Sunday, January 8, 2017

MADDOW REVEALS LIAR OF YEAR – AND HIGH TIME!

By Dominique Paul Noth

Media euphemism used without permission.
There has been a longstanding reluctance within the news media – only slightly broken of late.  Never use “lie” and “liar” about candidates for presidential office – or even for lower offices.

Strange isn’t it?   There’s a concession that every politician exaggerates, obfuscates or at worse deals with falsehoods. Yet there has been some sort of gentleman’s agreement to avoid distemper, which translates into not telling the unabashed truth about the oral attacks even as the assaults grow more hysterical. Indeed, it is often the liar who takes the stage to accuse his opponent of lying (hello, Ron Johnson), which makes the term “liar!” even  more suspect.

Media watchers tend to use euphemistic phrases like Pinocchios, Half True, Half False and  in painfully obvious cases Pants on Fire.  But historically  not lie and liar.  You have to go all the way back to the 19th century to find the Mark Twain quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” which he attributed to a British politician, Benjamin Disraeli. (The British Parliament has proven more open to wit than the American editorial page.)

I grew up as a journalist in that forced civility – like film-makers under the old 1930s Production Code who had to find ways to suggest sex without saying sex. Now I both appreciate the restraint and resent the failure to know when to throw restraint  aside.

We journalists frankly enraged much of the public in the 2016 presidential campaign when the country had entered a bombastic balloon of accusations and insults that warranted being called out by their rightful name – and we didn’t. We went through more than a year of false equivalency – sure, he said that, but didn’t she say something? Sure he drips venom and untruths at every rally, but what about her emails, her health, those suspicious people gathered around her?

Twenty years from now, I suspect, most people and certainly historians will be hard pressed to identify what horrible things she did. Especially compared to the actual words that fell out of his mouth with such ease.

Many news sites decided, as the Wall Street Journal recently admitted it did, that it was not their place to call out Donald Trump for falsehoods but to lay both sides out for the citizens to decide themselves. In other words, it  defended its own cowardice. 

If  one side attacks, just find someone on the other side to invent context. Kellyanne Conway is always at the ready.

While WSJ is clearly afraid of offending its audience, as are many TV outlets,  advertising agencies haven’t been this squirrely for decades, taking more liberties with the veracity of their content than the TV and sports news that surround them.  Even when forced by federal regulations,  pharmacology companies  whip through or run in smallest print the contra-indications of every new medicine. Banks and insurance companies promise they are much nicer than the other guy.  “I approve this message” does not mean that accuracy will follow. Macy’s helps Gimbels only in old movies.

The media no longer feels obliged to call a snake  a snake, just to be delicate about  how it describes the snake.

Rachel Maddow
Thank God for Rachel Maddow.  On her MSNBC show Jan. 6, she brought what’s left of that wall tumbling down, referring to Trump’s interpretation and pretense about the national intelligence assessment 12 times as lie, lying or liar – overtly, blatantly, bluntly lying in a way she said that sent shivers down the spine of a practiced news observer.  The video is here.

She did not exaggerate and it was past time someone ripped the emperor’s clothes off.

Just remember what the intelligence assessment didn’t do that Trump claims it did  – explore whether the hacking, the supplying to Wikileaks of selective Democratic  staff emails, the propaganda and planted stories,   including claims of Hillary’s poor health, crookedness and even depression, had a decisive effect on the election. Not their call, the agencies said.

Since voting machines weren’t hacked despite the messing with election boards, Trump backers can always claim the voters rose above the propaganda and decided for themselves – that the surrounding noise did not influence how they voted. What do you think they are – stooges?

This is what obviously concerns Trump and why he so desperately fights the obvious analysis.  The revelations cast doubt on the legitimacy of his election, even though the intelligence  agencies didn’t go there.  Yet his big lie was saying they did, that they exonerated him.  That was not in the agencies’ purview. 

A smaller lie was claiming the Republican National Committee computers were too protected to be hacked while the report indicates they were hacked  but the Russians didn’t act on the material the way they did the Clinton stuff. So here’s  another demonstration that Trump was what Putin wanted – not from the start perhaps, where animosity to Clinton’s objections to his 2011 shenanigans set Putin off. That alone revealed she was quite an influential secretary of state.

On the  petty level of egotistical businessman, you can understand Trump’s concern.  Maybe he didn’t honestly win as he keeps saying he did.  But as a president he cannot afford to be so ego centric.
  
The intelligence agencies did not say he won by hook and crook, but now that  question should certainly be there for the general public, those who voted for and against.

How much of the Russian assault was swallowed wholesale by the media and the public?   Where came the media false equivalency to find balance where there was not – deleted emails as an equal error to Trump’s swiftly  moving litany of the ludicrous and licentious, suggesting that her world-honored charitable foundation was no cleaner than his much sued concoction?

Thinking voters now have to ask themselves: Was it a desire for change that triggered them or a rejection of Hillary’s competence inspired by all the false reporting?  There are no do-overs, but there deserves to be self-examination.

