Sunday, November 12, 2017

ETHICS IN A TOXIC ELECTION ERA – INCLUDING WISCONSIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Roy Moore (left) vs. Doug Jones, a hot time in Alabama.
There is a surprising 38th parallel in politics that routine candidate ads are not supposed to cross even if third parties do.  The line is using legally unproven crimes and scandals from the past against an opponent in last minute ads -- despite their availability in news stories. 

It is amazing – and sometimes quite pleasing -- how cautious even today are political ads by candidates about using such material in the final weeks of a campaign.  Except if your name is Donald Trump.

Part of it is self-preservation, part fear of backlash accusations of gutter politics but some reasons are moral scruples.

Nowhere has this been truer than in the state you’d expect it to be less true right now – Alabama.  Defrocked justice and wannabe senator Roy Moore may use every radio outlet he can find to blame opposing candidate Doug Jones, the Democrats, Amazon.com, even George Soros for smear tactics and gutter politics four weeks before the senate electoral vote, though the well researched Washington Post story about child sexual molestation in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32, was clearly dragged out of people in multiple interviews and hardly initiated by political opponents.

In fact, the Jones campaign has been scrupulous to not use the ugliness  even in its email solicitations, which fill my email box and many others.

(Editor's note: On a Monday filled with fresh revelations, the Jones campaign went a tad further, praising the courage of the women who came forward to accuse Moore.)

It is Moore’s fellow Republicans who immediately expressed their doubts about his innocence, partly because they already thought his views unhinged but most prominently because they agree with Mitt Romney’s tweet:  “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.” Every time he tries to address going out with teenagers as a man in his thirties, he reinforces the allegations.

Despite the rantings from the Moore’s side, and perhaps because  of the timing of the report (like the true but late DUI report about  George Bush),  the most the Jones campaign at this writing has said in email solicitations is that their candidate is gaining momentum, a common fund-raising come-on.

Over the weekend they still avoided the story:  “So now Moore is hiding from reporters, refusing to debate Doug, and running a MAJOR ad campaign to defeat us!”  And sure enough, after leaving the airwaves largely to Jones’ common sense persuasions that even a Democrat could work better with both sides of the aisle than Moore could, the Moore third party camp is launching a last minute ad blitz. They are not sure if the religious faithful will stand by Moore even harder as many think or drift away in the privacy of the voting booth.

Wisconsin, fortunately, has nothing as horrible.  But in fact the pettiness in crossing that line is notable in some preliminary social media posts by campaigns, and to me that is disturbing this early in the election season. 

So far these are minor blips and slips on the Wisconsin  campaign trail and I sometime fear I am behaving like a Puritan policeman beating the early brush for intrusions, whispers, sly wording or unneeded interpolation signaling ethics slipperage.

I don’t want to be too pure of heart here, but I am hearing snideness already among supporters of the 17 announced or almost announced Democratic candidates for governor (there’s a list at the end of this story). Several of the snide will have ad responsibility for their choices. I think the Democrats’ success in Virginia stemmed in large part from knowing when to put away the intramural knives, and I already sense how little hiccups now can slide across the ethical line. 

In that spirit, let me fret about something four months ahead of the non-partisan primary and spring election, mitigated I suspect by a boiling understandable anger within the electorate of wanting to know how the judges they elect will rule on their issues, so biased to the conservative side is the state’s highest court right now.

Tim Burns, the most openly left candidate running for Wisconsin Supreme Court, has used social media to point readers to the news stories about an opponent in the race, strongly supported by Republicans, ticketed for trespassing and obstruction in 1989 during an abortion protest. Now Michael Screnock’s opposition to abortion, given his right-wing ruttings, is hardly a surprise and there were plea deals that apparently allowed him to become a judge.   

That was not pointed out in the Burns campaign message.  Screnock’s behavior was a disqualifying factor for me when I read the news, but I didn’t like a candidate using it outside the more balanced media. And then telling people how to think by posting mug shots with the tagline: “Does this seem like Michael Screnock would respect women's rights?”

I’m sure I’m about to offend someone, but why does a belief in abortion automatically brand someone as disrespectful to women and not worth the trouble of trying to recruit to progressive viewpoints?

There is another one – a Burns email solicitation I regard as too sly for its own good, talking about an event in which a reporter asked each candidate to name a justice they admired.  Milwaukee Judge Rebecca Dallet, pursuing the same liberal voters that Burns is, mentioned Sara Dey O’Connor – not for her decisions, she emphasized to the reporter, but her acknowledged diligence and listening in approaching issues.  

Look how that came out in the Burns email solicitation.

The differences in this election could not be more clear . . . 
Last week, a reporter asked which U.S. Supreme Court Justice each of the candidates admired most.
What did my opponents say? Republican Justices Scalia and O'Connor.
My answer? Thurgood Marshall.”

Now I also admire the late Marshall, though the civil rights activism that marked his career are hardly the cases that will come before the state supreme court where we need balance.

And I was bothered at the conflation of his opponents – who cited whom and why? --  especially since Dallet went out of her way to explain her choice of O’Connor as a justice she didn’t always agree with but who didn’t wear politics on her sleeve, which she thinks hurts high courts today.

While some think the voters just want to know which side justices are on – given how right-wing the state court has been – Dallet told me in an interview she believes a blatant political tilt can be toxic, that people are afraid to bring cases to the court if they already sense how a judge is leaning.
Randy Bryce running against Paul Ryan . . . 

