Thursday, February 27, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice is a defiant muckraker, at least in a partial definition of that historic term. He has become in effect the journalistic voice, or excuse, for the newspaper to be respected in national quarters.

Dan Bice
He’s certainly the gadfly of public figures left and right.  “Afflict the comfortable” is a part of his mantra, though his column doesn’t seem to allow room for the other side of the old saying, “Comfort the afflicted.” 

The old muckrakers were defined as reform minded, but Bice fits the other important definition -- relentless watchdog and auditor, scouring bankruptcies, campaign contributions, court records and emails (which a friend out East notes amusingly now needs to be redefined in dictionaries -- email should be labeled “evidence mail” since they have so often doused politicians like Scott Walker and Chris Christie in hot water).

Bice is accused by some readers of leaning left and others of leaning right, which he cheerfully accepts as evidence that he must be doing something right. He is not ashamed of embarrassing anyone when a public record exists.  

For Bice, whom I know casually, all such items are worth printing.  That doggedness -- leaning into and behind public records -- has brought him some scoops along with oodles of national TV time, particularly now with his detailed reports on the Walker related emails. All that attention reinforces the reputation of his employer as honorable practitioner of investigative clout, though the evidence overall is more and more debatable.

Dare I suggest he and a few similarly devoted colleagues have become the only remaining justification for regarding the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as legitimate? 

Journal Communications is now more the media conglomerate parallel of the right-wing Bradley Foundation,   revealing its real political leaning in where it puts its resources and attention. For instance JS still makes nods to the community at large in some of its beats and feature columns as it must, but look at the weight. It’s much like how the Bradley Foundation, with millions to play with annually, gives $18,000 to the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre or $10,000 to the Urban Ecology Center but lards $3 million on the Charter School Growth Fund or $190,000 to the right-wing attack center known as the McIver Institute.  The lack of balance exposes the motivations.

Similarly, that Bice devotion to old-fashioned legwork journalism, honored by national media, has become the JS excuse to be treated as the Fourth Estate institution it once was instead of the shadow it has become in practice.

And that is clearly a mouthpiece of the right-wing, an arm of the Walker campaign and in journalist terms weak-kneed when it comes to tackling wealthy conservative policies or offending too deeply the strong business advertising base it relies on.  When the MMAC (Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce) and similar trade groups control your revenue and they are dedicated to dubious education and economic practices, in this difficult age of survival, what’s a poor local newspaper to do? And what’s a rich media corporation to do?  Cooperation readily translates into submission.

Don’t take this as longing for the old Journal and combined Journal Sentinel I worked for over decades before voluntarily leaving in the mid-1990s what I felt had become a diseased company.  I’m not blinded in thinking we were always a better newspaper before then, though there was a stronger separation between the advertising, promotion and editorial departments. 

But at both newspapers (the Sentinel strongly conservative, the Journal more liberal) there were too many independent characters and hidebound pride for any editor or ideology to run away with the train.  The real newspaper people wouldn’t have stood for it. At both newspapers, we had reporters who leaned conservative, center and left, but if they smelled a story, personal politics disappeared in the hunt. Some of the best reporters you wouldn’t take to church. Some of the language made female newcomers blush.  But try to tilt their stories to fit your political views, or leave out a salient detail or a long sought-for phrase, and there would be an explosion. Often was.

We did horrible things that took time to change.  I recall a city editor who thought of himself as a protector of American morality. So at his insistence, the Journal ran names of those caught in the men’s room of a downtown hotel where the police had set up a peephole sting. But only clergy and doctors caught in the homosexual trap were written about, not the workers and clerks, the regular people who wouldn’t lose prominent positions through exposure. When I and other journalists protested, he fought us all the way to the managing editor.  So don’t tell me about the good old days. They weren’t that good and there were reasons so many worked hard to change them.

But today, staffing has shrunk; circulation has dropped sharply; the Internet rules but makes little revenue. Buyouts rain down on the newsroom to eliminate the most veteran workers as too costly to keep, and the few remaining top editors wield far more power and are more in thrall of the revenue factors and the ideological leanings of their masters. 

