Thursday, November 14, 2019

ENVY IS DRIVING WISCONSIN DEMOCRATS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Portion of John Hart's photo in Wisconsin State Journal
 of majority leader Scott Fitzgerald skulking in the
background while Gov. Evers (left) attends
the session rejecting his ag appointment.
The longing to be Virginia – the state, that is -- is particularly strong in Wisconsin, which on paper has a similar state political setup but little chance of duplicating that Nov. 5 election outcome.

Like Virginia it has a Democratic governor, all new Democratic statewide offices (elected in 2018) and a Republican dominated legislature controlled largely, as was once true in Virginia, by decade-old Republican gerrymandering. 

The national media has paid more attention to the Democratic victory in Kentucky, which Trump had carried by 30% in 2016, but state admiration is larger for Virginia. The wins there may prove more important.

Wisconsin, longing aside, is hardly poised to clone Virginia where both statehouses turned comfortably blue after lingering in the other camp. In Wisconsin, after years of choosing a Democratic presidential candidate, Trump squeaked by in 2016 – and Trump people still have hopes there is enough rural and evangelical resistance to Democrats to offset the growing Trump dislike in urban communities.

In Virginia unlike Wisconsin, Nov. 5 signaled an end to the GOP blockade of good state bills on health care, gun control, education and taxes. In Wisconsin the good bills remain horribly bottled up. 

Virginia Democrats were aided just a tad by 2018 federal court rulings (affecting 11 of more than 100 legislative districts).  That and close margins in both chambers was just enough to galvanize voter turnout. No such judicial help awaits Wisconsin, where the state senate is close but not the Assembly. 

The Wisconsin gerrymander was even more extreme in legislative districts.  Earlier this year, the US high court both admitted the Wisconsin districts are warped and washed its hands about doing anything about it.  In its tragic Rucho vs. Common Cause decision it determined that political partisanship was too toxic for SCOTUS to dirty itself with interfering – a remarkably dense decision. 

Meanwhile the state’s high court is the opposite of a helpmate.  Blatantly conservative it does the will of the GOP legislature and is expected to continue down that road unless the slaves rebel against the masters who paid for their election.

The right-wing enslavement has continued to confound Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who keeps trying, inching forward when his sensible proposals supported by voters should leap ahead.  The legislature is even inspecting one by one his cabinet appointments and just flatly rejected the farmers’ friend (and proven administrator, Brad Pfaff) picked to lead the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.  Evers actually attended the legislative session in Madison rejecting Pfaff in the hope that his presence might embarrass the GOP. It didn’t. He called the result “absolute bullshit.”

He further commented he would be darned if he would withdraw his cabinet choices despite the gauntlet they were being subjected to. "If I was a total cynic I'd say, 'Keep your damn mouth shut,' but I'm not,” Evers told the assembled media. “I want them to be forthcoming. That's why we hired them." The circumstances forced him to elevate  the agriculture deputy

(And on Nov. 11 Evers hired Pfaff with more responsibility and a higher salary in the Department of Administration as director of business and rural development.) 

The pettiness has grown. The governor’s call for a special legislative session on gun control left GOP leaders vowing to gavel the session in and out without doing anything. And Nov. 8 that’s what they did, spitting in the face of both Evers and a majority of state voters.

The Wisconsin GOP continues to feel its oats in the legislative proposals it advances, defying the governor with an ugly trail of their own bills, sneaking some high-minded sounding proposals in among their poison pills.

In October, for example, the GOP passed a bill making it a felony to have sex with animals – who could say no to that? But in November it turned down a bipartisan proposal to spend $4 million to fight homelessness, leading the head of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, Joseph Volk, to comment sarcastically that they acted with speed to protect cows and goats but “I guess homeless children will just have to wait.”

The Wisconsin GOP is now determined to weaken the strongest veto pen in the nation that allows Evers to adjust budget language, as he did recently to return $65 million to public schools that the legislature had eliminated.

Their idea requires two legislative sessions, the second in 2021, along with court authority. But the Republicans are clearly confident they will win legislative re-election in 2020 no matter who wins the presidential race.  They are confident they will also still control the state  high court in 2021, so they are speeding ahead comforted in their gerrymandered strength and that Democrats can’t muster enough votes to oust them in local races.

