Sunday, March 26, 2017

RYAN’S FAILURE SHOULD TURN TRUMP TO HOUSE’S ENDURING POWER CENTER

By Dominique Paul Noth


Nancy Pelosi despite minority role may control
the power balance in D.C.
The debacle of the GOP health care bill reveals a hard truth for Donald Trump.  There is a strongman in D.C. he will have to work with if he wants to get anything positive done.  Her name is Nancy Pelosi.

There are many threads to untangle in that statement. It’s made with full awareness that Trump and his minions don’t have a good grasp on reality (real analysis is in the DNA of minority House leader Pelosi).

The first thread to untangle – Paul Ryan may have the title of Speaker of the House and a 21 member voting edge, but he’s not an effective leader. His clumsy, inept and hasty health bill didn’t come as close as he and the president still claim.  It was not just the conservative Freedom Caucus that undid Ryan. He also lost moderate Republicans. (Since there never was a vote, the numbers can be fudged but I count more than 40 against.)

The next tangled thread: Why should the Democrats help? There are only two reasons to cooperate: Protecting the nation’s health and a possible change in public opinion.   Right now there are oodles of motives to let the Republicans stew in their own mess. 

But protecting health care is still necessary -- despite what Trump said as he pulled the plug on the GOP bill. He insisted in a news conference that he wanted Obamacare (or the ACA) to succeed but there was nothing he could do to stop it from exploding.

That was two lies in a row. 

Trump has already ordered his agencies, in one of his vague presidential resolutions, to throw up roadblocks – almost the first thing he did.

There are also pending government legal cases involving the ACA that his White House could withdraw from. He could also try to destabilize the health marketplace.

Does anyone believe he will let the ACA ride without tugging on the various tax levers Obama approved (levers that would require 60 Senate votes to totally undo)?  Picking at these levers is important to the vaunted tax legislation he wants to do next.

The biggest support Trump has for his tax relief for the very rich comes from the Freedom Caucus he attacked March 26.  The caucus couldn’t get a GOP health care bill cruel enough or ambiguous enough to satiate their desire to save money first. That opposition to Obama’s shrewd taxing methods will continue ferociously. Sabotage is always hovering even as Trump, rebuffed by the conservatives, confronts clear signals that he must moderate.

If left fairly on its own, the ACA is hardly in a death spiral or exploding.  In fact, there is growing appreciation of the balance Obama found and growing likelihood that it may even thrive.  Health insurance companies may come back into the exchanges as a way to improve their base clientele. Some pulled out for reasons that had nothing to do with ACA but with their own desire for excess profits, according to court documents.

Many of the new 2017 signers fit that attractive “young and healthy” profile though Trump pulled out of advertising the ACA signup. 

The mandate that everyone must have insurance assuredly soured some on the ACA, but many also recognized the value in how it expands the market pool and imposes a sense of responsibility for your neighbor.  The financial worries would evaporate if more states -- like Wisconsin – would grab the opportunity for expanded Medicaid coverage at minimal cost.

The public mood on the streets remains to not give in on anything Trumplike.

But untangle the next thread: Time is spinning and things could change. 

The Democrats could be painted to look as uncooperative as the Republicans were with Obama. There are fixes the Democrats do want in the ACA, which they have been afraid to introduce for fear of GOP sabotage.

The splintered GOP is already trying to flip the image of obstructionism to the Democrats, suggesting that if both sides cooperated there could be a better health care bill.

It’s hypocritical to frame it that way, but over time that now laughable vision of the Democrats as obstructionists could gain traction. Four years is a long time to retain anger and there’s Mike Pence in the wings puffing himself up as a more stable step-in – even though he’s not the sort of salvation Trump opponents want to see.

Now enter Pelosi.  There is a Sanders wing of the Democratic Party that bitterly remembers her early support of Hillary and has proclaimed her not progressive enough for them.  In their camp, fighting for anything less than Medicare for All or single payer is a retreat (even though saving the ACA for years into the future would be quite a victory).

Wielding Medicare for All as a club to save the ACA, however, may be more logical with a GOP House, Senate and White House that were in the hands of the other party and still couldn’t get universal health care through. 

Pelosi based on her liberal credentials, which are considerable, would certainly push the ACA more down the road Obama started – better health care as a human right.  Any movement down that road should be welcome in the Medicare for All camp. 

It is also boastfully idealistic and exaggerated for the progressive public to proclaim they stopped the GOP health bill on their own.  It was obviously more them regional and organic than the Democrats who brought down the bill with rallies, letters, citizen groups and inventive embarrassment of elected Republicans. But despite Trump’s blame game, no Democrat was even approached to support the bill.  Many Democrats in D.C. seem to have talked Republican colleagues into resisting. Such is the discipline of the Democrats in the House.

