Friday, July 28, 2017

ROJO’S JOURNEY FROM GIDDY TO GOOFY

By Dominique Paul Noth

Wisconsin’s Senator Ron Johnson was  giddy with  euphoria at a press conference Thursday evening (July 28), grabbing the mike, waving a misleading chart on rising health premiums and jumping around like a child invited to sit at  the big boys table with more highly regarded senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy.

In high pitched babble he agreed with the others that the Republican’s “skinny Obamacare repeal” was a fraud unworthy of the party, though after eight years it had become the last vehicle to repeal the ACA.

He echoed Graham’s attack that it was crazy to think it a substitute for the ACA or should ever be allowed to pass.  More quietly and thoughtfully McCain chimed in, while Louisiana’s  Cassidy made mixed noises seeking assurance from the House that they would not let the bill move forward but simply open the door to a conference where Republicans could hang amendments on this Christmas tree.

The senators clearly feared – correctly -- that the House would take advantage of passage and just wash its hands of the troublesome bill that forces the removal of at least 16 million consumers from the health rolls.

The senators said in one voice that without Speaker Paul Ryan’s agreement to an arduous serious conference process they were “no” votes.  Think of that.  They were willing to vote on a bill they all thought lousy and did not even see the text until later that night.  But they wanted a promise that the vote was meaningless – an unheard of situation.

Yet as 12:53 a.m. Friday rolled around, Johnson offered a vigorous “aye” to the bill that hours earlier he said was a sham.  Graham, accepting Speaker Paul Ryan’s oral assurance that there would be a conference with the House (he doesn’t understand the vagaries of Ryan’s word as well as the people of Wisconsin do), also voted yes as did Cassidy.

McCain stood alone.  And stand he did, reinforcing the reason he said he returned from a sickbed in Arizona to clear the procedural way but balking at the final gimmick. It would have been easier to refuse from the start, but McCain likes his drama.

Joined by stalwart no-sayers Lisa Murkowski (despite threats from the White House)  and Susan Collins, he defeated this idea 51-49, causing an early slinking off the TV screen by Vice President Mike Pence, whose tie-breaking vote was no longer needed.

Johnson also slunk away and deservedly so.  The health care discussion gave him a brief moment to get too close to the sun. Now he will return to the more familiar  backbench. Did anyone in Wisconsin really expect him to stand up against the GOP juggernaut?

McCain was the balance, more than the maverick of old but also the hero of the Senate ideal. The deciding vote not only elevates him in his final years but reinforces the plea for harmony that marked his return. It was also a stern rebuke from the party’s 2008 leader to the current president.

But the slim margin he represents should give the country pause.  One 80 year old returning from a brain tumor spelled the common sense difference on a health care system that has helped millions, even if not liked by thousands.

Under Trump it can no longer be called Obamacare, but maybe finally the Republicans will face up to an empty promise they built their campaigns around and retreat from insisting on “repeal” to the more sensible methods of repair that the Democrats are willing to work on. 

Not that the Democrats are blameless. The exaggerated attacks on Obamacare have led to some kneejerk defenses.  Every time the GOP screams that the rise in premiums is killing the country, every time they dig out a family that has suffered as opposed to the many many families that have been helped, they employ the money and group-think that makes their simplicities reverberate.  Too many in the nation believe it’s failing,  which makes Democrats even more outspoken in reaction.

Obamacare defenders have much of it right. They know the health care exchanges only cover 7% of the consumers, so much of the raging involves few people. They recognize the main problem is the uncertainty about federal mandates that have made  insurance companies  skittish.

But there are good ideas they could put on the table. Single payer may be a bridge too far, but there is a lot more sympathy these days for the public option the original health care bill wanted.  Unions are also seeking correction to how their self-care insurances are contributed to and cut off.  There also should be an easy way to let Medicare negotiate drug prices directly with big pharma – and reassessment of how families qualify for subsidies.

The first step is to give up the myth about repeal. The next step may be to marvel at how the Democrats kept their entire team together and head into the 2018 elections showing unanimity, which stands in sharp contrast to the GOP shambles. Nor should they forget this is the people’s victory.

Trump’s infamous resistance to admit error and accept compromise (which he regards as weaknesses not democracy) stand in the way. That obstinacy is his main trait despite  the obvious  fact that even his rambling speeches indicate there are many parts of the ACA he likes and wants to keep. But his initial reaction after the vote indicates he will continue to attack subsidies to force failure:  “As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!" 

The cold water that has been splashed on the GOP seems to have missed the president. But will the GOP now  react by working with the other side or pleading with their constituents to elect even more Republicans? That electorate should never  forget the Republicans already have  the Senate, the House and the White House. Yet they still couldn’t find a better way. 

Republicans repeat the myth that Obamacare was passed in secret on Christmas Eve 2009. Even McCain has the history wrong.

They will also have to deal with Trump. He will blame them, never admit failure and probably not do the sensible thing of giving up on a bad bill.