So Wisconsin in November 2020 will come down to the Democrats needing enormously heavy voter turnout –abnormally focused, as the state electorate doesn’t usually do, not on the presidential race but on local legislative races.

Most observers predict such changes are way out of reach.  Of course, they said the same about Virginia, where the Democrats have confounded their opponents.

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, November 11, 2019

WHEN TYING THE ECONOMY TO THE PRESIDENT IS JUST PLAIN SILLY

Many years of monthly  job graphs  cobbled together
By Dominique Paul Noth

Soon after George Bush was elected, I took over as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press.  Each month I published a bar graph on the job figures from the US Department of Labor.  These were increasing downward lines that became painfully routine bad news to reproduce. The jobs kept falling and falling, growing  into dangerous length  stalactites by 2008, the  nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The GOP presidential candidate, McCain, panicked and called for a freeze in the campaign.  Obama went on in his solid way promising to handle crises.

The Bush falloff continued into the first year Obama took over as he launched such vital corrections as saving the auto industry and tightening financial controls – all in the face of harsh Republican resistance.  Remember?

By 2010 the job graphs  turned positive --  and every month grew  ever grander above the median, like icicles defying gravity and  suddenly thrusting upward.   It may not be as dynamic today but it continues a strong positive uninterrupted pace, surviving Trump’s costly bailout of farmers in face of his tariffs and even a recession in US manufacturing, absorbed by financial circles since manufacturing is now only about 10% of the US economy.

When statistics sound rosy, every president claims economic success because of his or her  actions --  just as they blame forces beyond their control if the job numbers fall.

While Obama deserves credit, his supporters sought to give him even  more nice words  than  he richly deserved.  Note that Americans increased productivity but stood pat for stagnant wages in a booming economy during his final term, so that an unhealthy side of the realm continues to this day.

Trump is taking credit for aspects that are way outside his doing – and may actually be surviving his interferences. Approving pipelines may look economically good from one angle, but the constant oil spills look terrible from an environmental point of view, which may have longer residue for the economy.

Similarly, the economy is strong enough to survive a range of failed concepts and aborted deals from the Trump administration – at least for now. A recent collaboration of Fortune magazine and Pro Publica news service also states Trump’s 2017 tax bill has cost homeowners, many of them middle class, $1 trillion in equity value.

Economists fear there is a payment  coming due for our economic imbalance between profits and wages, though they blames cycles  in the economy almost as much as Trump.

What is a change in historic civility and common sense is that Trump doesn’t want to admit what a great job picture he inherited from Obama. What even Michael Bloomberg doesn’t care to admit is that government strength and business acumen don’t walk hand in hand into the sunset.

Time teaches us that there are moments when presidents can proclaim enormous influence and times they are just lucky enough to be riding the waves – with the public praying they do nothing to capsize the ship of state.  It’s clear that Trump right now  is benefitting from that ride. The warning signs in the economy deal with hiccups, tariff wars, unhelpful tax relief and threats to the future we have no clue whether he can deal with – or even realize the causes. He has a school of followers swimming in his wake. They credit him way out of bounds from reality.

Let’s go way back to FDR. He also oversaw a  time of enormous influence on the economy because the US needed it.  Back then was a case of a president whose policies influenced the economy for the better.   America longed for his fearlessness and optimism during the Great Depression. 

Not everything he did lasted or worked. But the New Deal became part of American idealism and first principles of freedom  – so much so that many respected intellectuals today argue that it needs to adjust but still serves as an inspiration. As should FDR’s optimism – that “only fear is fear itself” thing. His  new emphasis on the worker, the creation of Social Security, watchful regulations on fiscal behavior and so forth became the moments that inspire history books.

Oh, you will still find Republicans like Mitch McConnell who claim that it was only World War II that rescued America from the Great Depression.  But look who was still president and weigh how much his buoyancy had genuine impact on the intertwined forces of psyche and the economy. 

Like Obama, FDR thought of himself as daring within the mainstream while his foes continue to demean his reign as radical extremism.  Presidents always get extreme credit or blame for the nation’s fiscal health, but the reality is that sometimes they need to interfere and sometimes not. 