The temptation began in the reign of editor Sig Gissler in the late 1980s that the newsroom leaders should act as marketing gurus more than journalistic purists and keepers of the flame. With merger and pressure to succeed, that temptation has grown exponentially. Nothing else can explain how often the rounded story – not politically left or right – has failed to get a full hearing. Businesses can hire public relations firms to get a hearing. People on the street and in the courts still need journalists to listen. But there are far less bodies and far less interest. 

The newspaper has abandoned the genuine plight of Milwaukee County and city, except to carp about the poverty, unemployment and education dilemmas as failures of the progressive movement, in favor of building up the virtues of the outlying suburbs where they need to draw readers. 

The irony, of course, is that the suburbs are fading in appeal to younger citizens who should be future readers. They like the growing urban centers. Despite the ingrained pockets of poverty, they are determined to make Milwaukee attract fresh entrepreneurs and activists. Groups of college trained families are abandoning the lure of comfortable suburban living to tackle street by street the neighborhood improvements, the organic reclaiming of the earth, the helping hand for the downtrodden.

It’s much like journalists of yore who worked street by street for stories that revealed the human condition, or knew more about what was happening in city hall than the mayor did -- the days when a music reviewer could be so moved by the plight of inner city housing that his review of a black soprano, pointing out shacks nestled in a community of mansions, became an editorial and front-page campaign.  Don’t expect that concern today.  With a few exceptions, the newspaper is missing that vitality.

Moreover, the paper has lost the strength of diverse voice that two newspapers competing for news once represented (and no local TV station has stepped in to fill the breach; they just add fire videos to the existing pack journalism).   JS has underrated the community needs and made the grievous mistake of blatantly trumpeting its decisions as the views of the “betters” (Madison politicians and the editorial board), an attitude that offends a goodly portion of readers. A genuine local newspaper -- in it coverage not its choice of op-ed columnists -- digs for balance no matter where it finally comes out.

Sykes spells balance problems
for Journal reputation.
Many readers now wonder aloud why parent company Journal Communications continues to damages its reputation of journalistic integrity by turning morning TMJ Radio over to the right-wing blathering of Charlie Sykes. But that was a ratings decision, not a news one. The justification remains that Sykes, like Rush Limbaugh, describes himself as an entertainer not a journalist. (Of course, he wants his opinions revered as hard commentary and he comes from a journalist background. In fact, I worked in the Journal newsroom when he was a reporter there, haranguing veterans with his ideas, which they found amusing or just quietly rolled their eyes. The general opinion was that he was likeable but not believable, and his father, the late journalist Jay Sykes, was more respected. So no wonder Charles moved on to pastures that would put him on a higher pedestal.)

Sykes’ ego has now led to a larger error. His Right Wisconsin, a website requiring paid subscription and full of his musings and those of others who claim journalistic credentials, including several right-wing bloggers JS has hired, was started by him to spread his journalism credentials and is actually owned by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Journal Communications, moving from mere employer of an entertainer to conspirator in right-wing journalistic thematics. That has destroyed the JS reputation for objectivity especially right now, as Walker falls into deeper disrepute through his own behavior as county executive.

Just ask Bice himself.  In a web chat on jsonline Feb. 26, he was asked to comment on whether Right Wisconsin was an arm of Walker’s political machine, given that its editor, Brian Fraley, has been revealed as email contact in the recent release of John Doe missives.  Chatted Bice: 

Brian Fraley on TV when he headed
the McIver Institute in 2012.
“If you want to understand how closely tied Right Wisconsin is to the Walker team, do this: Go to the email records and do a search for the word Fraley, as in RW managing editor Brian Fraley, who worked with Kelly Rindfleisch back in the legislative caucus days. Then note that Fraley is involved in the email exchange that just led Gov. Walker -- apparently -- to fire DOT legal counsel John Schulze. Then turn on your radio and listen to Charlie Sykes argue against the Schulze's firing. It's a small and deeply intertwined world.”

Part of that deep intertwine is JS ownership of this Right Wisconsin so closely tied to Walker’s camp and Sykes’s disgust when Walker backs away from supporting his own gang. 

As of this writing, Bice as columnist has suggested but not flat out said that Walker knew of the secret email network and router set up inside his county exec office.  Meanwhile Sykes pretends it’s all old news though Walker’s pettiness in these emails destroys his Eagle Scout image and explains why Republican and Democratic prosecutors and judges continue to investigate him.