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.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

TRUMP’S SIMPLE SOLUTION TO HEALTH CARE

By Dominique Paul Noth

For eight years, Republicans of every political stripe have made it their mantra that the ACA (Obamacare) must be repealed and replaced.  Now political realities suggest a clear fix – apologize for being wrong for eight years and move to repair the stuff both sides agree need adjustment.

Standing in the way of an apology that most Americans would welcome is a president whose whole reputation is built on non-apology. 
Photoshop gremlins had fun on Facebook melding Trump with his
doctor but actuallly there is an easy health care solution -- admit
a mistake and move on.

Donald Trump has made a career of refusing to back down from whatever nonsense escapes his speeches or tweet threads, such as forming commissions to investigate nonexistent voter fraud, or continuing to challenge Obama policies he is actually building on because they work. His ability to find grievances in every event has become legendary even as he mangles history and facts as he did for New York Times.

It’s not quite like Ted Cruz admitting the GOP would look foolish backing away from repeal and replace -- though "foolish" looks like a tiny problem in the current state of things.

Trump is now insisting it was THEIR promise, not his. In fact, he will sign ANY bill they put in front of him. 

The   repeal-replace rhetoric was absurd with Obama in office and it remains a bigger absurdity today as the ACA has taken hold and helped far more Americans than claim damage despite the drumbeat of GOP ads.

Now Trump is assuring Congress that he won’t even read what they give him to sign!  This is his last gasp. 

He doesn’t know or can’t say that 85% of the people on the health exchanges have subsidies to help them with their premiums and that most of the complaints are coming from people just on the other income side of the subsidies. The exchanges are also a miniscule part of the ACA and get better fast if insurance companies are reassured by the president that the underwriting will continue, as now it should by law.

He apparently doesn’t know that most people in the ACA rely on employee health plans where their companies are supposed to have negotiating power on premiums or that Medicaid alone pays for 49% of the babies born in this country. Some 74.5 million individuals were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP in April -- yes, those are government programs.

Some Republicans actually seem ready to admit repeal-replace was a lousy pledge, but now a day after suggesting repeal without replace would work, Trump doubled down July 19, suggesting a simple White House meeting with “I’m the greatest deal closer” could fix both repeal and replace.

The world had changed around him.  Evidence exists that Obamacare is not failing – it is being sabotaged.  Health insurance companies simply want Trump’s promise that the ACA subsidies will continue, so success is in his small hands.

The president clearly doesn’t understand health care policy and actually wants to keep several things the Obama bill made possible – pre-existing coverage, children on parental plans until age 26, etc.  He doesn’t even understand that every version of the GOP bills he never read happily offers one form of subsidy or another (that’s actually one of the right wing’s problems).  

There’s a giant duplicity in the Republican talking points – that people don’t want to be forced to buy insurance if they feel, today at least, they don’t need it, but that’s only because they know others in society are poised to pay for their emergency room visits.

Health insurance works when the pool includes those who need it now and those who may need it in the future.  Plus there are terrific rewards from preventive care.  These are the larger universal truths about the American experience that comes through in war and peace – Work together to support each other, and recognize that sometimes we need government to help us do that.

There is a philosophical issue at work as well -- being mandated to be covered, as in everyone pays something. People understand that with state auto insurance, Social Security and income taxes, but some draw the line on health care.  It sounds so American to say citizens shouldn’t be forced into participation by government -- except it is also anti-American to not recognize there have always been exceptions.

The central dilemma in the discussion remains whether health care is a right or a privilege. The Republicans seem to be saying that anything we have to pay for is not a right, conveniently forgetting the military, the highways and even the breadth of Medicaid.  

This is also an underlying misconception on the left, which thinks terms like “single payer” or “Medicare for all” don’t carry a price tag.  They do and these systems will be much harder to set up in a nation that has built its health care system around private companies.  Obama recognized that as he moved the “right not a privilege” argument forward but maintained the private companies and their high level of employees and affiliates (one sixth of the economy) through a remarkably sturdy system of levers, sticks, sweeteners and counter-weights.

The Republicans, after eight years of empty flailing, are only now realizing how carefully the system was built.

Since none voted for it, they conveniently forget how many Republican ideas were incorporated, inviting GOP votes that never came (here is where my memory differs from GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who thinks the Republicans weren’t asked and now  rightly wants any new system to have both parties cooperating – but so did Obama).

Even Obama’s universal lie of 2013 (if you like your plan and your doctor, you can keep them) was a poorly worded anticipation that doctors would not flee good plans and providers would fix bad ones. 

His public relations optimism did not anticipate court roadblocks, a medical community both noble in some practices but also venal and guilty in the opioid epidemic, the financial games health companies and big pharma are experts in, the refusal of half the states to participate in the health exchanges, the reluctance of so many states to expand Medicaid despite the financial incentives, and so forth. 