And even good presidents are not seers on everything. In 2008 Obama was not a champion of gay marriage. He abandoned the individual mandate in health care to get the needed support for what he thought the more important parts of Obamacare. He put immigration reform on the back burner.  Reparations for descendants of slaves were not even in the discussion. 

Today he is for gay marriage, the individual mandate, the vitality of immigration reform and discussion of reparations – as are all the Democratic candidates for the office he once held.  The last thing the nation needs – and also now has – is a president who interferes where not needed or interferes for his own venal causes, rather than the nation’s needs.

Obama’s rescue of the auto industry; his support of Dodd-Frank and other accomplishments that occupied his time of greatest power – the first two years – were vital thrusts. The better road for the economy he set is mainly something today’s executive could destroy – reminding voters that a president’s importance to the economy is mainly when it gets into trouble.

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.



Friday, November 8, 2019

BLOOMBERG AND DEMOCRATIC ANXIETY

By Dominique Paul Noth

Michael Bloomberg's moves suggest a vote of no-confidence in
the Democratic field from the donor class.
Nothing indicates the panic in the donor class more than Michael Bloomberg’s head fake and baby steps on entering the presidential sweepstakes out of fear that sensible centrist talk, as from Joe Biden who is his same age, may not stand up against the extreme wealth tax ideas simultaneously circling the Democratic field  including -- to be fair about his wiggling toes --  Joe Biden.

This is a two-edged panic.  First panic stems from fears that Trump may still pull off a victory despite his obvious mental meltdown during impromptu White House speeches and interminable campaign rallies. To be honest, this is also part of  a panic about the American electorate. Underneath it has been steadily moving to realizing the realities of impeachment but that movement is not enough to comfort those who so clearly see Trump as "a dangerous demagogue," as Bloomberg called him.

The second panic is that painting the wealthiest of the wealthy as the villains of society – including those who mainly advertise themselves as wealthy, such as Trump – could wind up driving the voters and forcing policies that many consider bad for the economy.  Attacking the moneymakers and wealth accumulators has proven a comfortable campaign reality – always has if you remember history. They have the money but others have the votes.

Some form of wealth tax does not create immediate resistance from that wealthy donor class so heavily recruited by Democratic candidates  – but some of it does since all wealth tax ideas poll so well.

Bloomberg and Bill Gates are leading philanthropists and they have raised their doubts as have upstarts like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg whose wealth is mainly on paper (we’re talking wealth in the ballpark of $50 to $60 billion dollars each!).  They have raised caution flags or heart attacks about some of the proposals but more largely they fear a public attitude treating them as the fountain of salvation for the US woes.  An echo of Trump’s “Only I can do it”?

The public has taken little time to actually analyze the various economic plans of the candidates,  but the donor class is reading between the lines and is  deeply worried.  Some candidates  avoid the wealth tax language but they are all moving in similar directions.

Of course, Bloomberg is almost proving the wealth tax point – or certainly its lure – since no one would treat his entry into the race seriously except for the amount of money he commands and his track record of not usually being a guy who panics.

Have you noticed how we now talk  about “lanes” separating the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination? One lane is for the pragmatic types, sometimes demeaned as  “half-assed centrists.” The other lane is  the most “leftist” types (assuming “leftist” means something clear anymore) that don’t want to return the US to normal after Trump but seize it and shake it to address climate change, health care, gun control, immigration reform and so forth. These are ideas many of the voters favor addressing,  though they remain  uncertain how much should be grabbed off in one bite.

Smart pundits see the pragmatic types as Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Biden and the most prominent of the “shake it all up” as Sanders and Warren, with Booker, Castro and Harris biting off parts of each and the other candidates scattered among the lanes.

Bloomberg isn’t wrong about the anxieties upending the Democratic camps -- a fight among lane leaders. One group insists  the other get out of the way;  the other group says  the nation is not ready for too extreme measures. 

Thus when Elizabeth Warren details her Medicare for All, critics point out what a shakeup that involves, so that even if she becomes president she may not be able to carry even a Democratic Congress across the same finish line. While 28 million people lack any health care, some 158 million have a form of private health insurance, which she would eliminate.  Some hate the system, some don’t.  All are unlikely to budge unless they know something better is in  place.