Any journalist can smell that Walker was deeply involved but there is a legal concern – and Walker has a deep bench of high-priced lawyers – about what you can say in print. After all, there wasn’t enough back then to charge Walker with corruption,  just hints that good lawyers could try to strangle in court action.  

As I spelled out to friends who asked:  “There is a legal reason that Walker dodges his obvious knowledge and even media reporters who demand he answers. Consider the consequences if he does admit publicly what the emails of others reveal. It would confirm his role in an illegal coordination between campaign and county workers on taxpayer time. That opens him up to criminal action, in effect reopening the first John Doe while he and supporters are scrambling to delay the second John Doe until after the election.”

So while I understand the caution of journalists, I must point out that aggressive reform-minded newspapers – unlike JS -- would say aloud that Walker knew despite the legal implications. They have lawyers, too, and the First Amendment to protect them when they draw obvious conclusions.  It’s not a matter of opposing or supporting Walker, it’s just going where the evidence leads good journalists.

For now, Bice in his column can hint, but he won’t say. Maybe that’s unusual caution in practice. But maybe, now that his owners have shown their real stripes, he has little choice.

For 10 years the author, Dominique Paul Noth, served as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press until its demise in 2013 and continues to freelance to many publications as well as write for his own websites. A professional journalist since the 1960s he has won multiple cultural and political journalism awards and for nearly two decades was film and drama critic before serving as  senior editor at the Milwaukee Journal.

Monday, February 17, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

The scrutiny that Christie is under (top) so far
 has skipped a more obvious target, Scott Walker.
The major Wisconsin newsrooms are nowhere near the level of contrition, re-examination and determination to do better that colleagues tell me is going on at the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, MSNBC,  CNN and other East Coast power media centers left, right and middle,  along with the usually moderate Bergen Record and  New Jersey Star-Ledger (

Not just their readers but their consciences have made them aware of culpability -- the price paid for their blanket enthusiasm for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rather than journalism’s natural instincts (whatever your political camp) to be skeptical and probing. 

Wisconsin establishment journalism is lagging far behind in such remorse. Yet it has an even more obvious longstanding case of economic ineptitude, office misbehavior, bad hiring, evasion of campaign finance rules, fraud in commerce  and failures at job creation, education consistency  and transit development in its governor, Scott Walker. 

Out east, with some sarcasm here and there, all media outlets responded positively 2012 and 2013 to Christie’s blunt style and political gifts. He was seen as a rare voice of Republican sanity because he was willing to do what every governor should -- working with the president on disaster aid across party gridlock.  His press conferences were masterful misdirection of casual-speak and dominating personality.   He was frank that he was running up voting totals to enhance his crossover reputation.

It’s a different manner than Walker, who wraps himself in statistical wonkishness and glib pretence of thinking things through even though his mind is made up. Behind the scenes Christie catered to selected regions and developers who could help his campaign.  Walker catered to the Koch funding network (which has been rather simplicity labeled Kochtopus but actually exists and runs wild, as independent-minded reporter Lisa Kaiser has brilliantly explored in pieces for the Shepherd Express).

Yet they share a playbook. The constant failure in Walker’s hires are the fault of minions, not him, he said -- so no wonder Christie is now trotting that one out, too.  Christie insists he was always in tight control but did not know what his closest aides were up to.  Isn’t that a Walker gimmick?

The contrast and similarities East and Midwest raise questions not just about these governors’ pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination but about integrity in mass media. Will East Coast aggressive journalism infect Wisconsin --  or will Wisconsin journalism continue to settle for nibbling delicately around the edges?

Editors cite the public’s disinterest in deeper stories about Walker’s maneuvers. Their CEOs worry about the economic necessities of not offending business advertisers who tend to support Walker.  That has allowed only the extremist voices to be loud on both sides, without the sort of concentrated diligent probing essential for effective journalism.  In Wisconsin we get Sykes, Sly and Media Trackers.  In New York and New Jersey they get the investigative staffs for Anderson Cooper and Joe Scarborough, Wall Street Journal mea culpas and the Star-Ledger reversing its original tepid support for Christie. No wonder they win the Pulitzers.