Only now after eight years has the American public on the left and right realized that cooperation and repair are the best path forward – not continuing to insist on a pledge that was not thought through to begin with.

The current president, who keeps trying to shame the Republicans with their stupid pledge he apparently never agreed to, has laid down the biggest blockade to improving health care.  He thinks a few words over a White House lunch will convince the Republicans.

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar disagrees, referring to the three Republican senators who have spoken out against the meanness of the GOP bill in its various forms – Lisa Murkowski, Shelley Moore Capito and Collins.

Said Klobuchar: “I don’t think a tuna salad sandwich is going to change the minds of these three strong women” – who incidentally were excluded from the original white male taskforce on the Senate bill.


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, July 16, 2017

IN CANDID BUT NEEDED DEFENSE OF TOM BARRETT

By Dominique Paul Noth

In 2017 Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivered yet another
well accepted state of the city speech
Nice guys finish last. That truism of modern politics has been heightened in the Trump era but certainly applies at crucial times to the career of Tom Barrett, whose organizational skills and personable manner have brought a lot of success in the public arena but have also at key moments worked against his elections and his reputation in office.

His personal bravery – demonstrated in a famous 2009 incident outside State Fair – has been combined in public life by a caution that some interpret as cowardice and others as a habit of reflection from a lifetime of political realities. 

Some of Barrett’s problems may be self-inflicted but much of it has to do with a growing attitude in society that progressives have to be extreme to be taken seriously.  Over the years as an opinion journalist I have taken Barrett to task on moments of what he would call political balance and I criticized as trying to please too many sides at once.  

Those moments have now led to something I think ugly and even despicable – an unfair depiction of his methods and skilled service. 

Nowhere was this clearer to me than in the recent concern about language changes in immigration policy imposed by a skittish city attorney and quietly agreed to by the Fire and Police Commission without the due process of asking the immigrant community first, particularly the outspoken advocates of Voces de la Frontera. 

It should be worth noting that while Barrett along with police chief Ed Flynn was savaged for these changes, since reversed, there was never any evidence of initiation. Barrett never wavered in his support of the immigration community and even applauded the change back in language.

The real history here seems that the independently elected city attorney, frightened by how Trump AG Jeff Session had been moving harshly against sanctuary cities and independent local policing, wanted to put belt and suspenders on city policy – and never understood how stridently immigration defenders would react to any change in language, a reaction I found understandable.

Barrett was victimized in the public mind as weakening on defense of immigrants, though he remained an outspoken articulate leader on immigration causes. Privately he seems to understand that, while the reaction may seem hysterical to outsiders, if you live in the immigration community and are aware of how remorseless the Trump administration can appear, a little paranoia doesn’t mean Sessions isn’t out to get you.

But no question, there is a history of Barrett talking one way but then not speaking out for the principles he subscribed to in the minds of constituencies that had supported him.  That certainly influences the reaction to current events. Much of this may be his way of operating but it has seemed to me in the past that voucher school advocates and building contractors have been pretty good at picking the mayor’s pocket whatever principles he thinks he stands for.

Some examples.  Barrett made a major error in my opinion in seeking control of Milwaukee public schools eight years ago, taking his cue from Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle without recognizing how ferociously the city felt about local citizen control -- even if the voters didn’t always turn out in big numbers for MPS board elections.

Both Doyle and Barrett, either knowingly or not, were reacting to outside privatization and business interest pressures, where Barrett often doesn’t find the right point of balance. Neither, of course, do many of his current critics.

His vacillation here, much like County Executive Abele’s more recently, speaks to a confusion about education policy that the community itself has had difficulty deciphering.  What do you do with programs that are popular with parents but may actually be hurting children’s education? 

Similarly, in 2008 when Milwaukee voters overwhelming supported a modest paid sick leave ordinance, Mayor Barrett joined the business community in opposing it, even using their argument that “voters just want free stuff” and such a law would isolate the city with higher standards than hungry business-stealing suburbs. His opposition shortly brought a state law under Gov. Scott Walker preventing any policy stronger than the state’s – while around the country, my contrary argument was winning. The city passed up the chance to be an oasis of good corporate citizenship.

When he was elected mayor in 2004, Barrett was actually riding some high regard in the black community. It traced back to his excellent service in Congress and his refusal in 2002 to primary fellow Democrat Jerry Kletzka when Milwaukee lost a congressional seat in the 2000 census.  Since Kletzka was from the whiter south side, Barrett support was vital in the black community.

Handing his district over to Kletzka was a moving ceremony in 2002 when Barrett invited his good friend, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, to speak at the Black Holocaust Museum and join hands with him, Kletzka and many noted local names such Marvin Pratt in a march to the Martin Luther King statue.

In 2002 newbie David Clarke was
sucking up to the Democrats.
I have memorable photos of the event including a newly appointed sheriff, David Clarke, bobbing up and down behind the famous in an effort to ingratiate himself with the Democrats – my, how times have changed!

