Thursday, September 11, 2014

RALLY AT UWM ATTACKS ‘CASH FOR KIDS’ SCHEMES AT CHARTER SCHOOLS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Marva Herndon of Women Informed addresses
 the UWM campus rally Sept. 11 while Father Tom Mueller (center)
 listens. Watching (back to camera) is MTEA President Bob Peterson.
It was somewhat impromptu when the teacher’s union and community groups called within hours  for a rally in front of Enderis Hall, the UWM School of Education building,  September 11, to protest the “cash for kids” insult to public education represented by revelations that week that not just UWM charter schools but – it turned  out –  a city of Milwaukee charter approved school were engaged in such lures to boost enrollment in time to get state  taxpayer money.   

(Central City Cyberschool in Ald. Willie Wade’s district has a flyer offering $200 for a student referral by Sept. 19, so look for a major City Hall protest soon that will likely draw more than 40 insiders to the issue.)

While Milwaukee teachers were there, and community activists including South Side Greek Orthodox priest Thomas Mueller, it was notable how many UWM staff and teachers also participated since they see this as a stain on their own public university's values. The late afternoon rally with bullhorn and media observers drew fleeting attention from most students rushing to classes, but dozens of other students  stopped to listen and seemed caught in a bizarre middle – attending classes at a place being criticized by people who teach them or whose professions they are studying to join. 

Some asked for more information. One student watching from behind a  glass window wondered  if $100 per child was reducing children to the sort of discount items he associated with TV or phone service (“give us a new customer and you’ll get a free month”). Another asked if all this proved these charter schools, set up in poor neighborhoods to draw students from MPS, were “failing if they have to pay to get their hands on our taxpayer money.”

And a UWM staffer asked if  using adults to trap children pointed out a bigger problem in today’s education game -- that saving money can sound  more attractive to struggling parents  than curriculum or quality. 

“With kids and education,” one student asked me as I watched from the sidelines, “isn’t that bribery?  Is it legal?”

UWM administrators and public officials are now belatedly asking the same question, as UWM vice chancellor Tom Luljak confirmed in an email:

“UWM was not aware of and did not approve  incentive programs that some of our Charter schools have used to increase enrollment,” he wrote.

“In its sponsorship of Charter schools, UW-Milwaukee has always been focused on one key objective – helping students receive the very best education possible.  In determining whether the use of incentives is appropriate . . . we will evaluate whether they serve the best interests of students and do not detract from the quality of educational programs within the schools.”  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

$100 FOR A CHARTER REFERRAL EXPOSES SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT AS CRASS CHARADE

By Dominique Paul Noth


Dancing  $100 bills at the Urban Day School website
A hundred dollars for any parent who refers another parent to a charter elementary school? Even when the Journal Sentinel reported this scheme by UWM chartered Urban Day School, it couldn’t resist some false equivalency. It suggested that such cash for kids in a poor neighborhood  – timed to the date the school would get taxpayer money if the referred student shows up – is somehow a shrewd extension of the competitive “free market” system in education, to paraphrase the article.

Sorry guys. Bribery ain’t an “economic incentive” outside of cadging cigarets in prison.

The Wisconsin funding formula does put pressure on all schools to make sure students are there to be counted on the third Friday of September – the state’s official enrollment day to get taxpayer money.  But in the city of Milwaukee, parents unhappy with their voucher or private school education can approach the MPS any day of the school year to get their child transferred, regardless of whether (weirdly) the MPS has to wait a semester or more to get state payment. 

Not apparently at Urban Day. The $100  offer to a referring parent --  who may quietly share the proceeds with accepting parents, there is no regulations about this, and it’s even more lucrative if you bring in two or three children --  disappears after Sept. 19, as the website warns.  And if the school gains back with dollars  the 110 kids it is short,  this “public school” can cut applicants off, which strikes me as hardly public.

The school doesn’t see anything wrong with giving $100 per student, because it eventually comes from the taxpayers to go to adult salesmen.

The charade is exposed. (And that should have been the JS headline.)  The school choice movement  has lost any intelligent claim that it is concerned about the kids, not the money. 

“Free market” competition? Natural share? Well, nature is working in favor of  the public schools and  so is the competitive  marketplace when you take away gimmicks.

Noted Rep. Evan Goyke, in whose legislative district the school at 1441 N. 24th St. is located, “This disgusts me. It reduces educating kids  to the level of a retail market, like cable television, which offers a discount if you bring in a customer.”

For years educators have been pleading in vain with the Walker administration for  some oversight agency with teeth  to monitor how charter and voucher schools peddle their wares. Now those who care about education have  been done in yet again by unsupervised schools feeling free to hire marketing Mad Men.

Of course there are some good charter schools, but more and more news analysis is exposing how much of the charter movement is a racket under investigation.

Privately operated charter and voucher schools claim that profit is not primary in their blandishments.  The selling game at Urban Day School flat undermines that concept. It  also should serve as a warning to neighborhoods that think there is anything permanent in the polished presentations and promises, since all those riches and attention can rapidly evaporate as the market turns and the only way to keep enrollment up is manipulation of parents, not what is happening in the classroom.


For those who don't Internet, the
school produced flyers.
Bob Peterson, the president of the Milwaukee teachers union, posted an angry blog about this but it can hardly be regarded as a pro-union comment by an outspoken pro-union figure. Peterson was making a basic point about education. Schools should be about what’s best for the child, not artificial inducements that drive a parent to drag a child to a school regardless of curriculum. Because that is what Urban Day School is doing. And authorizing agency UWM, as he says, should be ashamed at this  blatant appeal to the wallet.  It isn’t even asking parents who like Urban Day to tell their friends. It is a bribe to any parent who makes a referral.

