all appeal to intelligent and diverse Hispanics (few of whom identify with aging Cuban Americans who want to keep their home  country closed to diplomatic overtures), Marco Rubio, whose own skeletons are creeping over his ability to give a good political speech.

In a remarkable and largely undercovered speech Jan. 4 in New Hampshire, campaigning for his wife, Bill Clinton not only touched on all the instincts she had to help people long before any election or public position, he also spelled out what usually are the reasons candidates are chosen in this lengthy presidential job interview.   Whether you agree with his assessment of his wife, he detailed what used to be the touchstones of what the nation wanted: “I do not believe in my lifetime anybody has run for this job at a moment of greater importance who was better qualified by knowledge, experience, and temperament.” 

But is that what the public is looking for this year? Normally the hatred morphs during a campaign to something akin to scruples --  a familiar last name, a record of gubernatorial accomplishment or a native intelligence and sense of caring.

But this time we are still waiting for knowledge, experience and temperament to raise their heads in the polls.  Frankly not since George Wallace in 1968 have we seen one candidate able to channel so many streams of discontent into his campaign – and Wallace, who carried 10 million votes and actually won several state primaries, was a segregationist who built much of his support by attacking the media for revealing he was a racist. If that sounds familiar, you’ve been watching too much television.

Over time in a campaign a search for competence has tended to triumph over fear and dissatisfaction. No one can promise such a return to balance this time.

Those disappointed in their own lives usually turn from taking it out on candidates to choosing the one who seems most empathetic and still has a plan. That “plan thing” may be evaporating. It is compounded by older white Americans blaming the president for inevitable demographics making them a minority. Or by rights for homosexuals and transgender people they interpret as endangering their independence. (Hard for me to identify with that though I am white and over 70, but while I have no fear on this, I am apparently a nonfearful minority according to national polls of older whites.)

It is intensified by people who can’t see the millions benefiting from the Affordable Care Act but are hung up on either their own premiums or the dire premonitions of their right-wing elected officials.  Programs for economic progress are sidetracked right now by everyone’s hope that they, too, can become a billionaire like Trump, though he like many rich people who claim to be self-made started with an inherited fortune. But as that dream of wealth slips away, anger at the status quo rather than common sense methods to change the status quo seems to increase.

Few thought such diverse negative apprehensions and self-centered thinking could coalesce around one candidate or even elevate toward majority status after decades lurking in the shadows.  But now that desire for an Outsider seems to be helping Trump.

It’s not as simple as that famous old quote from the Pogo cartoon -- “We have met the enemy and they is us.” Suddenly those basic issues of public education, public intelligence and required patience in a democracy are coming to a boil, with Trump as the point of the boil no one seems able to lance.

Whether the rise of Trump can continue is now an open question.  But it is no longer the impossible thought it was six months ago.  That should scare the bejesus out of all of us.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Monday, January 4, 2016

THE MILWAUKEE PROPERTY TAX LIE PERSISTS

By Dominique Paul Noth

If you judge by Internet traffic, it was the year’s best read story at domsdomain -- in 2014!

It directly exposed a lie suffered by thousands of city of Milwaukee taxpayers. It also explained how that lie misled millions in the Wisconsin public about which services cost taxpayers the most, allowing them to continued to blame  public schools as the most costly property tax item in Milwaukee.  (Why that is bad is something of a phony question, since it was a famous Republican who once pointed out that taxes were the price we paid for quality of life.)

Still, the suggestion of “most expensive” doesn’t sit well with the property taxpayer, who gets that bill at the end of the year and inevitable explodes with frustration – compounded by newspaper stories about the “most expensive.”  So here especially it is important the truth be told.

And yet the lie persists.

So now it is 2016 and I am ashamed to report I can reprint as fact my 2014 story without much change – and plead anew for public servants to grow up and address this.

“Got your city property bill? Catch the lie on MPS?”   That was the headline

The top numbers have adjusted as tax bills inevitably will. But amazingly the division of tax burden by pennies in a dollar remains exactly the same lie. The misleading city of Milwaukee enlarged dollar bill, the one that divides up property taxes by the penny in the public mailing, continues to exclude an entire tax unit – the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which this year is $51.1 million.  It is charged off as part of Milwaukee Public Schools though MPS doesn’t get to see or control a penny of those millions.  The church down the street has a better chance at that.

It is a quirk in state law deliberately manufactured by voucher proponents and furthered rather gleefully by Republicans in power in the state legislature. It compels MPS to levy a tax for both itself and the so-called parental choice program.

