Saturday, September 19, 2020

FUTURE LOOKED BRIGHTER – AND THEN RBG DIED: UPDATED

By Dominique Paul Noth

The election elation about how well Joe Biden was doing in the polls and in campaign appearances dwindled into dread September 18 with the sad news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had succumbed at age 87.

Politics cut into mourning time for RBG
If ever a legal catalyst deserved a lengthy mourning period free of political maneuvering and punditry, it was the diminutive RBG.  Her decisions, dissents, personality and quotes were important to all sides beyond transforming our understanding of the law.  There were literally novenas being held for the last few years praying that she would survive her bouts with cancer so that a respectable president could pick her successor.

Now, given the nature of the partisan divide and the politics of D.C., and given a presidential election Nov. 3, this is a period of sorrow the nation will not give her. 

Quickly the Democrats’ senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, threw back into Sen. Mitch McConnell’s face his pledge 11 months before Obama left office that it was too close to the election (10 months!) to pick Merrick Garland to replace RBG’s good friend and opinion rival, Antonin Scalia:

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”  The fact that Scalia was conservative and Obama was not, of course, had nothing to do with it.

The very thought that so venal a man as Trump could name RBG’s replacement fills the majority of voters with disgust as well as fear.

But there is no question that Mitch will play politics days before the election – even maybe try to protect some threatened members by waiting until Nov. 4 to start the nomination process so they don’t have his flat reversal of a promise wrapped around their necks at the ballot box.   (It usually takes 70 days to choose, interview and hold hearings but Trump is in office until Jan. 20 even though he is likely to lose.) 

Mitch looks to be plunging right away – and to hell with backlash on his buddies. The White House will pursue fear tactics, arguing that Trump is still close despite the polls and now closer with RBG’s death, so we can’t have an eight member high court deciding a disputed presidential election. That argument is a blatant attempt to turn Trump’s false attack on mailed ballots into reality. The media is helping this vision of a protracted election season, which would be great for ratings but not likely if voters own up to the importance of the vote despite the pandemic. 

What might stop Trump cold, some say, is Republicans who in their hearts know they should have impeached Trump in February and today will resist more blatant violation of norms.   Relying on GOP conscience was always highly dubious.

What will spur Trump is his own cult. Many are only voting for him to make the US Supreme Court solidly conservative.  It might not last long given the age of the justices, but what else can galvanize the diminishing Trump base? 

The wrong timing could spur loss for some Republicans.  Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins, who are in tough races to keep their senate seats, at first pledged to not select anyone for the high court before the election – and Graham is chair of the judiciary committee! Graham has already flipped -- in fact, intends to lead the charge.  So has  former chair Chuck Grassley who signed the pledge. But other Republican senators facing tight races – Joni Ernst in Iowa, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and newly threatened John Cornyn in  Texas  – will jump to whatever tune Mitch plays, whatever they pledged in the past.

The math is simple.  Four members of the GOP must bolt.  Lisa Murkowski in Alaska and Collins herself have taken principled stands of waiting for a new president, but only one of two conservative traditionalists who are retiring have spoke up  – Lamar Alexander said he won't resist, but there is  also Pat Roberts.  There is even a D.C. press pool on how long it will take Collins to wimp out.

No one expects Trump to honor Ginsberg’s deathbed plea: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."  His backers expect defiance to remain the Trump mantra and McConnell has already signaled he will put any Trump nominee before the Senate.  Within hours of her death, gleeful Trump backers were planning how to raise campaign funds on her corpse.

It does make one wonder if Trump got any medical heads-up September 9 when he trotted out a number of candidates for a then unpredicted Supreme Court opening.  Or was he just trying to excite his base?

The news of Ginsburg made Democrats even more skittish about the presidential election – reducing her death to “another rabbit the evil magician had pulled out of his hat.” It will become Trump’s best opportunity to shift attention from his failures in handling the pandemic and explaining 200,000 bodies.  Some foolish voters may think a conservative blockade on the US court system will balance his proven ineptness.

But this dismay among Democrats was within hours followed by renewed determination to elect Biden in a landslide.  Now it has to be landslide, politicians were saying, because a flipped Senate was even more essential for Biden to get things done.  There will even be talk, which Biden will probably resist for fear of agitating the extremists further, that if they can’t stop Trump replacing her, Biden should look at new laws to reform the US court system.

State AG Josh Kaul spells out loss.
The consequence of her death was spelled out by Wisconsin’s Attorney General Josh Kaul: “Another Trump appointee on the Supreme Court would almost certainly mean the end of Roe v. Wade. It could well mean the end of the ACA and policies that reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Rules that help fight climate change and other environmental harms would be more likely to be struck down. And that’s just the start.”

In other words, the emboldened  progressive American agenda Ginsburg helped form was in jeopardy – not just from Trump’s attempt to extend his reign but in how her death had put in blunt relief the central crisis of this election and the hard work ahead regardless of who wins. Her death may also shuffle the deck of Democratic priorities, pushing to the top new laws on voter rights.

These events also turned a previous column of mine too”conservative” (a term hardly ever applied to my writings). But I  signaled 10 Republican seats in the Senate that good turnout could flip. And a recent Washington Post opinion piece listed 13

I not only agree but have become aware of a few other races both my story and the Post opinion missed – things are so fast moving and our minds have been stuck on the presidential sweepstakes, not down the ballot where voters have to start looking.

Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins

The races missed are longshots that a Biden tsunami could change in states given to Trump on the electoral college map. One race fits the curious Nov. 3 profile of a special election that takes place inside a general election and has multiple Democratic candidates right now.  But popular Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins has been climbing forcefully against GOP incumbent Bill Cassidy (who tested positive for covid in the summer but says he has recovered).

From a shoo-in for Cassidy, the race is now regarded by local newspapers as competitive.

Also unlikely but growing in interest:  Idaho Sen. James Risch is 20 points ahead in a red state but rising in the polls and backed by Emily’s List is Paulette Jordan, already known from her 2018 run for governor and her work for the Coeur d’Alene tribal council, advocating for progressive policies such as health access and better rural education.

Paulette Jordan

The Trump administration’s delays to the USPS delivery system, which Risch cited as no problem for Idaho, have become a campaign issue for Jordan in a rural state rethinking what being rural means.

Though Biden is now expected to win 71% of the electoral college delegates, there is a tendency to overlook senate races in states where Trump has a predicted electoral college edge.

Such as Mississippi. The state is changing (claiming the highest number of black elected officials in the country) with some clear diminishment of Confederate heritage.  Mike Espy, a black former Clinton cabinet officer, has cut in half the GOP edge of incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith, who has been proud to pose with an old rifle and Confederate memorabilia. 

Barbara Bollier

In a Republican heritage seat in another Trump electoral state, Kansas, the Democrats’ Barbara Bollier, who left the Republicans in 2018 to gain an economic reform reputation, is today the good doctor to all sides, getting endorsements from a former GOP senator.  She is definitely 
 leading many polls against Roger Marshall, the doctor who wants to end the ACA.

Then there’s South Carolina, long put on the Republican electoral college list but in the Senate race Jaime Harrison is astounding the pollsters by leading Graham – and Biden is also leading in electoral polls.

That was also true in the summer in Kentucky, which stung conservative sensibilities in its Louisville embrace of Black Lives Matter concerns and with former Marine pilot and lieutenant colonel Amy McGrath raising enormous small-donor social media money to compete with McConnell -- and actually leading the polls for months. In recent polls and employing some big money, McConnell has tied her – though his shenanigans with the Ginsburg case may bring McGrath more voters.

And Georgia, long regarded as red clay, could lose two Senate seats to Democrats! Jon Ossoff is leading the polls against David Perdue and the Rev. Ralph Warnock is leading against the likely GOP survivor Kelly Loeffler, an appointee to the Senate who like Perdue has run into fraud complaints.  But the Warnock race has some wrinkles, since the GOP’s Doug Collins is also running and the two top finishers Nov. 3 compete in January.  Warnock is leading but not with the 50% that would prevent a runoff. That’s a confusion of election law that makes it harder for outsiders to peek in.

The Democratic National Convention did a sterling job for Biden and his VP pick, Kamala Harris, but I was struck by how few of the Democratic candidates for senate were featured, a determination to be political but not opportunistic that right now (post RBG)  I wish the DNC had resisted.

Local politics historically don’t play well on national TV, but money raising now plays in every state in the union for every other state and many of these candidates mainly need financial help.  The voters outraged about Trump had better turn to those Senate races, where thanks to the Internet everybody can provide money and support. 

There are also a few Democrats seeking help to keep their seats.  Most are in good shape (Dick Durbin, Tina Smith, Chris Coons and Jeff Merkley) and were inadvertently featured in DNC videos.

Doug Jones

The most threatened is Doug Jones of Alabama, but his media campaigns have enabled him to score big points against the know-nothing football coach he’s facing. It’s another Trump state where he could upset expectations.

And the Democrats have put front and center in the USPS campaign Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who is favored though being outraised by a Michigan consortium of Trump and Betsy DeVos money.


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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 
 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

TOO EXTREME FOR THE NAZIS AND STILL PERVASIVE – THE U.S. CASTE SYSTEM

By Dominique Paul Noth

The timing and the content couldn’t have been worse for Nikki Haley (former South Carolina governor and Trump official) and for the handful of black speakers at the Republican National Convention as they proclaimed that the United States was in no way a racist country, no more than their great leader Donald Trump was racist --  even as the family of Jacob Blake was gathering in Kenosha to face the grim future of the father, brother and son paralyzed by seven police bullets fired into his back while his children watched.

The speakers -- particularly Haley who is often touted as the future of the Republican Party – were either demonstrating intellectual naiveté far beneath their stations or, more likely, unbridled hypocrisy to sound like they were tight with Trump despite his behavior.  

There is an argument to be made that the word “racist” is thrown around too readily by Black Lives Matter people, making every white who doesn’t feel racist angry that they are so described.

But all the whites who defend themselves that way  should be reading “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” Isabel Wilkerson’s compelling new book that explores the idea of “racism” being an over-used pejorative but  compels readers of all skin colors to brush away their cosmetic thinking and delve deeper into American and world history.

There they must confront the controlling scaffolding of prejudices that reach centuries back in human behavior and in the weaponry of domination.  Readers can’t escape how deeply racist, even unknowingly racist, the dominant white society has been in the US.

Author Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson is not engaged in linguistic trickery but true revelation by substituting the terminology and structure of “caste” for what many writers have called layers of racism and  white privilege (terms worn out from overuse).  She forces readers to re-examine every encounter they have had from infancy in accepting social norms of a dominant caste and gradations down to the bottom rung of “Untouchables” or subhumans. 

