Thursday, February 16, 2017

THE TRUMP THEY VOTED FOR VS THE TRUMP THEY HAVE

By Dominique Paul Noth
Cartoonist Ribber Hansson's view from Sweden

The chaos president – or as a friend more impolitely calls him, the KKchaos president – has been careening around like a kid on an amusement park bumper car. 

In his off the cuff off the wall press conference Feb. 16 he denied any personal involvement in the Russian connection, described the unprecedented 82 months of job growth he inherited from Obama as “a mess,” and admitted there were “real leaks” in stories he called “fake news” – a remarkable contradiction.

Immediately after proclaiming his infallibility and that the press was out to get him, Trump through his lawyers asked the Ninth Court of Appeals to vacate its killing of his travel ban because he would soon rescind it with a new order. In other words, don’t stop me before I kill again because I’ll stop me on my own. 

The White House lurches on. TV comics love him. SNL is riding wicked high.  John Oliver can build his new HBO season around dissecting how Trump steals his ideas within minutes from the alt-right media.

“We are running out of adjectives to describe this behavior,” noted Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” The current parade of news anchors are heavily water-logged in their own clichés – “it's like drinking out of the fire hose,” “doused in a downpour,” “all the hydrants have been opened at once.”

The best water allusion should be a nonswimmer dog-paddling in the shallow end of the pool. 

Hasn’t anyone noticed how many of his executive orders are just nonsense? How the most damaging are blocked in court or doing anticipatory damage behind the scenes? Only now, weeks into his rein, is real damage emerging as opposed to feared damage.  Most of his two-dozen presidential resolutions so far hardly advance his campaign promises, but they eat up TV time.

Voters “take his words seriously but not literally” a fellow billionaire once explained. Usually that would require a doctorate in semiology to comprehend, but right now there is some clarity -- their hopes whatever they were and his words are both literally and seriously stalled. 

Few of Obama’s important orders have been affected.  Republicans now think unwinding Obamacare could take more than a year since Trump has to keep many beloved things about the Affordable Care Act and the political consequences of repealing without replacing are enormous. Remember how he promised “on the first day”?
Steven Sack in Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Undoing the Dodd-Frank law will take Congress months at least, and in nibbling around the edges Trump’s executive order has been charitably called vague in reality and long on promises. The first effect delays a regulation to make sure financial advisors are working in the best interest of the customer, not themselves or Wall Street.

The big beautiful border wall requires far more money and costly border staff than Congress is willing to consider, especially when border experts claim it is wrong-minded if not useless.

Even Trump voters did not expect the first results of his attacks on over-regulation would be, according to multiple reports, removing protection for a dying species of bumblebee, allowing toxic wastewater to be dumped directly into rivers and letting the mentally ill on Social Security buy and own guns (though technically the last originated in Congress).

His immigration order targeted citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries and all refugees traveling to the US. The courts immediately blocked this, first drawing Trump’s rage and then his acquiescence.  The rewrite is underway, tailored to address some of the court’s objections but without the haste Trump said was necessary to keep bad dudes out. Of course, he still has to solve how evidence including his own words says this was a Muslim ban.

Some of his bureaucrats, seeking to outguess their new master, are leaping in harder than he may have ordered or the law may intend. That could bring new lawsuits.

It’s hard to tell if ICE was ordered by Trump or is trying to please its new master, but the current wave of raids (in states including Wisconsin with ICE’s own agents guessing that a quarter to a third of those rounded up were not on the list of criminals) has become the fresh example of actual damage and genuine fear. Marches of protest have risen throughout the nation (the first involved thousands in Milwaukee).

Rather than running from the start as “a fine-tuned machine” as he claimed Feb. 16, his administration has been buffeted by self-imposed errors leading to the resignation (firing) of national security adviser Mike Flynn, the withdrawal of Hardee's czar Andrew Puzder from the labor secretary spot and the refusal from the vice admiral Trump wanted to replace Flynn.

Trump’s comparison of the slow-walk for his cabinet to the speed of Obama’s cabinet approvals is also largely nonsense. It just emphasizes the difference in quality.  While Obama offered world-class scientists with administrative skills to lead the Department of Energy, Trump trotted out Rick Perry – a separation in intellectual reputation that speaks for itself.

His cabinet is largely fawning former rivals or wealthy buddies, but even with several already in place, Trump is still asking his political staff to explain him in front of TV cameras.