The city leaders seem unwilling to expose the lie, though they say they don’t like it.   Except the lie allows them to dodge a painful truth. By rolling the lie into that dollar breakdown it makes MPS seem the most expensive swipe at the city property taxpayer ($302.3 million) though it ought to be the city itself at $256.7 million.

Take out of MPS on that faux dollar bill the $51.2 million sucked up by the private or religious voucher schools and the city’s 34 cents out of a dollar would become, as it should, the biggest tax cost, of six governmental units (not the five the public is told about) using city property taxes. MPS would slide down to second place and the parental choice program would slide as it ought to into fourth place, more expensive than the sewerage district and nearly twice as much as the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Officials at MPS have been pained by this for years and finally they got the city tax bill to include a yellow half sheet  insert, one of three inserts in the mailed property tax bill, that in legalese explains the reality, including the other quirk that the high poverty aid offset is all laid at the door of the parental choice program, which otherwise should be listed at $56.6 million not $51.2 million.

This is not only a silly wrinkle in state formula but outrageous to all impoverished in Milwaukee – suggesting that only voucher schools are doing anything about poverty.  Yet I doubt that many at holiday time bother to read this yellow insert though they can’t avoid the gigantic green dollar bill graphic the city wraps all the other inserts in.

Confusion with numbers remains the rule of politics. It shouldn’t take a full court press to eliminate lying in financial facts.  But as long as the taxpayer imitates a sheep, and as long as city officials continue to bleat rather than roar, expect the lying to continue.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

IS MEDIA’S ISIS PILE-ON DOING DISSERVICE?

By Dominique Paul Noth
From near the bottom in July, fear of terrorism
has leaped up in the Gallup poll.

Having spent a lifetime in journalism I am well aware of the public’s desire to Kill the Messenger. But I am also aware of the media tendency to way overplay the storylines with endless interruptions, manufactured tie-ins and redundant segments, thus concocting a drumbeat of interminable bad news that translates into Social Calamity Speeding Toward You. No wonder so many wish the messenger would, figuratively, go jump in the lake.

Many Americans are going through that feeling right now.  Combine ISIS, robust time to candidates expressing fear of terrorists as they pursue their subset of a subset of presidential voters (yet we all have to endure it) and endless segments on the horrors of San Bernardino. Bam! A new national disaster. The public is enduring this latest gussied-up float in the media parade that is marching through all networks, multiple cable channels and newsy websites.

In pursuit of eyeballs and ratings, this bloviating seems designed to turn citizens more fearful and hawkish at the same time -- quite a combination.  Yet as the investigation unfolds the talking heads are forced to take back speculations that first filled airtime and panicked the nation.

The spate of repetitive reporting includes a dozen non-news news flashes and flat guesswork around how ISIS is infecting citizens around the world through social media (though it seems in actual count to be a few hundred, maybe, rather than the whole world).  But even a few hundred – heck one or two – can do a lot of damage if they’ve lost all restraint and are willing to kill themselves for a cause.

No government expertise can fully eliminate the destructive power of those who live double lives without being part of an organized movement.

The candidates who want to run government don’t confess to this, however obvious.  Maybe they think  we should  have learned such limitations  over centuries (WWI started with one assassin triggering multiple coalitions; anarchists intimidated democratic societies as much as ISIS does today; McCarthyism sent swatches of the nation trembling to the bathroom or nuclear shelter;  9/11 not only led to a war against a county that had nothing to do with the Twin Towers devastation but also led patriotic Americans to kill Sikhs at service stations -- and I could go on and on how we have been driven over the edge by whomever is determined today’s Frankenstein monster).

Usually fear peters out and sanity is restored through sturdy commitment and great police work, not candidates pontificating on patriotism.
  
This month it seems that a zombie terror has come to our country – if you listen to the media, which is clearly listening to each other.  Everyone discusses how ISIS or Isil or Daesh led to the San Bernardino killings by an American born Muslim and his foreign born head-wrapped wife – and that is false. It turns out,  in a fact largely ignored by the terrified public,  that the pair were discussing jihad in private messages (not social media) before ISIS was even created.  Something stirred -- WHAT? Abnormal hatred, desire for secrecy or for revenge against whatever.

That inability to know or blame ought to lead the thoughtful to ponder what is happening, block by block, family by family -- and also what is valued and criticized within communities. Apparently a few people can  appear normal while they are actually stripped by fanatical beliefs or mental state of those natural instincts toward humanity.  Whether caused by sophisticated terrorist propaganda, private demons, an unknown insult  or person by person encounters within a culture . . . we can’t yet say.