So any claim that this is simply a competitive marketing ploy evaporates when you think of sticking a hundred dollars into some grownup’s hand to talk another parent into getting his child there by a specific money-generating date. Any conniving citizen who needs a hundred bucks (not all parents are saints) could have many motives beside education.  And if they do care about their kids, they have to realize that the MPS doesn’t do this and they can walk away to another school a week later! So much for family involvement.

At Urban Day it’s $100. At another UWM charter school a referral brings a $50 grocery store  cardSuch rewards for referrals are clearly the bridge too far for serious educators.

The false equivalency rampant in our media was also in the JS story, comparing this tactic to simply making sure students show up for the Sept. 19 count.  But when MPS offers pancake breakfasts that key day, which the article points out, that is for students already enrolled. It’s a nutritious way to assure they show up  rather than stuffing bills in a parent’s pocket. 

Other complaints I got from UWM staff  and Milwaukee parents dealt more with the  optics – the JS story used a totally unrelated photo of a happy CEO surrounded by grinning Urban Day kids rather than the school’s website of  floating $100 bills for greedy parents. TV stations proved more mature in their coverage, realizing the brazenness of the website was the real story.

The come-on damaged Urban Day’s self-proclaimed vision of competence.  The school has  suffered a major enrollment drop in the last few years and also lost its federal Head Start funding. Previously it had not been demonized as one of the problem offspring of the voucher and charter movement, having been around for more than a century in various forms, then taken over as a UWM charter school in 2010. 

But this selling tactic as a response to its free market economic downturn  reflects poorly on its prestigious set of officers and trustees representing such organizations as the Milwaukee Bucks, Northwestern Mutual, We Energies, Time Warner and even a children’s court judge, all of whom must now be raising some troubling questions of their own. Apparently the dollars for kids idea has never been adjudicated or even found legal.

We weren’t aware of this before,” said UWM spokesman Tom Luljak in a phone interview September 9, “and our legal team is now investigating.” 

If charter schools – technically public schools though MPS always accepts every student without checking with the bookkeeper, while private charter schools seem able to turn away kids or find ways not to take them in – are allowed to behave this way, the next question is clear: Just what is going on at voucher schools? 

Up to now most of the coverage has focused on the cost in the voucher legislation to public schoolsBut now that  Gov. Scott Walker seeks to expand  it statewide despite outrage in Beloit and elsewhere, more attention is being paid to how these schools sell parents to participate despite poor educational outcomes.

News story exploring the insides of the voucher schools in Milwaukee have largely had to appear in publications outside Milwaukee, given what many academics regard as a partisan tilt in local education coverage. But as more such stories are coming out,  their conclusions are frankly sickening, even if a must read for any parent contemplating this path.

Perhaps in its blatancy, Urban Day has done a public service. Its overt grab for artificial enrollment figures using money as a carrot for grownups has launched in-depth investigations by UWM, the DPI and Madison legislators, all thinking the state is now suffering an ethical black eye.


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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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


Friday, September 5, 2014

BODY POLITICS ARE REAL FOR GWEN MOORE IN ARREST

By Dominique Paul Noth

As tweeted by Wisconsin Jobs Now,
Gwen Moore under arrest in West Milwaukee.
The reason so many Milwaukeeans admire US Rep. Gwen Moore – while some loud 
GOP Wisconsinites on social media and talk radio openly hate her – was demonstrated September 4 in West Milwaukee when she along with dozens of fast food workers protesting for living wages were handcuffed and ticketed for entering a northbound lane of the Miller Parkway.

While President Obama and multiple senators and representatives support national pressure on the fast food industry to raise wages, Moore was the only member of Congress in the nation to put her body where her beliefs were and get arrested.

There was no advance planning in this – the only photo was tweeted by Wisconsin Jobs Now, a protest organizer.  

The plainclothes officer who handcuffed her during the noon hour protest was described by Moore as courteous and professional.  She was detained until about 3 p.m. and has been mailed a $691 ticket she intends to pay. Moore has participated before in union and political actions (some leading to jail).  She simply woke up that morning convinced that she had to show physical solidarity despite having broken her arm a week earlier (another reason the police officer handcuffed her gently in front).  Her aides are convinced the police  knew who she was though she was wearing a “Raise Up Milwaukee” T-shirt and blended in with the other predominately African American protesters.

Which raised an impossible question – impossible because it would be ideologically ridiculous to imagine that fellow area Congressional representatives Paul Ryan or Jim Sensenbrenner would agree with the protest much less join it.  It did raise the specter of whether well-dressed white men flanked by their inevitable aides-de-camp would be so treated.  But social media jumped into the speculation, by some avid supporters, that she was arrested because she was black or, by some extremist opponents, that she took “advantage  of being black" (their bizarre term) to get arrested.

Planned and a few spontaneous demonstrations went on that Thursday in some 150 cities as part of the nationwide Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum hourly wage of fast food employees along with other concerns, such as allowing unionizing efforts.   The Milwaukee events gathered workers from Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s and other fast food chains, joined by supporters at several locations – including the McDonald’s outlet that drew Moore. In an MSNBC interview that afternoon, she spoke to how many adult workers she met who were “cobbling together” minimum wage jobs to help their families survive.

She called a higher wage floor inevitable “and I’m proud to stand up for 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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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

Friday, August 8, 2014

LOOK FOR HIGHER TURNOUT IN KEY COUNTIES TO GIVE RICHARDS THE WIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Jon Richards
You’ve seen the prediction by experts that only 15% of Wisconsin voters will turn out for the August 12 primary. That requires some adjustment. The estimate is spread out over 72 counties and many don’t have intensive contests, particularly on the Republican side. But throughout the state there are pockets of dispute among Democrats that could spur bigger numbers.