In America that bottom rung has been blacks however educated, whether brought here as slaves or self-motivated as immigrants. The dominant caste in America is white and has wielded the biggest determinative influence on all of our upbringing and social treatment. That high caste determined and rigidly taught that black skin denotes lower intelligence, a constant need for the whipping rods of abuse and rape and the shuddering fear of possible infection if allowed to share swimming pools or water fountains.

There is no scientific basis for this viewpoint, which dates back before our Founding Fathers.  It is a harsh conditioning in a nation where we still talk of American exceptionalism without realizing what a horror of prejudice was built up as gospel for generations of people who seldom questioned this relentless contrivance from the crib to the coffin. And even today the inheritors of this caste system don’t recognize how the original artifices linger or  have been restrung.

Wilkerson’s book -- a pinwheel of revelatory fireworks -- spins out more shocks of discussion than can be dealt with here. But let’s build on a few. 

To begin with, “caste” whatever the system is an artificial ranking of human groups, one group selected as superior, sometimes based loosely on ancestry but involving and redefining other traits.  In the US it was “whiteness” as understood as European Caucasian, though “Caucasian” is a ridiculously narrow term. White men with property were given special standing in the original US Constitution and often that property was slaves counted as three-fifths of a person. White women were originally not included in the Constitution since they had other ways than property or income or the vote  to generate a semblance of dominance -- at least that was the nicer part of the  thinking.

The lowest caste was “the blacks” applied to many groups hijacked from Africa, then graded to encompass native Americans though they provided no lasting threat or plantation value and could even be viewed as quaint, then India, China, Asia and South America, all quite different even within themselves in physical appearance but generally reflecting a darker or different skin color, so only over time could some of them escape into a different compartment of the basement.

Ironically, any sincere study of American immigration shows how European groups from Rumania or Southern Europe were originally portrayed like “darkies” in American political cartoons until they proved “worthy” of being considered white.

It turns out that “white” is a purely US concept, since variety of pigmentation has been generally accepted elsewhere in the world or over time didn’t matter. In the US, as Wilkerson explains, racism “does the heavy lifting” for our caste system, taught from childhood as a more powerful code than grammar, an “invisible guide” to how we process information about others.  Whites instinctively react to a black person in the room, even recoil, trained by centuries of built-in attitudes.

The world’s most famous caste system is in India, allied with religion and social hierarchy and passed down for centuries.  Skin color plays a minor part.  It is more where you were born – which side of the tracks? -- what your family is named and what the family first did for a living. But ingrained are haughty attitudes, manners, stepping aside, a social deference to the higher castes.  This creates resentment, often subdued, among the lowest (the Untouchables or Dalits) who are made to feel like base servants however high they rate in intellect or ability.  Modern India knows this is a horrifying antiquity, but the built-in attitudes linger.

Wilkerson relates how, on a visit to India, the Rev. Martin Luther King originally bristled when he was introduced as a leading figure from “America’s untouchables” until he thought about it and agreed. 

Aside from India and the US, Wilkerson explores the caste system of Nazi Germany and many readers will be dumfounded to realize how deeply Hitler and his party in the 1920s and 1930s drew their planning from the most extreme caste system in the world, the United States.

In fashioning their language and treatment of Jews and non-Aryans to create their Undermenish – their Undermen or subhuman bottom caste – they consciously decided they could not go as far as Americans had done.  In our country, “one drop of black blood” rendered you unfit to be considered white, but Germany had a problem.  Hitler had black hair and non-Aryan features, as did many in the Nazi Party, so America’s rules had to be adjusted, even allowing some grandfathering while forbidding any more mingling of Jews and other Germans.

The Nazis deeply studied popular American eugenicists in the 1920s to evolve Hitler’s theory of Aryan supremacy, even contemplating if they could take the Jews and the rest of the “inferior stock” and weed them out and sterilize them, but in the end decided they could not go as far as the Americans had with the blacks.  Amazing to think the concentration camp ovens would eventually be created because the American caste rules were too extreme.

My late  mother, obviously and proudly Jewish, an opera singer who had to flee Germany in 1933 as did her blond husband, an anti-Nazi writer, recalled to me in both amusement and deep anger how some of the Jewish girls she grew up with looked more blond and Aryan than the Third Reich leaders. Yet she was luckier than they to run away. 

She would have found the Republican 2020 convention mind-bending. Maybe as Wilkerson forecast when she described how the then dominant class in Germany 1934  “underestimated his cunning and overestimated his base of support, which had been the very reason they had felt they needed him in the first place.  At the height of power at the polls [this leader] never pulled the majority they coveted and drew only 38% of the vote . . . The old guard did not foresee, or chose not to see, that his actual mission was ‘to exploit the methods of democracy to destroy democracy.’ ”  Wilkerson was talking about Hitler – who did you think of? 

The choices of the dominant caste about who will occupy the basement  are never a matter of science but of training.  It is a matter of who is defining the castes and setting the rules.  The outcomes can be strange.  Blacks in a bizarre echo created divisions based on lighter or darker black skin, associating lightness with the white masters centuries before who had forced themselves on black slaves. Whites sometimes put those “whiter” offspring in fashion ads, which today  forces another form of  black rebellion in the arts community.  