Hillary  says she’s not a natural politician, just a competent leader. Trump is clearly a born salesman in a peculiar American tradition.  But many voters looked past the bulk of what he says and does to decide they didn’t want another damn Clinton, even one quite different than hubby.  But if 1% of the Trump voters were misled by the Russian blitz, Clinton would easily be president.

As hard as it is for Trump to admit a good portion of the public may have been duped,  it’s going to be harder for that public to acknowledge its own foolishness.

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


Friday, January 6, 2017

NO NO ANNETTE OPPONENT! ANOTHER BLOT ON WISCONSIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Annette Ziegler, sady unopposed
Gathering information about the pending April 4 election I was struck by the biggest failure of 2017 for  the moderate and  liberal cultures  that still dominate the state --  to field ANY opponent to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler, despite the puny legal ability reflected in her 10 years of decision-making. 

Several things about the Ziegler Zeitgeist jumped out at me, aside from how her race 10 years ago introduced the big campaign money game that has now become standard in supreme court races ($6 million back then). Or that before she could help change the financial disclosure rules on the high court, her favoritism as a judge in Washington County rulings toward the banking interests of her husband forced the state high court itself to reprimand her.

The big thing that jumped at me involves how little the public seems to know of her own writings after 10 years.  If they only went back to her concurring opinion in July of 2015 to shutting down the John Doe II investigation, they would have a better idea of the paucity, naval gazing and near paranoia of her decision-making process. 

In that opinion she relied on blatantly biased sources from the raided right-wing side about home searches that started formally at dawn --  6 a.m. Oct. 3, 2013. The descriptions she cited several times came from what today we describe as “fake news” opinion outlets. They painted the home raids falsely as nighttime searches paramilitary style or extraordinary predawn searches.
Building a rhetorical outrage over the treatment of these “average citizens” who all had ties to the highest echelons of Gov.  Scott Walker’s staff, Ziegler ignored that there was contradictory audio evidence revealing how professionally and politely the home searches were executed as well as evidence (including reporters at the scene) that there were secrecy reasons for some urgency to seize computer files.

It is one thing to be married to a conservative view of the world. It is quite another for a judge to be married to his or her own facts, and this opinion is a breathtaking example of that tendency.

So on many grounds, including common sense more than the partisan realities of this self-emasculating court, Zeigler should have had an opponent.

Something else jumped out at me. Money does cow values in Wisconsin. There were many efforts to recruit an opponent, but the need for cash to compete was the decider, several of the candidates approached admitted to me.

Ziegler who comes from a well heeled family is sitting on $200,000 in her campaign war chest, has months of fund-raising to go if she wants and has access to lots of third party support if she had been facing an opponent. “What's for certain is that conservative court candidates can count on massive outside support in any case,” journalist Bill Lueders emailed me.

Lueders, a noted leader in state political corruption exposure,  pointed out in a 2015 story that  WMC and Wisconsin Club for Growth together “provided an estimated $8.3 million for ‘issue ads’ helping elect Ziegler, Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Patience Roggensack — well more than the $3.2 million spent by these candidates’ own campaigns.” And this was before the arrival of Rebecca Bradley.

Don’t think an awareness of those coffers hasn’t affected the thousands of Wisconsin lawyers, legal academics and judges from who could be plucked candidates far better on paper than Ziegler. Any of them would face a runaway truck of money and pointed partisan scrutiny. Tsk tsk if you will at such fears about submitting to public service, but then think of putting your own family through such a hostile environment. 

The state court is a special kind of scraping sandpaper. It now tilts destructively conservative, as even true conservatives will admit, giving state government far too free a hand and resulting in court rulings that are comic book exercises in solipsism – where the personal opinions of a narrow mind interpret every important statute before it.

With the collusion of the governor, the GOP state legislature, the attorney general and the large corporations that not only help write the laws but depend on the court to uphold them, justice doesn’t have much of a chance.

And in opposing such machinery, the Democrats do have a recent history of getting ferociously ideological in their own right.  The 2016 race against Walker pet Rebecca Bradley provided a clear and cruel example.

She was only one of three candidates in the February primary and some hoped she could be eliminated there. The more leftist forces understandably rallied around Joanne Kloppenburg believing with some justification that she was robbed in a close 2011 election notable for decisive ballots found for David Prosser days after the election.  Other advocates  centered in Milwaukee felt passionately about the forward-looking record and warm personality of a Milwaukee jurist.

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

An unseemly war of factions broke out not against Bradley but among the Democrats. Donald, whose intellectual gifts and breakthrough leadership along with an easy folksy manner, was also the epitome of the collegiality that existed in the Milwaukee circuit court system, where judges were courteous to each other despite ideological differences. 