Why is it considered bias in Wisconsin to rigidly examine a politician who has a blatant ideological agenda? That is slowly happening on the East Coast where the media ideology was not friendly to Christie at the start but now recognizes the need to investigate hard. Locally, media ideology  is friendly to Walker but stuck in neutral. Why?  Shouldn’t a Fourth Estate be rewarded by advertisers and readers for doing its job?

Here it’s usually taken court action,   not the deep database hunting Christie is being subjected to by the press and many branches of government, to block the Walker administration’s unorthodox and illegal behavior, and that mainly stirs media carping about the prosecutors not the governor and his secretive networks.

If there had been deeper probity here, perhaps the governor wouldn’t go so amazingly unquestioned in his media blitz across the nation to raise money for his re-election effort.

Out of state, Walker makes his points without contradiction, as he did in an extended November interview on ABC where he said it was thugs and yahoos from the unions that made him the most hated politician in American in 2011 rather than his own actions. He can rewrite history in “Unintimidated” to invent bravery he never demonstrated.  In an echo of the dictatorial injunction of pharaohs, he is telling the nation in effect to “give me the reins again and I will behave differently.” Just a few months ago it was Christie who enjoyed such unbridled superficial  media attention.

Flattered by the important financiers serving as Walker’s advance team in big cities East and West, the media is providing unchallenging headlines   (though more time by Walker raising money out of state than governing in state  is a temporary salvation for local citizens). The bussed-in press simply doesn’t have the facts at their fingertips or the desire to ask the tough questions.  

Walker is even getting away with surface coverage in a newspaper that the Republicans normally regard as their bĂȘte noir  -- the so-called leftie New York Times. In a general analysis of the difficulties Midwest Republican governors will face in re-election,  reporter Trip Gabriel  allowed Walker to escape by calling his current economy an improvement over the national worst year in job loss.  Going back before the Great Recession and recovery would have nailed that Walker is actually performing worse than neighboring states, a more accurate picture of the fumblings. 

That was unnaturally kind to Walker, but typical of the reluctance of the national media to dig around in Wisconsin political facts.  Why should they when few Wisconsin journalists do?  It actually took Mother Jones to examine the same issue from another side  -- how all these Republican governors, Walker out front,  are luring a lot of “dark money” from the right-wing hidden from public scrutiny.

National press and particularly TV anchors allow  Walker to pretend he is focused on the economy not on ever narrowing white America social agendas. These media folks  just don’t seem aware -- as so many in Wisconsin are -- of how disappointing Walker’s administration has been in economic terms and how ferocious he has been in attacking equal pay for women, supporting transvaginal probes, opposing living wage ordinances in communities, fighting marriage equality and stepping hard on other personal  issues that would normally be fodder for national coverage.

It is not just the events in New Jersey that should make Wisconsin citizens wonder why only a few dedicated independent watchdog groups have done their job. Admire or distrust Walker, shouldn’t all the general media at least be questioning him more intensively as the East Coasters are belatedly doing to Christie? In Wisconsin they do have mounting evidence of the methods and consequences. Even skeptical members of Walker’s own party are finally speaking out – but only  behind closed doors in Madison. 
Walker grins. He winks. And somehow that substitutes
in media interviews for answering tough questions.

Walker tells the national media he is all about cooperation (a surprise to Madison Democrats) while quietly assuring conservative evangelicals he is the real Tea Party candidate and their unbending social messiah. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, he insists that the only road to economic security is cutting taxes while increasing debt, though major centrist researchers point out that even major  entrepreneurs are looking for something far more robust than Walker is offering Wisconsin.   Shouldn’t such simplicities be routinely challenged?

A year ago without asking how, the press applauded Christie’s ability to wrestle massive voting support and money in a blue state. They believed his reputation as US Attorney for cleaning up corruption. Now authorities are looking at his behavior with the crossed-eyes he cast on others in a state that still sings more like “The Sopranos” than the Vienna Boys Choir.

Wisconsin is different.  New Jersey has lived on insider corruption whichever party had the governor’s mansion.  Wisconsin  had a long reputation of clean government and refused to give the governor the unlimited authority over cash and carry that Christie enjoys.  And Walker is different. He would never like Christie berate a lone schoolteacher at a press event.  He just limits the income and freedom of all public school teachers.