That’s anticipated in Milwaukee County by the overseeing public authority. In an interview, Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnecki expects interest will be considerably higher given the sheriff’s race alone, not to mention the intense battle among Democrats in several legislative districts, such as 10 and 19. In another Milwaukee centered federal race (the county has the responsibility of placing it on their prepared ballot), there is growing desire to protect respected and admired US Rep. Gwen Moore from the crossover machination of right-wing radio.

The situation in Dane County as well as Milwaukee might also increase the current ho-hum attention to the attorney general contest. Both counties have high Democratic populations and well-known candidates in this race to counter what has largely been a blandly covered contest. It’s not just DA Ismael Ozanne but how well Jon Richards is known from years in the Assembly in Madison.

A lot of media is indifferent because of the bigger money raised by the unopposed Republican in the race. Brad Schimel doesn’t have to spend money or time on this contest until the November finale, which observers see as an edge. But there is also a negative – the taint of agreeing so much with the current AG, J.B. Van Hollen, who spends more money defending laws that are questionable or unconstitutional – and Schimel agrees with Hollen. They are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. (One example is the voter ID law blocked by federal ruling and not even solving the 31 cases of voter fraud in 1 billion US ballots cast from 2000 to 2014). 

So there is a lot of pressure to find a new AG more concerned about the Wisconsin public than about partisan buddies. There is a nonpartisan history in this state for that office, a search for an AG with the proven standards and intelligence to oppose any questionable laws whichever party offers.

The lack of interest in this primary doesn’t mean the voters aren’t eager for change. It may simply be they don’t much care which of three respectable Democrats win.

But maybe they should. There is a misconception about the role of the attorney general, often described as the state’s “top cop.”  In public discussion of the “issues” important in the job, what often dominates is the courtroom experience putting murderers in jail, which the AG doesn’t do. It is seen as prosecutorial presence in criminal cases, again not the key role, which is setting tone and policy with an almost academic ability to understand nuanced and complicated laws. 

The public doesn’t see the huge operative sweep of a major agency that must interpret laws, administrate statewide police procedures and facilities, cooperate and set the standards for other state law enforcement units and prosecutors, while working with dozens of outside agencies of justice and with the legislature, listen to the people and maintain as primary his or her own conscience.

We’ve left out the very important meeting and cooperating with other state attorneys general on task forces and combined legislative concerns such as white collar crimes, fraud mongers and criminal groups across jurisdictions. Van Hollen because of political vagaries has resisted a lot of such opportunities, but they raise the state’s profile and importance and often bring in money for state coffers and respect for the state’s moral status.

Those are some of the reasons I much prefer Jon Richards. He is a lawyer but offers far more than knowing his way around the court in criminal and civil cases. He knows his way around governments. He has spent decades in the Assembly pushing for responsible behavior not just in law enforcement but budget issues, mental and social health, poverty and other factors that have a direct impact on crime and punishment. Richards abandoned a secure seat in Milwaukee District 19 knowing he will have some image problems as a liberal Democrat and a genial politician who knows how to work the rope lines more than strut and posture iron-jaw for the camera. 

He must also deal with that old saw that urban Milwaukee candidates can’t win statewide, ignoring Herb Kohl and even our current governor (though they reflect different parties) not to mention past state leaders in other generations that won big coming out of Milwaukee. The office is expected to be nonpartisan and approachable.  Administrative competence and infighting skills may be the most important – and Milwaukee if nothing else sure teaches you about infighting.  Charlie Sykes’ junior partner in talk radio, Jeff Wagner, may beat up on Jim Doyle in part because Doyle beat him for the AG spot, and actually ran it well enough that even Republicans voted him in as governor – and he worked with other state attorneys general to bring in tobacco settlement money, though the other party frittered it away.  

Richards’ quiet manner, his ability to enthusiastically glad-hand while keeping his counsel until he stands up in negotiations, may fit this job better than the macho prosecutorial toughness that Wisconsinites associate with “top cop” – as the media should be pointing out.

His platform reflects how long his  policies have matched his AG intentions -- increased funding for drug and alcohol  courts, increased pay and experience for prosecutors, background checks and taking guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and –- a major function of the office -- protecting all consumers from fraud, such as senior citizen abuse by unscrupulous nursing homes. These don’t make great 30-second ads, nor does suggesting wait-and-see-what-happens in Colorado before writing a law about legal marijuana.  But this is the kind of measured soundness the AG job will require whomever occupies the governor’s mansion or legislature.

That may be why both his opponents are playing up their roles as criminal prosecutors – and good ones on the record. What else can they say?


Ismael Ozanne
Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne also made a lot of friends exposing what the GOP did to the open records law to rush-pass Act 10, though the Wisconsin Supreme Court, whose rulings have become a blot on the nation’s judicial system, overruled him.  That case alone made him a favorite of the far left, which is somewhat misleading given his balanced record.

Similarly – in a mystification to some longtime progressives – there is a big money hug for the other DA, Susan Happ, because she flashes Democratic principles in conservative Jefferson County, though some of her positions are closer to those of Schimel, the Waukesha County DA.

Ozanne does stick with his principles, such as a diversion program for abusive parents, which encourages greater understanding of adults raised to believe in corporal punishment as a “culturally acceptable” style of discipline.  News reports oversimplified his program as supporting spanking as opposed to his recognition that the problem can’t be solved by jail time. But Ozanne has not sufficiently responded to some intelligent criticism from child psychologists about longer term educational needs for such families.