Because he had been polite to Bradley when she was first appointed to the Milwaukee bench, the leftist forces behind Kloppenburg seized on that to color him as weak and too conservative – in an election that really required the public to feel the humanity and versatile thoughtfulness of a judge ahead of any strident politics.  Kloppenburg won big in the primary and she was a naked target to the Bradley attack that April built around her leftist support. And while she came close against Prosser, she was flattened by Bradley, easier to attack than Donald would have been.

Despite the history of self-destruction, there is a  developing myth that it is only the disorganization of the state Democratic Party responsible for the Ziegler free ride  this time around.  I don’t disagree that the Democrats are historically disorganized about developing a bench and figuring out campaign funding in the wake of Act 10, though I might argue that judicial candidates are not usually in their wheelhouse. These are technically nonpartisan elections.

Bryan Kennedy
I’m also a fan, and have been since he was a union leader and candidate, of   Bryan Kennedy, mayor of Glendale who is making noises about running for state party chair and is using the Ziegler case as a prime example.  “This is a failure of the Democratic Party to provide the kind of infrastructure that would encourage liberal/progressive Supreme Court justice candidates to run,” he writes. “If I were chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, I would be working to build year-round infrastructure to help our members get elected to nonpartisan offices in the spring elections.”

Martha Laning
But I’m also familiar with Martha Laning, who has been running the state party for only a year or so and has clearly stepped into a hornet’s nest of reorganizing and encouraging local activists, fielding even more blame in the wake of the  abysmal failures of 2016, many of which predate her election. 

The party does suffer from a long-term  lack of a bench and follow-through for certain positions. It is getting long in the tooth.  Judicial races are particularly disorganized largely because law associations play such a large role. In Milwaukee April 4, there is one circuit court contest that pits two progressive candidates against each other and another where a Walker appointee to the bench who was defeated last time around is running unopposed for another branch.

The Democrats deserve blame. They’ve taken far too long to listen and get busy with grassroots organizations and activists in 72 counties that  have different concerns and interests than can be met by a one-size-fits-all ideological program, and here is where Laning says she’s trying. 

Keith Ellison during UWM event
Kennedy is the out-front style of leader while Laning is more the backroom financial figure – the sort of split the Democrats are also seeing at the national party level. There the Sanders forces are praising Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison --  who actually visited UWM  last summer gathering a small crowd of somewhat indifferent students speaking for Clinton --   and other candidates such as Tom Perez, the Latino secretary of labor who has a strong financial and administrative record.

Laning is fielding abuse for not working fast enough but  can’t be accused of not working on the problems, particularly a 72 county blitz that is long overdue and that a gerrymandering lawsuit may finally put some teeth into. But anger and the desire for a more public face of action is lifting Kennedy in the public mind.

I would have thought the existence of Trump along with the loss of Russ Feingold – plus the fact that Hillary Clinton holds almost three million more votes nationally and the majority of the country is coping with a minority party in charge – would galvanize the Wisconsin citizenry into corrective action as early as the spring election, which is usually a time when the GOP dominates.

I remain amazed that the local conservative districts around the state seeing their schools and rivers weakened and their incomes and job stagnate have not yet seized pitchforks and marched into action.

But the injury is still abstract nationally (Trump is not yet in office) and seductive locally,  particularly among those who think Walker and his state minions have lowered their tax burden and are still on their side. The sometimes shrill rhetoric on the other side has done little to persuade them the way facts on the ground should.

There has long been a curious sheeplike and blindly optimistic side to America. There has been a tendency to seek scapegoats for personal problems and put faith, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court does, in which plaintiffs have the most money. So if there’s going to be a revolution, April 4 won’t lead this sort of  “Do You Hear the People Sing.” 

A chance at redemption by voting for Tony Evers
Even now the spring election  offers a chance for the citizenry to redeem itself.  The absence of having to defend Ziegler means the  right wing third party money will be concentrated on state schools superintendent Tony Evers – and that’s where the liberal/progressive forces should also concentrate.  Evers is  a true educator who remains the lone independent voice in state government, able to work with the governor and still confront him on those devastating education cuts and wrongheaded policy, while fighting for public education and even successful charter schools. 

Meanwhile two candidates, both voucher supporters emboldened by the likelihood of voucher fund guru queen  Betsy DeVos becoming federal secretary of education, are prepared to coalesce big money against Evers whichever survives the primary.

This is the only statewide contest of consequence, though there are interesting local judicial and school board races and the like. If the Ziegler follies are a prime example, it will take a real outrage the community has not yet demonstrated to save his job and our children’s future.

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


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

PICKING A PATH THROUGH A CABINET OF HORRORS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Exxon boss Rex Tillerson, whose
 company runs its own international games,
 may start out in this government
  as Secretary of State.
The Nation, a formidable and lively magazine of the left, has flatly suggested that all Trump cabinet nominations should be fought ferociously. I respect the sentiment but don’t agree (though it seems Trump is going out of his way to dissolve every  gain if not the federal  agency itself). But his opponents must keep their heads as he is losing his.