Warren fans admire her boldness as much as Sanders fans admire his.  They say it’s high time the US aimed higher than its reach as the only way true reform is possible. Fundamental social changes, the argument goes, comes from leaders burning with grievances and clear about identifying the problems, determined to rouse the sheeplike masses to action. Others say the public admires those who know what can be done and are moving in the same direction as the flamethrowers.

The sides sometimes sound so angry that they make the presidential race an all or nothing contest.  Hence Bloomberg. If you don’t like Sanders above Warren, to hell with you.  If you like Biden over Warren, you’re a relic.  If you prefer Buttigieg, you are not being realistic about his baggage (the way some voters feel about gays). Etc.

Such hard edges to the discussions, both on social media and at Democratic gatherings, seem the main reason why the Trump forces still think they can sneak in there, since if Warren is picked over Sanders, or Biden is picked over both, there are acolytes in the losing camp that sound like they  will stay home rather than vote for anybody. So fierce do their feelings sound.

It’s time to remember that none of this ferocity is new in the big tent Democratic Party.  What is new is the fear, driven  by social media and the political organizing realities of today, that the sides can’t knit together at the end. Trump’s 2016 victory, when many Obama voters stayed home, is often cited as the fear.

But there is also a reality of history about campaign promises and directions.  Sanders may have written the damn bill on Medicare for All, as he insists in debates, but that doesn’t mean he can bring any Congress along.  Neither can Warren.  Neither can Biden on such ideas as eliminating the wage levels on paying into Social Security.

Right now the normal operations of human behavior are not gaining much traction.  Such is the nature of panic. We haven't yet learned to contemplate supporting a Warren, a Sanders or a Buttigieg  or a Biden while recognizing they may not be able to deliver in practical terms what they are promising.  We just like where whoever (fill in the blank) wants to go and the basic ideas of getting there.

The public may vote for something they know is pie in the sky, not as a mandate they insist on but as a direction they want to see their choice moving. 

Another thing we had better learn.   How much wealth you command, even if you use it with a greater  eye for the public good than a Trump, is not a guarantee you know how to govern.  

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, September 15, 2019

PUBLIC MOVING TO GENUINE HORROR STORIES NOT TRUMP’S PHONY ONES

By Dominique Paul Noth

Trump and his allies have already trotted out their scare-you-to-death images: Babies screaming during partial birth abortions. Face-tattooed machete-wielding gangs charging in caravans across the border. Mass socialist murderers chopping children to death -- inspired,  according to  one recent TV ad on Sinclair local news stations, by Alexandria Ocacio Cortez, the pretty Socialist Democrat who has become the GOP’s Wicked Green Witch of Destruction, worthy of being lit on fire before she can cause havoc. Democrats spell death, Trump spells life.

This is already the ugliest campaign in terms of blood-curdling charges. 

But this election the Democrats have profound, blunt,  natural images of gore, unlike the exaggerated extremes of Trump and his allies.

It is the image of a bullet from a high capacity magazine shredding childhood flesh into bleeding gapes that doctors can’t fix in time.  It is the image of children relegated to die by removing them from life-giving US health care. It is children torn from parents and imprisoned in cages at the border.

Beto O’Rourke in the recent presidential debate hit every agonizing true example of assault weapon carnage from a Trump inspired Odessa killer, adding a ferocious and elegant “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your  AK-47!” to cheers from a Texas audience of college students and many viewers around the nation.

Suddenly the Democrats have real inescapable horror stories to match the exaggerations of the right.  The evangelical extremists know in their hearts the real problem with abortion is that it is largely a physically painless procedure and any battle is mental – so they concoct images of suffering dying fetuses to create shame even in women who feel considerable sadness whatever the circumstance.

Similarly, while Trump makes cow eyes at genuine killers like Duterte of the Philippines, Mohammad bin Salman, Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin, he and his minions conjure up images of Venezuela and historic death merchants in Cambodia as examples of socialism, though these are examples of dictatorial fascism miles removed from the peace-loving Democratic Socialists whose strains of common sense government have run side by side with American democracy for decades. These Socialists may believe in more government involvement than capitalists but on big social problems that need solutions.