Pelosi has also been criticized for spending too many years in leadership, and retaining hold over the likes of Steny Hoyer (electorate class of ’81)  and Jim Clyburn (class of ’93). They could step right in and that’s been true for years. But retaining her leadership and their support demonstrates how well she knows the ropes.  As I once wrote, there are two things she can do well – she can count and she can keep the Democrats together.  That alone puts her two ahead of Ryan.

Trump’s a slow learner and egotistic, a terrible combination, but it could dawn on him that a coalition of Democrats and the moderate Republicans who can read the polls in their home districts are enough to give him a victory margin in the House and a better face to present in the Senate.

Not on everything – much of Trump’s slavishness to Wall Street and the very rich will remain anathema.  Much of his loose cannon foreign policy is despicable. So is his language. But on bills like the infrastructure and intelligent adjustments to health care, the road forward runs through Pelosi.

She would have to be careful, but she’s avoided pitfalls for decades.  There are many traps the GOP could lay. A central right wing GOP vision is to keep safety valves in the tax code and reduce taxes for the very rich or on health company CEOS.  For instance, the ACA does redistribute wealth -- and the Democrats should just admit it – with a minimal health tax of .09% on the very rich that means a millionaire pays $9,000 into the health care pool. There’s also a sensible penalty rule the GOP wants to kill limiting health care executive pay to $500,000 a year. But these are taxes that many Republicans support, as they do continued protection for women’s health issues.

Health experts and economists Pelosi listens to like the ACA yet would happily accept some improvements and even some changes they could live with, in such areas as expanded protection for those just outside the tax subsidy ranges, incentives for insurance companies, prods for states to take the Medicaid expansion and so forth.

Right now the greatest pressure on Pelosi is to stand pat.  But by the summer, after Trump hits his head against the tax relief wall among other impenetrables and after further Ryan failures to manage his troops, Pelosi should emerge as the unavoidable power center in D.C.


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. 


Thursday, March 23, 2017

WHAT TO EXPECT APRIL 4 – AND WHAT TO DO

By Dominique Paul Noth

Tons of angry citizens take to the street and social media to send up distress signals about Donald Trump.  Protests have sped past any stop or go signal from the Democratic Party or established progressive groups. People on their own pick their causes and decide how to rise up -- women’s issues, general health care, refugees, immigrants, climate change, sanctuary cities, public education,  public health, opiates, social justice, drinking water and the list goes on to encompass the anger that has seeped into every corner of America.

Which begs the immediate question – how much of that will show up at the polls April 4?

The Wisconsin spring election is not overflowing with vital races where the anger can be centered  – there’s only one statewide – and all the races state and local  are described as nonpartisan.  Indeed in several Milwaukee races the candidates are pretty similar in ideology.

So maybe this election coulda shoulda ought to be a test of the public’s anger but it well might not be. Those on the receiving end of the anger might therefore delude themselves, look at the turnout April 4 and tsk-tsk “How typically fickle  of the electorate, in rage today and calm tomorrow.”  I wouldn’t count on that interpretation either.


Tony Evers an easy vote.
Sensible voters should turn out big-time for the lone statewide election for state superintendent of schools, re-electing Tony Evers, who has done a lot with too little and found a way to stand up to,  yet still work with,  the GOP dominated legislature and executive mansion.

The electorate should get excited about this race since it spells what’s going to happen to our children. Evers is a true educator who looks better and better once you assess the opposition and  the dark money showing up against him that wants less public feedback and more obsequious to the monied masters.

He sure stands out compared to Lowell Holtz, who every week faces a new revelation about his shaky work past,  his unsavory political connections – including to a family notorious for its voter suppression billboards – and his weak performance in head to head debates with Evers.

The choice here is almost so easy that you can’t read too much into the turnout, though if Holtz survives in any reasonable fashion I would have a lot to say about the corrupting power of money in our elections.

Milwaukee has some clear choices in school board elections but a difficult choice, ideologically, in the lone competitive circuit court race, where each candidate can point to notable names in support.

CIRCUIT COURT RACE

Of course, some of those endorsements came early for Kristy Yang, because for a while she was floated as a candidate against Cynthia Davis, a former Milwaukee assistant district attorney appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker.  Davis is now running unopposed, partly because Walker has gotten better with his appointments.

Kashoua (Kristy) Yang decided instead to run for Branch 47 once Judge John Siefert decided to take retirement.  There she faces veteran criminal lawyer (29 years)  and longtime Whitefish Bay municipal judge (8 years) Scott Wales.  Wales knew his branch choice from the start and has used a better established name and a more extensive war chest to rack up endorsements from lawyers,  judges, labor unions and public officials. 