The latest has been more associated with Goebbels than Trump. Stephen Miller,  the male Kellyanne  who has warmed up the crowds at Trump rallies and is now senior adviser, does  seems Gestapo  wired as he defends every word that drops from Trump’s lips.

Even if he gets his cabinet in place, it is hard to imagine Trump deferring to them – unless the spotlight shines so bright it burns.

Right now he relishes the spotlight and says millions of Americans enjoy him basking in it.  What they enjoyed were the promises he made – not all of them. His voters were actually selective, ignoring the outrageous while longing for the promised jobs and attention to neglected regions. He had voters who discounted his wildest behavior because they wanted a change.

But even they can’t go on for four years watching him dog-paddle at the shallow end of the pool.


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


Monday, February 13, 2017

ANGER AT DEVOS SHOULD BENEFIT EVERS IN NORMALLY LOW TURNOUT APRIL RACE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tony Evers
National TV news anchors were calling out Wisconsin voters February 7 immediately after the US Senate barely approved Betsy DeVos as new education secretary.  They wondered aloud if the February 21 primary and April 4 Wisconsin election for state superintendent of schools would reflect the widespread anger of progressives and moderates over the DeVos appointment and keep Tony Evers as the sole statewide antidote to  the right-wing takeover of education and  government.

Since the Evers race is the only statewide contest in these typically light spring elections – usually a field day for state GOP machinery – would progressives translate their universal outrage into supporting Evers or would they subserviently secede to the  two GOP backed opponents (coming down to one by April) who so immediately embraced DeVos in hopes that her  dark voucher school  money would spring to their side?

My easy guess is that the survivor against Evers for April 4 will be John Humphries who can loosely claim education credentials as a (much disliked by teachers I spoke to) assistant administrator for the Dodgeville schools. He hopes to seduce unthinking liberals because he signed the Walker recall petition before renouncing that stand and running wholesale to the GOP and voucher schools side.

Openly pleading for voucher money, Humphries who once worked for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is trying to demean his former boss  even though Evers’ honest approach and his unmatched knowledge of education issues have brought recognition from noted Republicans. When asked in private conversation, Madison opponents concede that he is the straightest of straight shooters, offering compassion and tolerance in the unending debate over school education and finances.

This became clear at two recent events in Milwaukee – a Hyatt fund-raiser for Evers, organized by retired Sen. Herb Kohl and Mayor Tom Barrett who both attended, and an East Side church speech for hundreds on a Sunday, organized by North Shore Grassroots. While Evers is raising money from broad-based contributors, Humphries is relying on business interests in the most recent filings.

Evers is known for being a staunch defender of better and cleaner school funding, both K-12 and college, and he is devoted to his job’s independent authority despite efforts to bring him under the legislature’s thumb.

He openly works  with Scott Walker where he can,  yet has been pointedly critical of some of the governor’s schemes to cut funding and then restore some of it as if it were never gone. (Gov. Walker is  counting on voters’ short term memory to forget he is the one who crippled schools and is now returning some of the cuts in healthy sounding cash, expecting a reward at the polls in 2018 when he runs again). 

Walker only demands accountability that fits his narrow views and actually protects voucher schools from equal accountability with public schools.  In contrast, Evers’  approach and his in-depth knowledge of education from a lifetime commitment have earned him the support of the GOP chair of the state Senate education committee, Luther Olsen, and retired GOP assembly leader Dale Schultz.

Evers  makes a point of nonpartisanship in praising Walker when he sees something good – noting for example how many of the better ideas in the new two-year budget for mental health education and rural schools were lifted near intact directly from Evers’ own budget ideas, something the leader of the Department of Public Instruction gets to submit to the legislature. So also, he  pointedly has noted, are Walker’s belated effort to address the state’s massive brain drain and teacher shortage,  something Evers has long pushed for. He is for any effort by Walker to be “pro-kids”  and return some of the money he has taken away from  K-12 schools over six  years.

But  he is not shy about criticizing when he smells the game being played. On Walker’s latest budget, which forces school districts to abide by teachers paying into health care at Walker’s Act 10 levels, and equating rich districts with poor, Evers notes acidly in his polite manner, "If you're giving a wealthy district the same amount as a poorer district,  over time that takes a toll." 

“We have a long way to go before any of what we heard becomes a reality for the kids in our classrooms,” he points out at his events. 