Picking the fights – and there will be many fights on many fronts –  remains both important and selective. It will also require a  focus that has often eluded the Democrats. “I’m not a member of an organized political party – I’m a Democrat,” Will Rogers famously joked nearly a hundred years ago, and it still feels  true.  Democrats’ strength and weakness? They love to talk themselves around, into and out of things before settling on a course of action. 

Trump foes will need more aggressiveness today dealing with an unsavory and unpredictable celebrity apprentice who seems to have little concern about some essential directions set in the last 30 years.

Despite impending lawsuits for violating campaign finance laws, Trump intends to wrap the mantle of the America electorate around him at every opportunity, even inflating the size of his victory – he won, get over it – even  denying the Russian cyber  invasion and defying the courts to make him give up his global  business interests. It’s foolish to expect him to crash quickly or his voters to quickly admit to his errors – or to theirs. The country will likely crash before he does.

Citizens will need abnormal energy to oppose Trump’s cabinet of fossil fuel fanatics.  People right now are succumbing to the holiday spirit – goodwill toward men, Holly Jolly Christmas  – rather than girding up for the many combats ahead.  Even his foes can’t always tell what is in imminent danger from a whimful  president elect.

Some of his cabinet selections may act as a brake.  I’m pretty sure Trump  picked a retired Marine general for Secretary of Defense because he liked his nickname – Mad Dog. But if you examine the career and quotability of James Mattis, he might actually serve as a mollifying influence.  Another retired Marine general, hawkish Jack Kelly, has been tapped for Homeland Affairs but actually has experience in several of the crucial areas of a too immense department.

The horror began with two appointments that Congress has nothing to say about – no Senate advise and consent.  They include yet another retired general – didn’t Trump once proclaim he knew more than the generals? – as national security adviser, Mike Flynn, whose closeness to Russia and crazy tweets have led fellow military experts to label him near  demented.

Then there is senior advisor Steve Bannon, in a struggle with more centrist Republicans for Trump’s alt-right soul. Bannon seems the power behind Trump’s virulent backhand, a guy willing to take on Kellogg because of a trade remark and the  pulling of ads from his beloved Breitbart.  Bannon is much like Trump -- only they are allowed to Snap, Crackle and Pop.

It’s not just that anti-Obamas infest his cabinet, it’s the way Trump does it. A day after he meets with Al Gore and is quoted as being open to discuss environmental issues seriously, he turns around and appoints an outrageous thorn in the Environmental Protection  Agency’s side to be its new head.

Scott Pruitt is not only a climate change denier, he has sued the EPA to roll back orders affecting his cherished Oklahoma oil companies, whose executives  actually wrote some of his complaining letters. 

Another feint involved the Secretary of State position where respectable names such as Mitt Romney and  foreign affairs specialist Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) were trotted out and pumped up over self-promoting Rudy Giuliani (Hangers-on ego is a definite no-no in the Trump world; only he and Bannon are glorifiers in chief; Rudy should have kept his nose out of these reindeer games). 

After toying with Romney,  Trump hosed him. He chose for State the head of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, another oil giant with close business ties to Russia. In fact, many fear the Senate will let slide a CEO whose company’s policies have frequently been at war with America’s interests.

Tillerson is a rarity in this cabinet. He thinks climate change is real.  But he embodies a jaded GOP theory: Businessmen --   who  expend their talents exploiting animal and mineral resources and  making deals for corporation profits --  will turn on a dime and put  all that life experience aside for  public service.  A George Schultz who can leave business and succeed in government is a rarity, yet amazing how people still believe that myth.

Tillerson might become  the cutting edge of fights during the confirmation hearings. Fury is building among cold war veterans in the Senate  who fear this Rex is too cozy with the machinations of that  Machiavellian czar (Putin). Tillerson has negotiated massive Exxon deals in Russia and nearly 50 other countries, many to the advantage of Exxon but not US commitments. He’s yet another notch in seeing Trump as the fossil fuel president.

Another big fight probably won’t happen.  Thirty years ago, Jeff  Session couldn’t muster enough Senate votes to be appointed  judge and he has dodged claims of racism all his life. But this forceful denier of climate change --  and even of bills to enhance legal immigration -- has now made chums in the Senate as well as Alabama. Fighting his elevation to Attorney General would be all uphill – and take place even before Trump is inaugurated. The new minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, has other challenges to test his boxing skills. 

After Trump railed about Wall Street greed  during his campaign, his Treasury Secretary nominee is  Steve Mnuchin,  a former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge fund operator  whose California bank foreclosed on 38,000 homeowner victims of  the housing crash.

He heads a Trump staff  noted for billionaires who hardly ever shared their wealth with people lower on the scale. The billionaire nominee for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, owned the  Sago Mine in West Virginia when 12 workers were killed in a 2006 explosion (three years later he closed the mine), raising memories of Trump’s promise to keep coal alive.

Coal maybe; its miners not so much. 