The caste system allows the dominant whites to adjust to society-imposed  differences from 400, 100, even 50 years ago, while still retaining control.  That results in subtler forms of discrimination but also in permutations the top caste never imagined but leaps to contain.

Wilkerson makes you think about all this with example after example. She describes encounters from real life that may casually sound like some white person having  a bad hair day or a short temper which we all suffer – until you examine how often it is dominant caste against less dominant and how often it involves, as the India caste system does, lording over someone you assume has less power than you have.

She reminds you that black and brown people, and all the other minorities, are almost chafing in anticipation of 2042 when whites are projected demographically to become a minority in this country.  But she also reminds us that 2042 is a rather useless change in the math.  White domineering  finance power and influence are projected to last for nearly three more centuries!  And remember, the dominant caste can decide who to accept as members and they  are looking hard at Ted Cruz and others in the Latino community, a more fertile field than the occasional Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott or India-heritage Haley.

“Caste” forces all manner of thinking on its readers – as I said it is hard for any “white person” not to re-ponder  the many engagements in your own life as not just exercises of white privilege but of caste assumptions.

For all skin colors, caste works on our subconscious as well as on our conscious.  Caste believers dismiss any self- blame if shootings on the streets of Kenosha are traced to white power, arguing that if only the protesters would have stayed home nothing would have happened.  Out of caste training, they tend to want blacks and Jews to behave meekly as they did in Trump’s fictional good old days.  On the other side of the caste line, there is a push for rebellion as some sort of payment for centuries of pain.

It is hard not to be moved by the tolerance and patience of black parents – and yet  to wonder if years of bending to caste dominance may partly explain the unbelievable Christian compassion of so many in the black community when their family members are crushed in a hail of bullets.

And it’s even harder to recognize that “Caste” may reveal that Trump is on to something, however immoral it may sound in the daylight. There may be a rationale for his constant savagery and harping back to dark days ahead if his followers dare buckle.

In a 2004 best seller,  Thomas Frank asked “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” a scathing and revealing examination of why white working class and lower middle class members voted again and again against their own economic self-interest. It seemed to many sociologists a pure blindness to actual financial realities then and now

Trump may be sending out a perverse message to re-elect him as the keeper of the caste system because retaining caste structure may actually be the self-interest of the white subsets attracted to him.  Under Trump,  the poorest and lowest white person in America can still feel superior to any black.  “Caste” politics may never bring them a reward. But the poorest white can go to his covid grave pretending there is someone he’s better than.




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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

WHEN MASK WEARING LOSES BY A NOSE

By DOMINIQUE PAUL NOTH

I’m starting to think that the biggest needs in this country are for  online courses, video games and TV shows devoted to mask etiquette and efficacy.

One thing that brought out that feeling was all the cable news interviews with people who are on the angel  side of wearing masks, pointedly criticizing those people trying to make it an issue of constitutional rights to refuse, which I have never understood.

But look closer at these  truly loving parents worrying about their children going back to school. Watch the extensive videos of food workers lamenting a company’s lack of covid-19 protections on the job. Peek at concerned teenagers seeking to encourage their colleagues to wear masks – or urging their schools to go to staggered dismissal times to halt that crowding in the hallways when the bell rings.

 A worrisome number of those thoughtful interviewees are leaving their noses exposed while they keep a mask around their mouths.

That, of course, defeats most of the purpose of mask wearing.  Unless it covers both mouth and nostrils, and not haphazardly,  it’s hardly fulfilling the medical concern.  My friends have started wearing plastic lids – those see-through face and eye coverings -- because of all the people at hospitals or grocery stores, as well as on the street, pulling  their masks down to chatter or just to move from counter to counter. The face shields are a needed form of protection against these people, even if it makes them look like government agents pursuing “E.T.”

In the early days of the AIDS crisis, as a journalist and editor in arts and entertainment,  I was collecting a lot of names of important culture figures who were dying of the disease. I had even gone to Marquette with a number of them and knew about  others from covering  theater and films. There were friends among them  whose families became fearful of my inquiries. 

AIDS was a disease stigma attached to being homosexual in those Ronald Reagan years and there was  a natural anxiety among relatives (not to mention editors) of even suggesting that AIDS was a cause of death in a story.  I understood the concern.  But then AIDS moved strongly into the heterosexual community and blood transfusion victims. That and social attitudes about homosexuality began to change. Suddenly we could start reporting the numbers.

I never expected social stigma to attach to a disease again, particularly not a pandemic. Yet here we are. That’s what seems to have happened partly thanks to Trump’s confusing messages and people’s ridiculous association of  mask etiquette with politics.  I would have thought it was natural to expect a higher number of death from an assisted living facility (don’t they naturally have a higher number of deaths?) or from prisons or from food processors and similar facilities that crowd workers close for profit as well as efficiency.

The difficulty is that there will always be people who move through the virus with minor symptoms or none at all – and maybe they will tell tales to their grandchildren about how hard and brave they were to survive or how Nervous Nelly the rest of the country was. The world went on after 1918, they seem to be saying,  though 50 million died – they’re just being hardy like that.

They clearly don’t understand the pandemic, nor the requirement on all of us to look out for the other guy.   Mississippi recently  went into conniptions when more than 20% of those tested for covid-19 came back positive, but  while that’s a frighteningly high number it also indicates that a majority of people won’t feel affected – well,  at least for years since there is some evidence of lingering harm in the asymptomatic.