That is actually the unanswerable part of the San Bernardino story. Don’t be sidetracked by the search for a bogeyman. The early evidence as the investigation unfolds is that a couple could do all this without their friends or family knowing or suspecting -  even with a grandmother in  the house – and worse could  leave behind a six month old as they ran toward suicide by police, as their final shootout can accurately be described. There is no religion that teaches this much less commands it. There is no government that can make this disappear.

But now people obsessed with media reporting believe the world around them, particularly the Islamic world, is abnormal. All predicated on one disturbed couple with easy access to assault weapons.  From many quarters we are being told in one way or another that the only solution is to distrust everyone, lock them out of our doors and country, buy more guns and prepare for 1.5 billion “Walking Dead.”

Big surprise! In this outsized media atmosphere, fear of terrorist attacks and of ISIS has now taken over the No. 1 spot in the polls of the American public, where once it lagged far behind. The same media that blisters the air with those talking points is also reporting the results of the polls they helped create. All reinforce what they kept saying; making us think the entire nation feels under the same threat. 

And guess who is leading the barrage of “Do Something! Do Anything!” – the Republican candidates for president. Did anyone really listen to their Dec. 15 debate and those insane generalities about better algorithms, sterner faces and “we need toughness” as solutions? Could anyone follow the generalized didactics about regime change vs. tolerating an unsavory leader?  Whatever happened to case by case judgment?

Trust in the government on terrorism has plunged in media blitz.
If you think the candidates were sometimes silly and patronizing to the voters, meet the Congress.  All parties not in the White House seem rife with nasty demands to kill the bastards (if not the messengers).  They assign blame not to the terrorists’ own misguided extremism but to a “weak” administration – that same administration that, on the other unnoticed hand, has used more drones and targeted homicides of identified enemies on and off the battlefield.  The same administration that is actually slowly rolling back the territory ISIS rules.

Those polls, which change wind at will making the American public seem ridiculously fickle, report disapproval of President Obama’s ISIS policy. But what they are really saying is that citizens want their fear of lone wolf terrorists and organized terrorism thrown out of town by sundown. So according to the polls, the nation disagrees with his efforts 60% (at least this week) and the White House endures constant criticism that he is not excitable enough or fury-filled enough and too reluctant to embrace war as a solution, with the implication spoken by some that he must be a “durn furriner” -- or even an alien.

Talk about tunnel vision! The GOP squabblers are so confused they don’t know how often they are agreeing with Obama’s policies while condemning them. One AP fact checker was dumbstruck by the “number of candidates criticizing Obama’s course against ISIS while proposing largely the same steps that are already underway.”

The GOP candidates flailed around, not understanding, as one writer put it, that “they are offering simple-minded solutions to the complexities of a dangerous world.”  Nor do they have a clue about the labyrinthine problems of the Internet

I’m putting my vote behind common sense. Americans are worried certainly, but they are not succumbing to cowering -- similar to what happened in France after the ISIS massacre. At first it appeared that the radical right wing’s Muslim and refugee hating party of Marie Le Pen was on the verge of powerful election victory, so unhinged and helpless had the French felt in the first days after the attack. But in the conclusive second round of regional voting a few weeks later, her party fell far back.

There is a mix of both reasonable and unreasonable fear in the US, but why is the reasonable fear being blown out of proportion? The unreasonable fear is spurring the sense of America as a coward country unless citizens put soldiers or mercenaries on the battlefield to defeat an enemy -- without understanding how the enemy may be feeding on our foreign presence.

Has anyone caught the other irony?  This is the same nation and media that praise or reluctantly credit Edward Snowden for breaking the law but revealing secrets we needed to know of how much the government is peeking into our digital lives. Yet the same people are roundly criticizing the same government for not peeking, for not finding out years ago that radicalization was one of the sweet nothings being whispered between Sayed Farook and his eventual bride Tashfeen Malik.  Only now, confounding the media reports, it turns out none of that occurred on social media but in private message.

In the US the talking heads are saying, “Well, we’re just giving the public what they want – the polls prove it.”  Really?  I’m waiting out a few weeks when I think the public will come to its senses – and I wish more of the media would do the same and report with caution. Because left behind are things more difficult to report that used to top the polls and are still in need of determined solutions – such trivialities as job creation, guns and health care.

All now take the back seat as America spins on this ISIS flavored media roulette wheel.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com. 