If Trump wanted to nominate a nightmare for the working man,
 he found one in Andrew Puzder.
The Labor Department has a strong record of accusing Hardees and Carl Jr. of violating minimum wage and overtime rules, but now that CEO, Andrew Puzder, is nominee for Labor Secretary. He’s also a leading opponent of the $15 minimum wage and has openly longed for the day when robots can make his burgers, replacing humans who fight back on age, wage and sex discrimination. Compared to Trump he is squishy on immigrants because he loves the chance at ever cheaper labor.

The outrage of this  choice may well galvanize organized labor in new ways. Unions don’t fear robotics as much as heartless bosses. Unions can now argue that working men and women should not look at joining because of what the union can do for them now – which has diminished in many states as well as Wisconsin --  but on why solidarity and modernized tactics will be the mobilization force of the future.  So far the only successful putdown of Trump tweets has come from a union leader at Carrier who bluntly corrected his facts.

Orthopedic doctor and House member, Tom Price
 clearly wants to break the bones of
 Obamacare at HHS.
Some observers think it will be nigh impossible to gut the essentials of Obamacare even if it is now called Trump care. The Donald has indicated several things he likes that require some kind of continuing federal mandate. But look at who he is nominating for HHS Secretary – Rep. Tom Price who has led that House charge against the Affordable Care Act and wants to privatize that law and Medicare. A new group of doctors has formed to protest how backwards is this choice.  

A likely unchallengeable choice is imminent for Secretary of the Interior, an agency that handles the  National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management,  the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Geological Survey, all of which can’t function well without investigating climate. His nominee is  Montana’s lone congressman, Rep. Ryan Zinke, a westerner in a state where the federal government has enormous holdings.  A former Navy SEAL,  Zinke has put clean air and water as his top priorities.  

Even if Zinke were someone to fear,  like Price,  it would be a case of getting Congress to oppose one of its own, which doesn’t often happen.  

After admitting he was unprepared,
Ben Carson is picked for HUD
There’s no way to justify the choice of Ben Carson to head Housing and Urban Development unless you also think the pyramids were built to store grain.  Carson originally made points for sanity  by admitting he had no expertise to be part of Trump’s cabinet.  But now he wants in, putting fair housing and block grant issues under his thumb, a notoriously uneasy thumb outside an operating room. 

The whole administration is looking like the Peter Principle in action.

Ignorance is no barrier to joining this cabinet. Former Texas governor Rick Perry became a laughing stock in 2012 debates when he couldn’t remember the name of the Department of Energy.  Now Trump seems to have tapped him to lead it, probably to shift the efforts back to the fossil fuels of Texas from the renewables the agency has been helping develop.

Is Betsy DeVos the hatchet to chop up public education?
Betsy DeVos – and here’s a big fight, the biggest on my list of lamentables – is an Amway billionaire, along with her husband. Public school teachers are already mounting a response.

Through American Federation for Children and other groups DeVos  has plunged big money into the battle for voucher and charter schools against public education. Many of their attack ads have nothing to do with education, just slime. So of course she’s being offered as Secretary of Education. This looms as a devastating setback to true education initiatives.

Linda McMahon, best known for participating in mock domestic battles in the ring on her way to serving as  CEO (for her husband) of World Wide Wrestling, expects to head the Small Business Administration. That is strange way to put entrepreneurship on steroids. 

The Transportation Secretary choice is not only Sen. Mitch McConnell’s wife but a former Labor Secretary under George Bush, Elaine Chao.  In the past she has denied connection with her family’s enormous shipping business, but she certainly qualifies as the ultimate D.C. insider.

Most of the choices are the exact opposite of Trump’s rally posture. They are a defiant slap in the face of his own voters as he chooses not a democracy but a plutocracy.  Rather than “draining the swamp” as he promised, he invited the Creatures From the Black Lagoon for a swim. 

The only good news this December is that all these Trump picks are on paper – no one eligible has been confirmed. Optimists keep hoping they won’t act as bad as they look.  But if they prove as ideologically extreme as their records, not only is the US in big trouble, Trump’s own voters are going to be taken for the carnival ride of their lives. 

Where will  the unhappy majority fight back?  How will they find the energy? And what specific looming issues demand a battle?  The Mission Impossible clock is ticking.

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


Sunday, December 11, 2016

MAJORITY GEARS UP TO SURVIVE TRUMP YEARS

By Dominique Paul Noth


Who is this man and what can he teach us
about dealing with the Donald?
Let’s not pretend the legal majority of American voters are happy about what the minority of American voters have foisted upon them. 

It’s not just Hillary Clinton voters – 2.8 million more than her opponent, easily matching the 2% national edge suggested earlier in national polls. With every expansion of his cabinet of Caligulas, with threats to core expectations about old age security, the environment, health care and public education, the unhappiness is now spreading among the free riders -- the 42% of eligible citizens who did not exercise their right to vote. I don’t have to call  out “shame on them” because events are doing just that.