I sure felt similar twinges about Dan Bice’s JS story pointing out how candidate Randy Bryce had a three months delay in child support payments, since rectified.  There was no support issue between him and his former wife; she knows iron work is seasonal and that Randy is a devoted father who’s always there for his 11-year old son. And I understand Bice scours public records for news.
. . . has dominated the headlines Cathy Myers
thinks ignore her campaign.

I didn’t understand why Cathy Myers, Bryce’s fellow progressive in seeking to displace Paul Ryan from the First District House – a goal I sincerely agree with – would jump on this delay as some sort of character issue.  Frankly, Bryce’s struggle to maintain child support is something a lot of voters will admire, and it emphasizes how he is not entering this contest with the big bucks that Ryan has behind him.

Still, Myers is a most respectable and welcome candidate, with strong support in Janesville for her school board races and certainly articulate on many of the issues in the race. She is clearly miffed at all the publicity Bryce has engendered from his earliest videos and the force of his image and personality as a striking contrast to Paul Ryan. 

It was that enthusiasm that last October 5 produced this tweet from her: “Like too many women, I know what it's like to prepare, work hard & be successful only to be ignored in favor of a less qualified man.”

Well, some may sympathize with that blunt assessment.  But it is also true that a traditional progressive opponent, which is what Myers is, hasn’t generated the headlines and interest that Bryce has in this race.  It’s because of the IronStache campaign that Ryan for the first time in years is running a bit scared. Add to that his abysmal record as speaker of the house clinging to Trump in D.C. while pretending to voters back home he is maintaining a distance.

Some of this is the normal bitterness and contrast that candidates, even when they actually have  similar views and aims, engage in to convince voters – but the issue is always how well they come together to fight for their side when the time for storms and disparagement passes.  And if the voters in this bitter national era are now willing to understand and forgive such games.

Final note: Current list of Democratic candidates for governor


Some detail is required in  referring to the large field of Democrats looking to run against Scott Walker for governor, though the field will be weeded down June 1 depending on nomination papers and then again that same June weekend by the Democratic state convention.

But right now, the known names statewide are quite interesting:

Newcomer Bob Harlow was early out of the gate and should be included along with former Reps. Kelda Helen Roys and Brett Hulsey, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, current Rep. Dana Wachs, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, state school superintendent Tony Evers, Blue Jean movement’s Mike McCabe, businessman Andy Gronik, lawyer and active former candidate Matt Flynn and firefighter leader Mahlon Mitchell, who ran for lieutenant governor with Tom Barrett.

But aside from these better known statewide candidates there are interesting others in the race: Madison business leader Michele Doolan, former state candidate David Heaster from Fort Atkinson, Sheboygan businessman Kurt Jason Kober, former candidate Jared William Landry from LaFarge, Madison minister Andrew Lust,  Jeffrey Rumbaugh, an advocate for the disabled,  and photographer Ramona Rose Whiteaker from Stoughton.   


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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.


Friday, November 10, 2017

WILL MONEY DECIDE SENATE ELECTIONS – AGAIN?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Don’t know about you but my email has been flooded with fund-raising pitches from political candidates around the nation.  For news purposes I dip into Republican come-ons as well as Democrats but the Democrats are clearly more agitated.

Almost every email refers to the enormous dark money being raised by Republican opponents. A little research determined it is true.


Is Claire McCaskill top GOP target?
The GOP money machine aided by Citizens United, while also defending GOP seats, is trying to buffer the Senate by attacking sitting Democrats in vulnerable states. Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin are among those  facing  dark money media buys and can only turn to the mom and pop $25 givers to fight back. That’s why their email pleas are becoming more desperate this early for the November 2018 races.

Respected journalists concede that McCaskill is the top target of dark money.  Her newest pitch accurately quotes them: “The Washington Post has reported that our seat is the most likely to flip in 2018, and Roll Call called me the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in 2018,” which is why her Blue Missouri campaign has gone nationwide.

Brown in Ohio might argue it is him, if this were a battle of which Democrat was the most hated by dark money.  Brown, a popular progressive and hard worker you would think would be above attack, nevertheless comes from a state where Trump had a strong showing, so the GOP is going after him hard.

Baldwin is also fighting off dark money.
But I would put in a plug for Baldwin. The campaign against her doesn’t even have a final opponent and yet the leading primary contenders, Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir, are attracting gobs of secret money in a battle for bucks more important to them than any ideological position they take. It’s a campaign of attack not light.

Each is seeking the most potent secret financing support not just within the state but outside it.  Richard Uihlein (who spent $23 million on conservative candidates in 2016) and billionaire Diane Hendricks (who has signed on to Vukmir’s campaign) provide just two of the wealthy names revealed to be using front groups pledged to generic attack ads.  They’ll get more specific depending on who wins the primary. 

Part of the sense of desperation is that every email says money is needed this week or by end of the week.  But that’s because campaigns are trying to reach reporting deadlines so they can look successful compared to the other side. My recommendation will not be liked by the campaigns – give when you can what you can and forget the deadline pleas.

We’ve barely tapped the GOP hit parade. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida has joined the email scamper, pointing out that Trump recruited Florida Gov. Rick Scott to join a violently expensive effort to defeat him despite solid acceptance since 2001.

Even Massachusetts’ popular Elizabeth Warren is under fierce money attack, but typical of her support for underdog candidates elsewhere, she has announced she is splitting national donations with Doug Jones, the Democrat running against heavy odds in the growingly strange state of Alabama.