Later that year, Barrett lost a primary bid for governor, coming in second behind Doyle and ahead of Kathleen Falk – a race he ran well but may have lost because of that lingering outside resistance in Wisconsin to anyone from Milwaukee, even anyone clearly accomplished. 

The irony of that 2002 popularity moment, when Barrett was  holding hands with Pratt on the march, became striking in 2004 when Barrett used his bigger name and war chest to defeat by eight points Pratt, the interim mayor  who used the theme “It’s Time” (in a minority dominated city) to make much of that campaign a black-white issue. The black-white fever lingers to this day.

A mustachioed Barrett campaigning for mayor at a 2003 gathering.
Pratt had some campaign finance issues as well and Barrett still had popularity within the black community, which would slowly be diminished by a curious combination of right wing money, streetcar opposition, lead pipe simplicities and extremist minority concerns about representation.

The myth that blacks are better for blacks and Latinos are better for Latinos regardless of ability dies hard. Barrett’s early support for Obama, his record of fighting for civil rights, his refusal to be cowed on immigration rights, his ability against odds to pass important legislation, all seem  to count for little.

Barrett has been good on those issues – in statements at least.  When he ran for mayor in 2004 and even since, no one has been as persuasive on the need for unions and worker solidarity. No one has been more forceful in speaking for the inner city. Yet that has not always been matched in public perspective or mayoral decisions.  I recall criticizing some building projects for failing their full union promise. That may have been the fault of his minions, but they were his hires and the mayor is the one who has to be held responsible.

I also recall interviewing Frank Zeidler before his death. The last Milwaukee Socialist mayor emphasized that city government was an ongoing tale of a strong common council (by law) and a weaker mayor.  So reporters should be better than the public in differentiating who is responsible for what – and which camp is making the most mischief.

The best and most amusing criticism I ever heard of Barrett came years ago in an inner city church after the mayor bravely faced down critics and the Rev. Willie Brisco, leader of MICAH, took the lectern.  “I love Tom Barrett,” he said, comparing him to a “great kid” at shortstop he played pickup baseball with in his youth.  “Wonderful guy,” Brisco said, before laying down the stinger.  “But he couldn’t pick a ball.”

Brisco was describing the difference between what Barrett said and what he did.  But note he was speaking after Barrett, overriding his own advisers, openly defended his actions before a hostile audience.

This is a pattern I have seen over the years, which is why a lot of the criticism of Barrett irks me – he only cares about Downtown, they say, he doesn’t speak up on neighborhood issues or for the working class, he doesn’t care about the inner city, that streetcar is just for the rich tourists and so forth.

Barrett speaking in 2006 at labor's Mourn for the Dead
annual event at then named Zeidler Union Square Park.
Yet over the years I always run into Barrett at neighborhood events, speaking up for investments in communities like Harambee, in home improvements on the west side, in better weather installation for older Milwaukee houses, in fighting the state on foreclosures, in talking train company Talgo back into its inner city facility despite how cruelly the company was treated by Gov. Scott Walker, in explaining his ideas before audiences not willing to listen – and on and on.

The GOP delays in the streetcar have gone on for decades and have cost both the inner city and the east side the expansions planned long ago, again demonstrating how these anti-transit and anti-community forces have set Milwaukee and Wisconsin back generations.

A lot people still take the statewide Democratic losses out on Barrett. Perhaps the party should have moved more rapidly to younger standard bearers. Perhaps the electorate should have woken up harder and faster.

But even in 2002, many think in terms of administrative skill, caring nature and personality he would have made a better governor than Doyle. Who can doubt that even his multiple losses to Walker cost the state far more than it did Barrett? Who today thinks Mary Burke was a candidate improvement on Barrett?

The latest bizarre efforts to recall Barrett brought immediately to my mind the curious mixture of right wing money organizers and left-wing agitation behind the Swanigan effort against DA John Chisholm, again much of the same tired racial simplicities that have injured city politics before and clearly will again. 

Even as in Pratt’s time, there is new evidence that political critics circling City Hall are willing to make deals on the left and the right, with workers and corporations, with big suburban money and street agitators – while hypocritically  criticizing  Barrett for his compromises.

They are now engaged secretly in areas Mayor Tom was at least honest about.

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


Monday, June 12, 2017

THE MEDDLESOME PRIESTS (GENERALS) WE FOOLISHLY COUNT ON TO KEEP TRUMP IN LINE

By Dominique Paul Noth


Mattis uses Churchill as comfort blanket
A stone-faced military man of the sort America used to make statues to, James Mattis, secretary of defense, is tasked with settling fears among allies that the US is not as wacky and self-centered as Trump sounds. 

To that end Mattis reassured Asian (and other) powers by resurrecting a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill -- once they had “exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”

His jest at a Singapore meeting of defense ministers was a backhanded way of admitting that Trump is only partway through exhausting alternatives.  It also underscored how much the citizenry is leaning on Trump’s foreign power team to put him on the right track.