Scott Wales my choice for circuit court.
I’ve been privileged to talk to both several times as they’ve made the rounds to general gatherings, since both believe in hands-on campaigning – and both have pretty similar judicial views.  It’s a race that has openly put political junkies in something of a bind.

Yang, a 2009 UW Law graduate,  is a model representative for  the Hmong community. That  appeals to those who want more minorities on the bench who bring a valued perspective.  She is a busy young lawyer working mainly in the field of family law, divorces and estates and such, with a personal story of rising through will and talent.

Wales also has a striking personal story of rising above great physical difficulty to become a leading figure in Milwaukee criminal law (nearly 1,000 circuit court cases from minor to felonies).  He openly discusses being born with Moebius Syndrome, an affliction that in his case paralyzes half of his face and for years made it hard to talk. But learn to talk fluently he did, just as he survived those childhood taunts.  This self-described “scrappy Jewish kid” believes his affliction has taught him a lot about the judicial role and its values. 


There will be other races
for Kristy Yang.
Advocates for both candidates have pressed me to decide, as I’m sure they have other voters. I’m for Wales.  I wish Yang had picked another race, but I’m confident that these sort of races come around every few years and we’ll see more of her.  Circuit court judges are hard to displace in elections, but they retire, they are promoted and the brave ones run for other offices, so there are always openings.

Wales has earned his time in the pit and emerged as one of the top criminal lawyers  as well as a successful municipal judge. His years in the shadows should be over.


SCHOOL BOARD RACES



Larry Miller in photo by Joe Brusky.
There are pretty clear decisions in three of the four city of Milwaukee public schools races. One district is where I live and I have long admired Larry Miller, who has fought for children and for public education, taken some difficult votes and helped champion explorative curriculums and resolutions on early childhood education,  Black Lives Matter and safe haven for immigrant children.

Miller has seldom been seriously challenged since 2009 because the community – District 5 on the East Side -- is quite satisfied with his work.  This time he is facing serious money and a serious candidate, Kahri Phelps Okoro, who has close ties to a construction company that has business interest in school properties. She  has a served as an MPS reading specialist and also apparently has a child in a voucher school.  Yet in public debates she insists she is a strong advocate for MPS and wants to focus on graduates doing well.

She hasn’t shaken my faith in Miller one little bit.


Annie Woodward
Nor will I abandon another school board veteran, two-termer Annie Woodward in nearby  inner city District 4. I’m picking up the vibes around the community of an age campaign against her  since Woodward is 77 and has been a community advocate since her retirement from the county department of health and human services.  She remains a vibrant outspoken defender of public schools and opponent to the voucher school groups connected  by money to the new US secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. One of those groups is backing her opponent.

I don’t blame her young opponent, Aisha Carr, for the age whispers. That can’t be traced. But Carr is coming off a four-day  MPS suspension as an ethnic studies teacher, which she claimed was politically motivated. I traced that  and  find no evidence. As an MTEA (union) member she was defended by her union in the case. What I did find evidence of was MPS going beyond the call of duty to introduce the Black Lives Matter material she teaches and basically issue a slap on the wrist for a serious violation, mishandling a field trip.

What I can find is that Carr is being supported by the same dark money opposing Evers, and is funded in amounts far larger than typical in such races by organizations that are either flying under a misleading banner of “school choice” or are good at pretending to be for public schools while their campaigns violate basic standards of transparency.

A Messmer High grad and Teach for America survivor, Carr has complained to critics on Facebook that she is being attacked as a voucher school supporter when she has never spoken directly to the issue. But it would be na├»ve to think that taking money from such groups doesn’t stick to her.

Leaders for a Better Community, as one mysterious group is known as it litters doorways with its flyers,  didn’t reveal its roots in the August election. The only known person is radio host Sherwin Hughes, whose talk show has had Carr as a guest. 
Tony Baez, highly respected public school advocate
now facing suspicious money.

We can explain more about that funding stream after discussing another race, the one in District 6 between a veteran public schools and bilingual education advocate Tony Baez – who has been praised by Evers --  and a virtually unknown but now heavily funded young opponent, Jonatan Zuniga, 23.

He also denies being a voucher school candidate, saying he believes in all schools and, like Carr, supports the idea of MPS being the only charter  school authorizer.  (Right now the city and UWM are among such authorizers.)

But  there is a lot  of word salad in such school board races. Better to look at results and well earned reputations.

Baez has the superior reputation in a career devoted to children and public education. Zuniga is receiving the same voucher friendly but hard to trace  funding as Carr -- from the MMAC and Leaders for a Better Community.