Alabama's Doug Jones
Jones is well worth a look in an election scheduled Dec. 12 – particularly if you know sensible voters in Alabama. A former prosecutor and centrist as a Southern Democrat, Jones in his commercials have tried to chide Alabamans into a less negative US reputation after tons of GOP corruption and private scandals involving its chambers and its former governor, who resisted impeachment until after he appointed Luther Strange, the state attorney general who delayed charging him, to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate.

It is a crazy ugly history that helps explain why twice defrocked state supreme court justice Roy Moore is now on the GOP ticket for the senate against Jones, who was given a boost by a Fox News poll showing the race tied.

As good as that might make Democrats feel, deeper surveys suggest Jones is still 10 points behind in a deep red (for embarrassment?) state, but that’s still in striking distance because of the latest well researched scandal to descend on Moore, who has had almost a deity status in Alabama.  But minigods are hard to tarnish.

Moore’s self-publicized views have outraged both sides of the aisle, which may explain how quick Republicans were to believe the child molestation report about him and urge him to resign.

But he won’t, though the details of women chasing and juvenile prowling expose a hypocrisy that has become familiar to observers of evangelical pastors and politicians.  But also familiar is how the evangelical faithful refuse to believe it. Some in Alabama think Moore may do better because of the scandal while others hope the state will take this chance to grow up. Electing Jones would be a great sign.

Sometimes, though, the candidates have a natural charisma that draws voters to them, and that is Beto O’Rourke’s best longshot against, of all people, Sen. Ted Cruz.


Beto O'Rourke, a longshot to knock off Cruz
There was deep irony in Steve Bannon’s announcement that his right-wing fury will be unleashed on every incumbent Republican “except Ted Cruz.” It may be because in red Texas they think Cruz is secure against any opponent.

But quietly O’Rourke is actually making inroads early, drawing national mom and pop support.

Despite his youthful appearance, O’Rourke is a seasoned campaigner, having won his House seat in the El Paso area three times with big majorities. His “against the grain” grassroots campaign challenges Cruz not only on ideological fronts but as the spearhead of a progressive youth movement that is raising alarm among Republicans in Texas. Political insiders think he has a narrow chance by picking off moderate Republicans against the much disliked Cruz.

The larger question may be how aroused the voters are.  Will they be swayed by who has the most money or who waves the flag the hardest?  That worked in the past, as did misleading opposition research or insinuations. The vast money being thrown against Senate Democrats is a bet that the techniques of the past will always work because we are a nation of sheep.

To which I say, Baaa.


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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

TRUMP RETURNING TO A BALANCED AMERICA

By Dominique Paul Noth
Virginia's new governor Ralph Northam, a nine point win
election night.

The timing was impossible to ignore.  Exactly a year after Trump took office, the US electorate awoke.  “A coalition of the decent stood up,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt in a TV interview. Others revived a  similar reference from a comic book:  The Justice League.

But those are the simplistic explanation for the runaway Democratic victories in New Jersey and Virginia, including some delegate results in the Virginia House that the most optimistic did not expect.  Shards of the victory were also felt in North Carolina, Maine, New Hampshire, Georgia, Washington State and elsewhere where minorities, one-time refugees and women were wining school districts, mayoral and local elections.

The national nightmare is not over just because the president has to tweet dismay from Asia.

Actually, as angry as the majority was after Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016, many were willing to give him a chance. For a while. The real fury began to emerge as more evidence mounted of corruption, collusion, lies unanswered, hollowed out agencies and trivial declarations. At first, many hoped the tweet storms, the personal insults, the dark knight rhetoric (“I alone can fix it”), the rambling policies were simply a candidate run amuck rather than the stability that would emerge after declaring himself just behind Lincoln in presidential stature

Ten months in office confirmed the worst. Unless the president goes through a remarkable un-Trumpian conversion, or interventions by  his aides more successful than they were on his Asia teleprompter  tour,  the public knows that what it sees now is what it will get for three more years – if he lasts that long.

The curiosity is that hopeful 30%-- the folks he could shoot on Fifth Avenue and still back him.

They don’t seem to live in the same objective world of facts as the once-sleepy majority of Americans.  In an age where women no longer will be dismissed as sexual toys to be fondled by the working man, it is the white women (at least half of them) standing by this shrinking pool of white men who cling to the Donald and blame others, like Congress, for blocking all the good things he has promised. 

They forget how Congress started drowning in the polls – it was  when the Republicans refused to work with a Democratic president who is looking more moderate every day. Last November, gleeful Republicans swore that since they had the White House, too, it was full speed ahead.  Cue the drowning music. 

Turns out ideas  still matter to the public, and theirs are wrapped in bizarre and still  unproven idealism about trickle down and protect the rich.  We will be saved by the tax bill, Paul Ryan pledges, even though his economic view does more damage to the Virginia voters who rose up to destroy his party in an off-year.  The kind of commandments they  keep pushing wouldn’t work if they got the  pie in the sky economy that 20 Koch Bros in a row could never deliver. 

They apparently don’t remember what Trump promised. Or like him they blame  the failures on immigrants he fumes about,  the foreign trade partners he now works with, the hires who keep fumbling and the offshore money he can’t bring back because his campaign coffers rely on it

He would hire great people and  wipe away the bureaucratic regulations interfering with good business. Remember? Instead time and again he wiped away rules few objected to because they kept rivers from being polluted and chemical spills from being controlled. Maybe destroying the earth is how he wanted to help businesses succeed.

Even one of his first acts was  lifting an Obama effort to limit the availability of guns to the mentally ill, yet Trump had the audacity to blame the Texas shooting on mental illness, not the easy access for arms to a proven domestic abuser. 