The worry now is, who is infecting whom? 

H.R. McMasters replaced Mike Flynn on the national security council, dripping with credentials as a thinking military man, straight shooter, expert on counter-terrorism and  independent voice.


Where has the real McMasters gone?
So ask his admirers
Yet one of his first uses by Trump was subservient TV shill to explain the president’s behavior in the Oval Office, then the Middle East and with European allies. That --  and subsequent statements defending the “America first” terminology and the impending cold-shoulder to foreign concerns  --  caused longtime admirers to plead for the once admired McMasters to return to sanity

Another military man, Gen. John Kelly, put in charge of Homeland Security, has a history of valuing diplomacy in administration. He assured leaders of sanctuary cities that he will do “nothing Draconian” and even frankly admitted he needed to learn what a sanctuary city is. (Most, he will discover to Trump’s dismay, are well within the law.)


Despite a testy exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) pressing him on policy specifics, he repeated the assurance that he would work with local communities on how to “balance” their concerns. 

Kelly promises nothing Draconian for sanctuary cities but
sets ICE agents loose on roundups.
He has said other reasonable-sounding if tough things about undocumented residents. Yet, at the same time, the ICE agents under his control have been turned loose, rounding up not just immigrants with serious criminal records but “dreamers” (those brought to the country as small children), parents married to a US citizen and others whose only violation has been getting into the country without papers. 

Kelly is proving more obedient than internally outspoken about Trump’s orders,   mildly correcting Trump’s tweet about the urgent need for a “travel ban.”  No, “it’s just a  travel pause.” That hardly settles the legal issues and may even exacerbate the differences between what Trump says and what his people explain

The non-military member of this foreign relations quartet ran his own foreign policy staff, sometimes contrary to US policy,  as leader and negotiator for Exxon oil.  Rex Tillerson has gravitas and world contacts in his repertoire but as secretary of state is proving  aloof and incommunicative,  hardly the sort of energetic engager represented by John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and even Republican  Condoleezza Rice. He acts as if he’s putting a reluctant year into  public service to placate Trump’s need for an important rump in the seat.

Tillerson heads a state department shut out of much decision-making. He has also found his reputation thwarted by Trump statements that depart from Rex’s influence and stealth pace.  

Tillerson doesn't seem quite seated at State.
Nowhere was this clearer recently than with tiny oil rich Qatar, home to 10,000 US troops and two important bases.  Saudi Arabia, which played Trump like a tired old fiddle on his recent visit, clearly felt emboldened (and what a coincidence that only after Trump’s orb-clutching  visit did Sunni terrorists openly attack Iran’s major cities). 

The Saudis have undying enmity for Iran and want to control Qatar’s freestyle methods (funding the controversial but respected Al Jazeera TV network and making nicer with Iran) by attacking the same thing the Saudis have done in the past – refusing to cut off money to terrorist groups.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia lead the world hit parade in violating human and worker rights (not to mention women’s rights) and while  Qatar is making progress too slowly in fighting ISIS, so it could be argued are the Saudis. In some ways, Qatar may even have been smarter than the Saudis and Trump in realizing moderation has gained strength in Iran and now is the time to seize the opportunity. Or is that what the Saudis really fear?

Tillerson and Mattis have both signaled a stronger desire than Trump for quiet resolution of  differences between Qatar and its neighbors. Both were surprised and unhappy with Trump’s tone encouraging the current blockade of Qatar by surrounding Arab states, despite the intense intermarriages and social connections among all  the groups. 

Meanwhile, the Saudi war against Yemen, also heavily about local issues, remains unabated and somewhat encouraged by that enormous arms deal with the US. Where the state department could once use its prestige to engage in the Yemen crisis, Trump’s policy of non-engagement is getting little blowback from the appointees he assured us were not yes men.

Thus should end America’s new delusion about the Trump era – yes, he tweets outrageous things but at least, citizens tell themselves,  there are a handful of good servants around him on foreign affairs that will keep the country out of the deepest ditches. 

Now all the public can hope for are delaying actions from once honored figures who may belatedly correct Trump’s behavior but are unlikely to frontally challenge it. 

Qatar is one example – since Trump now backs negotiations that his harsh rhetoric make difficult. NATO was another example, cutting direct support for Article 5 from his speech without telling the advisers,  then affirming  support in a backhanded way during a press conference  with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis (who also demonstrated how to quietly reprimand Trump on his immigration attitudes).

The delusion of “good servants” still lingers on the foreign policy side but has been pretty well dashed on the domestic side, which is more important for most Americans. 

Half that side of the cabinet contains Trumpites who every day sound more like the boss -- slick motor-mouth spouters of statistics that make no sense but roll off the tongue (health secretary Tom Price, budget-land’s Mick Mulvaney and pompous Scott Pruitt at EPA). Or they are largely Republican names and big donors clearly out of their intellectual depth – Betsy DeVos at education, Ben Carson at housing and Rick Perry at energy.  (Even writing the last three names feels like science fiction.)