Even as Trump conjures up the forces of darkness, this time, from now on, the Republicans’ imaginary nightmares can be beaten off by reminding the public of the real nightmares invading the waking moments of children and parents – not just border horrors but school shooting drills unlike the automatic fire drills and even A-bomb drills of our youths that everyone knew were  a distant unlikely worry. Nothing distance about an assault weapon intruder.  These monsters have become a palpable reality for every family in the nation. That could be your teenager running down the school hallway as a bullet smashes her back.

 O’Rourke did us all a favor by being blunt.  The kids of Parkland, the mothers of the fallen (in groups and alone), the city children downed by a stray bullet as they play in their bathtub -- all are true crime stories that infect us all.  So are the people removed from live-saving procedures and the traumatized 3 year olds in ICE cages.

Researchers have long known that conservatives in  suburbs fear burglars and murderers in far disproportionate worry than reality – they call the police when a shadow falls on a nearby tree.  But today it is real fear that has caught up with our children.

Here’s why this is a change.  For decades, out of concern with the NRA and their lobbyists as well as law-abiding gun owners, any talk of universal background checks, limiting the size of ammo magazines, keeping weapons from proven domestic abusers and talk of confiscation – all these gun discussions were doomed  pie in the sky dreams. 

Now America is openly talking about it all and the right wing can no longer dismiss  this as unneeded nonsense.  As one NRA member told me about his group in a fervent email, “They better not pull any of this crap about political expediency. My kid is seven and already asking what I’m doing to make him feel safe!”

Maybe Beto made a mistake, politically speaking.  He insists that getting rid of the 10 million assault weapons in private hands should be mandated not voluntary.   In one sense he is right – extreme measures are necessary to save the US. In another sense this is the spectre the NRA will ride with.  It raises the old fear of government confiscating your guns, a fear engendered by a Supreme Court decision that leapt past the first phrase in the Second Amendment and suggests gun ownership as a right.

But look beyond the right wing knee jerk.  The NRA can no longer dismiss even the extreme arguments.  When society moves to protect itself the motion is hard to stop. There may be worry on all sides of the political equation about the government taking stuff away as its first law-and-order step.  But underneath that first step there are a lot of second steps the public wants.

American gun owners want to think of themselves as better than Wayne La Pierre. They want to believe his organization caters to gun owners not just gun manufacturers – and it better start. 

A ban on assault rifles is legislatively coming and most agree with it, but we like to think of ourselves as moral people who would then do the right thing and voluntarily turn in weapons that are illegal and certainly have no place outside the battlefield.  We may make allowances for gun historians and researchers, but what is that – 1000 out of 10 million?

If Americans turn out to be too selfish to give up such weapons, maybe then you make it mandatory.  Given the nuttier on the streets, maybe you’ll have to. But I suspect the progressives will get further by treating everyone as people of conscience first.

Beto will not become president but he has done a service by  eloquently taking the rhetorical burden on his shoulders and frankly daring the right to disagree with his passion.    Every time Trump trots out his dead babies and zombie socialists, America now has a winning and truthful reality to shame him with.    This may be an ugly election, but suddenly the truth has graphic power on its side.


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 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Friday, September 13, 2019

WHAT SEEMS PROGRESSIVE OPPORTUNITY HITS WI ROADBLOCKS

By Dominique Paul Noth

On paper, Wisconsin is a crucial state for progressive change in 2020 – reflected in the respected Marquette University poll that shows Trump far behind Democratic presidential leaders and tied more than a year ahead with the second tier of candidates.

But look into that poll more deeply and you are aware that Wisconsin is the lagging hind end of the progressive charge, a limping straggler unable to make up its mind on important statewide contests. And without local enthusiasm, the progressive wave will crash against rocky shores.

With a new and admittedly moderate Democratic governor, Tony Evers, and bright prospects for better public education and forward steps on health care, Wisconsin seemed a prime place for Democrats to pick up House seats and state legislative ones. Despite extensive gerrymandering dating to 2011 that seemed to ensure Republican succession, long established GOP names  are scrambling for the exits.