Susan Happ
Happ is selling herself as a tough Democrat who can win -- and has -- in rural Republican territory. But the ad campaign and financing are doing more than that – playing up her gender at one moment and then overemphasizing the masculine associated side of her biography – a tiny baby who grew up with muscles, wrestling boys into submission, riding a Harley, having a concealed carry permit and putting away criminals with enthusiasm.

At the June 4 Emerge Wisconsin event in Milwaukee honoring Gwen Moore as woman of the year, she gave a mighty speech I totally  agree with about the extraordinary efforts needed to put more  women in public office – but not any woman, as she knows from working in  Congress next to rabid Marsha Blackburn and ranting Michelle Bachman.

But women are more than half the population and less than a fifth of Congress.  They work with more compatibility and effectiveness in many cases, yet because of cultural bias and upbringing they must be more forcibly recruited into public roles. That inherent sexism of society they have to conquer is reflected even in diaper styles, where girls get plastic butterflies and boys get Spiderman. Yet most women I know have more physical endurance and tolerance of pain. As British actress Helen Mirren is fond of saying, there will be more good roles for actresses the more diverse roles society gives women.

So no question we need more and more women and they need a special push. But the problem comes in politics when a man is proven equal or better on women’s issues and negotiating skills (Richards) and the “more women in office” organizations ignore the field to support the gender.

I sure wish (and have told them) that the national Emily’s List supporting more women in office  had done more homework before backing Happ given not any deficit on her part but how Richards has proven himself in their causes for two decades.  I also wish Happ didn’t feel the need to emphasize a lifestyle associated with men to convince male voters.  Intelligent America is supposed to have grown beyond that.  Maybe it’s that lingering belief that women don’t have fortitude or that voter association of the AG with physical bull-rush.  Maybe we can grow beyond that?


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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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, August 6, 2014

TV GAMBLE IN ASSEMBLY RACE MAY CHANGE ODDS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Sara Geenen's fans take to the TV channels  to
support her District 19 candidacy.
We are about to find out if TV ads flooding the Milwaukee market via cable and local channels can change the margins August 12 in a single Assembly district along the lakefront. 

For Milwaukeeans surprised that there was enough liberal-leaning big money for hard-hitting TV ads using David Clarke’s own excessive words to attack his behavior as sheriff, this will create a bigger pop – a candidate in a sliver of the Milwaukee TV market using TV to change minds in a politically astute Assembly district. 

With Clarke, who loves to posture braggadocious in media interviews, there was plenty of fodder to destroy him with his own words and actions.  While Clarke has preened that the NRA would rescue him with money to match this media blitz against him, all that has happened is a second more devastating ad from the Greater Wisconsin Committee using his own words to expose him, such as telling citizens to only call 911 to drag the bleeding body out of the house before it messes up the carpet.

But how does an Assembly candidate running from behind launch a TV attack without attacking her opponents?  Sara Geenen, a personable  liberal herself whom everyone hopes will stick around politics even if she loses this race, has  a independent expenditure camp of supporters that knew just how to produce sophisticated TV. Their main ad looks like she is running against Scott Walker! And that is waking viewers up.

Playing to the high-tone politically involved image of the district, the ads are booked on national news channels.  (If PBS took ads, one wag told me, they would be a blizzard there.)

It’s almost unheard of to see a saturation TV ad campaign in an Assembly race -- even veteran politico and Assembly member Fred Kessler couldn’t remember a similar case when asked.

“I was floored when I saw it,” said Geenen herself, but delighted that it kept to her platform and approach.

She was assumed to be running behind two other noted progressives in District 19 and is seeking to change that expectation. They are Milwaukee County board chair Marina Dimitrijevic and active political figure Jonathan Brostoff.

Any polling in this race is private, but word on the street even before TV had her nipping at the heels of County Executive Chris Abele’s well-funded candidate in third place, Dan Adams. Adams’ style has been a disappointment given the friendlier, more issue-focused reputation he brought into the race. Instead of intelligent discussion, he has gone hard in support of school choice and vouchers and attacking other Democrats for not knowing how to talk to Republicans.

County board chair Dimitrijevic 
In my own July 22 column making a choice in this race, I picked Marina over Jonathan, a view I more strongly support today. But even then I pointed out that Geenen with more seasoning was a keeper in local politics.  What I didn’t know then was that she would have the funding to match the rivals and experienced hands in political messaging to challenge her opponents.

Few Assembly candidates have the money or gumption to take to TV a week ahead of the finale in a tight contest.  Geenen can because of strong USW financial backing – as much as $41,000 according to reports. The Steelworkers’  enthusiasm stems not only from the top office her father holds in the union but also their knowledge of her labor  work with the Previant law firm – and the still fresh desire to expose the horribles of Walker’s elimination of collective bargaining and paycheck dues collection for their public worker brethren. 

Geenen’s team has taken to CNN, MSNBC and apparently local TV to force attention to her vision and echo exactly her style.   In the TV ad she is not running against any of the others. You would swear from the tone that she is running against Walker, so prevalent is the attack on his policies.  

Now that is quite clever if you don't think about it too much – and not thinking too much is a requirement of good TV advertising.

The whole idea of the Democrats is that come November Walker should be history and Mary Burke – already ahead in the polls – will knock him out of the governor’s mansion. That is something Geenen fondly wishes.  But the key to TV ads is not to get too complicated and lost in the weeds of issues. So no one watching considers she might not have Walker to pick on by November. Such ads choose an ideal monster, a bogeyman that voters understand you oppose as they do and use the bogeyman to establish your policies and confirm your willingness to fight. And right now in District 19 that hobgoblin is Walker in terms of failed education and economic policies that are the heart of Geenen’s platform – indeed the platforms of Dimitrijevic and Brostoff.  Only they haven’t used his face on TV.