The dilemma is, how in the US do any of us proceed? Many are simply not ready for the collegiality, respect of the Constitution and reliance on giving the new president a chance embodied by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

For those leaning that way, Trump stepped on them with his rambling obfuscations.

From his New York Tower he is hurling  cross-punches of cabinet choices and rally revels (denying these are plutocrat picks to the crowds, ignoring the crassness with which he fakes one way then lands on an extremist in the end).

The comically prescient Aptil 27 cartoon from the New Yorker
 and a profile of the author behind it tinyurl.com/hwrqsod
It will take the public weeks to figure out how to react. Those unhappy with this issue or that appointee, even those trying to read intentions into so manic a presidential manner – handshake by day, tweeting storm at night --   are bollixed about how to object or how to fight. It’s like facing the revolving head vomit in “The Exorcist.”

To the constant cries of “You lost, we won, get over it,” most of the country seems not getting over it and not about to, sour grapes aside. They lump the folks who are happy about this state of affairs with degenerates from the 19th century who can’t face up to a modern multicultural America.

The “get over it” trolls don’t yet grasp the fear and dismay because many live in a fantasy world where it’s okay for Trump not to release his taxes or falsely claim three million noncitizens voted against him. Stuck in irrationality, they may never understand. 

Now comes the likelihood that Russia was committing cyberwar to assure Trump’s success and even holding back on what it knew about the Republicans.  That’s deeply  disturbing even without knowing if the efforts were decisive.  It’s even more disturbing that Trump and his trollops deny it happened. Recent polls do indicate some 60% of those who voted for Trump believe the exact opposite of the facts about unemployment, the economy, foreign interference and much more.

How do you fight a shape shifter? Some feel overwhelmed,  as if America was under constant barrage.  Many  don’t have the courage to go to the mattresses in a street war – Trump after all is not yet the Mafia. Some can’t find a good system to respond and others feel  torn between the respect for peaceful transition demonstrated by Obama and their anger that the very strengths of America (openness, belief in an exchange of ideas, trust among opposite parties) have been used to shatter our expectations. It’s no longer about a Clinton robbed of victory, but belief that Trump succeeded in large part by appealing to our most ignorant and most fallen angels. 

And yet, you have to concede that some people had legitimate reasons to oppose Clinton and an understandable longing to wipe away the smug grins on the left.  You have to acknowledge that genuine appeal for  change played a role even while fearing that dupes and dumbness are the  real victors. How do you balance all that and keep a fire for survival alive in your bosom – for four frightening years? Is constant rebellion wise or productive?

We’re already seeing the fallout of internal conflict among Trump opponents, including Republicans. Some 20 groups are organizing protest marches around Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration in D.C., a big march of women for the day after. Currently clearance for their licenses to protest are hung up awaiting Trump’s inaugural committee to release details of how they will create a “fabulous” show though so many  name performers are refusing to participate.

(First small irony, the performers who won’t cooperate with Trump are slowing the process for the millions who also want to signal defiance.)

Yet that’s not the big news. It’s how many people who dislike Trump say these rallies and the online petitions  are a waste of time. You’ve surely heard that doubt or seen that shrug about efforts to return the Electoral College slates to their original purpose (a corrective when the voters lose their way) and about efforts to make the winner of the popular vote the president, like all the other civilized democracies  do. It is, after all,  the second time in 16 years the popular vote has been ignored and this one is the biggest, clearest margin in history where the will of the people has been abandoned.

But even serious haters of Trump are asking “what’s the point?” These protests are simply gnats of annoyance not focused on specifics, they say. Remember how even recent mass protests focused on a specific  – millions who marched against the war with Iraq and are only now acknowledged to have been correct  – were dismissed by the media and the public in Bush’s era, demonstrating to many cynics how sophistication and hesitation about methods prevent enduring impact in the media or among the targets. 

Well,  let’s explore that. There was an interesting moment recently when Rep. John Lewis’ third memoir won the National Book Award – the first time a graphic novel broke through to the top.

John Lewis before protests succeeded
The awards banquet chose to honor this civil rights icon by resurrecting his long lost mug shots from three arrests in the early 1960s when his efforts were being laughed at  or beaten away. There, looking for all the world like the people arrested today for Black Lives Matter and other grassroots protests, was proof how police and courts regarded him time and again as a criminal -- for peaceful protests against bad laws that have now all been changed (and that many fear Trump will change back again).

Look at those mug shots. Badges of honor.


Another set of Lewis police profiles.
Lewis admitted they brought him to tears at the memories, including how as a youth he had learned about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  from a 16 page comic book, part of the inspiration to tell his own story with drawings and text.  How often he had tried and failed in civil rights protests, even being beaten bloody at Selma. How immense his triumph of peaceful disobedience.


John Lewis today
Recalling how in the South his parents “told me not to get in the way, not to get in trouble,”  he didn’t listen then and  won’t now,  urging people to get into “good trouble” even hard trouble:

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” 

Many citizens have an ill-defined moral objection to Donald Trump. It’s like what a noted Republican  justice said about  pornography. You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.

