Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HOW TO MAKE TRUMP MOVE EVERY WHICH WAY

By Dominique Paul Noth


Trump January 9 in an "Apprentice" like sitdown
while Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyers listens.
Apparently the way to get Trump to behave more presidential is to accuse him of being unhinged.

In response to widespread speculation after “Fire and Fury,” he opened to the press a usually closed session with leading Democrats and Republicans July 9 where, knowing cameras were rolling, he sounded calmer and more conversationally stable than usual. He directed a freewheeling if simplistic discussion of DACA (whatever Congress agrees to he will sign), earmarks (he wants back the collegiality associated with such pork) and admitted there are security fixes aside from a big wall on the border,

Trump also said the bill must include something no one in the room agreed about. He insisted that the public, thanks to his diatribes, was now against “chain migration,” without defining what that term actually means or why aside from rally cliché it must be in any bill.

The media and TV audience who watched this unusually open Tuesday meeting might think they heard more than a glimmer of agreement, but then you also have to remember the shoot-downs stuck in by common sense realists about the legislative process and that the House hardliners on immigration were carefully not invited to the room.

Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein’s suggestion of a clean DACA bill before the March 5 deadline, which seemed to have support from Trump, was quickly jumped on by GOP House leaders to say there had to be some element of border security, too, and ending chain migration, though passing DACA would go a long way toward border security. 


Sen Diane Feinstein after releasing transcript.
Feinstein was having a good week. On her own despite her Republican judiciary committee masters, she released the full transcript of GPS Fusion testimony, which the company itself, the public and the media wanted.  That discussion of the infamous “dossier” outlined several legal avenues for Congress to pursue though the Republicans haven’t and also revealed that the memos that comprise the dossier were confirmation of what the FBI was already looking at.

Much of what emerged from the White House meeting was in the realm of public relations. The introduction of mental illness into the discussion of Trump has been something of an insult to the mentally ill, who in majority are ordinary people struggling to cope with internal malfunctions.  But Trump was clearly stung and used this meeting to answer the question.  In fact, he is easier to understand as a sane end product of a particular kind of Yankee buccaneer -- self-focused, high-strung, so ego-centric about his own worth that he can rightly be accused of massive lack of empathy.

It could be good for America that he is so easily distracted by personal attacks. His lack of attention to details and his mania for how he is treated by the media mean he has been less effective in doing his job – one of the least accomplished presidents in history.  But that also means he has given more power to his cabinet to put their own peculiar interpretations on his campaign promises.

The extremists among them have been working on ardent slapdowns of public schools, foreigners, citizens who protect immigrants and residents without the proper papers (illegal to him, undocumented to others sensitive to the nuances of laws and language). The courts keep stabbing back but these extremists seem undeterred. 

That White House meeting may diminish his band of followers even more without picking up enough moderates to compensate.  He seems to be reneging on that promise of massive spending on a 2,000 mile Great Wall along the border. It bore a scary price tag of some $40 billion but he now promises to build it cheaper for Mexico to pay.

But Mexico won’t pay for such idiocy and neither will the US Congress. On that there is agreement across the aisle.  On Tuesday, Trump further backed off his campaign rhetoric, suggesting there were natural barriers to protect the border and some work that was simply fixing what is there, in effect diminishing the amount of work he seemed to be asking for.

It turns out that effective security measures would still be abandoned for the sake of the wall. Despite Trump’s claims that the US Border Patrol was universally in support of his policy, their immediate problem is staffing since they are losing agents faster than they can hire. They sorely want other kinds of help than money thrown against the wall.

Back of the envelope math suggests why Trump is wrong-headed on this – and why he has been elevating every criminal case involving immigrants to a national crisis, trying to hide how basic facts are against him.

To begin with, the number of illegal border crossings has reduced sharply and now mostly involves not people from Mexico but from Central and South America using Mexico’s porous southern borders and coastal lines through a sophisticated but ruthless network of “coyotes.”

Estimates from US Border Patrol say its agents apprehended without Trump's wall 303,916 in fiscal 2017 -- including people caught multiple times. They estimated that at an 81% success rate of those who tried.  

On that math, Trump wants to build a wall costing $18 billion in the first wave to catch some 60,000 people a year. That works out to $300,000 per person, who each would settle for a paycheck 10 times smaller.