So Geenen’s ad pinpoints specifically what most Democrats support. The ad doesn’t put  Act 10  front and center but the consequences of Walker’s reign front and center in more humanistic terms, especially evocative in a  primary where Walker is not even opposed on the Republican side of the ballot.

The ad reflects the politically hip union supporting Geenen. It is clearly not meant as an anti-Burke ad but the idea of going to Madison to fight against the policies of Walker and his followers.   Because even getting rid of Scott doesn’t get rid of the damage.

Geenen’s problem, of course, is that these views have been forcefully articulated by Dimitrijevic and Brostoff in forums. This is a fresh way of selling the sizzle not the steak, something else TV is good at. 

This single district Assembly battle represents an extraordinary amount of money when you consider Adams backing by Abele and his mainly out of state supporters; then throw in  the Marina-Jonathan grassroots donations from within the district and state; lard in the union PACs mostly backing Marina and the fund coordination for Brostoff. Then add the USW money for Geenen. Suddenly the cash you’d expect in much bigger contests is being lavished here, alongside some strange whispers and sniping on the street about “the other” – whichever “other” could hurt your candidate.  

The Geenen forces taking a chance on TV have put regionwide attention on District 19, where there is an almost palpable public distaste for Walker’s damage to the city and state. Whether Geenen wins or not, a lot of voters are saying, “Right On!” 

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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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, August 4, 2014

VERY ODD AND ENDS OF AUG. 12 IN MILWAUKEE

By Dominique Paul Noth
FIRST ODDIOCY – THE TWO-FACED JOKER ATTACK

The biggest oddity for the August 12 primary landed August 2 on doorsteps in a major Democratic stronghold, District 19, which ranges from UWM south through Bay View.  The oddball flyer attacked the two leading progressive candidates for that Assembly seat without mentioning the candidate the flyer was actually supporting nor the deep connections of the flyer group to the county executive. 

Chris Abele has spent a lot of time assuring reporters he is not playing politics, acting surprised or distressed when questioned. It’s become like a Martin Short routine --the sketchy Nathan Thurm always denying any involvement.

But in finances and organizational links, County Executive Abele is closely connected to the flyer group and he is playing heavily in politics – in District 19 with Dan Adams and in District 10 with his campaign director and former legislative director at the county, Tia Torhorst.

The oddity flyer came from a secretive heftily financed organization called Forward Milwaukee County Inc. Many thought (or hoped) it was dead and gone after it spent big last April to carve into the wages of Milwaukee county board members, just as Abele was pushing for. Goal accomplished – as supervisors expected, the voters erroneously saw money savings and agreed, and so the Forward group went quiet.  It seemed.

Only now like the ghosts in “Poltergeist” creeping in through the TV set – “They’re back!”

Last March it raised $50,000 quickly (and probably a lot more since) for radio ads and other promotions to turn the board into a part-time pay status in 2016 while still requiring caring supervisors to work full time.  Its treasurer is Joseph Rice, who blamed the board more than the US Census for squeezing him out of a board seat and has been on the attack ever since.

The funding we know of (we only know a smidgen -- remember the secrecy rules allowed in forming a   non-stock Wisconsin corporation) comes from the octogenarian financier who is now Chris Abele’s favorite adviser,  Sheldon Lubar, who sees the county board as “sand in the gearbox” (while many others now recognize Abele as the “fly in the ointment”).  Lubar has been reportedly joined by Bradley Foundation’s   Michael Grebe and other business names connected to the county executive. 

By not naming Adams in the flyer and pretending to be just about the county board in portraying Marina Dimitrijevic and Jonathan Brostoff as card deck jokers, Abele hopes to retain deniability. But the public has long known he has been upset that the board has been united behind Dimitrijevic in vetoing some of his policies and hires (while clearly supporting others). Though nominally a Democrat, and a rich one,  he turned to conservative Republicans to push through his power-seeking bill known as Act 14 and other pet pieces of legislation that don’t really address the county’s problems but give him a freer hand to do what he wants without judicious interference.

The current Assembly Democrats had tough questions about some of his ideas, so he threw money at Republicans in the legislature and is now pushing for an Abele breed of pliant Democrats in Madison.  The flyer is seen as part and parcel of that game.

This Rice-Lubar Inc. is now a PAC for Abele’s candidates, pretending to still be upset about the county board.  Sure,  the board like the exec is hardly flawless. Such is the nature of legislative arms. But it exercises an important and legally required check and balance on the executive, from whose office most county scandals have come.

BLATANTLY MISLEADING and forced, down to the misleading newspaper blurbs,
 this is one side of the Joker flyer that hit District 19 homes and had voters crying foul!
If nothing else the flyer has made crystal clear to the average citizens the ugly holes in campaign laws. Attacking two candidates without naming who you are for?  Asking voters to phone  the two candidates --  to cease and desist what? Their questioning the exec? Clearly there is not an understandable issue in calling them, it’s all about politics and shifting votes in a district election.

Yet by never naming Adams, the Forward Abele group  can claim to be engaged in issue advocacy not candidate advocacy.  Everyone living in the district knows the purpose of the flyer – and from all camps they expressed dismay about the deception.  How the flyer has been distributed is also interesting, since it landed next door to journalists and union leaders but not in their mailboxes.