Kansas offered hard proof when several counties followed the mask mandate and did far better in slowing covid growth than the counties that didn’t.  Evidence just keeps growing despite the naysayers.

The doubters  are sort of like the GI who came out of D-Day without a scratch boasting that the invasion was no more dangerous than a rowboat in the park. I’ve never met a GI who felt like that. They just count themselves lucky. That’s how everyone  should feel moving through the pandemic.

The failure of the federal government in handling testing and when and what to open up remain big worries. No question the size of Trump’s incompetence has added to the fears of many. So does the experts’ admission of needing more facts even as they are learning.

How long does the aerosol side of covid-19 linger in the air aside from the more direct exchange of coughing and breathing? Will the young’s ability to survive a bout of the virus include lingering health problems?  How huge – apparently very huge – is the role of physical distancing combined with mask wearing? How does natural childhood romping affect teachers, parents and fellow students?  We simply don’t know enough – yet.  These promises about an imminent(!) vaccine have made us careless, since there are some realistic suggestions that it may only be partially effective and will be a long time coming.

So there’s something to be said for online classes.  There’s also a lot to be said for more companies admitting when they have heavy loads of positive cases tied to their business  purposes (food processing, grocery shopping, guarding inmates, helping with elderly care).

I do wonder if some people’s willingness to skip the mask mandates or treat masks as a political issue stem from businesses being so cautious about letting people in their communities know what they are going through.  Because these people go back to their homes in these communities, or have children attending school with their neighbors. And many a truck leaves a food processor or a prison as part of a far-reaching transportation route.  

Wouldn’t  we all behave better during a pandemic if we knew the real cost?

There’s a strong case to be made for more openness  as well as mask etiquette in our struggling nation.


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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

FLIPPING SENATE REQUIRES PROTECTING DEM INCUMBENTS

 By Dominique Paul Noth


The Democrats’ desire to take the majority in the US Senate – explored in depth in a recent column with photos and links to all the candidates and certainly likely if there’s a Biden blowout – should not overlook those incumbent Democratic seats that are in play in the November election.

There are fewer contestable seats than the last time round. Several hardly need help given the popularity of occupants or the safety of their location:  Mark Warner in Virginia, Dick Durbin in Illinois, Jack Reed in Rhode Island and Cory Booker in New Jersey.

Nor am I much worried about Jeff Merkley in Oregon or Chris Coons in Delaware though Coons’  opponent won’t be chosen until Sept. 15 and is expected to draw big GOP money.

More threatened, and still waiting to hear if her opponent is an extreme right winger (retired brigadier general Don Bolduc) or a self-funding Trump billionaire (Bryant “Corky” Messner),   is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

She is building her  campaign coffers quickly in anticipation of a financial blitzkrieg either way it goes. In 2016 Trump lost New Hampshire by a fraction of one percent and is so steeped in the past that he is putting pressure and money on defeating Shaheen in this contest.  A good friend and former colleague of Biden, Shaheen early  took herself out of consideration as his running mate. 

Doug Jones of Alabama,
despite great success as
senator, is the most
threatened Democrat.
No, it is generally conceded that Doug Jones is the most threatened Democratic senator, whose unlikely victory in 2016 for Jeff Sessions’ remaining term was seen by Republicans as something of a fluke.  It was a fluke of their own making, letting the sexual clouds of Roy Moore envelop the campaign.  

They may have created another fluke this time around since Trump turned on Sessions, who was  seeking to regain his former Alabama seat, clearing the way for a Trump supporter with absolutely zilch political experience, football coach Tommy Tuberville, whose record at Auburn ending in 2008 was astounding. 

But don’t forget the Tuba happily blew out of Alabama for Texas Tech and then to  the  University of Cincinnati for bigger money, leaving hurt feelings and an out of court settlement in a fraud case in his wake before returning to Alabama to find political religion as a Trump acolyte. An Auburn Tiger only when the money was right, he is hugging Trump like he’s found his Brett Favre.  

Jones, a moderate Democrat with an imposing civil rights record, has not dragged Alabama to the hard left as many conservative  diehards feared but reassured the middle, as  a recent newspaper profile indicates.

Voting with Trump 36% of the time, as estimated in the article, is  both the mark against him and proof that he works for Alabama.  Some think that’s not selective enough, but  his ability to pick and choose has drawn admirers.  Alabama remains a deeply red state but Jones is counting on his record and the voters changing before Nov. 3 (the pandemic and Trump’s back to school blindness may do it).

Gary Peters
While any win by Jones means coming from behind, the other Senate races looking for donations find the Democrats ahead but worried by lack of name recognition or their quiet heads-down work ethic.  (Perhaps recognizing that lack of public awareness, the Democrats are putting Gary Peters in front of the TV campaign to protest Trump’s cuts to the US postal service, a fresh scheme to confound the November presidential election.) Trump's forces retain the illusion from 2016 that they may be able to eke out a Michigan victory.

Aside from Peters in Michigan, Mitch McConnell’s PAC money and GOP operatives are  targeting Tina Smith in Minnesota (appointed to fill Al Franken’s term).  
Jones is most vulnerable but Smith and Peters can anticipate strong negative advertising coming after them.