Repeal and replace Obamacare was sweeping ahead without any replacement or any intelligent reason for repeal. What is still sitting out there and scaring Americans  is not the regular order that bipartisan senators are working on but a GOP  plan that would return the US to the days of unfettered premium heights and lousy health plans.  Now the people on Medicaid are being threatened with work and community service requirements even in areas where there are not jobs or services available. It’s the “go ahead and die, lazy bones” rule.

In foreign affairs even at his best he is clearly being handled (a horrible thing to say about anyone elected to president, something that was whispered about Nixon’s final days).  The scientists still left in the administration see no alternative to human activity contributing  to climate change, and the best the White House can do is drop its harsher  rhetoric while riding its dinosaurs.

The mold has been cast.  But hatred for Trump  has become too commonplace and too ineffective.  In fairness there was an effort by many liberals to give him a chance until fool me once, fool me twice, turned into how many years can we play the fool. But the disaster of his methods at least opened a more positive door for the nation’s future.
Danica Roem (center) embraced by supporters election night

The lesson of Virginia moves far past Hillary’s method in 2016 to point out how ridiculous Trump sounded. The delegates who may actually take over an amazingly unbalanced Virginia House – 66-34 strongly gerrymandered  for the Republicans, even more than that 63-36 Wisconsin  Assembly -- emphasized local issues such as jobs, health care, even gun control.  The first openly transgender candidate, Danica Roem, rode the bathroom bill right-winger out of town by  9 percentage points  emphasizing infrastructure and traffic  issues! 

The lesson seems to be even deeper than running away from Trump but running on something people can grasp -- making their lives better on a local realistic front.  Now the Democrats have to stifle their internal distractions about who is progressive enough.

Some Democrats say this election shows the public is turning more radically left, pointing to the minorities that succeeded as almost an “in your face” vote to the right-wing.  Others are looking deeper. People did not elect candidates because their color or religion suggested an openness.  Their ideas did. They seemed closer to the problems of the people and committed to grassroots  door to door involvement.  Latino, black or white, they took a  “get it done” tone, ignored divisiveness and spelled out the importance of listening.

It will be interesting to see if Wisconsin learns these  lesson.  The Democrats here have not been as politically motivated and organized as folks in Virginia, even though the similarities between the  states are striking – rural vs. urban, horrible gerrymandering, entrenched GOP machine. 

There are efficient groups hereabouts to attract candidates and hit the streets, but not as many or as determined as it seems looking back at Virginia. There it was a commonality of purpose that brought together diverse Democratic factions while I still sense in Wisconsin some tugs of war among groups like Citizen Action, Indivisible, OFA, Emerge Wisconsin, Working Families Party and the Democratic state party under Martha Laning, which may at least have the most money on hand to work with.

Even in Virginia, the Trump side seemed pretty  hardened in more rural communities and the victories seemed built on suburbia.  True in this state as well. But even the rural communities in Wisconsin, whose numbers wouldn’t balance a furious outpouring from urban centers, will respond to policies and their own people that strike their needs not just seek to inflame and manufacture social values. 

Many progressive Catholics, for instance, tell me how disgusted they are that the abortion positions are described in the media  as pro-choice vs. pro-life.  They believe choice and life are compatible and their commonality in many ideas is butting against a simplistic journalistic cliché.  It has now translated to the streets, sort of a purity test of who is a real Democrat. That is so foolish.

People running for state or US legislature are beginning to get that, inviting people in on shared community values rather than trying to demonize on single issue statements.  Trump surely succeeded by sowing dissension on religion, place of birth, guns in the household, 19th century attitudes, waving the flag. The Nov. 7 winning candidates looked past that, and so did the voters.

It’s too early to pronounce dissension politics dead.  But Wisconsin could help drag such politics further toward the coffin.


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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

BOTH FEAR AND ELECTIONS BEHIND HEADLINES

By Dominique Paul Noth

The White House press secretary, who should be named Sarah Huckster Sanders, keeps turning once normal phrases into laughable clichés.  Whatever Trump’s vague policies on health care, Dreamers and taxes, they are “clear and consistent.”  Every such major issue is always drawing his “laser-like focus” while every Trump critic is engaging in something Trump would never do – “petty grandstanding.” 

Flake, a strong conservative,
dislikes the image of the right
that Trump projects.
The tweets – which she described to shell-shocked journalists as Trump’s way of reaching the public “unfiltered” – have actually driven both camps into derision:  Democrats to prove the president is unhinged, Republicans because his tweets minimize every policy initiative they want, as now seems to be happening with the tax bill.

The situation has finally brought calls from the public to the press to stop wasting time covering Sanders’ constant lying for her president and Trump’s unsavory tweety birds insulting everyone who disagrees with him or anyone who reports conversations truthfully.   It does seem they keep putting the daily clang of Trump in our head when we desire Bach. Even Nine Inch Nails would be more soothing.

The media now is having its feet held to the fire even as it wonders why establishment Republicans are not holding Trump’s feet to the fire the way a few respected senators have.  There’s a sad, simple reason:

Upcoming elections, one as soon as December, will keep political headlines percolating and the GOP fence-sitting.  The fever for Trump is still too high – even with only 37% supporting him in polls, even with Republicans in obvious disarray about how to place the cold cloth of truth on the feverish.  The temperature may have to fall below 25% before the Republicans will act. 