MMAC used a special $20,000 financial gift  from Augustin Ramirez  that went against Evers in the statewide race but now also helps both Zuniga and Carr, who talk a lot about getting businesses more involved in public education.

The Augustin Ramirez connection to Zuniga is easy to explain.  The open District 6 seat was occupied by Tatiana Joseph, a champion of public schools who hand-picked Baez to run in her place. This community had a lot of opposition to Ramirez’s plan to use his largesse to take soccer field space for his mammoth Christian school concept.

Ramirez, the wealthy retired founder  of Waukesha’s Husco International, is now anxious for the success of St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, opening this summer and hoping to expand to 2,000 principally Latino students. Latino parents are a key voting group in the district Baez and Zuniga are vying for, where Ramirez’s academy is located.  Imagine how helpful it would be for his religious voucher school to have a sympathetic MPS board member.

Zuniga’s campaign received a rare direct rebuke from MPS in this race between two newcomers to the board. MPS Supt. Darienne Driver was clearly miffed that Zuniga’s flyer used her photo plus her ideas without her permission, suggesting she was a supporter.  MPS didn’t know at the time about Carr’s similar flyer, which doesn’t use the photo but names Driver twice and also advertises support for her reforms -- as if Driver were endorsing.  (MPS does not endorse candidates.)

A Facebook ad uses Carr's face and classroom to
solicit funds supposedly for public schools.
Carr is also the poster child on Facebook for a money-seeking effort by Leaders in Education Fund, whose come-ons sound eerily similar to Leaders for a Better Community. 

Clearly Baez is the better choice in his district as Woodward is in hers. Both are certainly more honest about their intentions.

There’s yet another school board race on the south side between two newcomers and it has  split progressive groups.  Paula Phillips is a personable advocate for women’s leadership, an experienced community voice and product of AmeriCorps.  Her opponent, Joey Balistreri, is also young and public education attuned and has openly talked about how being gay  has influenced his determination to help student career achievement.

They represent a case of dual endorsements by many groups, though the word on the street is that M. Paula Phillips (as she is more formally known) has the edge.

Also given the edge in the contentious Milwaukee municipal judge race is veteran Valarie Hill, who drew a crowd of primary opponents in February because of concerns about how sensitive the municipal court has been  to the largely poor clientele bollixed by its fines and treatment of driver’s licenses. 

Hill has defended as brusque efficiency a manner that some had characterized as offensive, but she has satisfied a lot of critics that she is energized and knowledgeable on how to improve the system. She is again being supported by labor groups and established black groups.

She is faced by William Crowley, an ACLU attorney and disability rights advocate highly respected in the very community that has been upset by court procedures.

There is also an advisory referendum on the county ballot that I oppose – for a $60 wheel tax that Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele argues is essential to maintain services.
  
The state already has a $75 vehicle registration fee, and the City of Milwaukee has a $20 add-on.

Abele has received support from county board supervisors for a $30 wheel tax but intends to continue fighting for $60 regardless of the vote.


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. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

WHY SILLY THINKING MAKES TRUMP THE TERRORIST’S BEST FRIEND

By Dominique Paul Noth

Rachel Maddow with leaked DHS analysis that exposes
the folly of Trump's attitude toward terrorists.
If there is an uptick in deadly terrorist violence in the next few years the main culprit will likely be  Donald Trump and his wrong-headed policies. 

That is not an extreme statement born of ideological opposition, though there I plead guilty.  It is the logical conclusion of growing evidence, much of it from Trump’s own government. 

This is the horrifying  error in any version of his travel ban – it won’t protect the public the way Trump believes.  A view long held in social science has now been validated by a leaked Department of Homeland Security analysis. It  states bluntly: "Most foreign-born U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry into the United States.” That conclusion, the report goes on, limits “the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns."

Two points need to be immediately added. There is incredibly detailed screening of refugee applicants right now, some of it taking two years, which throws even more shade on Trump’s press for “extreme vetting,” which is already happening.

And most deadly terrorist acts committed in this country have not involved the “foreign-born,” which is what the Department of Homeland Security document was concentrating on in its volumes of interviews and analysis. The native-born variety dominates the statistics. That doesn’t mean the US can  let down its guard against Isis and other groups, though so far international intelligence and data gathering have proven quite successful. It means the terrorists’  main success since 9/11 has come in manipulating the folks already here.

The steps needed to address lone wolf terrorists or acts inspired by groups like Isis are now being diminished by this White House in its haste to run down the wrong road. 