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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 


Thursday, August 6, 2020

FLIPPING THE SENATE NOW BRIMS WITH POSSIBILITIES

An article chock full of helpful links

By Dominique Paul Noth

Easily overlooked in flipping the senate is the strong
North Carolina campaign of Cal Cunningham.
The cry has gone up throughout the land:  Who needs my money to win the election in November?

That fever is mounting. It’s clogging email and snail mail boxes, infecting cable TV and social media.  Every time the common man turns around, it seems that money is the decider, but partly because – however inept and corruptible the GOP is at the top – the party seems to be swimming in money as well as gerrymandering advantages. The Democrats may have better grassroots funding in many state races but sound desperate even when the polls put them ahead. 

Such is the fear that Trump will manipulate another win by attacking the mail service, by deepening his pandemic “it is what it is” disinterest or by plowing through the protesters on the public streets. It’s not a logical fear, but nothing about Trump is logical.

Yet another signal has gone out across the land – this one among the GOP in desperation to keep control of the Senate: If you need to separate yourself from Trump, they tell their own candidates, so be it. And some cautiously are, running on quite different issues in a tacit admission that they can’t openly criticize their beloved leader but can walk away from some of his outrages.

They will do anything to prevent the flood that the polls say is heading their way, while Democrats know they not only have to elect Biden but flip the Senate and keep the House.  That has made potential donors in every state a target for Senate and House candidates in every other state – a flood of Internet requests that leave the physically  distant recipients sometimes mystified about where to put their money.  The dilemma is producing articles like this one.

Sara Gideon leading in Maine
The field of Democratic opportunity has expanded in both the House and now the Senate  beyond the three or four flips most talked about by TV’s talking heads on cable news.

These likely Senate flips start with Sara Gideon leading Susan Collins in Maine.  Collins has tried to slide along the road of tsk-tsking Donald while voting with him, which has angered much of her state as well as equal rights groups that once were duped into regarding her as slightly independent – this is Maine, after all.  But when it comes to put up, she shuts up.

 Meanwhile Gideon – well known as speaker of the state house – has put together a platform that speaks to rural voters as well as progressive values, and she’s leading or tied in polls.

Mark Kelly on campaign trail
In Arizona, a former astronaut known as the devoted husband of Gabby Giffords and a TV commentator on space issues as well as gun safety, is leading in what once was thought a red state.  Mark Kelly is ahead in the polls versus the governor-appointed senator, Martha McSally, who has clung to Trump and attacked every convincing social argument from Kelly. 

McSally’s stubbornness in clinging to Trump (after being beaten in 2018  by a quixotic Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema) is one of  her many missteps in this campaign. She didn’t get the GOP message or know how to safely disassociate herself from Trump.

When Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper couldn't
wait to drink a beer with Obama.
In Colorado, the Republican senator, Cory Gardner, stays in Trump’s shadow while ignoring Trump’s main issues on the campaign trail, mainly selling his own outdoor recreation credentials, always popular in that state. His even more popular opponent, the conservative Democrat who ran for president, has a  “drink a beer with me” personality: John Hickenlooper.  Despite some fits and starts in his campaign switch to run for the senate, his brand of fiscal conservatism incorporating Democratic principles made him successful for eight years as governor.  He remains ahead in the polls.

So is, though less noticed, the popular progressive Cal Cunningham, who is better than neck and neck with  a largely unknown North Carolina GOP senator -- Toady Thom Tillis.  Cunningham’s image as a “get things done” leader is clearly key to his attraction

Theresa Greenfield
Among the surprise new prospects as the Democratic map expands is Theresa Greenfield, running hard against Republican Joni Ernst in Iowa. Partly because Iowa was early in presidential primary importance, it’s become a politically tuned state and Ernst looks more and more like a feeble  Trump echo in a region eager to move with the times, which Greenfield has come to represent. Local papers flirted with sexism describing this as no race for sissies.

It is no small issue in many such states that if Biden takes over the White House, they want a senator on the Democratic side.

That is one of the spurs underlying Steve Bullock’s campaign in less populated and usually red  Montana.  A former Democratic presidential candidate and a popular governor,  Bullock is neck and neck in the polls against Steve Daines, the former Procter and Gamble exec who enjoyed one term already in the US Senate and is wrapping himself in Trump anti-gay anti-protest and anti-Obama flag-waving. 

Steve Bullock
How will that fly in Montana?  What does fly is Bullock’s  ability to speak intelligently  on issues, which impressed many when he ran for president.

Another surprise is there are now two Senate seats available for Democratic takeover in the red clay of Georgia.  In a campaign strongly supported by the late John Lewis, youthful Jon Ossoff (he’s 33) has inched ahead in respected polls against former Dollar General exec and wealth accumulator David Perdue, who is becoming known for political gaffes

Jon Ossoff
Perdue and the other GOP senator for the state, Kelly Loeffler, are best known for their GOP funding chops (she was appointed by the governor to an unfinished term; he has a chicken friendly last name) and both are under investigation of insider trading charges linked to their  public hearings.  One of these  senate seats is technically a special election runoff Nov. 3, with  Loeffler hoping to edge another rabid Trump backer, Rep. Doug  Collins, and praying the Democrat doesn’t get 50% of the vote.  The top two finishers face off in January 2021.

But either will be facing a strong Georgia name unknown when they entered. Their  opponent is backed by Stacey Abrams (often touted in the early speculation to run with Joe Biden and believed by many to have been cheated out of winning the 2018 governor’s race)  and many in  the nation know this candidate well though have not yet linked his oratorical prominence to his candidacy.