Self-protection is proving more important than public service for the GOP -- because there are still policies Republicans hope from even an unstable, impulse-driven White House.  The common Beltway description of the tax bill has become “having a baby to save a failing marriage.”

Let’s be clear that conservatives are embracing their own brand but ashamed Trump is the spokesman.  Jeff Flake of Arizona, who took to the Senate floor for a blistering speech against Trump, still votes 94% his way. Similarly strong for conservatives is Bob Corker of Tennessee who has also called Trump “debasing of American values”  and dangerous enough to lead us into World War III.

Yet both are respected as principled and interested in bipartisanship – as is John McCain who has joined them in fierce criticism of Trump’s behavior (though not all his policies).  Since they represent what many once held important in the Republican Party (small government, fiscal conservatism, freedom from tyranny) it becomes painful to realize they are throwing the glove in Trump’s face as they are leaving the field of battle, not in advance of a duel. Both Flake and Corker have announced they are not running in 2018.

The Republicans left in Congress could not have a shinier example than their speeches for  standing up to the Trump who rides roughshod over statesmanship – but  they are not streaming to join the revolt. That suggests a key requirement of running for office is cowardice.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss suggests many Republican office holders privately agree with Corker and Flake but are afraid saying so will arouse the Trump base to primary them.  That base may be shrinking to a hard core as polls suggest independents are abandoning the president, but there are more than enough immovables to scare up silence.

It is not Steve Bannon, no longer in the White House, who is driving up GOP caution, though he is whipping the hard core hard. It is the money behind him – the Mercer fortune that can be applied against Republican seat-holders in upcoming races. So they would rather be Trump’s nannies than the citizens’ voice.

All this may actually be good news for Democrats  the clearer it becomes the Republicans are too cowardly to follow their instincts. 

Corker was popular in Tennessee, which has long been solidly red (the last Democrat elected to the Senate was Al Gore in 1990) and thus Democrats at best face an uphill campaign.   Distaste for Trump, combined with concern for health care and other basic public values, could be changing things on the ground to the Democrats advantage.

Their best hope lies in the likelihood that strident Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a vehement hard-right Trump backer who has pushed her way into being a spokesperson for GOP House policies, will likely sweep the field in the primary to face the still undetermined Democrat. Given some of the names being floated, including popular mayors, her mere presence leaves the GOP vulnerable in November 2018.

Democrat Krysten Sinema
sees her chances go up
in Arizona
Arizona is even more in play, since chances are boosted for highly regarded Rep. Kyrsten Sinema on the Democratic side.  She has a winning life story and a reputation for independence that should appeal in Arizona, particularly if the GOP choose Kelli Ward, the physician who publicly wished John McCain would die so she could be appointed to his seat (a statement that pretty much guarantees Arizona governor Doug Ducey would look elsewhere if that eventuality occurs).

She has also been so indiscriminately in Trump’s corner  and so savagely anti  the popular McCain that  a lot of Republican voters could be swayed to Sinema’s side. It may even flip Flake.  His powerful speech on the Senate floor announcing his departure --  and his vision of an unsavory Trump who will never change --  has led the GOP to search for someone more palatable than Ward to run for the seat.

But a lot can happen before those events in November of 2018.  This December 12 there is a once unimaginable opportunity to lower the GOP Senate control from 52 to 51, basically blocking the worst legislative possibilities of the Trump administration (since finding only two GOP senators  stops Vice President Pence from casting the tie-breaking vote). If that Alabama upset had been in place October 24, Republicans could not have eliminated a strong plank at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

With help, Doug Jones may pull off
an upset in Alabama
Alabama is the definition of a deep red state, has been for years.  So much so that Sen. Richard Shelby switched to the Republican Party in 1994, reading the voter tea leaves. But the GOP primary decided to put up Roy Moore, the twice removed state supreme court justice whose policies can charitably be described as unconstitutional, anti-homosexual, anti-women, anti-Muslim and anti anything he interprets as against a Christian god.

His Democratic opponent, a well regarded former prosecutor,  Doug Jones,  still has an uphill fight despite a FOX poll that puts him in an amazing tie with Moore. That’s not decisive because Alabama voter turnout has traditionally been low. 

In the past there were few Alabama elections where the results were even in doubt between the parties, which means Democratic voters have not been much involved and are out of the habit.  But Jeff Sessions, whose seat is being filled, has been an extremist attorney general, angering  much of the nation with his policies. Roy Moore has not been making headway beyond a loyal band of supporters.  Doug Jones has been successful in raising money nationwide.

So the results could be a shocker – and not just to the Alabama system. 

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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

WEINSTEIN AND THE TRIGGERS OF WRATH

By Dominique Paul Noth

It’s been a banner bacchanal year for leering and revulsion --  a dominating CEO hinting or demanding  casting couch liberties from the budding famous or wannabes, using female employees as his stalking horse, engaging in outright fondling and literal chasing around the hotel room, accused of rape, subject of secret tapings and commonly known for rampant misogyny. 

Brute has become Harvey
Weinstein's middle name
It’s juicy enough to be a horror film -- the continuing predatory tale of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has now been deservedly kicked out of every influential film organization

Why didn’t Hollywood act earlier? So scream the media and the public. But let’s turn that around because Hollywood was hardly alone in the winking.  The same charge of too broad acceptance could be said about Bill Cosby, the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and even Donald Trump.  We came to know how they operated so why didn’t we holler to the rooftops?