In Wisconsin it took single party dominance in 2010 – both chambers of the legislature along with the governor’s mansion – to push through extremist policies, often in the face of common sense analysis or moderating concerns.  No one expected Walker to blow up historic give and take, but fellow Republicans had to go along or change party stripes, which they were not ready for. 

Yet all along Walker has been the target of campaign fraud investigation.  Unlike Christie he could dance into the wings with aplomb claiming any opposition was merely political payback while lying about job statistics.   The Wisconsin media still acts  in general like the East Coast media of yesteryear did with Christie, letting him buck-and-wing offstage-right without answering. Nor have they looked hard around the state at what local municipalities are saying about backroom pressure from Madison.

Walker beat the recall because of unlimited cash and general dislike in the electorate to interrupt the normal four-year cycle (let us correct our mistakes in proper order, many voters decided). Christie succeeded because circumstances forced him to act cooperative while manipulating the image agenda.

It’s an irony. Walker never acted cooperatively and got away with it – still does if you contrast his job creation promises with reality. Christie had to finagle in a two-party system, yet he’s termed the bully.  Walker could always shove things through – without hefting the abrasive weight of a bully.

Now, Easterners are asking, why  did the media take so long to see that Christie’s  own schemes and exaggerations may have robbed consumers of a $2 billion train tunnel he once supported?  Could he really have clogged traffic on the George Washington Bridge to score political points? Or did his aides simply misread his body language? Did he try to hold up hurricane relief for drowned Hoboken because he favored the one development  project that would make him look good?  The investigation is on.

But there are similar pressure cases in Wisconsin so far ignored. A  lot of local Republicans could speak to that pressure. They saw this train wreck coming but remain willing to ride off the rails with Walker because of short- term fiscal benefits. They can look around the corner at disaster, but don’t think the voters can. Cynically (shades of Jersey!) they think voters have short-term memory,  won’t blame them for looming deficits,  so why rock the boat and be driven from  office by the Walker big money machine? (That may be why so many local Republican leaders criticize his policies in private but refuse to speak on the record.)

Lack of proximity to probing journalists has been Walker’s buddy. His escape hatch.  He is counting on a  sympathetic legislature that will never engage in rounded probes, a public that is not demanding, an alliance with financier networks that can challenge any reputable investigation or at least delay the John Does until after the election.  And a complacent press unlike those East Coast pursuers after Christie.

The natural cycle to oust Walker comes in November 2014, but a national aura of attention could work like a home team advantage, outside bigwigs paying homage, pretending they know better than local victims of his leadership.

That’s clearly his game plan, and the Wisconsin media is something of a co-conspirator -- even as the East Coast media is now waking up and realizing they were providing similar  cover for Christie.

For 10 years the author served as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press until its demise in 2013 and continues to freelance to many publications as well as write for his own websites. A professional journalist since the 1960s he has won multiple cultural and political journalism awards and for nearly two decades was film and drama critic before serving as  senior editor at the Milwaukee Journal.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


By Dominique Paul Noth

Rep. Sandy Pasch, a Democratic leader in the Wisconsin Assembly on health issues and expert practitioner in the mental health field, sounded the common-sense warning February 4. But the interviewer, she says, headlined her offhand political observation. Then the copy desk backed away from its first heavily politicized headline and then the whole story quickly disappeared from online prominence in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Rep. Sandy Pasch has long advocated for
 statewide improvements in mental health.

While pointing out there are good things in the Milwaukee mental health “reform” bill that Gov. Scott Walker is pumping through the state legislature for instant passage in the next few weeks, Pasch was raising specific concerns  about the contents of the bill itself – or the lack thereof.  Inevitably that touched on Walker’s political purpose, facing re-election for governor in November as a building block for a presidential run in 2016.  The side answer she gave to substantive questions quickly became the political centerpiece of the tale, she detailed in an interview. Pasch hadn’t intended to beat the political tree. She was just continuing her long-term advocacy for improvement in the entire state’s mental health operations -- and yes, as a Democrat in the minority, she was asking why the sudden haste on an issue where the GOP had long dragged its feet.