And he also notes an interesting contradiction in the Nov. 8 election.

Even as Trump won the presidency, some 80% of the local referendums in the state seeking more  local money for school buildings and teaching triumphed easily in that election.  To Evers this points out that whatever the readings of politics on the national level, “People are willing to tax themselves and spend more money when it comes to educating kids.”

That combined with the statewide distress over the expansion of the voucher schools program have led many commentators, both liberal and conservative,  to note how forcefully Wisconsin communities support their local schools and government transparency over the continuing efforts to expand vouchers.

Add to that the genuine fear instilled in parents and teachers by the DeVos appointment and the genuine growing pressure to make sure there are public officials in place who know when and how to resist. Few are more important on the state level that someone who is in charge of standards for all schools, which is the function of the DPI.  In fact, were it up to me, Evers should also be handed the reins for early childhood education, which currently is subject to the vagaries of the legislature.

But that expanded level of educational control  would be great if it is Evers, twice already superintendent,  who is re-elected.  My fear with Humphries is that he is too willing now to be a tool of the governor, not someone who will stand up honestly for the needs of the children. And his pursuit of voucher dark money is more proof if any was needed.

Early in the race, Evers expressed confidence and no fear of opposition.  His conviction may not have changed, but two political realities have crept up. 

One is that the desire to find a Supreme  Court opponent for the well heeled conservative Annette Zeigler failed to materialize, leaving Evers as the only statewide race to attract voters when the electorate is longing for a break from politics – at a time when the nation can’t afford a break.

The other reason is that,  while DeVos will probably be forced into the background of fund-raising for such voucher organizations as American Federation for Children, her campaign in Wisconsin is led by a former GOP name and admitted criminal,  Scott Jensen, and all observers expect  big money wielded against Evers, who has asked the state legislature to look scrupulously at voucher expansion. 

Author Barbara Miner
In a powerful op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Milwaukee author (and photographer) Barbara Miner has laid out the demoralizing history of Wisconsin voucher schools and the tragic realities behind DeVos’ rise to power.  Miner is now openly demanding action from Wisconsin voters.

It’s not enough “if  you're upset about DeVos,” she says.

“Pay attention to the upcoming State Superintendent of Schools election and vote for Tony Evers. The two conservative candidates are strong supporters of DeVos and privatization. The primary is on Feb 21; the general election is April 4.  This is a statewide election and every person’s vote counts.

“Street protests and other forms of resistance are all-important, but don’t forget to vote.”

The winning candidates February 21 have committed to a Milwaukee forum Monday,  February 27.  at the Zilber School of Public Health, 1240 N. 10th St.


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


Monday, January 23, 2017

HOW MUCH FADE AWAY CAN THE NATION PUT UP WITH?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tillerson proves far from stoppable
One part of me was hardly surprised that the three GOP senators who expressed severe reservations about Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State – worrying that his coziness with Russia was unsettling and so was ExxonMobil’s record of running its own foreign policy in contravention of US sanctions – wound up agreeing to vote for him, which assures his choice. Lindsay Graham, John McCain --  and even Marco Rubio after aggressive questioning --  caved.

Also worried that the extraordinary turnout of women and men on the Saturday after the inauguration – around the globe as well as in major US cities, probably totaling more than 4 million – may slowly drizzle away as all those temporarily united groups argue about the best way to proceed and as Trump sits in the catbird’s seat grabbing the headlines for (maybe he is) undoing and (maybe he is just) delaying as much of Obama’s policies as he can, whether good for the people or not.

Note how quickly he halted the lower mortgage rates at FHA for poorer middle class home buyers. 


Notice how he threw a monkey wrench into the entire Obamacare system by telling his agencies not to enforce regulations about mandates  and anything that vaguely fits the definition of financial hardship for echelons of the health system. In doing this, he basically threw a scare into the whole system without mandating change, simply allowing his minions to lax required coverage and upset the applecart of the health insurance industry.

Note how, claiming he was saving taxpayers’ money, he froze hiring of new federal workers, which was nonsensical since if these were not good workers he was locking them in place while preventing the hiring of more people

No, what I noticed is how even the media is bowing to the new boss in the White House.