It was an open secret that this hurricane Harvey was a rapacious womanizer. But our society as a whole, and the entertainment industry in particular, know the power of sex in the marketplace. Both sexes tend to accept a certain level of sexual teasing, a tolerance for woman-chasing as long as it more amuses than horrifies.

Prosecutors may never be able to make a rape case against Weinstein (the time element). But outside the courtroom there’s no doubt anywhere of his savage sexual come-ons disguised as auditions, the power plays Miramax covered up, the system of protectionism and the failure of groups, even the entertainment unions, that should have intervened faster. 

But a lighter version of such sexual misbehavior – with dark hints of far worse -- is not only tolerated in our society but welcome.   It sells tabloids in the supermarket, entire channels on cable television, series on networks and it’s turning darker and more salacious as standards loosen up. It takes quite a bit of coverage to switch our smirking SNL acceptance into a Weinstein level of social disgust.

What is the switch point? For one thing, volume of encounters, a predatory pattern.  For another, power.  The predator is in the position to force cooperation or has developed a successful pattern with women whose looks have a lot to do with their employment. 

There’s yet another reason, though we are proving more selective here, the possibility of escape because of wealth -- that they will continue to get away with it without media exposure and public condemnation. Stripping away their authority becomes the remedy when the courts fail.

These seem the trigger moments when we stop joking about the Weinsteins of the world and act against them. But in the past our outrage has been misapplied.  Yellow journalism and public fury ended the career of Fatty Arbuckle, a silent film star lynched in ink by untruths.  An abnormal fear  of womanizing and politics barred Charlie Chaplin for generations while in modern times we quickly forgave Hugh Grant, Eddie Murphy and others for dallying with prostitutes.  Today’s Internet sweeps up rumors rapidly even as it seems to loosen standards.  That, our evolving attitudes and our past mistakes should serve as some sort of cautionary tale. 

Why does Trump escape censure?
We need to talk more about what triggers the kind of outrage that sticks to Weinstein and Cosby but not to Donald Trump.  If anything positive comes out of this case it is turning our glares at the justice system.

A little known 10-year-old Twitter hashtag, #MeToo,  is choking with messages from women abused my men in power.

The publicity has emboldened all manner of women even knowing the complaints may not go anywhere given the antiquated status of our laws. 

Elected officials should realize the wrath lands particularly hard when the courts and society cannot dole out punishment.  All these headline-making offenders who spent years establishing authority over men and women were often praised for it.

Nor do they fit the traditional rape stereotype of the back alley prowler. Asked to comment on Weinstein, Brandeis law professor Anita Hill (who obviously knows about this) pointed to the fallacy of  who to be careful around.  “Too many are under the impression that the people who do this are losers, and that’s not the case,” she told Newsweek. “Liberal men, high-achieving men, educated men, men who claim to support women, can be harassers.” 

Today’s headline-generating scandals recall how the 1950s and 1960s amalgamated conflicting trends in American society, with powerful effects on adolescents in their formative sexual years.

Feminism grew slowly on one side while the other side entrenched the Playboy magazine view of the world, an era when “Bikini Beach” movies were innocent silly fun at one level and ogling adolescent fantasies on another. 

Weinstein born in 1952, O'Reilly 1949, Trump 1946, Ailes 1940, Cosby 1937. They assuredly shared a similar generation of cultural attitudes and behavior that society tolerated or was even attracted to. By their twenties they moved in similar circles of wealth and Type A power.

This does not mean Weinstein’s behavior can ever be excused. Frankly, unlike the others, it could have been nipped in the bud. But it needs to be understood in the context of the world he grew up in and that we, Americans, created.

The late Hugh Hefner was a slick marketer in this cultural turmoil  -- magazine interviews in which the future President Carter (hard to imagine a better man) confessed to “lust in his heart,” the only phrase anyone remembers from that article.  There were frequent magazine essays defending free sex, same sex and even feminism while the centerfolds unfolded merrily in high school bedrooms.  As one writer has noted, Hefner could “mainstream pornography” if he could tie it to upper class aspirations.

Some men moved past that  obsessive interest in the female form even as some women shot past the boxes society put them in.   But not all men and not all women, not by a long shot.

Natural impulses were extended into aggressive exploitation.  The language and teasing of the times are now rich fodder for TV shows like “Mad Men.”  Even today where groups of men gather, you hear the same butcher shop snicker when a woman in a miniskirt walks  by.  “If you don’t want us to look at the meat, don’t hang it in the window.”   Men get defensive when women get angry about treatment like this  – blaming the woman for their  reaction.  

The movies today may acknowledge all ages and generations but the bulk of the profits still stem from catering to the adolescent male mind, even as that mind lingers into adulthood.

Cultural icons embody attitudes that would stir anger today. When Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night TV show conjured up the ghost of Frank Sinatra to sing his real hatred (historically documented) for casino owner Trump, we first had the faux Sinatra confess he was still “banging ghost broads” in heaven before insulting Trump in familiar Sinatra song patois (****you to the moon I’d like to sock you in the snout).  The Sinatra annals are full of stories not only about women flocking to him but some women coerced into giving sexual favors to Frankie baby, and this was the avatar that was familiar to this generation – a vulgar combative man’s man. 

Yet no expert on popular song can overlook Sinatra’s depth of interpretation, sense of swing and amazing intonation.  Do we stop listening to Sinatra? Of course not.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler drew one of their biggest Golden Globes laughs in 2013 when they singled out director Katherine Bigelow and the controversy over “Zero Dark Thirty.” “When it comes to torture,” Poehler quipped, “I trust the woman who spent three years married to James Cameron.”  Is there now a move to ban “Titanic”?  Don’t be silly.