Thursday, December 10, 2015

FRESH ALLIANCES, LEGAL ACTION STIR AGAINST WALKER MACHINE

Badly outnumbered in October, Assembly Democrats could do no more than stand in
recusal opposition to the self-serving campaign finance bill, typical of the self-protective changes that have occupied the GOP and rarely helped their constituents.
By Dominique Paul Noth

The extreme gerrymandering of Wisconsin districts, once the Republicans went ballistic with Census power in 2011 and 2012, made progressives throw up their hands in disbelief, look around the state in dismay  and in several cases I know decide to leave. They saw little chance to restore balance in assembly, senate, municipalities and school districts under the new strictures. 

Others deeply disagree. They cite some pretty potent legal action against the gerrymander that has an even better chance than an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary pass. They know similar national legal outrage is on their side.

They cling to the return to blue or at least respect for the purple that is traditionally the real Wisconsin. This balancing factor has long reared up in presidential year elections such as we have coming up in 2016 – and every sensible pollster expects a Democratic sweep.

Sober heads realize that you have to start with April of 2016 because November is going to be focused on federal level hopes – US presidency, Senate and House. The voters can’t change the governor’s mansion until 2018 though they can render the Walker juggernaut impotent by reversing just one state chamber in November and being intelligent about judicial and municipal races in February and April.

Still, that’s something of a Band-Aid until municipalities and statehouses return to sanity -- the stability to provide real choice year in and year out. And that will take aggressive turnout to counteract the gerrymandering and the misguided values.

A recent Madison.com column rounded up the current statewide damage of the Walker years  and the damage to come as long as the machine controls not just the governor’s office but both legislative chambers and, worst of all, the corrupt referee known as the  state supreme court.  It all  makes for mighty accurate and depressing reading – and curiously enough even GOP analysts admit the consequences are chilling the districts once safely in that party’s control.

There’s something going on in Wisconsin, and if you discount the Pollyanna wish-fulfillment aspects – the demand for instant gratification rampant in public expectations, be the concern Isis or health care costs -- you might find reasons for patience and hope. Perhaps the Wisconsin Idea, the real meaning of reform and the place of the state as one of the leading factories of democratic advances might return, as opposed to remaining the hind end of US representative democracy

Rather amazingly on issues like public education, environmental protection for future generations, assault weapons, property taxes and local control,  the state’s lousy record is unifying  conservatives and liberals on the same general issues. They haven’t yet realized the truth in that or the advantages of working together. 

Pollsters keep running into traditional GOP voters not about to leap the fence to the Democratic side but no longer a shoo-in for the machine candidate.  Worries about how these voters will jump are now rushing into Republican legislators’ decisions of how to run again and in several cases why to take early retirement instead. 

The main mistake of the GOP, it seems, has been solidifying their power by taking away so many aspects of local control.  Their own supporters and especially their supporters’ children are now suffering the consequences of lording it over the opposition rather than directly helping the citizens in the bills they pushed.  They were dealing in revenge politics. It works for a while but has a limited shelf life in Wisconsin.
While retaining her seat, Supervisor Marina
Dimitrijevic quit her chairperson role
to run Wisconsin's Working
Families Party.

Meanwhile, the progressives are tired of being labeled losers or waiting four years between notable victories while they are still the dominant side of Wisconsin voting (that darn gerrymandering).  The danger of such frustration is apparent if you look at the national extremists on the Republican side.  (Remember when there was a time when Republicans had moderates and even progressive ideas?). They blame Romney’s loss not on Obama’s appeal but because Romney sought out the center.

So right now if you look at that cuckooland presidential field, the Republicans are reveling in the most outrageous excessive nastiness and un-politically correct revisionist they can find, viewing each tack to the middle as a sign of weakness not common sense.  No one can say how long this tendency will last – we’re nearly a year ahead of the actual election.

One thing is clear -- Democrats better not follow that pattern.   In online social media their camps might seem in similar disarray if you listen to the voices so pro-Sanders they say they won’t vote for Hillary, and vice versa. It’s largely nonsense or anticipatory sour grapes. But to casual observers and troublemakers it can sound like Republican style dissension rather than in-fighting among relatives around the dinner table.

Online where younger frustrated texters and strident voices thrive -- and law and order decisions foreign and domestic are constantly dissected and attacked -- it is almost inevitable that Sanders will win any online poll – as just occurred when the Working Families Party (WFP) gave Sanders the online voting nod for the presidency.  And that could seem divisive until you realize that Sanders himself and Hillary herself have been careful not to be so ornery in their disagreements as to bar future cooperation.