Photoshop wags on the Internet are having
field day with Trump's signing ceremonies
The majority of American voters who supported someone else for president -- and still can’t believe the nation could follow someone like Obama with someone like Trump -- have also been enjoying the false comfort of Trump ineptitude.

Flourishing every executive signing as if displaying the menu at Mar-a-Lago, Trump has caused robust Internet laughter with declarations of intent treated as actual bills, faux laws and other excuses to gather a handful of favorites around him for picture-taking. But the public’s comfort has come from how little of these events have resulted in actual laws.  America has been enjoying a five month reprieve from economic and social disaster.

But now things look different and Republicans  are getting busy – even hastily busy as the sheriffs close in on the Trump campaign. The GOP Congress can only justify standing this close to Trump if its agenda is finally being served. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell doesn’t give a fig about the nation’s health care but wants to prove just who is the real deal maker in D.C. A health bill would open the door to gutting Dodd-Frank and improving the tax atmosphere for the very rich. The Senate is more difficult than the House.

So McConnell, who has succeeded before against bad odds, is maneuvering to bring a health bill to 50 votes plus the vice president as tie-breaker.  If he has to give up Planned Parenthood or pre-existing conditions or punch up state rights and health savings accounts, he will in a New York minute. 

It’s taken awhile, but now the actual deportation of  needed immigrant workers is growing. Regulations against dumping chemical waste and manure are disappearing.  DeVos is seriously trying to use federal incentives to turn us into a nation of religious voucher schools. 

This means the need for citizen protest is hardly diminishing. It is even expanding to combat the White House bully pulpit and dark money.  States and businesses are being forced to set out on their own for environment advances and climate change.  Clean energy has also become a local initiative and any hopes of a national clean water movement are gone. Even the infrastructure everyone wants has started for Trump by trying to privatize the nation’s airports,  though it’s  airlines causing traveler grief.

Trump’s bungling may last forever, but Republicans are desperate to take advantage of White House control now.  Because they know the scales can’t be so badly tipped for much longer.


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, May 22, 2017

WHY TRUMP LOOKS BETTER FROM A DISTANCE

By Dominique Paul Noth

Less gracefully than Obama, Trump attempts a bow
to the Saudi king in a ceremonial presentation.
Halfway through his foreign barnstorming, President Trump has presented a calmer, more rational and reassuring face than his US charges have ever seen up-close and constant. It is a calculated and growingly necessary effort at calming the international waters after  excoriating Islam, limiting  travel from Latin American and  Arab-majority countries, sharpening ICE talons and scorning hard-won treaties and NATO.

But he is also going out of his way on the first leg – Saudi Arabia and Israel – to trash Obama.

He insists he is good at making friends and advancing economies while the previous president was not.  Indeed, he is attacking what conservative pundits call the Achilles heel of the Obama years – foreign appeasement or accommodation depending on who you are talking to. Apparently it was outrageous that Obama bowed before the Saudi king when receiving an award but not a big deal that Trump attempted something like a curtsy.

More centrist observers note that deeper belief in US ideals and maturity in leading the world were actually the heritage from Obama.

It is a strange case for a president who inherited a pretty decent economy and a great deal of foreign goodwill, but Trump may succeed in eroding that Obama image a bit by playing on the universal greed for something that sounds better – the same ploy of promises that has worked on Americans.

Trump was most successful with the entrenched wealthy autocratic sheiks and the hard right Israeli prime minister. The first are troubled that Obama showed concern for their human rights record and actually encouraged their serfs to act out, which is certainly a danger to them. 

The second wanted a friend who overlooked raw flaws so much that he would not ever deal with Iran, while Iran in its recent election has strongly shown an interest in moderation.  If that was a signal by the Iranian masses, Trump sure ignored it, though  many in Jerusalem  concede that Obama did very well in the nuclear deal.

The trip often seemed about bashing Iran even more than Obama, so if nothing else Trump may have chosen sides for the US in the endless rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

It will be interesting to see  whether this bashing game continues  at the Vatican.

Comedian Bill Maher joked that Trump made his first extended overseas trip a visit to the centers of  “three major religions” – Catholics, Jews and oil.  There is some sarcastic truth there – since there is no real olive branch in settling the long-festering Israel-Palestine dispute,  just  a lot of hope  that ceremonial exchanges in lavish settings are a sign of progress. It’s a variation on his “try me – what do you have to lose?” strategy with US voters.

All Trump would say about Israel and Palestine was  that it looked like one of the toughest deals ever but “I feel we will get there eventually . . . I hope.” That and crushing ISIS seemed the extent of his foreign policy details. His tsk-tsks on expanded Israeli settlements and Arab stabbing incursions are  unlikely to push into meaningful bargaining.