These simpler realities – border crossings have shrunk, border patrols are hard to staff, costs outweigh any perceived need – have focused congressional discussions away from the wall.  Many suggest that rather than Mexico paying, we should be paying Mexico for better security on its southern border and coastlines or, even better, provide those countries economic incentives against poverty and crime. Under Trump there is far less incentive but migration persists because of perilous living situations.

Such facts demonstrate the further short-term cruel thinking of Trump’s policies for temporary refugees taken in from Haiti (some 40,000) and El Salvador (200,000)up to 18 years ago.  His argument is that, since the natural disasters they fled are over and the roads rebuilt, they should be forced to return regardless of the jobs and families they have created here, regardless of the remaining crime and poverty figures at home, regardless of the billions of dollars they have sent back to their families in home countries – an economic aid those countries would now be deprived of.

It also means their children born here and hence American citizens will have to choose staying illegally if DACA is not solved or going back with their parents, ignoring their advances in  school, military service or professional careers.  This is an edict created without thinking to satisfy the powerful anti-immigration lobby and disturb the rest of us. Those home countries can’t absorb such numbers and lose such shipped income in one swoop.  It forces the immigration community further underground, another example of Trump's penchant for substituting quantity for quality.

Which brings us to Trump’s definition of chain migration.  Historically it refers to the inevitable practice that people who come to this country look to bring family and friends from their home countries along – not all they approach want to go, of course.  In past times many came to learn and left to go back to their homeland, some 40% 100 years ago.  And not all invited involved multiple children and in-laws, as the false graphics from the immigration haters suggest. 

For centuries this process has been going on unregulated and successfully – both once Republican aims. What has changed are quotas, the sense of a crowded America (though don’t ask the people of Montana, North Dakota and other states that still advertise for settlers) and mainly a basic change in the skin color of the seekers. 

In Trump’s mouth, chain migration is an evil, suggesting that every bad actor who gets to this country has strung behind him a train of bad actors, though there is no evidence of that. History is actually full of hombres, both good and bad. That includes our president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump who fled Bavaria to Trump’s big mouthpiece-in-chief Steven Miller, stemming from 19th century Jewish German heritage

Even Republicans are confused in defining chain migration.

To our president, ending chain migration has become the catchall cure to any criminal act by someone in this country illegally or via green card.  This one-time casino operator thinks lotteries are bad, though all participants are screened. Yet for many of us this country was founded on one form or another of chain migration – settlers helping bring over the family, friends and fellow churchgoers.  That some turned to crime and others like Friedrich to fleecing fellow settlers – that just seemed the price of getting the good 99% majority.

Despite all his talk about gangs and street violence, actual research shows that immigration communities report far less crime, though some of that may be fear of interacting with law enforcement authorities.  That, of course, is why several community police forces swear by the effectiveness of sanctuary cities.

Trump is no ideologue. Many don’t think he has the intellect to admit doubt and ask questions.  If this is going to be a Democratic wave he might go along in a weirdly pliable way – if you can figure out which side of his mouth to listen to.

Yet he has staffed some of his agencies with the most extremely conservative or least qualified inhabitants – Justice, Education, Housing, Energy, Environment – and counted on their refusal to more flexibly interpret his edicts or even examine the facts behind the policies.  They are slowly doing enormous damage to our country.

After the meeting, the serious negotiations took place behind closed doors. But this public back and forth was most welcome to a national audience despite moments of contradictions from Trump and a realization that just about everyone else in the room had a deeper vocabulary. 

Democrats don’t want the country to fail – not to a foreign power, not once again to sluggish economy, not to an inability to compromise. They are in a dealing mood despite their doubts. But that means they have to take Donald along with any package – even when he seems to be treating a tableful of our nation’s leaders with the similar manner he used on “Celebrity Apprentice.”  None had the 2011 guts of Obama to take him down.


About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, and a founding figure of the American Theatre Critics Association.  After stints as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, he was also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic on his way to becoming 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 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 active historic 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 Urban Milwaukee. 


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

WHY GOP CONFIDENT OF SELLING BOTH UNPOPULAR TAX BILL AND FOXCONN

By Dominique Paul Noth

The tax bill that just passed Congress and will be signed by Trump without a single Democratic vote has turned both sides into P.T. Barnums.  How can the GOP sell it and how can the Democrats keep it alive as a negative campaign issue in 2018?