Why was Walker pushing so hard to impose a questionable Milwaukee-only solution on a long-range Wisconsin problem? She also asked: Wouldn’t citizens be better off weighing the pros and cons over a less aggressive time frame – say not in a vital election year for him? Isn't what is good for Milwaukee mental health  good for the entire state --so why is so-called reform so narrowly drawn as to cut out politically influential Milwaukee county officials (in the other party)? Why only one out of 72 counties?  Shouldn’t there be racial and income diversity on a non-elected board that decides policies and treatment methods?

When pressed, she speculated that it was an election year – and the JS broke out of the gate as if she had shot off a partisan gun.  The implication that Walker had a desire to get mental health off the table  -- before his November  election -- became the centerpiece of the story. That twist may have deeply bothered Pasch, she told me, but it sure woke up the community.

The dust had barely settled when others pointed out that Pasch may have nailed the reason for speed. Walker, many are now realizing, is rushing through a bill that does little for patient outcomes but a great deal on the political front to quiet public outrage – something he needs to bolster his national credentials.  
Gerry Broderick

Milwaukee Supervisor Gerry Broderick, one of the veteran lions of the county’s legislative arm who has lived through such battles, on February 6 pinpointed why Walker’s sudden rhetorical embrace of rapid reform was not going to be trusted.

“(His) recent comments comparing Milwaukee County’s mental health system with a ‘natural disaster’ should remind us of the mental health plan he proposed as County Executive to house mental health programs at the old – and now razed – St. Michael Hospital,” noted Broderick. “That foolish idea cost the County a few years of delay in taking on sensible reforms of the system – a fact the major media have conveniently ignored in their criticisms of the Milwaukee County Board’s actions on the issue. “

Broderick has his facts right. While most of the deaths and failures discussed in the series took place during his watch, Walker as county executive didn’t respond to mental health as a crisis. So why now?


In a major long-term series of JS articles movingly titled Chronic Crisis, the St. Michael death dance was not laid at Walker’s door, though it reflected the same sort of “house all the mentally ill” approach that current advocates for community involvement scorn. The series called, as portions of Walker's new bill seems to, for professional experts to be intricately involved. The JS series, humanely written, stirred the state community with the individual failures of a Milwaukee mental health system that has stumbled for more than 40 years.

Reading between the lines, though, much of the reasons for the delay fell on the citizens as well as the press and state and local elected officials far beyond the Milwaukee County Board.  There was resistance to community involvement, the kneejerk fear of the mentally ill – those good old automatic days when the police were called in and expected to deal with any odd or antisocial behavior – and widespread neighborhood skepticism over less centralized warehousing of the mentally ill.

(As a reporter and editor back in those times,  I recall seeing squads of police cars with citizens dragged from their homes lined up waiting for beds outside the Mental Health Complex – that, in sum, was the system.  Having suffered through those times and having deep respect for some of the veteran former colleagues who wrote the series, I was glad to see the issue tackled in  the Chronic Crisis series – until I realized that a few editors had badly warped the blame game, apparently  for ideological motives.)

 The series shortchanged the complexities of the opinions circling mental health needs for four decades, the adjusted research and behavioral examples over that time, the lack of agreement among experts advising public officials and the genuine reluctance of neighborhoods for local outreach housing or family living for many citizens facing mental health issues.  The difference between those in need of hospitalization and those who could respond to therapy and medication was not much realized or addressed by the public at large.

As a point of history,  the Milwaukee county executive’s office, going back even before Walker, got in the way of clear decisions or engaged in political appointees rather than medical expertise.  The legislative wing, the County Board,  was clearly pulled in several directions and, like most legislative debating societies, was crippled by conflicting opinions while the media pumped out horror stories that demanded action.  So you can argue with Broderick’s statement that “the Board has consistently worked to improve the mental health system,” since whether that was the intent or not, conflicting movements paralyzed public officials too long.

As Pasch noted in an interview, “It is a good idea that other people than elected officials, people who have medical expertise, should be part of the process.  But it is also important that a range of concerns, from race to income to experience with public health, be included, and it is not in the current bill. It was the substance that I was most concerned about, not a political ploy.” 