The Reverend Raphael Warnock

He’s the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who presided over the eulogies for Lewis at the Atlanta Ebenezer Baptist Church most associated with the late Martin Luther King Jr.  But senior pastor Warnock is  also  notable for his social justice stances – which puts him in stark contrast to either of his GOP opponents. Republicans are furious because the three-way Nov. 3 special comes at the same time as turnout for Biden and Ossoff.

Defeating Mitch McConnell in Kentucky is the secret wish of every Democrat (more on that contest later) but  it’s not the biggest event on the red state map or the place where a Democratic candidate needs the most outside bolstering.  That was clarified in the August 4 primary in Kansas, where the popularity of the Democratic candidate seems tied to the extremeness of her opponent. She didn't get the most extreme but she wound up with an important contrast.

Barbara Bollier has strongly emerged to face the well-heeled but lesser known GOP candidate Roger Marshall, also a retired doctor but the one who wants to kill Obamacare while she works to expand it.

Barbara Bollier
Bollier, a state senator who switched to the Democratic Party to be part of a coalition that put Kansas on a better economic footing, has led a quiet campaign of basic service that contrasts with the image of the current GOP. 

It was Republicans  who worked hard Aug. 4 with big money to defeat their biggest hard-core conservative nightmare, Kris Kobach, who tried to become Trump’s border czar.

They succeeded, hoping that Marshall isn’t as harsh a name since he has shown some moderate malleability to help him against Bollier.  His slight money advantage and the long GOP history of Kansas are the background noise in this contest, but Bollier seems the ideal mix of pandemic and political common sense.

Jaime Harrison
Let’s not forget that the most politically troublesome Carolina is the state below North.  But the Democrat there, Jaime Harrison, has strong support among South Carolina’s  22% black Americans – in fact he is leading the state in some polls and nipping at Lindsey Graham in others.  

That, plus embarrassing ads put together by the GOP Lincoln Project showing how violently Graham contradicted himself on both Trump and Biden,  have become a big part of what makes Graham a genuinely threatened Republican senator.  I have long joked  that when John McCain died he seemed to have taken Graham’s soul with him.

Harrison, former leader of the state Democratic Party, is both politically savvy and a believable common man orator with deep roots in the Carolina soil. He’s given a genuine chance at drawing national support for what could be a major upset despite Graham’s years in the spotlight.  Were Lindsey not feared for his $15 million war chest and his history of pulling surprises out of a worn hat, he would be considered a fading if not totally gone goose given how much ground he’s lost  three months before the finale. But this is South Carolina where all sorts of strange things happen.

Intensely disliked in his state’s polls is Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, the turtle avatar constantly onscreen in TV news as the senate majority leader who has blocked some 400 bills from the Democratic House.  He  has spent 30 years getting re-elected in Kentucky – at times in spite of a  lack of personal popularity.  The rumor is he has dropped so many federal dollars in key voting corners over time and even has a wife, the secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, making sweetheart deals for the state that he will be hard to dislodge in a state so wildly red.

Amy McGrath
His opponent lacks political experience in handling an old shrewdie like McConnell – but if  Kentucky longs for a breath of fresh non-D.C. air and more clout once Biden takes over,  Amy McGrath could run away with the race. 

A moderate Democrat, she also brings a  remarkable military record (the Marine’s first female combat fighter who retired with the rank of  lieutenant colonel), plus a social media campaign that has given her the money to nearly match Mitch.  Her views on the economy and health care seem to fit  the emerging nuanced political profile of what has long been a red state. The key may come down to whether Kentucky voters, who have seen McConnell join the Trump mishandling of a pandemic and of health care, will grasp for change or merely suffer the status quo.

Urged by a supporter at a campaign event, MJ Hegar 
displays her military tattoo.
Over in Texas, long thought GOP property, another inspirational retired female fighter pilot, MJ Hegar, is struggling for name recognition and funding as Texas trends more progressive.  She is eight points behind John Cronyn, seeking his fourth term, but despite his years in office his popularity rating is 35%, suggesting she has room to maneuver.  Especially during a pandemic hitting Texas hard while Cronyn is on record last March blaming China for even the 2009 swine flu.  This is a contest to decide how out of touch Texas wants to be in the 21st century.

Don’t forget Mississippi, always considered safe GOP country – but maybe not anymore.   The Democrat, Mike Espy, was the Clinton agriculture secretary and the first African American from the Deep South given that job. Now he has soared back into attention to oppose the governor appointed senator,  Cindy Hyde-Smith, who has earned the title of  most racist senator.  But Ole Miss is changing under her feet. 

It has abandoned putting the Confederate flag in its state flag and even its most famous university has abandoned many of their Civil War trappings while Hyde-Smith tries to live down posing with Confederate artifacts.  Moreover, Mississippi has been spiking in the covid numbers, for a while topping 20% in positive tests and belatedly imposing a mask mandate while Republican leaders try to fudge on Trump’s K-12 order to automatically reopen brick and mortar  schools.

Mike Espy
Let’s not pretend Espy isn’t  a long shot but Hyde-Smith has lost more than half of  the 17% lead Trump gave her in 2016.   GOP PACs are pumping money into states they once thought shoo-ins, and this seems one of many, including Texas, Kansas and Georgia.