It will take more than Paul Ryan's smug grin
to sell this tax bill.
The Democrats are basically right that this is a horrible tax bill that mainly rewards the Republican wealthy  donor class at the long-range cost of the middle class. It is a bill whose internal flaws will need to be revised probably within a year by whatever party is in power. It unconscionably burdens future generations. 

But the Democrats may go overboard in describing the downside horror since most of the public will not feel that in their pocketbooks or daily economy for several years. If it is Armageddon as Nancy Pelosi says, it is delayed Armageddon that gives the GOP room to camouflage.

Something similar is happening with the Foxconn deal, which will be discussed later.

Some eight of 10 taxpayers – including the working class and middle class -- will not sense  any immediate pain from the tax bill  and actually some rewards into 2020. If they only read their own selfish tea leaves, it will take them years to realize the supposed gains have slipped away into greater costs.

The GOP needs to sell the front end of the tax plan as hard as humanly possible to keep voters in 2018 from realizing what is waiting for them around the corner.  As bad as the bill is polling now, look for a blitz of counter-claims for the holidays.

That may work, since we live in an age of instant gratification.  The GOP has the money and advertising largesse – thank-you ads to the wizard Trump behind the curtain are already being planned – and its marketers are quite confident the voters haven’t yet been aroused enough to reject the past techniques of money and soundbite advertising luring them to the cliff’s edge. 

The Republicans think they have the proven inside track  in  this salesmanship game by exaggerating  how much middle class households will get in extra cash without noticing or caring how the donor class and the other filthy rich are getting in the meantime. (It is now estimated that the seven largest banks will see their profits increase by 14%, which translates into billons.) They take away with one hand – personal exemptions – while giving with the other – child tax credits, hoping no one looks at the ledger.

The voters  --  they rightly believe based on past ostrich behavior --  will  not notice how many loopholes remain and that Congress traded away simplified tax codes to favor insiders.

The Republicans are selling a trickle down myth that should have disappeared with Herbert Hoover -- that if the rich do well they will hire more people and raise wages.  Most companies you know will line their own pockets and play up to their shareholders. If they could make money hiring more people, trust me they would have.  When was the last time Wall Street stock went up for adding rather than reducing labor?

For the public to buy this package the citizens will have to cling to such myths as thinking the federal inheritance tax (cleverly renamed the death tax) was harmful to the common man.  The myth, and Trump repeated it, was that  dumping the tax would save the humble farmer who wants to pass his 40 acres on to his family.  Except it is more a gift to those owning 400,000 acres and it is really only a handful of the rich – the millionaires under $22 million – who benefit from this elimination.

The true deficit hawks, if any are left, will balk at the $1.5 trillion expected weight on future taxpayers, but such hawks turned into GOP chickens quick enough.  Remember when Paul Ryan tried to sell himself as a deficit hawk, not a gleeful thumper for a bad bill that outrageously inflates the deficit?

No, deficit hawks seem to evaporate from the Republican Party when it is the GOP spending the money.  No one believes their main canard, that a flourishing economy will pay for the tax bill, since even 4% benchmarks  won’t come close and we are hovering at 3% thanks mainly to a president named Obama.

But the Democrats have to back away and admit the GOP has only a path up on public reception to this tax bill, which is at an all-time low.  Think of that for a moment. Usually the entire citizenry is enthused by tax cuts, but here right now only 25% think this is a good bill and a majority know it will not benefit the middle class as much as the top 1%. It’s hard to imagine such disapproval numbers going lower.

If voters are as easily misled by money and simple exaggerations as they have been in the past, though, the Republicans have a lot of avenues to sell the tax bill before the November 2018 vote.  

Wisconsinites will recognize the similarity of the technique with Foxconn.  Front-load the goodies and hope the voters don’t see the dark side until after the 2018 elections.

A roomful of table questioners greeted
Democratic candidates for governor
Dec. 19 I attended a beer and bingo event much like  speed dating with most  Democratic candidates for governor – organized in a basement union room and attracting an overflow  crowd that even this early wants to hear what these candidates would do in office. 