Trump’s much anticipated speech to Arabs was about driving ISIS out and then to death, not just driving them out to other places as is most likely to occur if his advice is followed. He was addressing an Arab community whose strictest beliefs and Wahhabism education of the young are blamed as a major force in encouraging violence that less tribal strains of Islamic teaching reject. Driving them out and making the US more isolated are not comforting responses to a global gang of murderers. Killing them all is hardly that easy. They are going to go someplace and even walls won’t keep them out, given the modern techniques of how they get in.

There is also much fear that the chumminess with Netanyahu and policies centered around Arab royalty  deliberately shut out the Palestinians from any equitable voice in bargaining.

Nikki Haley tours refugee camp in Jordan
while Trump wined and dined.
It was left to UN ambassador Nikki Haley, while Trump was dining and sword dancing with the Saudis, to tour a  refugee camp in Jordan and speak about the human tragedy of Syria.  With a lighter touch than Trump, she also pledged humanitarian aid would not be impeded in the new budget – which takes an ax to education and Medicaid.  She described the aim as helping Syrian refuges where they are, rather than open our doors to them, though right now elsewhere means safety.

Part of this was once natural in a centuries old  immigration reality.  Up until the 1920s, sometimes 50% of a country’s immigrants to the US did return on their own volition to their homelands with new skills and insights.  Today entrance and egress are xenophobically different. The Trump administration makes it clear the drawbridge is raised except for special skills needed, as defined by American industrial leaders or by Kushner family dealmakers in China

The upshot seems to be that death and destruction will remain in the region where the disaster exists but with  help from outside mainly in the form of money flowing in.  It’s a Band-Aid for the conscience.

Much of the arms deal with the Saudis had been years in the making and the goodies may not be totally legal to Congress if the Saudis use American armament in its war in Yemen. The deal is most notable by offering Saudis jobs in our weapons of medium destruction industry. 

There is no credit to past administrations and won’t be because the hosts are playing nice with the new team and the new guys don’t want to hear anything good about the old team.  Bibi is just glad Obama is gone, perhaps because Trump looks far more malleable. He certainly downplayed any unhappiness in the Israeli intelligence community because Trump revealed to the Russians ISIS plans that could only have come from foreign implants (revealed by news sources as Israel).  Now no one ever accused Trump of naming Israel but he repeated that falsehood often as some strange justification for his loose lips. 

Other than that, he acted responsibly, at least like a celebrity tourist dropping in on the 19th hole.  That will get him good marks back home until you peel away what it is really saying about his US.

Because the first part of the trip was about class and class structure. Jews are fine because they have  a homeland to go to. Rich oil-drenched Muslims are fine and know best how to keep their people in check, they don’t need our advice.  Refugees,  those hungering for personal freedom and those shoved aside  by isolationist policies may be rich targets for ISIS, but they continue to be the ignored targets for Trump -- the people he thinks should be driven out to someplace other than the establishment palaces.

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 one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then 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 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 at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.  


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CLARKE GONE, MILWAUKEE CHEERS, NATION GROANS – BUT WHO WON?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Imagine David Clarke trying his shenanigans on
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
The sense of relief that coursed through Milwaukee May 17 was immediately mitigated by fears of what this means for the nation’s immigrant community and the concept of sanctuary communities. 

Sheriff (all hat, no cattle) David Clarke will quit next month to take an assistant secretary position in Trump’s Department of Homeland Security. It appears that Clarke rather typically jumped the gun on his new boss in making the announcement.

His title – assistant secretary, responsible for one defined internal division -- immediately limits on paper his damage on direct policy.  If  he tries to interfere there, expect strong pushback  from the general in charge, Homeland Secretary John  Kelly, who knows more about military ethics and social limits than Clarke ever did.   Make no mistake – Kelly is the real deal on hard law and order, but not averse to telling people to shut up if he doesn’t like how they do things or how they tell him what to do.

Clarke will be in charge of the Office of Partnership and Engagement, which is the liaison with state, local and similar law enforcement agencies.  Given his and AG Jeff Sessions bombastic attacks on sanctuary cities and immigrants (one Sessions speech described them as “filth”) this move does not bode well for the immigrant community --   some think right now it couldn’t get worse, but stay tuned.

“Sanctuary” is not even a term defined in law, but deals with compassion more than legality.  Local officials and law officers in so-called “sanctuary cities” do cooperate with the federal government on felony criminals, but don’t believe their officers should become uncompensated agents for ICE, questioning every person stopped, arrested , fined or jailed for minor offenses about their immigration status. They believe that reassuring the immigrant communities to report crimes regardless of status develops important police-community relations.

Kelly, from a military background that finds it “inconceivable” that criminals would be excused – which he is learning is not what sanctuary cities do – has also admitted he hasn’t a clue about what a sanctuary city is, but is open to communication with local law enforcement on a case by case basis – which may be in conflict with Clarke’s “shoot them all” rhetoric.