Comic Seth McFarlane says his 2013 Oscar joke to the supporting actress nominees (“Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein”) was based on what he heard from friends in the business.  A year earlier “30 Rock” used a similar joke without apology: “Oh, please, I’m not afraid of anyone in show business. I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions out of five.” Before we blame Hollywood for looking away, both these moments were viewed and laughed at by millions.

Dominant and even brutalizing males have long been part of our (male dominated?)  culture.  Go back to Anita Hill and those hearings about Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court.   An in-bred southerner whose record on civil rights was quite disturbing, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, immediately recognized the verity of what a conservative Baptist African American (Hill) was saying about sexual come-ons by Thomas and took to the Senate floor to defend her.  His remarks barely dented how a bunch of middle aged white men, led by the likes of Joe Biden and Orrin Hatch, treated her – and of course, Thomas survived and she was ridiculed.

These men were hardly isolated chauvinists in 1991. It was women in office conversations who discounted her the most, saying in effect, “Anita should grow up” – that this kind of sexual innuendo from male bosses was natural in the workplace and women had long ago learned to shrug it off.  The office women of 1991 are not far from the Donald Trump Jr. of today.

While these Hill doubters sneered at the feminists' freakout of TV talking heads,  Weinstein was becoming established in the movie business and “The Cosby Show” was No. 1 in the TV ratings – to put in perspective how our society runs on parallel tracks.   Straying into adultery or calling on prostitutes? A one-day headline.  Sexual brutality forced on the less powerful? That lights our torches. 

There will be no historical rescue of O’Reilly and his backstage master Ailes, though neither was convicted. Their proclivities and bellicosity extended to how women were dressed, talked about and treated on Fox News, and their documented stalking of female employees fits the image their product projected.    

Weinstein, thank the Lord, was seldom a hands-on producer, with all that term implies. So his exposed offenses certainly should not cast shade on the films he executive produced whose artists elevated the profession:  “The King’s Speech,” “August: Osage County,” “Silver Lining Playbook,”  “The Iron Lady,” “Mandela” and so forth. 

Cosby case sickens and saddens
The case of Bill Cosby, though, is more complicated and upsetting – just like the hung jury he recently experienced.  

Few can embrace the hero of black culture, the early and innovative Cosby who made his mainstream mark in Playboy clubs (wasn't that a hint?), was a philanthropic giant, dominated TV living rooms for a decade and established a long-style form of observational comedy that didn't sound perverted. To the contrary, he was Jello Pudding family friendly, even though stories of infidelity trailed him.

His offenses violently contradict his family image. It was private behavior so in contrast to public persona that it becomes unforgivable.  I feel much like Jerry Seinfeld did in a recent interview about how he had so admired Cosby in his own formation that he was tempted to defend him  but he can no longer listen because he  “can’t separate” Cosby from the allegations.

Even today Cosby might  argue that this sickening feeling whenever his name comes up is unfair. After all, he has escaped court  punishment.  His “Cosby Show” associates are undeserving victims of his serial abuse. But the image of drugging and seducing women -- and his escaping because of his fame and built-in protection -- stands in such stark opposition to the Cosby the nation loved that, right now like Seinfeld, any past warmth turns bitter in the mouth.

It may take generations for that to change – not because we think better of the offenders but because we learn to think better of ourselves.

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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.


Friday, October 6, 2017

TIME TO RIP THE COVER OFF FACEBOOK

By Dominique Paul Noth


Facebook salesman Mark Zuckerberg
According to the tabloids, Mark Zuckerberg has spent the last four years countering that brilliant Aaron Sorkin portrait of his shallowness in 2010’s “The Social Network” and has used massive philanthropy, business suits and political speeches to paint a more likeable portrait.

The one thing he hasn’t done is pay attention to Facebook and its two billion accounts that made him one of the richest men in the world.

Until September he denied that Russians were using Facebook in any significant way – and then was confronted with Russian ads, some paid in rubles, that were using Facebook’s targeting abilities in particularly ugly ways.

Such as seeking out people who posted disparagingly or suspiciously about Muslims and then sending them anti-Clinton items (what Donald calls fake news).

Such as targeting secession movements from Catalonia to Texas to encourage disgruntlement with current governments, specifically devaluing belief in democratic solutions.

Such as spreading dissension between Clinton and Sanders supporters by choice use of items pretending to be news and playing up long-standing but unproven enmities.

Such as using the image of a black woman firing a rifle to inflame sentiments.

Last November Zuckerberg was actually pulled aside and warned by President Obama about the misuse of Facebook underlying Trump’s election, yet ignored that as well. 

Now his company if not him has to testify to Congress and try to explain to the public just where his brain has been for the last few years.

He has gotten rich for inventing Facebook, but if it is out of control, what is his right to keep running it?  Or does he even know how?

Facebook and social media in general have developed an unprecedented power that governments and their citizens are finally seeing not as a salvation but as a threat.

It also turns out that Russians siding with Putin may also have grasped the possibilities of algorithms more cunningly that Silicon Valley did and may or may not have needed Trump underlings to help out.

Siri on your phone is a useful if sometimes annoying example of algorithms. So are many other accepted pieces of coding.  There are applications you install because they promise one thing, such as anti-virus protection, but may open a trapdoor to something nefarious.  There are computer viruses and bots (automated software) that can replicate commands from hidden call centers.