Among the names who didn’t attend were Kelda Roys and Tony Evers, the state school superintendent who many list among the leaders and certainly has drawn the wrath of Scott Walker.

But almost everyone else was there, including some candidates largely unknown to the public and unlikely  to advance – Jeffrey Rambauch, Michelle Collins and Ramona Rose Whiteaker, who in their own ways reflect the alarm at Walker’s Wisconsin  among all forms of workers even those lacking the tools to be governor.

But the musical chairs technique – rotating the candidates every eight minutes among 9 or 10 tables – drew regular citizens,  candidates for other offices and the informed curious.  Most tables had as many kibitzers as seated participants.

Working Families Party and Our Wisconsin Revolution sponsored this event and want to hold dozens like this around the state to give voters a more intimate look at the leading voices on the Democratic side without subjecting citizens to a long, full fledged forum.

There may be a drawback in how some questions were introduced at the tables, since both sponsoring groups are highly friendly to the Bernie Sanders camp and kept introducing questions  in which they  wanted to hear back echoes of Sanders’ language.  The biggest candidates handled that well by insisting on their own terms.

It was an exercise in rapid-fire sweat-inducing messaging and personal appeal table by table, question by question – one popular candidate, Rep. Dana Wachs, joked that it was the first time he had lost weight at an event offering free pizzas. 

But the candidates did unleash a few gems that speak right to the heart of how the Republicans will try to sell both Foxconn and the tax bill. 

Key question – will the Democrats in 72 counties work together for a change?  All expect the GOP to use geography, race and personal job needs to  “divide and conquer” with Foxconn as they will with the tax bill – turning factions of the opposition against each other. Will the Democrats fall for that again?  Construction workers sure want the jobs but they also want a change in leadership.  College tech students and disenfranchised blacks want jobs, families with kids and families without want tax relief, but will they work together for the long haul?

Wachs and Kathleen Vinehout both noted how important it was for them to become as well known in Milwaukee as they are in northern districts where their progressive policies are well received. Both communicated what I have heard from both Democrats and Republicans who live  in areas like Fox Valley and Eau Claire – the Foxconn deal angers them deeply.  It is far removed from their economies yet they will be part of the tax burden which has now climbed to more than $4 billion.  Wachs pointed out that even Racine is split on the giveaway and fears  it will reward workers in Illinois more than Wisconsin. 

Flynn discussed the hidden environmental impact.  Gronik detailed how much Wisconsin was paying out without sufficient clawbacks. Vinehout has countered Walker’s crazy budgeting quarter by quarter with basic common sense. Mahlon Mitchell asked why companies native to Wisconsin weren’t getting the money they need to grow while interlopers were.

At many tables you sensed their anger at the deal and their fear of how to sell its negatives.  Joined by Mike McCabe they anticipated the Republicans will paint them as anti-business as opposed to anti this size of selling out.

(Generalities? Gronik is selling himself as Mr. Fixit, Mitchell as the fire chief to the rescue,  Flynn as the veteran hand, McCabe as the articulate definer of a common sense way forward, Vinehout as a keen analyzer of  the spending and how to refine it.)

Several candidates  noted that initially the south of the state will be seduced by the construction jobs, the vaunted hiring teams, the special new roads, etc., without worrying about the cost around the corner or, as Flynn said, how Foxconn could well come back hat in hand to ask for more giveaways in a few years.

But a state often split between rural and urban thinking has to knit together for a Democrat to win. Such get-togethers may drive that home.

The candidates concede that the anger at Foxconn in the north may be harder than opposition in the south, just as the tax bill opponents will have to struggle against the initial sense of  benefit to some families and businesses to focus on the future collapses in their sights.

The game for 2018 is to  hope the voters have grown out of responding like Pavlovian result merchants to what is immediately in front of them rather than  to the constrictions lying in wait. 

The battle lines are drawn.  But Democrats have to grow up fast to realize the 
Republicans do have cards to play, and even some aces up their sleeve.

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 Urban Milwaukee. 




Thursday, December 14, 2017

TO COUNTERACT TRUMP, START BY HOLDING YOUR CHILDREN CLOSE

By Dominique Paul Noth

It’s the children who have the most to worry about from a Trump regime.

Not just the children in actual age but the budding offspring of business entrepreneurship. 