But now it can’t be about a phantom menace Trump. It has to be a more watchful vigilance and an intelligent reaction rather than just general distress.  His methods look horrible and actually a reversal of what he promised crowds during the election but actually he’s done nothing but threaten. It’s which Trump emerges from the White House and what fights selectively can be raised against his largely objectionable team of advisers (assuming he will ever listen to any of them).

The issue was framed in a New York Times opinion piece:  “Those who can will need to speak out boldly and suffer possible retaliation.” 

Yet marches around his January 20 inaugural  are being waved off by some progressives as simply a satisfying  blowing off of steam. I don’t agree, because there can be messages in millions, particularly if the pool of motivated then divides up to face particular threats to their core beliefs.  Trump may try but can’t dismiss the millions who assemble in general alarm and then  unify around specific dragons. 

The lessons of John Lewis suggest there is a moral power that can resonate even into the gold-leaf chambers of Trump Tower.


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


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

WHAT COUNTRY DID YOU WAKE UP IN?

By Dominique Paul Noth

I wonder whether the nation woke up in shock or glee Wednesday. Whether real or not, regardless of the messenger, even regardless of the message, the desire for change was so palpable that the voters were willing to overthrow the Constitution, the interlocked branches and the historical nature of government. Because without doing that, almost  every promise Donald Trump made is unworkable. And the world will reel while he tries to figure it all out.

That sounds harsh, but no other conclusion is left. Trump made an unusually controlled and complimentary victory speech, saying he would deal fairly with everyone, but he had to be hoping the audience would still believe  all those things he had said about Mexicans, Muslims, his sniping at the press and at Republicans who disagreed with him, since this was what endeared so many to him in the first place.

Perhaps they will forget his pending trials for fraud and sexual abuse or his hidden tax returns because, really, could that be the real him? Could he have been elected by the world’s greatest democracy if that was the real Donald? Or was the real Donald the one promising to preserve the Supreme Court, the one promising jobs and more ferocious dealings on immigration, terrorists and trade, the one who would know how to throw America’s weight around.

Half of the citizenry stood aghast at what had happened – no crack in the glass ceiling, no balance to the Supreme Court, no freedom to marry whom you love (a pet peeve of Mike Pence), no work on climate change (heck it doesn’t exist), no campaign money reform, no future for Planned Parenthood, a supermodel whose naked pictures fill the Internet as First Lady, a victory midwived by Vladimir Putin, the FBI director and an enthralled media.

The other half is probably happy – they no longer have to hide from pollsters who they were voting for.  They  may not quite see they had committed to a Barnum salesman who  would need  a different form of government than a democracy to deliver some outlandish promises.

Brace yourself.  Not only was the Democratic Party dashed, the Republican  Party was equally devastated. Rudy Giuliani, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr. and Ben Carson will now dominate your living room when Donald doesn’t want to supply the outrage on his own. We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t blaze a big TRUMP neon on the White House.

Brace yourself also for both the forgotten side and the bigoted side of white America to enjoy its last time at the top, because the march of demographics is irreversible, even if they find a way to deport 11 million residents.

Rail how you will that the votes can be blamed on  too much television illiteracy and other forms of ignorance, on the media’s failure to comprehend that some  college educated white voters went to very bad colleges.   The vote is the vote. The electorate must have wanted exactly the brash, nasty, in-you-face agent of change. Even those who didn’t like his words put that aside, as if the words didn’t stigmatize his character or his pledges. As one Trump voter told a TV interviewer, all men talk like that. 

Voters suffered this same short-term memory in 2010, where the electorate forgot the time capsule of FDR.

What does that mean? FDR, if you read history, took over the presidency three years into the Great Depression. By then the public was prepared for  emergency action,  even demanded it of the president.

But most Americans didn’t suffer that badly under the Bush years. He may have caused the Great Recession, but he left it to Obama to patiently solve it. The public was still absorbing pain.  Most had never experienced so devastating an economy, so their votes took it out on the president despite his slow steady repairs. Couldn’t he make the income, the jobs, the flourishing mortgage industry return?

In reality his progress had been considerable by 2016, wages were finally rising and Obama’s favorability ratings are higher than Reagan’s or any other president. But even today the electorate’s patience had not improved, the pace was steady but too slow in their frame of mind and they were primed for someone who pointed out the problems again and again, with exaggeration and no solutions.

They do not see they are acting as victims and seeking scapegoats.  But there’s also what Obama himself suggested two years ago about another Democrat succeeding him. The public, he mused, “may want that new car smell.”

Hillary Clinton thought the economy’s improvement was self-evident and offered detailed plans to pick up the torch and run with it – not the bravura of Trump to solve everything.  She knew the emails and Benghazi were simply a political distraction and thought the public would also see that, underestimating how powerful were the four years of negativity the GOP was pasting on her when they realized she would run for president. So she talked sense and policy about the economy, feeling it would be enough to remind voters of what Trump said and stood for. She never expected their hatred of someone out of office for four years would be that potent.