Kelly even told police chiefs, “I promise you we'll work with you and will make no Draconian moves until I fully understand what a given locale might be doing or not doing," 

The hatman cometh to Homeland -- this is
Clarke's own tweeter photo.
This appointment is clearly a reward for – or a submission to -- Clarke’s constant agitation in national speeches and FOX shows, though he should remember what happens to anyone in Trump’s world who pulls the spotlight away from the boss.

Latino rights group Voces de la Frontera immediately scheduled a press conference to emphasize that Clarke is unfit for any office.  One Wisconsin Now director Scot Ross put it more bluntly:  “David Clarke is the human embodiment of the insane email chain your racist uncle forwards you.”

However, in the Homeland Security world he will face far deeper scrutiny than Gov. Scott Walker ever provided, nor frankly than local officials could, since only the governor could fire and hire. Nor can he turn discipline into insult matches with his superiors, as he did with County Executive Chris Abele.  He will find the real national media eager to criticize his language more quickly than FOX ever did. 

The problems with Homeland Security are much larger than the presence of Clarke could change, though Sessions surely has gotten an unnatural ally in hatred and misunderstanding of sanctuary cities.  US citizens may be putting too much faith in Kelly, defense secretary Mattis and security chief McMasters to keep Trump in line and legal, but on first glance, the benefits for Milwaukee outweigh the damage to the nation.

What a curious conclusion to make! But Clarke has been so seriously out of step with other law enforcement agencies and has given Milwaukee a bad name in the class of cryptosporidium that his departure was an occasion of joy.

Except, what’s next?

Walker still has the reins of appointment, though to be fair Clarke was not his choice. It was an interim GOP governor, Scott McCallum, who chose what he thought was a conservative Democrat – and it is under that label that Clarke has run, despite rejection by the local Democratic Party and growing evidence that he embraces the Attila right of the Republican Party.

Pundits have painted his constant re-election  as a prelude of Trump – tough talk, no action –but he also could and did play the race card in a minority-majority city. His  stalwart opponent last time, Chris Moews, had equivalent law credentials but was white, and the election came at a time when the Milwaukee police, especially the white Milwaukee police, faced intense community criticism.  Moews was victim of the times while Clarke was rewarded by the fever.

The wealthy Abele, who has had fierce run-ins with Clarke,  funded a broad campaign swipe at him in 2014 featuring Clarke as a cartoon gunslinger.  But in the black community, painting one of their own as a cartoon caricature had a built-in backlash based on history.

None of Clarke’s stock techniques will work in D.C., but Walker has reasons not to similarly succumb.  He is definitely going to run again in 2018.  His budget dangled a bit of leg to the left on education – a false limb it turned out, promising to return some money he took away --  and he otherwise wants to soften his image of cruelty. 

His pick for a new sheriff could do that. He might even pick the Democrat (no named Republican has won the sheriff’s race) who was likely to take Clarke out next election – Earnell Lucas.

Earnell Lucas from his video
Lucas is a Milwaukee native with a university degree in criminology and management. Like Clarke he is a former city of Milwaukee police captain. He has headed national baseball security for years as vice president for Major League Baseball.  This is hardly an inconsequential job when you think of how many cities, teams and special events he has had to handle with local law, but it requires organizational skills and working with others, qualities Clarke sorely lacks.

Lucas, unlike everyone else, is not focused on Clarke. As he told me a week before the Clarke news, “It’s what the community needs that we all should be talking about.”

Even with Clarke out of picture, Lucas plans to run
for sheriff.
On May 17, Lucas said he intends “to submit my name to Governor Walker for appointment to fill the unexpired term “ at the appropriate time so he “can get right to work on the problems the community needs to address.” Which includes people dying in custody under Clarke.  It’s an eagerness for change  the community should appreciate.

Whether being close to Walker would help or hurt doesn’t matter.  Lucas’ view is county first.  Will that be Walker’s?  He has seldom shown such perspicuity – a fancy word for common sense.  

Another sigh of dismay may come from Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s camp. Not just in horror at what is happening to the nation, but what has been removed from their opposition research, which the sheriff was daily enriching.

It was never quite clear how serious was the GOP agitation for Clarke to run against her – they have gathered $20 million to oust her ahead of having any candidate. But it is giving away no secrets that the Baldwin team would have been delighted to oppose him. 

They are similarly pleased that the state GOP is now turning its hopes to  state Sen. Leah Vukmir, whose ties to ALEC and the right wing and whose crazed rhetoric have been much documented.

Just as Democrats are upset that a candidate to oppose Walker has not yet emerged as the leader, the GOP is even more in turmoil about who will  take on Baldwin. 

Their confusion is elevated at the unsettling news from D.C, where the appointment of a special counsel provides enormous weight to the worries about Trump’s behavior toward Russia.

The issue that’s playing out here in the Baldwin race and others is simple -- who has stood behind Trump and who has been shrewd enough to move away.


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 one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then 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 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 at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.