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter
The nature of his attack on regulations – quantity over quality – and on net neutrality basically protect the rich status quo while impacting the growing children of technology – the new Facebooks and Twitters as it were, the emerging fuel industries and environmentally sensitive companies that will have to struggle harder to prove themselves against the now protected giants. 

Orrin Hatch as Mr. Potter
From that perspective, Trump is moving against the natural growth of the economy and the natural protection of our environment (the latest is his plan for oil drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge, which somehow was stuck into the tax bill).

Those are the figurative children. But I am really worrying about what is happening to the literal children – the young of the world.

It’s moved far past my casual speculation about how a mother like Sarah Huckabee Sanders can lie daily to the press and still go home to teach values to her kids.  Every real news story forces us to hope that the natural resilience of children can somehow rise above the challenge Trump poses to their thinking about responsible adult behavior.

I raised mine in a time when I may have agreed or disagreed with the politics but I could believe in the basic values and procedures of society and government, that they were striving in their statements if not always their actions to articulate equality under the law and the democratic instincts the nation was founded upon. There were many sides to the economic debate and a willingness to consider facts. The decisions might go awry for my beliefs, but the underlying purpose was clear and often welcome.

Now I fear my grandchildren will no longer see the US form of government through similar eyes or read the policies being perpetrated as akin to the real United States Constitution their parents talked about (or my parents, refugees from Hitler’s Germany, viewed with such affection).  They may regard the Trump regime as purposefully harsh, bleak and devoid of genuine concern, under the flag-waving, for the humanity under his control.

The recent children of America, now with children of their own, might decide it is better to start the revolution now rather than wait until he destroys the optimism and solidarity of advance that his manners and methods are deliberately giving short shrift.

Consider the long bipartisan CHIP program – children’s health insurance affecting one in three US kids.  Despite lip service from both parties it remains unrenewed at this writing, forced to a backseat by the push for a hodgepodge tax bill.

Sounding like an echo of Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even the GOP co-sponsor of the original CHIP, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, muttered Potterlike on the senate floor about the US being short of money that shouldn’t be wasted on freeloaders – like 12 million children?

So children are now placed deliberately at the rear of the congressional bus, where many think the entire grownup middle class has also been placed.

But it is even worse for children.  They are not supposed to follow or even worry about the to-and-fro of politics though it now affects their future years in a harsher way than the tax burden ever could. One is only money.  The other is attitude. It speaks to how poorly they are viewed by the adults in government – and they can feel it.

Looking around at what society is willing to spend on their education, or forgive in terms of their educational debt, looking at how they are expected to bust their butts only for the jobs and pay scales that legislators think are worth anything, they may decide little has changed since the age of Dickens in real and cruel indifference to anyone not born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

There is also the largely unmeasured psychological impact on how native and immigrant children feel about their future treatment in the United States, particularly if their skin isn’t white but now even extending to sensitive  white children.

Political action and conscience have made the nation more understanding of the disenchantment and even anger felt by black adolescents raised in poverty or mixed in society’s minds with the troublemaking youth gangs regardless of what they achieve on their own.  We keep asking them for patience to let society improve while our president suggests police should more deliberately stomp their heads – and then we wonder why so few in these communities believe our words anymore and look elsewhere for relief.

These are different times and centuries, but we are a nation founded on our openness to what Trump labels “chain migration” -- people encouraging family and neighbors to join them in the great migration to the new freedom and opportunity in the Americas, not measuring their worth  by what  old jobs they could repeat but what new jobs they could create. Many families here, both Republican and Democrat, can look back fondly on such roots.

Migration as a US glory should remain a strong vision in the American value system despite the growing negativities you hear about "illegals" among us (most better behaved and more knowledgeable about America than the native born). Immigration is the DNA of our social fabric despite broad efforts to keep out immigrants from Muslim-strong countries as well as from across the Mexican border, which brings a historic reminder of a time when we didn’t need or even want a wall.

At the turn of the 20th century it was quite common for immigrants from Europe, Asia or Central and South American to come here to learn what they could and then return on their own countries – 40% to 50% by some records –to help them flourish.  Rather than try to once again find that comity, Trump wants to slam shut the gate.