Temple University scholar Peter Spiro
is among the legions of academics
criticizing Trump's approach.
Given his stubbornness about changing his mind in the face of evidence, given what Trump  promised the voters – without they or him thinking things through --  no one is likely to convince him he is undermining the very “public safety” that has fueled his rhetoric. Until they realize his policies  made no difference and actually make  America less safe. It will, sadly, take  more horrible incidents to underline his errors.  

The  new travel ban is designed only to escape court scrutiny as an unconstitutional religious ban. But the legal rulings are little concerned with logic. The only hurdle Trump has to overcome, given the powers of the presidency, is legality.  The courts can’t stop a totally erroneous policy that rejects the government’s own research.

The easily reached conclusion from the DHS analysis is  that America is doing a pretty damaging job on its own to the psyches of the adolescents, the disenfranchised, the "other" however you define other and those who feel unaccepted by our society.   It’s not just mental health but the failure to identify and respond to troubled personalities or those whose thinking mechanism is not sophisticated enough to cope.

Foreigners who come here are usually the exact opposite -- eager to accept US values, until they live among us for a few years. 

So vetting refugees as they arrive is a feel-good panacea. It helps making them  a  scapegoat. An inevitable conclusion from the DHS report is we are not looking hard enough at ourselves and our policies. Rather than instilling more fear or more authority, our society should be working at addressing how residents are becoming alienated. 

Obviously this includes not just refugees and citizen children of undocumented immigrants, it includes the range of people intrigued by white supremacy, militia groups, the sovereign citizen movement and a range of cult-like thinking that for decades has attracted unsettled minds --  adolescents,  folks imprisoned too young or immature or too drug infested, people who feel alienated at work, home or school. Such movements are reverberated and  accelerated in this age of the Internet.

The point is, nothing Trump has done or is doing addresses this --  and several of his policies and cabinet appointments are making it worse.

When leaking this report, MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow added: “You know what I think? I think the Muslim ban is dead.”  Morally she is right, but I don’t believe either Trump or his most fervent followers will accept that.

Tashfeen Malik, the exception
that proves the rule.
His blind sense of “keep them out” is already being echoed in alt-right media. They’re making  a big deal about the one outlier to the DNS study --  an anomaly to justify Trump’s travel ban. It is Tashfeen Malik, the foreign-born wife in the San Bernardino attacks, probably radicalized in Saudi Arabia. She is also an outlier in being a woman, rare in terrorist cases and perhaps another reason for media fascination.  But the detailed analysis, which included interviews with many who knew the terrorists both living and dead, deeply suggests otherwise.

For instance,  she was married to a US born (in Chicago) citizen , high school graduate and veteran county employee, Rizwan Farook, who continued his Mideast ties apparently despite his parents’ advice.  When and how he was radicalized we do not know. We do know he was American educated,  employed and nonviolent for years before the explosion. The trigger is still hidden, as are the triggers in most people.

A quick survey through the highest profile terrorist cases suggest the common link is age – youth, from teens up through the 20s. It ties in along with such issues as  mental state, sense of romantic or social isolation or entrenched world views.
  
Think back --  and we are not even reaching back to the militia background of the Oklahoma City bomber or the fixations behind the  Columbine massacre.  Focus on recent events  --  the white supremacist shooter in Charleston, the long-term US residents in the Boston Marathon bombing,  the US born Orlando killer consumed by sexual identity issues.

The Muslim aspects play a role, but it is a side  role in attitude toward civilization or deeply buried tribalism (like the KKK of old). Mainly what the DNS reports is something America has been slow to address -- the sense of being isolated or betrayed by the larger society.

It can land without color, though emphasized among groups that are far easier targets for adolescent hatred, people seeking attention and people misled on political realities.  It is no coincidence that Muslims and Jews are far easier targets – and even easier today now that they have been  falsely identified as villains.

The need to better identify people who might explode into anti-society violence, the concern with making newcomers to white Christian dominated America feel these are our values to cherish, not end up hating – what are we doing about that? How far removed from this reality is stopping people at airports?

Psychological research, outraged clergy and now the government’s own research are pointing out the needed targets of government and community intervention.  Instead we have a president whose policies seem bound and determined to make things worse – seeking to cut money for any programs of social justice, social education or the solidarity of acceptance, seeking instead to inflame feelings of xenophobia and isolation, willing to tear vulnerable children from their parents as the adolescent children (many already US citizens) look on with dismay and anger.

We can never totally get our hands around the lone wolf problem – that is ingrained in the definition of lone wolf. The problems of the unformed adolescent brain living in a mature and threatening adult body have been with us since the dawn of time and may never be fully resolved, though attention, examples of maturity and active engagement have proven rewarding. 

But Trump seems determined to ignore the facts and make the situation worse – at full tweeter volume. Maybe because the thinking of an adolescent is not far  away from his brain pattern.