Adults chuckle that their kids are more comfortable with computers than they are.  Yet even most kids don’t understand the stew of math, propaganda, coding and fraud. There are a lot of curious portals out there and they are now working hand in glove with familiar utilities like Google and Facebook.

The slowness of Facebook to grasp the mischief inherent in its creature is actually frightening.  I occupy an infinitesimally small sliver of Facebook with only 1,000 shared visitors mostly friends and necessary contacts.  So why, dating back two years, could I see problems worth writing about that Zuckerberg couldn’t?

I never leapt to the realization of Russian involvement, but in 2015 I wrote about how cunningly Facebook’s elements were being used by both practical jokers and politicians seeking a publicity advantage. I even said  “If Isis uses the Internet to recruit the unthinking, they now have helpers in such politicians as Wisconsin Gov. Walker.”


And in June of 2016 – more than a year ago --  I wrote another piece describing the insane dislike of Bernie Sanders supporters for Hillary Clinton fans, and vice versa, on Facebook.  I speculated that this was also political mischief because in real life these people, if they were real people, would never express such vitriol without some shrewd goading.  As I observed then, in calling for some code of ethics, “On the Internet these usually don’t exist at all.

Looking back now, a lot of that vitriol was stemming from bots not people, yet amazingly few of the victims – even today! -- want to admit falling for all that.  The consequence of the admission would be devastating psychologically when people ask themselves why they stayed home or voted opposite of expectations or common sense.

There is growing evidence that thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of accounts on Facebook and Twitter are not individuals but clones -- robotic agents for spreading “information,” to make real-life recipients believe they are part of a mass movement.

These poor citizens. They believe their innocent photos of puppies and recipes reflect the benign use of Facebook for the bulk of those two billion listed users.  These puppy lovers, convinced that their Facebook pals wouldn’t deceive them, repost alt.news and fake news portraying Hillary as a demon, Trump as a savior (literally) or whatever momentary fancy moves them.

One lesson just came from Las Vegas. The algorithms that add weight to initial searches on Google created a flood of falsehoods, including the wrong name of the shooter, which was spread on Facebook.  Such incidents are no longer a rarity.   Google searches turn into Facebook posts for hours or even days before actual information can slowly seep in and correct misimpressions – doing worse damage than a news crawl at the bottom of your TV screen.

The New York Times also detailed how fictions about juvenile sex and Shariah law used social media to unbalance an entire town.  More and more users of Facebook are realizing that the “Like” button is almost a virus, opening the door for years to misapplication of what you Liked and what you didn’t.

There may be an egotistical key to all this. That steady drumbeat of misinformation makes it seem that people who love you -- or people who care about your opinion -- are just trying to keep you in the know.

There are few objective online companies that identify fake news sites out of the volume of sites that can be created by anyone with basic coding ability – or even by Internet providers who provide the expertise for a price, with little concern about ethics.

This is an awkward moment for democratic societies.  We may admit that the Russians attempted to play with our voting databases (the US has sent confusing mixed messages about the attempt in 21 unnamed states) but we seized on assurances by state and federal agencies that the Russians did not succeed in physically pushing the wrong button.  We the People did.

Which means Trump was genuinely elected president.  How awkward.

People walked into the voting booth confident of their beliefs – or stayed home confident of their reasons for doing that, in large part believing in all the lies including that Clinton won the contest against Sanders unfairly, or that a vote for Jill Stein was not a wasted vote (though there is more and more evidence than it was wasted and was part of the Russian invasion).

Only in hindsight can we blame ignorance or deception.  Time has confirmed it was a minority of citizens who elected Trump, but unless the majority is willing to overthrow the Constitution we are stuck with him. For now.

In the meantime we should openly recognize the dangers of cyberspace are not some scientific sleight of hand.  The dangers are real and largely untouched.

This is also a particularly awkward turn for journalists like me and others who welcomed the free range of opinions the Internet allowed.  The occasional misuse – forwarding news accounts while denying the originating journalist just financial due – was regarded even by starving journalists as an almost worthwhile price for broader dissemination of real research and write-ups for the public. Many never grasped this also meant wider misinformation.

The greedy acquisitive nature of media companies – the commercial reasons they want control of the main digital pipes of the Internet – made many citizens champion net neutrality.  And still do. Frankly, the Internet seemed a welcome freedom from government interference, or the shackles of orchestrated behavior.   Saying what you think – is that bad?

Only now are we realizing that those so-called platforms – Facebook, Twitter and so forth -- rather than becoming agents of better knowledge were easily turned.  They are not harmless diversion but harmful attacks on the truth.  

These social media brands should no longer be called “platforms” but “channels” or “publishers,” not much different than TV, print and other established outlets.  They may need ethically trained and alert gatekeepers rather than technologists manipulating the codes for maximum attention rather than moral considerations.

Technology advances faster than the law can keep up. In many areas. Who in the 18th century could envision a legal handgun that could kill 58 civilians from 500 yards away in five minutes? Or a society churned by the inability to distinguish factual information from false.  Surely our Constitution could stretch to handle such matters?   Surely it won’t.

I am not so egotistical to believe the Russians needed help against naïve America, though I remain ever more open to the likelihood of  Trump or his aides being involved,  knowing their nefarious financial connections of the past. But bluntly there are hacker sophistication and propaganda skills far beyond what Trump has ever demonstrated.

As Congress and Robert Mueller continue their investigation, the president looks foolish to think it is all about him. It is actually all about us – how we are influenced or even led around by the nose, and who is doing it, and why -- and how we change it.


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.  His award-winning theater reviews appear at urbanmilwaukee.com.