The US has already tampered quite a bit with a natural pattern of ebb and flow in immigration, and Trump’s dark simplistic view of the world has turned tampering into obsession. Immigrant families who happily came here in the last 20 years and future immigrants who still try to look at the US for salvation and cling to the established American dream even harder than the natives – well, they now have daily reasons from the White House to doubt American values and wonder how they will be received or even if they should try to get in.

Imagine being the child from Yemen who finds Trump’s travel ban is so broad as to prevent his ailing 80 year old grandfather from visiting?  Imagine the adolescent Dreamer watching his or her parents being deported to a country they haven’t seen for decades. Imagine the young Bangladesh worker who finds the behavior of one oddball nut in New York has ruined his chances to find a new life in the US.

The Trump administration policy wants educated technical savvy immigrants first – which sounds reasonable at first until you look at two countries curiously not on the travel ban list – Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They may be key allies we don’t want to offend with travel regulations but their advanced schools are famous for producing terrorist leaders.  Here as in other countries, the US may be better off with rawer less educated material given the bias in native institutions of higher learning.  But then again, we have to realize that living in our county right now is not reassuring to many legal immigrants or to most Dreamers.

A look at recent mass shootings and individual terrorist activities, which pale in injury to what the crazy white shooters have done to us, reveals a harsh reality of mentally ill people or confused young people  radicalized within our shores, not in any journey here.  Yet rather than target such behavior, the Trump administration has rained a blanket of hatred on their native countries or religion, hardly making us safer as they ratchet up the reasons for hatred.

Do we expect these children and adolescents to feel kindly toward our government?  What unseen havoc to their psyches has resulted from Trump’s refusal to build compassion and individual judgment into an ethics policy, reviving what our American justice system was once famous for?

The terrorists on the Internet could have no better recruiting tool than Donald Trump.

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


Monday, December 4, 2017

GIVE TRUMP BENEFIT OF DOUBT – AND WHAT HAVE YOU GOT?

By Dominique Paul Noth

As much as I dislike Trump, let’s put the fairest possible interpretation on the speculation around  his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and making it known he has higher ups at the White House to implicate.

The Internet has exploded with graphics about
Flynn's guilty plea and pledge to cooperate.
Bluntly and clearly, Trump’s team violated the “one president at a time” doctrine of longstanding in our culture. It did so despite clear warnings from the Obama White House not to meddle with sanctions imposed because of Russian interference in the US presidential election.

Of course, Nixon did something similar to LBJ, we learn from historical documents, by advising North Vietnam to stall negotiations, which if LBJ had revealed could have been interpreted as treason by a then functionally bipartisan Congress.  But he didn’t.  And Reagan apparently suggested Iran should wait until he was in office before releasing hostages, so Carter wouldn’t look good.  But historians point out some crucial difference in these past cases of dirty politics.  This time it wasn’t pre-election tampering.  The sanctions were already in place under Obama when Trump’s team was undercutting actual completed US policy. 

Trump was openly warned in advance, yet Flynn was quietly telling the Russians not to worry about the sanctions or the appropriated property. That was the message after the election that Flynn was carrying to the Russians while Obama was president, which gives new colorations – even a promise --  to Putin last December not to react then to the Russian diplomats thrown out of the country and property assets seized (though the Russians have since struck back after new sanctions by Congress). 

Those married to the Trump camp still claim there is not yet proven criminal collusion before his election as opposed to afterward.  “Collusion during” seems his big worry – that his presidency is tainted.  So he may openly defy Flynn’s guilty plea by saying in effect, So I jumped the gun, so what?

That does seem the defiant state of mind behind his Dec. 2 tweet admitting he fired Flynn for lying to the FBI as well as to Pence.  He has always claimed there was nothing illegal in poaching in Obama’s waters, though I know constitutional lawyers who disagree with him. (This is unaffected by claims that it was not Trump but his lawyer that posted that tweet. The White House early on established Trump’s tweets are “official statements from the President.”)

He can now draw the line and say yes, there was collusion while Obama was president – just to signal a new openness from the White House and even a willingness to reverse certain sanctions.  But taint my election?  No proof yet.