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, March 1, 2017

WHY SHAMELESS IS BEST DESCRIPTION OF TRUMP SPEECH TO CONGRESS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Widow Carryn Owens as Ivanka Trump is placed alongside to watch
during Trump speech to Congress.
The most penetrating moment in Donald Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday night was not his, except for the crass setup.

It was widow Carryn Owens, with tears streaming, looking up to the heavens as if speaking to her late husband – Navy SEAL William (Ryan) Owens, who died Jan. 29 in the first military raid Trump ordered – as the assembly exploded in tumultuous sustained applause.

Only the most hard-hearted, as several anchor journalists noted as they slid by commenting on the moment, could criticize.  All understood and empathized with the genuine emotions and impression made by a wife made widow less than a month before, whose husband died heroically, as all other US warriors have whether the fight in question was in Korea, Vietnam,  Iraq, Afghanistan or in this case Yemen.

And all presidents have had to own up to military lives lost in action they approved, actions sometimes hard to evaluate in immediate hindsight. But I can think of none other who tried first to blame others for the mission (this one ordered over dinner). Or remember any president using a widow to deflect criticism by Pentagon sources and others about the failure to kill the target or produce meaningful information, while costing civilian deaths and enlarging enmity in the Yemen public.

The widow, positioned next to Ivanka and reacting to the applause, gave a look to the skies that spoke volumes about genuine grief -- and nothing about policy.

But Trump did and that was the shameful highlight of a speech riddled with shameless moments even while he was praised for being more moderate in his tone.

The speech revealed the difference between the Teleprompter Trump and the tweeting and rally rouser Trump. He says basically the same things and uses the same exaggerations (fact checkers were going crazy) but in a more refined way. He long boasted that he could act presidential whenever he wanted to.  Well, this was it, with no concern about matching facts to his rhetoric.

He cleared the hurdle of sounding reasonable and laying out ideas that people in abstract may like but he lied about what he has accomplished, taking credit for jobs previously approved and never admitted he inherited a pretty decent economy and health plan – instead roasting the previous administration as having elevated his problems while actually making his road easier. Even his destructive tendencies are clearer because of the policies he can attack.  Going hard after Obama is a way of lowering the bar on his own regime.

His respectable opening minute condemning racist and anti-Semitic behavior somehow mentioned the Kansas City shooting without pointing out that the alleged killer had borrowed Trump’s own anti-immigrant rhetoric as he was shooting.

Particularly shameless was the demeaning of immigrants after giving head fakes earlier in the day the he would not go after those whose only crime was getting into the country without papers.  Nothing about that was in the speech – in fact he didn’t heed the advice of his own advisers on security to drop the phrase “radical Islamist terrorists.” He constantly exaggerated the impact of “criminal” immigrants, though all surveys indicate that immigrants are more responsible and law-abiding than Steve Bannon’s nativist models. 

He is even wasting taxpayer money for Homeland Security to create a bureau to set citizens against immigrants, curiously named VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement), which raised far beyond reality the amount of such crimes and was perceived by many observers to be a justification of white supremacy.

So to many was his suggestion of “merit-based” immigration, since critics read that not as other countries use it but as a push to proclaim only the “merit” he and business owners determine, which is hardly the way the US was built.

Not done there, Trump brought four victims of crime by illegal immigrants to the speech and singled them out – not the hundreds of thousands similarly victimized by US citizens who fill our prisons at a higher rate than such immigrants do, aside from those ICE is holding. In fact, Trump and his staff play games with statistics on many fronts – the economy, environmental regulation, education, crime – by lumping together categories that should for accuracy be kept separate.

The speech also intended to show a president in action though it was mainly promises of action, saying bluntly “The time for small thinking is over.” Yet elsewhere he embraced small thinking, such as suggesting that the ACA mandate that everyone should carry health insurance was too broad and too onerous – yet, of course, it is the way better health care has been created to keep costs down. 

And not many caught Trump’s trick in language when he insisted any new health care law must include “access” to insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.  ACA insists on such coverage and mere “access” is an enormous loss of protection.

Where Trump has acted on resolutions, the early results have been mixed.  His order that no new regulation can be offered unless two old ones are eliminated – well, that may sound good on the stump but it absolutely chills progress and presumes blindly the regulations being eliminated were not needed.

To this point, he has eliminated regulations far outside what supporters envisioned, including attacking an Obama-era law intended to protect retirement money from conflicted advice from financial advisers. His latest is seeking to roll back protection for wetlands and streams. Though derided by Trump as “puddles and ditches” the 2015 EPA law was targeted at elements considered essential to healthy water life.  