Yet the flyer clumsily arrived at “The Geenen Household.” That is  another progressive candidate in the race, Sara Geenen, a union lawyer who cannot be tied to the county board and has maintained decorum with most sides in this race. Given her amicable style and especially her close connections to the well organized and politically astute Steelworkers, she is not an enemy Abele wants to add. Yet her supporters were clearly miffed that she was excluded from the flyer attack – they felt he was slighting her at a time when she needed the help of his opposition.

When discussing the flyer, Brostoff laughed aloud. He has been attacked by Dimitrijevic supporters for criticizing her refusal to go along with Abele’s attempt to wrest parks patrol from the sheriff’s office – which hardly sounds like a county board devotee, does it? And he hasn’t worked there for years (once a staffer for Supervisor Jason Haas and on leave from working for state Sen. Chris Larson).  So the flyer is clearly more connected to the assembly contest than the county board.  Brostoff  advisers speculate that the Abele camp must really be ticked  at him or the internal polls they have reportedly been taking show that he is doing quite well.

Dimitrijevic is also amused, particularly since the board accuses them both of failure in  the one district where the efforts of the county board are highly admired (on one end is Dimitrijevic, on the other is Gerry Broderick, an avid champion of the parks system and financial frugality who already has several distinguished Democrats maneuvering for his seat when he retires in 2016,  whatever the ultimate pay scale). 

The Abele theory must be that making mischief by splitting the progressive voters among three could leave the field to Adams. It might work in some districts but it strikes me as a misreading of how many progressives there are in District 19 and how Adams with these maneuvers has  quickly diminished the image he started with. In forums and appearances he has come over as petty and combative.

Many expect the second shoe after the flyer  to drop right before the election in a flood of ads for Adams, who is raising money mainly from outside the state  from names familiar to watchers of Abele.  Abele’s father was co-founder of Boston Scientific and the son runs the Argosy Foundation the family wealth has spun off. Now, taxpayers suspect that  under the fabrication of an inefficient board (translation: they don’t always agree with him) he is trying to gain the sort of unfettered authority that would create outrage if his name were Scott Walker.

The voters shouldn’t be the maddest people about this bizarre  flyer. That should be the flagship newspaper of the Scripps organization (still known after the recent buyout as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
  
The flyer claims its views of Dimitrijevic and Brostoff are supported by JS,  using bubbles of text ostensibly from  the editorials. But these are mainly columnists and reports on various issues quoted out of context. 

The most vicious quote in the flyer is  against Dimitrijevic and pretends to be normal JS opinion. But it is actually from conservative blogger Aaron Rodriguez whose work appears in Purple Wisconsin, which the newspaper deliberately distances itself from with the warning: “a collection of community bloggers with views from across the political spectrum.”  Rodriguez writes for El Conquistador and Charlie Sykes’ Right Wisconsin and inadvertently,  in the column cited,  revealed not dysfunction but the care, study and diligence the board goes through to vet their proposals through legal experts -- in contrast to what courthouse insiders describe as the Abele-Lubar righteously close-minded certainty. 

It is all the sort of violation of journalism ethics for which once upon a time  the newspaper would threaten legal action. But this is not the first time the Forward Milwaukee group has been accused of violating campaign law behavior.

In a knowledgeable community unaccustomed to backstabbing nonsense and big spending in such a race,  this flyer is backfiring hard by portraying the county board as a failed vessel rather than the balancing legislative wheel voters expect and respect from anyone they send to Madison. The jokers are becoming the people who spread this around.

HOW CAN LIBERALS HAVE SO MUCH MONEY?

A more amusing oddity is the shock! shock! that progressives have a lot of money to put behind their beliefs.

For conservative Republicans, committed extreme libertarians (think Kochs) and tea party devotees, money has always been their hole card – easy to raise,  pick up a phone and tap a conduit, demoralizing to opponents and a guarantee of victory.

Imagine their dismay when progressives and common sense moderates combine either to match them dollar for dollar or display enough donations and database smarts to gain the edge.  That was the palpable outrage on the extreme right (our money is good, even holy) when the other side (their money must be dirty and underhanded) announced more than $400,000 in the last weeks before Aug. 12 to show a hard-hitting TV ad against David Clarke and for Christopher Moews for sheriff. 

It was probably a deliberate spit in the face to the NRA for sticking its email nose into this local race and seeking to raise last-minute money for Clarke to do similar advertising, which so far he has not been able to muster though he threatens to match the ad amount.

Doubling the shock was that this was being organized by the Madison based liberal group,  the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a statewide 527 independent PAC that had  been active in attacking Scott Walker.  Where it gets its money is protected under the law,  though  it cannot coordinate directly with a candidate (sort of the left brainy version of the ill-considered Forward Milwaukee County Inc. oddball flyer in District 19). But  it has union support and funding from Wisconsin citizens and businesses in the state who want to change from failing economic and education policies and the sort of extremist gun-nut strutting Clarke represents.

Judging from the instant reaction to this news of the dollars raised against Clarke, the right simply cannot believe there is this kind of money on the left for a Milwaukee County primary contest (though this anti-Clarke fever is hardly left, though the funding group may well be), so they immediately started a rumor that George Soros must be involved. That has a lot of people laughing.

Soros in the frequent bogeyman for  the right-wing, trotted out every time anyone complains about the Koch brothers or the Wal-Mart heirs or other active conduits for  conservative causes.

Soros is politically active internationally more than in America, which only has made him  the right’s global Dracula. Soros has gotten involved in US presidential politics and in Wisconsin is supporting the efforts by American Bridge 21st Century to examine Walker’s emails for wrongdoing. On a philanthropic front he has supported nonprofit investigative journalism. His causes are many even if he has publicly indicated his money for US politics is limited.   But he is constantly  accused in almost hysterical fashion for all the evils descending on the Republicans. 