In Wisconsin, WFP this year established a chapter known as WWFP (the extra W for Wisconsin) led by such progressive voices as Marina Dimitrijevic, Eyon Biddle and Kim Schroeder.  Both Dimitrijevic and national organizer Joe Dinkin (based in New York City where notches in the WFP belt include Mayor Bill de Blasio) have discussed the importance of issues like public education and economic inequality ahead of personality contests. Sander’s platform is built around similar issues (raising minimum wage, paid sick days, reducing or eliminating student debt, opposing privatization of public schools, attacking Wall Street profits at the expense of Main Street) and he has been consistent for decades.

He is a lifelong organizer and politician -- he showed campaign astuteness in Vermont while wandering in the wilderness on national debates in the Senate, making friends far more than changing policy. So he is a particular champion of those beliefs and in context the pressure from his camp has forced front-runner Clinton to speak up on the same issues, which is what his supporters should want.  

Hillary in an interview shrewdly revived an old saying in politics – Republicans fall in line while Democrats fall in love. That reflects the tendency of Democrats to pick personality first. Seen in this context WFP is a necessary corrective to the Democratic past.
Former Supervisor Eyon Biddle returned to
Milwaukee to help run the WWFP.

The WFP is not squeamish as some Democrats have been about pumping issues first and rejecting candidates who talk a good game and then vote selfishly when in office and against the platforms they ran on.  That really isn’t Hillary whose progressive credentials are long and deep. But so is her pragmatism and experienced deal-making, which fosters some suspicion on the left. 

Cynics who want to win at all costs will take this online vote for Sanders as a way to dismiss WFP members as typically overly excitable or non-pragmatic progressives. But that is to misread the shift in emphasis and the embrace of Bernie for a lovable example of leading every speech with passion for issues.  To this point he hasn’t generated the national revolution he aspired to. Only selective states seem to be “feeling the Bern” if you believe the polls. But to dismiss his enthusiasts as naïve is itself naïve.

WWFP is operating in a Bern friendly state where it does not field its own slate of candidates or have a separate line on the ballot (so-called fusion voting). It matches its choices to the existing party structure and would accept the right Republican or Green Party fella  if he or she was an ardent believer in the same social issues and has a well planned campaign. So this is common sense fusion within the (usually) Democratic label, since most Walker acolytes are wishy-washy on these issues.

In this way, as the WWFP gathers strength and supporters, that means  a local endorsement from WWFP is difficult to earn and requires a lot of commitment to turning out voters -- new voters where possible. It is something of a stamp of true progressive values and approval, which is why WWFP takes time and care in putting its brand on candidates.

And WWFP represents only one facet of the notable changes in grassroots activity in Wisconsin.  The challenge for anyone who thinks of themselves as progressive, activists admit,  is getting their voters to put aside temporary disputes  to turn out – and they must not just turn out every four years and in the fall but  again and again on crucial local elections. A further issue largely discussed on the sidelines but growing in importance involves how you can be a moderate and still earn progressive support. There does tend to be passion around who deserves that label of progressive.
Martha Laning

Many other notable changes in the grassroots landscape warrant future discussion.  The state Democratic Party  in under new leadership and some new listening sessions in various districts.  It is still evolving into a big change of the perceived emphasis in the past on centralized party bosses and familiar avenues of decision. Martha Laning, for four months the new chair, is still developing a full staff and slate of November candidates, focusing on a likely take-back of the state senate.  

Other progressive groups and newly aroused activists are weighing how to fit into the picture. Already many veterans are recruiting new activists and organizing online groups, drinking clubs and hosting sessions with politicians around the issues they are eager to support.

Indeed, if you look at the just released Badger Blueprint for the future from Senate Democrats, while too generalized in its sweep, it is anticipating legislation that dovetails with WWFP and other progressive goals.   

The unions also have changed, not just for their own members. Union leaders always argued that their insistence on better wages raised all boats and generally improved working conditions for all over the decades and it is true.  But now they are plunging into the water and pulling those boats up, and that is a change from two decades ago. While once there was tension between unions and certain minorities, that has fallen away and today there are new embraces in supporting each other’s rallies and getting out the vote.

This new cooperation is especially important in Wisconsin where Walker’s minions have gone out of their way to weaken labor unions -- not because they ever represented any real economic danger to taxpayers, usually just the opposite. It was because unions were good at raising money against the GOP and mobilizing  grassroots support. If you look deeply into Act 10 and right-to-work laws, they really have little to do with freedom of opportunity for the worker. Their intent was to destroy the money flow against Republicans.  

But Walker’s weakening them in one area may have strengthened their determination in embracing groups with like-minded concerns and speeding modernized methods of getting the word out.  And they still have the best street campaign instincts in the election business.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.