And while the nation is hungry for the infrastructure jobs that Obama wanted and Trump says he seeks at a $1 trillion public and private clip, those who have read his infrastructure proposal sense something quite less expansive – mainly tax breaks for his friends.

Megan Crowley, Pompe disease victim and survivor, used
erroneously  by Trump in attack on FDA.
His attack on the drug administration for not acting fast enough on new drugs is his absurd example of over-regulation since the FDA is regarded overall as fast moving and has been criticized instead for sometimes approving drugs that have not been sufficiently tested.

Indeed the back-story of the illness Trump highlighted reveals quite an international testing route.

Trump is also taking credit, perhaps with some justice, for a booming stock market. But as veteran observers quickly noted, what’s good for Wall Street may not be good for the common worker.  The stock market booms when companies cut jobs or are shown ways to cut jobs – or are reassured that a manic-sounding president has calmed down his tone.

The main culprit in job loss is automation not trade deals and even those who opposed NAFTA are slowly realizing that trade deals are a mixed bag

The nation would love the harmony and progress Trump spoke of. But it did not escape Democrats that his pleas for them to cooperate were timed in the speech to suggest cooperation as acquiescence to Trump’s proposals and his assaults on the previous administration.

Speaking of shameless, Trump quoted Lincoln to his advantage but totally out of context.: “The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.”

Lincoln lived in an era when protectionism was popular since tariffs were the primary way the federal government raised money. This was before the income tax.  Someone needs to tell Trump that a lot has changed in 170 years.

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. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

COMPARING POLITICAL TOWN HALLS TODAY AND 2009

By Dominique Paul Noth

Moore speaking at a rally in 2006.
Rep. Gwen Moore as long as I can remember doesn’t duck town halls – in fact, she revels in them, with a usually supportive base but a friendly and quiet way of deflecting criticism with facts and experts when needed.

I recall her in full flower in late 2009 at the height of the Tea Party activity.  The event was her town hall in a huge auditorium at North Division High School, with union laborers serving as ushers and  with the Tea Party enthusiasts free to wave inflammatory signs.  They were poised to holler but it wasn’t the brawny laborers who stopped them. It was a panel of health experts answering every question from the crowd. 

That was a big difference from current events.  Today’s Republicans are being  poleaxed at town halls around the nation  because they have no “replacement” to defend and no way to defend Trump’s first month in office except to claim it’s early days, give him a chance.  Some will,  but given what others have seen so far, the people are more than anxious. They are angry.

Obama as he looked in 2009
In late 2009 Obama had months in office and a clear direction and law to discuss. By that time an outline of an Affordable Care Act was available. It was untested but explainable, and a panel of health experts pledged something practical. What didn’t work would be changed (just as there had been many changes to Social Security and Medicare as they evolved) and what would work would improve the United States health system but keep the familiar  private health companies. They would just run according to best practices and rules and key changes everyone would like, particularly keeping students on family coverage through age 26, no denial for pre-existing conditions, no lifetime caps on what an illness cost you. (The last, incidentally, is on the chopping block of some GOP revisions.)

No one at that time envisioned a GOP that would refuse any adjustments based on evidence.   Or health providers that would drop or refuse to improve plans.  That made  Obama the  liar of the year in 2013. Perhaps he should have but he had not anticipated how insurance companies would cancel plans and change policies so that  “you can keep your doctor and your plan” did turn out to be a lie.

None of that  was perceivable in 2009 when there were high expectations by the creators of the Affordable Care Act that  the nation’s politicians would pull together to improve it. 

I  don’t agree that the people of today are the left version of the Tea Party, though they borrow some methods. The Tea Party started quite legitimately, almost in partnership for awhile with the Occupy movement. Then in funding and organization, in payments for signs and busses and the running of headquarters,  it  was co-opted by Koch Brothers groups. Today, no longer active on the streets, the Tea Party has reshaped  a weighty segment of House Republicans who have been a thorn for House leadership and may do the same pricking action with  Trump.

By the time of Gwen’s town hall, the Tea Party, funded and not, was there in force. But so were her traditional voters and total strangers. They all shared a lot of fear.  Should they believe the signs that said “Government Takeover.”  Should they laugh at the sign that said “Hands Off My Medicare,” which assumed that was not a government-run system (and quite successful and low-cost at that).

People were not even yelling “Obamacare” a lot in 2009, according to memory.  Years ago the Atlantic did a fun piece on when Obamacare was coined, tracing it back to 2007  before Obama was elected and the GOP was using it interchangeably with Hillary-care  (they thought she might win).  By 2011, the Democrats didn’t want the phrase used because it was a pejorative.  Obama said what the heck – he  was so positive about ACA’s eventual acceptance that he didn’t care what it was called.