There are plenty of Wisconsinites willing to give big to such causes as ousting Clarke. Blaming Soros as the monster funder  from hell without any evidence brings  chuckles from many connected with the Greater Wisconsin Committee, who frankly like the fear being engendered.

But again, the 527 rules for  a non-stock Wisconsin corporation are such that anyone can claim anything and no journalist can prove differently. Voters are forced to use their common sense. 

So ask yourself,: Who  wants Clarke gone? (That list is endless. Soros not needed.)

And who wants to demean accomplished political progressives in District 19 using the county board’s questioning of the exec as an excuse?  A much shorter list – it comes down to Abele, Adams and their camp followers.

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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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, July 30, 2014

MONEY TALKS IN ELECTIONS, BUT KEPT ITS MOUTH SHUT AROUND NEW JUDGE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Playful on Facebook, Janet Prostasiewicz
shared her shopping trip for judicial robes.
It will be a quiet swearing in August 1 when Janet Prostasiewicz starts work, mostly behind the scenes for the first months, as newest judge for Milwaukee County Circuit Court, elected last April to Branch 24.

The grander induction and festivities will wait until October for a larger venue than a courthouse chamber. There are too many across the ideological spectrum who wants to celebrate the elevation of a veteran prosecutor, anticipating that her credentials, integrity and reputation for balance signal the arrival of an important addition to the judicial profession.

Such universal accord is quite a surprise. It should remind citizens how, in an age of sound-bite fury, financial passion caused by politics can evaporate quickly as events change on the ground.  In 2013 the Wisconsin Club for Growth pushed $167,000 against Prostasiewicz in another judicial race.  This year they were encouraged by the governor to go quiet.

Why? It’s time to look again at a Golden Oldie, a column last January largely ignored by Wisconsin media. But in discussing why that April judicial race wound up unsullied by politics, the column revealed a lot about all those hidden confabs and secret decisions about money maneuvering that are growing in consequence every day as elections crowd in. The public needs to become more aware of how these games deserve scrutiny since they are influencing and even crippling their choices. 

Whatever you think of Gov. Scott Walker, he is a shrewdie at husbanding his own connections and protecting his money sources even as his overall policies are fading.  Coverage of his failures as an administrator are now rampant -- huge holes between what he says and what his actions have  actually done to Wisconsin.  But he has deftly been able to combine glib rhetoric, partial facts and a reputation as a right-wing darling to deflect detailed scrutiny.

Now things have changed.  He is neck and neck with the largely unknown Mary Burke, whose ideas and pragmatic style are gaining favor even in polls the Republicans respectThat is forcing him to change his extremist stripes for more populist fantasies.

Give him some credit for seeing early the need for political self-protection in the use of campaign expenditures. It’s more obvious to the public today. Where once he never hesitated to speak against gay marriage as a personal dislike, now he dodges, recognizing frank speaking could be a political deficit.  He now supports the Democratic position against companies getting tax credits for sending Wisconsin jobs overseas, though his own commerce concoction (he’s chair of the WEDC) has long been doing just that

But even a year ago he realized the growing clouds on the horizon. It was the political self-preservation creature within Walker that gave Prostasiewicz a clear path to her election – and pushed for conservative money groups like Club for Growth to focus instead on his own election.  His decision “has more to do with fear of stirring the electorate pot negatively before his own November election – because honestly, when has the governor avoided stepping into Milwaukee politics?”  I wrote eight months ago.   Ironically, in the wake of John Doe and other embarrassments, it is clear that the Club for Growth doesn’t have Walker’s re-election on their brain as much as he does. They are more concerned with retaining their Tea Party credentials.

There is a widespread belief -- in both parties – that which side has the most money determines the outcome. Big elections and small. Money is the power even more than policies. And since the GOP has more money, some people just throw up their hands and give up.  Compromise is good, but crawling is often the secret meaning of candidates who cry for accommodation.

On one level that is mystification to thinking voters. Can the amount of money and fabrications put behind a candidate or a position be more important to Americans than what the candidate is or the public actually believes in? Whether on the left or the right?  On another level, it certainly squares with the importance of salesmanship and advertising in a free market society. 

CAMPAIGN FAUX PAS – Scott Walker
 stepped into it July 28 seeking a photo op
 to appear friendly to education. He chose
 an ITT Tech campus. The for-profit is under national
 investigations for tuition gouging and
 “deceptive and abusive” practices against students.
The “who has more money fever” is creating some strange doppelgangers. The Club for Growth, for instance, is now in the same boat as unions, who supported Democratic candidates even when not that happy about it because they had no place else to go.  Now the Club for Growth has no place else but Walker and his minions to go and they don’t seem very happy about it.

The excess of unrestrained money is far more visible in national politics, where we are talking about millions of dollars not a few thousands.  But a few thousand is all it takes in a district race to shift the balance.  This year that power of money has been peeking its head out of some strange holes in a series of local contests.

There are races like the spring judicial ones that are supposed to be nonpartisan, but the money tells us that is laughable naiveté on the voter’s part.  It was hardly principles that caused WMC to fight so hard for a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court (and how interesting this July that a federal appeals panel nine years later has cited those WMC related efforts as unconstitutional.)

So it was rare that a Prostasiewicz escaped into a politically free zone for what could have been a competitive court race. But at least we’ve explained why – and were correct last January in anticipating that “The race that never was winds up telling us a lot about the governor’s race that will be.” 