Part  of this is understandable. I, too, want to give the new administration a chance to see if some off-putting policies and exaggerated issues have some merit, whether infrastructure will be built,  manufacturing  jobs will return (or are we simply giving the rest of the world an edge in technology?) or whether we are about to embark on an unneeded but overdue trade war (we are certainly not the biggest and yet have to prove we are the best trading nation in the world). How we signal cooperation should not mean abandoning the basic standards of truth-telling.

When faced with press secretary Scott Spicer’s bald-faced pivot that he was talking Saturday about the world TV and Internet audience for the inaugural (while he was actually detailing  with false remarks and false D.C. transit reports the lower in-person crowd turnout), the media at best mildly criticized. 

Rather than confronting Spicer as a liar, they seemed glad that he stuck mainly to business and a more pleasant tone while still deflecting any suggestion that he was in error.  In reality, his falsifying of transit records was bigger – and not as immediately corrected –as the mistaken MLK bust report from one TIME magazine reporter who quickly retracted (and whose apology Spicer actually accepted before his boss instructed him to get mad).

In arguing that they didn’t want to waste time on trivialities, the media allowed Spicer to ride the trivialities as if they were factual. 

It was much as Kellyanne Conway has been handling the media, making the term Conwaying a synonym for evasive lying. She even mildly threatened that the Trump administration was going to force a new relationship with the press --  an acceptance of whatever crazy  version of “alternative facts”  they come up with (though the term “alternative facts” is likely to disappear in embarrassment).

The GOP willingness to go along has a lot to do with the tradition of giving the president free rein on his cabinet picks, though some of the strangest ever are waiting in the wings (Ben Carson for HUD, Scott Pruitt for EPA, Tom Price for HHS, Andrew Puzder for labor  and my favorite example of unpreparedness, Betsy DeVos for education secretary).  One could argue that except for Jeff Sessions, who is likely to be the most regressive attorney general in history, the other cabinet choices offered little opportunity for meaningful opposition.  But even conservatives must be horrified by some of the exhibits in the wings.

The media tolerance may have a bit to do with retaining access to the seat of power, though frankly the press should be the most aggressive skeptics and clearly was also reacting to the low regard Trump has helped engender in public reaction to the press. Standing up, they think, will not win them friends (I don’t agree). 

But the enthusiastic defiant millions that marched Saturday – and again Monday --  worry me the most.  Will they now go home in satisfaction they’ve done their bit for a better world?  Or will they go to work on changing America back into their vision (both urban and rural) of the values and language that have distinguished our country despite its flaws?

In Wisconsin, I’m already seeing the pressure to organize into new groups despite the abundance of existing progressive groups that have been fighting for a foothold.  There is something inspiring about this new wave of groups and something disturbing as well, as if the existing groups had let them down and no longer deserve support.  

Is Wisconsin Jobs Now passé? Or should it give way to another group. Hasn’t Working Families Party done good – or have they just gotten in the way of the old Democratic Party, which is struggling to revitalize itself? Come to think of it, can the Democrat Party win these marchers over?

Is there wisdom in the call from Citizen Action of Wisconsin (itself a progressive entity) to form new groups under the umbrella Our Revolution?

Some veteran progressives are frankly tired of being asked to join yet another new group every time they turn around. Others are intrigued if this is a new way to harness the energy unleashed in gargantuan terms by reaction to Trump’s inauguration.

Since the GOP is firmly  in charge in D.C., much of that energy centered on the D.C. march is heading home with a vengeance – even in states the Republicans long felt they had a vise on, like Wisconsin.

“Indivisible” is only one of the national groups determined  to make angry citizens focus back on their home states where the conservatives have had something of a free hand. The ACLU also publicly believes it will take a “pincer movement” of enormous action on the ground combined with litigation.

Another developing group based in D.C., though it has been around since 2014, is the State Innovative Exchange (SIX), which is also concentrating on changing the statehouses by helping legislators introduce progressive legislation – sort of an answer to ALEC without the unsavory private-public secrecy that right-wing organization relies on.

“There’s a lot of blue in the red,” noted Stephanie Schriock president of Emily’s List, a long-term progressive group that seeks out women to support. Schriock says it saw  500 women sign up to run for office in the hours after the march.  She was speaking about how,  even if you look on the political map,  there are a lot of liberal pockets and isolated independent thinkers in regions we assume are conservative.

Will this fizzle? Will it take hold? Let’s clear  away the euphoria and put feet firmly on Earth.   If you marched Saturday, or wanted to, the pressure to create more believers is now on you.

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, 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.