Now the irony has landed full force.  It was easy to pick on  the ACA, insisting on repeal, as House Republicans did some 60 times, knowing Obama wouldn’t advance it.  Now the Republicans own any change – the old Pottery Barn rule, break it you own it.

And the public is letting them know full throttle that there will be hell to pay if they repeal without replacing. And they have not yet decided how to replace it, so they have no defense when confronted at town halls.

Milwaukee was first city in nation to stage
a massive Day Without Immigrants
(photo by Joe Brusky)
And they’ve been clobbered – not by the Tea Party of the left. Not by paid Democrats as Trump has claimed.  Not by disgruntled Hillary voters, though they are a sizable portion.  But this is mainly about the sense of confusion over what will come, confusion that Trump  has generated among those who voted for him, those who voted against and those who didn’t vote. And all manner of groups have come out in protest.

The promises his voters most liked have not yet been addressed and require big  action:  Jobs, infrastructure (in the sense of more jobs), assurances to the regions and people who felt left behind, regulations they thought hurt them rather than the  regulations he has addressed that only help big businesses.

If you live in coal country, if the growth of  manufacturing has not helped you, if no one has explained how all industry is relying more on technology and needs a presidential spur to think of creating jobs for people,  you don’t much care about what has consumed his presidency so far. 

The wall (which Congress is balking big-time at paying for).   The deportation policy (Mexico is now balking at both the wall and the policy).  The immigrants (who are not the “hair on fire” problem Trump kept saying).  If a rural and disenchanted base helped him get elected, they are not finding much comfort  from his first month in office. They are leaning hard on “wait and see” – when not joining the protests.

Now they are sometimes the ones in town halls responding to a rebirth of an ancient nemesis – Russia and its interference in our election and why he has been so resistant to acknowledging it.

His hidden taxes are now a bigger issue to both liberals and conservatives. His travel ban was clearly not some technical difficulty the courts dismissed.  Trump, these voters say in interviews,  needs to get over feeling threatened by inquiries into Russia and his  taxes.

Even in 2009 it was clear the ACA was actually Obama’s second choice after universal care. He chose it  because he wanted to preserve the private health industry with its decades of existence and hundreds of thousands of workers.  The screams against it by Republicans worked in 2010 while the ACA kept rolling along anyway,  building support. And while Obama was re-elected in 2012 the screams against his policies worked again in 2014.

But now the Republicans are faced with how strategically Obama provided subsidies to health insurers and how any plan the GOP brings forward has to keep the essential aspects.  They can toy all they want with health saving accounts, maximum risk pools of maximum risk patients, age and income limits and whatnot, but the people are asking for hard details they can’t give at the town halls.

They’re also  in danger from the answers they can give. Somewhat to my surprise, town hall interest was high in Russia, Trump’s taxes and Betsy DeVos.

Sen. Cotton dressed down
at his town hall.
When Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton tried to silence the universal criticism of her choice as education secretary, he made another mistake. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so upset with her, he suggested, “if the education department had less to do.”  It was an old Republican line about the department and didn’t go over with this crowd, which had been screened to be his constituents. It sure sounded like the only way to control her ineptitude was give her less to demonstrate it with.

The audience may have been unpaid. They may have leaned Democratic.  But they were  informed.  They were also independents and Republicans --  and any hope they  will fade away in a few months, like the Tea Party street activists did, I strongly doubt.

The Indivisible movement, which has provided a guide of how to approach your issues of concern and an easy way to sign up for events and even create them, now has two chapters in every congressional district.

Its guide is not an ideological manifesto but a practical road map to what may work on a variety of issues and agendas.

The Nation is picking up readers by doing entire stories on how to get your friends and neighbors interested.

Social media is alive with ways to protest and plan events, calling people out within hours to join. The level of knowledge and ease of connection via social media is one of the notable differences of 2017 from  2009. 

Rather than being paid, volunteers are contributing to causes that concern them.

Citing multiple reasons, police departments are standing up against becoming ICE agents as Trump originally wanted.  

An Episcopal church in Seattle is suing the Trump administration for a travel ban on the refugees – saying  “help for the stranger” is a central tenet of their Christian practice. 

Emerge America almost can’t keep up with the demand of women to be trained as  political activists and candidates.

The Republicans in Congress, many back home during a recess,  are being pummeled in ways far deeper and longer than the old Tea Party did to Democrats. The DeVos issue broke out at many town halls. But hanging over it all was Trump’s dismissal of the protests as paid for or hardly genuine.

He is stepping right into keeping it alive for years.  The people at these meetings are not buying his claim that the media is “The Enemy of the People.” They fear he is.

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.