I didn’t see it coming – even hoped for a progressive wave.  Especially  in Wisconsin. Despite the iron grip of conservative money and control, what I saw were the small towns that have seen their schools struggle and their roads suffer under the GOP regime, the agriculturists and dairy farmers who desperately wanted a solution to the immigration issue that would keep their operations thriving.  Wouldn’t they stand up finally and vote for that kind of change?

But not only did the Democrats not pick up seats in the state legislature, two of their incumbents lost and some easily superior candidates were thrown away.  Ditto Congress, where no honest person in the state can say things have been improved in D.C. by who was sent there. Even those sent there are going to find it difficult to work with this president, in between struggling how to explain things to him.

My historical optimism?  It’s not present in this column, which may be dismissed as sour grapes by those who will all too soon learn what real sour grapes taste like. It’s really a diatribe of profound sadness, thinking how much work lies ahead to return the nation of Lincoln to equilibrium. 

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


Friday, November 4, 2016

NELSON STANDOUT IN 2ND MOST WATCHED RACE IN WISCONSIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tom Nelson could be Wisconsin's
most important new gift to House.
Next to the Senate contest between former holder Russ Feingold and GOP curiosity Ron Johnson, the House 8th District race is the most watched face-off in Wisconsin. It has national implications while explicitly revealing the danger Donald Trump represents to his own party down the ticket.

Several races in Wisconsin reflect the generally sour mood of the US electorate in fascinating ways.

This is the state where the Republicans in the primary ferociously rejected Trump after a talk media campaign in favor of Ted Cruz, while Democrats went for Bernie over Hillary. Yet Republicans I spoke to admitted then they had no love for Cruz just profound distaste for the Donald, who later swept over Cruz like a wild river.  Democrats in contrast were hoping Bernie would keep pressure on  Clinton from the left and are now upset that his younger enthusiasts are not coming around as they anticipated.

Even today, strong “never Trump” statements stem from the state’s best known right wing talk radio host, Charlie Sykes.  To the anger of many Democrats who feel Sykes is equally divisive as Trump but only on local issues so the national media never notices, Sykes has been elevated by MSNBC of all cable outlets into one of its frequent guests. But that’s   largely because he is an outspoken conservative who loathes Trump at length. 

Support for Trump is clearly lukewarm from the state GOP, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and even Gov. Scott Walker, who made his own feeble run for the presidential nomination. Both say they will vote for Trump but Ryan won’t campaign for him, though Walker recently did. Both Republicans and Democrats find their stances evasive if not two-faced.

The Trump resistance comes at a time when he is trailing Hillary Clinton in the statewide polls by 6 percent. But his campaign still regards Wisconsin as a necessary win. Further working against him is that Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, while abandoning the 8th District race for the House, is featured in Clinton TV ads as a prominent Republican who says Trump has disqualified himself from the White House. (He is immediately followed in the ad by Sen. Susan Collins.)

This split in GOP thinking is most notable right now in the race for Ribble’s successor.  Running on the GOP side is Mike Gallagher, whose only credentials are his military service.  You might think he’d enjoy a bump given Ribble’s outspoken opposition to Trump, but no maverick is Gallagher, more the dutiful soldier to the right. He has flatly supported Trump – and when challenged says he was sure Trump “would appoint strong people around him.”

So. He envisions a weak president saved by strong subordinates, but does anyone watching Trump think he would ever listen?

As I pointed out in another column, Gallagher is being propped up by huge advertising money and by slicing a debate video to make it seem that Tom  Nelson was questioning his battlefield courage when it was clearly about his evasiveness about Trump.

He is facing in Tom Nelson a Democrat often touted for bigger office, partly because of his atypical success in regions where Republicans have frequently won.

Only 40, and still looking a bit like silent movie star Harold Lloyd dangling dangerously from a skyscraper clock in “Safety Last,” Nelson already has quite a distinctive career.  He won election to the state Assembly out of Outagamie County (northeast Wisconsin, county seat Appleton) at age 28 and four years later was named by his fellow Democrats as Assembly majority leader. In 2010 he joined Tom Barrett as lieutenant governor in the race against Walker, which they lost.

But shortly afterward he beat out a well known Republican supporter of Walker for the nonpartisan seat of Outagamie County Executive, an influential position that has allowed him to elevate his administrative reputation.  Out of this he decided to run for Ribble’s seat.

There is little polling in this race, but Nelson is apparently going strong even among Republicans at a time when northeast Wisconsin is generally conceded to Trump because of rural dislike of urban Democrats. Nelson, with his still boyish appearance and clarion policy statements, seems to have conquered that. As Assembly majority leader and again as Outagamie County Exec, he has a proven record of progressive interests, bold action and fierce frugal government.

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