Some contests are distinctively partisan (the D vs. R thing) but on August 12 most of the vital ones are Ds against other Ds and Rs against other Rs.  These contests were supposed to be about ideas and values, not who has the most money for slick mailers, two-faced social media campaigns, outside hidden money forces, blunt or subtle personal attacks and radio and TV solicitations at the last minute – in other words, the sort of behavior that relies on money.  It's a campaign style that can force sensible voters to pause in doubt and casual voters to think that a barrage of this size must contain some truth.

Citizens are not aware how political insiders can take advantage of campaign financing rules to stack the deck. The consultants can bring in money from outside the state to pretend there is keen local interest in a candidate. The public won’t know the full weight of outside campaign financing until after the election.

We already know a little bit. There is a requirement in campaign reporting for state offices that expenditures in the June cycle must be reported by July 21.   Those figures can be confounding. You have to wonder as you peruse them:  Why is a Coca Cola attorney in Atlanta or why is a PR lobbyist in D.C. suddenly so interested in who will represent Shorewood or Milwaukee’s East Side in a Madison lower chamber? Who knows who to cause this? Just what do they expect from such generosity?

The state’s Government Accountability Board, run responsibly by retired judges picked for ideological balance and staffed by closed-mouth experts, must follow rules imposed by a GOP dominated legislature (which is still attacking the GAB and threatening to withhold funds should they make any sensible decision regarded as injurious to pet causes).

Of course, much bigger money is spent in July and early August for an Aug. 12 primary, and those figures will not be seen by the public until after the election in news reports.  This is a bizarre situation that politicians take full advantage of despite journalistic fuming. It’s that “inside politics” thing -- so dull, so hard to follow, so important.

The current GAB-2 reports do provide clues.  It is common to pursue campaign finance (with specific dollar limits) from a candidate’s fans and territory and from groups such as unions and PACs made up of members with similar interests. These campaign donations are transparent on the surface but  can still be hard to decipher, since a reader can’t tell what family support or professional colleagues are contributing from a distance. Or who runs the firms receiving campaign largesse. 

But when candidates primarily rely on top donations from California, New York, Michigan and Virginia, and not Wisconsin and not even voters in their district, a light goes on in the heads of veteran journalists.  They start cross-referencing those names with known conduits, such as the voucher school conduit, the Americans for Prosperity machine (individual members may be secret but many have active tongues), the professional lobbyist groups looking for an edge in future legislation, or the strangely named groups that sound like average citizens arising in anger but are actually made up of a few very rich.

Interesting patterns can emerge.  The candidates openly backed by wealthy Chris Abele, the Milwaukee county executive whose family earned $1.5 billion and established Argosy foundation with the proceeds of medical device developer and investor Boston Scientific (whom many professionals had good connections with), can comand a widespread national network to raise funds far broader than actual voter interest if you examine the GAB-2 filings of Dan Adams in District 19 and Tia Torhorst in District 10. 

Such financing from outside of the state is usually more common for GOP candidates. That’s certainly true for some 75% of Walker’s support, perhaps a reward for his nonstop national speaking tour as a potential presidential candidate.  But while 
he continues to tout his local support among “the little people,” news media is closing in on the truth.

Reporters are taking apart his campaign funding, revealing how few of Wisconsin’s citizens are involved and how the size of the donations disguise the actual sources.  While both Walker and Burke may lean on loans and well-heeled backers, the journalistic analysis concludes: 

“One area in which Burke clearly triumphed over Walker was in the share of her money coming from inside Wisconsin. While the majority of Walker’s funds came from donors in other states, more than 70 percent of Burke’s campaign dollars were given by Wisconsinites.”

Another prime example is the Milwaukee County race for sheriff. No intelligent citizen looking at how David Clarke mishandles budget and services could be blind to his foolish ways. 

Certainly they couldn’t be taken in by his deliberately outrageous macho law and order statements or his strutting before local media and national conservative audiences. Or could they?

Christopher Moews
This time it is clear that Clarke is behind with the Democratic voters in Milwaukee County – so behind that he ran out of money with his final three-fold full-color home mailer wearing both his blues and his whites – but clean-shaven rather than the grizzled look he has comported of late. He promotes law enforcement cooperative efforts without revealing how his peers have removed him from being in charge.  Not exactly truth in advertising.
  
But that was his last local-funded gasp financially, campaign insiders say, and the main reason he called in the national NRA to launch an email fund-raising pitch with its members, pretending this was an attack on their gun rights and disguising this was a Democratic primary Aug. 12.

Sympathetic talk radio on the right chimed in with open suggestions of a GOP crossover, knowing how few urban Democrats support the NRA’s political positions even when they believe in the Second Amendment.  Usually such tactics are so obviously crass that they fail.  Republicans actually don’t like the deception. But Clarke’s campaign doesn’t think he can survive without crossovers given the high reputation for competent law enforcement of opponent Christopher Moews.

No wonder money emerges more important in a nonpresidential year election where the voting public hates to interrupt its  summer fun to vote. If the hired guns can count on that low turnout, if they can combine the indifference with right-wing media chatter and the power of money, maybe you can bring out a few extremists.  Maybe a few hundred slavish NRA voters can turn the tide if turnout stays low. Historically this reliance on crossover is ridiculous – even if you throw money at the plan and are convinced the voters are sheep. It is more likely to arouse the real voters. But money allows you to try.

These are the sort of petty financial schemings that voters scoot around rather than try to understand -- and that journalists may well be too fascinated by.  But it’s sure better being aware of them now. Rather than waking up Aug. 13 (or November 5 for that matter) asking yourself: “What the hell just happened?”

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 famous entertainment 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 its still operative 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