For that to stick, Trump supporters have to believe there was no quid pro quo – something promised Putin during the election cycle that, beyond Putin’s natural hatred of Clinton, would reward Trump if American voters were further pummeled with misleading stories about her emails, her morals as well as all the long-standing bogeymen of the right against the left. Including the Democrats will tax you to death myth that the GOP's new bill flatly disproves.

His remaining champions have to ignore the likelihood that the Trump team and the Putin team were talking, maybe in code or wink, about you rub my back and I’ll rub yours whether it works or not.  You don’t even have to get to the worst things being said about Trump, that the Russians have long had something on him, to realize this is slimy. 

Our national hubris is a longstanding benefit for any Russian involvement.  Many voters just won’t believe their tactics influenced them.  Though we are learning more daily about the depth of their attack on our social media, most American voters will never confess they voted in error or admit their vote was based in any way on the false information sent.  We are not sheep being led by the nose, they will pontificate, I made up my own mind.  This is a built-in sense of righteousness in a nation that protects the most miserable type of speech imaginable.

Those who don’t use Internet social media will scoff “I wasn’t affected,”   without considering the bleed-over into their regular lives, conversations and radio-TV-cable outlets.  Those who now are forced by proof to accept that the Russians meddled will further demand to know the exact degree.  And they will say in hindsight it never affected them in the voting booth, without examining how months, even years, of dissembling may have seeped into their mental processing.  They have to claim that generations of advertising, dark money and even the power of gossip had no impact on their strong minds.  

True believers in American democracy are right to be outraged about this foreign cyberwar – in the abstract, apparently.   Not among the elected GOP as long as they can finagle a long-desired tax bill.  A lot of our citizens shrug Russia off unless it directly affects them, and they have some curious ideas about what is “direct.”

Blunt basics. The president lied when he insisted there was no collusion between his team and the Russians.  The only remaining question is how deep was his involvement.  MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has an amusing graph pointing out there are already 19 Russians now involved in meetings with Trump’s team, most ahead of his taking office.  So now we know his staff lied about some or all of that.  The only question is what he knew.

His defenders will still argue he didn’t know what his team was doing, which hardly sounds like the way Trump treats his own shop – he demands to know everything.  Yet his diehard fans will fall back on the belief that right now there is no evidence he was playing up to Russian meddling before the election.

This is hard to swallow, given the peculiar timing of Trump’s election tweets on the days before a Clinton dump by Wikileaks and a bizarre history of how Russia didn’t act  -- or did they? -- throughout the 2016 election. 

The American public now has to believe Trump was elected not riding a wave of Russian created efforts but on his own persona.  It’s possible, given how much of the country is sick of the pace and gridlock built into our system. They might be tempted, in one misplaced vote, to throw everything away for a strongman riding in from the hills (or the towers of Manhattan), standing silent as he disables all the mechanisms of checks and balances, proven historic legacy and intelligent appointments of staff.

Writer Ezra Klein
But that is where we stand.  Pundit Ezra Klein,  in a provocative piece suggesting America is too scared of using impeachment powers, points out that it’s pretty much up to Congress to define what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors” – there is no  established list, so the GOP could attack Clinton for lying about sex or put Nixon’s misuse of power on the pedestal, forcing him to resign ahead of jailtime.

Ezra’s point is simple: “Being extremely bad at the job of president of the United States should be enough to get you fired.”

Perhaps he's right in a normal world, but can anyone see this Republican dominated Congress accepting such  realities?  Not only cynics say they are keeping Trump around just long enough to protect their flanks. For them, the reality was passing a misleading tax bill that will please their big donors – hardly just a Democratic line of complaint but obvious to anyone reading the bill where all the last minute changes came from lobbyists.

Despite this president and this tax bill, no American wants the economists to be right in the prediction that the economy is heading for a terrible downward spiral in 2018 or 2019 because of built-in excesses and lack of controls, enhanced by this White House.  Sadly, only if that happens do we expect the public to rise up and discover if We the People have any real power left.

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


Sunday, November 12, 2017

ETHICS IN A TOXIC ELECTION ERA – INCLUDING WISCONSIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look how that came out in the Burns email solicitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final note: Current list of Democratic candidates for governor


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

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

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

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


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


Friday, November 10, 2017

WILL MONEY DECIDE SENATE ELECTIONS – AGAIN?

By Dominique Paul Noth

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

To which I say, Baaa.


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