So while Kelly in Arizona, Gideon in Maine, Greenfield in Iowa, Hickenlooper in Colorado and Cunningham in North Carolina are the best shots to see your donations succeed, I have not in my giving overlooked Bollier in Kansas, Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia, Harrison against Graham in South Carolina, McGrath against McConnell, Hegar in Texas and – following my heart the strongest – Espy in Mississippi.  


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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 


 

Monday, July 20, 2020

EVERYTHING HOARY ABOUT TRUMP BECOMES NEW AGAIN

By Dominique Paul Noth

Partly his own foot-in-mouth, but also much to our national shame, there has been a flourishing publishing industry built around Donald Trump’s endless prattle and tabloid sordidness.

Mary Trump 
Now some old and shopworn gossip has gotten new enthusiasm in the public sphere because it comes from the inside, the tales from her childhood into her 50s by his only niece, Mary Trump, who is cannily introduced as a “trained clinical psychologist” to apparently give some depth to what are largely retreaded digs into the family dirt in “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

Never forget this book, while leading national sales, is largely a rehash to veteran New Yorkers.  Three and a half years into his presidency, they remain amazed at how Trump ever fooled a sizable portion of the nation with the same behavior they had long grown tired of. How Trump talks about blacks and other minorities, how he treats workers and business partners, how he preens with self-aggrandizement – all that is old stuff on his home turf. 

That’s been much overlooked in the media coverage -- that the details in Mary Trump's book are already familiar fodder.  Virtually everyone in NY knew what a racist and PR tool Trump was and real thinkers had grown sick of it over decades.  The nation’s foolishness, encouraged by NBC’s pursuit toward the top of ratings by wallowing in the bottom of reality TV, turned Trump and his “Celebrity Apprentice” clown show into an elevation for much of the nation, while folks in Manhattan have known his blather inside out for generations.

Trump’s penchant for tabloid fame and plated fool’s gold had so long been a laughingstock in New York society that you can find published examples going back 40 years. He was only tolerated for his family’s money and the savagery with which he attacked those who attacked him. Savagery always delights the Manhattan press and public. He was long the media’s poster child for how arrogant belligerency can lead to tabloid reputation if you flash enough money on your way to bankruptcies and TV ratings.

While NYC residents thought they had his number, there was a whole misshapen mass of voters in the United States who could still fool themselves into seeing freshness in his tired tropes.

Waterston in 1975's "The Killing Fields"
While researching a story on actor Sam Waterston – long the famous prosecutor on the “Law and Order” series but with a longer reputation for stellar stage and film work, I stumbled on essays by a famous Pulitzer winning journalist, now deceased, the feisty stubborn Sydney Schanberg, central figure in the movie “The Killing Fields” (Waterston won an Oscar nomination for portraying him) and long known for speaking truth to power.  In fact, he cut his own close ties to the New York Times because his editors didn’t like it when he criticized their own coverage.

But before then, in 1983!, he had written a sarcastic piece for the New York Times about a Trump proposal to move the homeless into one of his buildings scheduled for demolition.

And then, on September 14th, 1987, now writing for Newsday, Schanberg provided an editorial anticipating by 30 plus years (!) the likelihood that the Trump brand, so scoffed in New York, might work for a while in national politics.  

Sydney Schanberg in 1980s
Entitled "Donald Trump -- Public-relations master" his prominent editorial  called Trump a "public-relations virtuoso," described an ongoing feud with then NY Mayor Ed Koch who Trump called a "moron" and "a jerk" (sound familiar?), provided numerous instances of Trump's claims of superior intellect ("It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway."), and Schanberg then bluntly  warned,  "He can deny all he wants any designs on the White House, but Trump has the kind of instincts that are perfect for the age we live in -- the age of stage smoke and magic mirrors and imagery. In short, he sees the kind of men we admire and elect these days and he naturally asks: Why not me?"

 Schanberg ended the piece with, "In an age where smoke is everything, Donald Trump can blow it with the best of them."

I always thought “Celebrity Apprentice” was a ridiculous concept designed for morons and fully believed back in 2011 that most of America was laughing along with Barack Obama at the presidential press dinner where he poked fun at Donald deciding between Meatloaf and Gary Busey about who to better run a company.

Yet behold, the obnoxious high ratings crap that TV brought home to America seemed to make just enough people believe in an egotistical moron to elect him!

Today it is clear the public mood is finally done with Trump --  and yet … and yet. There still seem enough jerks around during the pandemic who think wearing a mask while shopping is some sort of attack on their constitutional rights, not some effort at saving the people around them.  Finally, now that children as well as adults are being put in harm’s way because of Trump’s egotistical behavior, the dawn is coming to people who once envisioned him as a salvation and are finally joining New  York City’s upper echelons in rejecting him. 

Yet the fear remains.  Maybe there are not enough people around still fascinated by his branding games but fear is powering voters this year who are ready to defy the virus if that’s what it takes to vote him out.  They are seriously worried about the damage Trump wants to do to mail-in voting and his attacks on the US Postal Service.

They are scared that he may send federal officers in camouflage to every city that doesn’t obey him (and most are hardly in a mood to obey) and believe he won’t follow normal democratic procedures once he loses. His mere existence at the top has done so much damage to our normal sense of human behavior and decency that the entire country is out of balance in how ferociously to put him down.  It’s turning us all  into mini-Trumps in how viciously we want him gone.

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 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. 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.