But so far the bully pulpit for haste has belonged to Walker and his allies. The power of patients dying in custody or denied medication resonates with the public far more than complexities or changing medical and bureaucratic advice.  A local press that can sell newspapers on suffering can color over such intricacies, noted several mental health experts (hardly left wingers, since many on the left are also demanding action without concern for process).  

In general, these experts agree, failures cannot be laid upon the board or even the executive. They point to the pace of our democratic system, the complexities of such major institutional adjustments, the philosophical debates and, frankly, the resistance of the local communities to house marginal mental patients in their neighborhoods. The mentally ill badly needed advocates, and they were not there on all sides.  But that’s not to say that action isn’t needed, they added.

The bill would give the governor enormous control of the future of the Milwaukee mental health system, and fewer brakes on County Executive Chris Abele’s financial authority.  It does so by cutting out local input through the elected supervisors.  Such a bill obviously wouldn’t fly in other counties where Republicans control elected local offices, and that “Milwaukee only” tendency in the state legislature clearly angers many Milwaukee officials.


Not surprisingly one of its main sponsors in the Assembly was an ineffectual conservative gadfly when he served on the county board – Joe Sanfelippo, a member of an influential and wealthy cab company whose profit methods were recently ruled unconstitutional in the city of Milwaukee, which is changing its taxi quota system set up with Sanfelippo’s help.
Wealthy Joe Sanfelippo, now plaguing the board that didn't
agree with him the job was part-time.

Though treated with respect, Sanfelippo couldn’t win his arguments in open debate at the county board, but now his money and influence in a GOP dominated legislature allow him to work around the local democratic representation of his former colleagues. The gadfly seems comfortably housed in a sympathetic nest.

Sanfelippo turned to state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) to establish the basic concept of the bill -- a mental health board of 13 volunteers. They would by mandate be doctors, patients and advocates but so decreed and appointed by the governor to oversee funding and policies in Milwaukee County.

Pasch acknowledged that it has taken too long to address the mental health needs and system in Milwaukee County, but as a nurse who practiced and taught in this field, she suggests the problem is too important to become a political football, to neutralize mental health as a campaign issue by rushing a bill through. Her side comment became the lightning rod of press coverage, she noted.

Though it sounded like basic common sense, Sanfelippo criticized Pasch’s view as unjustified   -- “way off base,” he told the press. In contrast, he said, letting Walker choose the 13 members and give them the authority, not the elected officials, over mental health and drug treatment would remove mental health from the political arena.

“You mean free of politics like WEDC?” snorted Broderick, referring to the Walker controlled commerce agency that has been riddled with corruption, fraud and disaster.  He too wants experts involved but he noted how many Walker appointees are under indictment or in prison. “Somehow putting Walker in charge of appointees does not fill me with confidence,” said Broderick.

The bill would remove authority from the public through its elected representatives on the board, said Supervisor Peggy Romo West, the chair of the board’s Health and Human Needs Committee, which has been pushing County Executive Chris Abele to exercise more authority and enterprise in picking trained overseers.

Currently, the responsibility for running county mental health operations resides in the executive, noted Romo West. A board of mental health advocates, she added, would certainly be useful for advice but not necessarily to decide alone how to  run a complex medical system.

The board’s chair, Marina Dimitrijevic, and Supervisor Jason Haas, chair of intergovernmental relations, also want county citizens to have a say in the matter, which might not be conducive to the Walker vision of speed.  In a Feb. 5 letter to Sanfelippo and Vukmir, they urged a joint committee hearing on AB 718 in Milwaukee County “where the people impacted directly by the legislation live.”  They noted that changes so complex and of such magnitude deserve the opinions of the citizens affected.

So far the only hearing discussed would be quite quick and brief in comments -- and take place in Madison.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  While I personally believe all sides of our brain work together, on the Internet it seems problematical to mix the cultural reviews with political commentary, so partisan has become our thinking.  I don't want to do a disservice to genuine intellectual and emotional discussion of culture because of political attitudes, however temporary. Like most people I've mixed art and politics all my life without ever thinking one doesn't help the other. 

So  I invite those also interested in discussing current movies to check out the current series at DOM'S "OTHER" DOMAIN, the simple