There’s Rep. Sean Duffy, a former lumberjack and reality star wannabe whose wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, is a Fox personality. He is nationally known for complaining that his House salary representing the large 7th District is not enough to support his lifestyle and eight kids. Now after nine years in Congress he  has announced he is quitting in September.  The announced reason that many doubt (since there are hidden motives in any political move) is that his pregnant wife has a baby with what many suspect Duffy of having, given his statements about immigrants and Trump actions – a hole in the  heart. 

 It would be noble to abandon politics to care for the unborn, though his eight born children – ranging up in age to 19 -- may wonder where he has been.  But it has thrown his broad northeast Wisconsin district into a scramble by both parties. State GOP legislators are bluntly getting out of the way for an ecological hater, state Sen. Tom Tiffany, to announce his run. 

 Given Tiffany’s anti-ecological reputation he may seem a strange choice for rural farm counties (Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, St. Croix, Clark, Douglas, Florence, Forest, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Oneida, Polk, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, Vilas, Washburn and parts of Chippewa, Jackson, Juneau, Monroe and Wood) but the injuries to farmland from tariffs, the crippling of public education funding and blatant attempts to buy goodwill are only now radiating into politics.

So it’s not a shoo-in for the GOP – in fact many see an opportunity for the Democrats. In the years of B.G. (Before Gerrymandering), this was David Obey territory, a Democrat who ruled the House from 1969 to 2011.  There is a strong core of devout Democrats in pockets of the community.  Yet the Democrats typically are having trouble getting their act together though former Duffy opponent Pat Kreitlow remains popular.

Closer to Milwaukee (draw a ring around the city and include all of Jefferson and Washington counties plus key portions of Milwaukee, Waukesha, Dodge, and Walworth), the left should be shouting hallelujah! A veteran GOP name in the House since Jimmy Carter’s presidency is retiring years after he should have

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner – long chairman of House Judiciary Committee whose career is a mix of support for defendant rights and resistance to civil rights – is finally hanging it up.  This has produced a lunge of Republicans who have long coveted his seat and a slow march of interesting Democrats trying to determine if they have enough support. A fine Democratic candidate from 2018, Tom Palzewicz, immediately announced he would try again. But his sizable 2018 loss (62 to 38 %) disheartened many Democrats.

While 2018 was a great year around the nation for Democrats, Wisconsin came up constantly short. It was the only state in the nation in which the party receiving the majority of House votes (Democrats) emerged with a minority of congressional seats, and the gerrymandering problem increased in state legislative races.

As a consequence, the unknown Paul Ryan clone whose first term in the House has done nothing to make him more than a shadow, Bryan Steil, feels firmly ensconced in District 1 (Kenosha County, Racine County, most of Walworth County, and portions of Rock County, Waukesha and Milwaukee – in other words the Democratic bastions packed together in 2011 are more and more encircled by conservatives).   He easily beat populist Randy Bryce once Bryce’s brushes with the courts were publicized.

Similarly, while many Milwaukeeans know good people living to their north, that District 6 (dipping down into Milwaukee County’s River Hills) has been structured to protect Republicans (giving the more liberal North Shore suburbs to the 4th District’s formidable Gwen Moore). Though labeled even by his own party as one of its most partisan and dumbest sounding members, Glenn Grothman seems so firmly placed in this east-north district that even the personable and well-heeled nephew of Herb Kohl, Dan, lost 55-45 % in 2018.

Once SCOTUS refused to look into the Wisconsin gerrymandering in its Rucho vs. Common Cause decision this year – what many regard as a stunning abdication of the highest court’s responsibility to the Constitution –  Wisconsin voters were doomed to push beyond their natural strength to make inroads in US House and state legislative contests. Their willingness to fight against the odds is still in question.

Voter indifference to local politics is also reflected in the Marquette poll that on the surface looked so terrible for Trump.  Maybe not so much when readers drill down.

More than half of the 800 surveyed couldn't offer an opinion, favorable or un, on Republican legislative leaders, though clearly they are trying to destroy the new governor’s gains. Fifty-five percent said Wisconsin is headed in the right direction while 37% said it was on the wrong track. Talk to people on the street and such numbers easily flip, one reason why the Marquette poll is viewed uncomfortably in progressive circles and still heralded by conservatives.

State Democrats aren’t that worried about the presidential race since Trump has so much in-grown opposition if voters pay attention to the facts.  But they concede the electorate has to be shaken into awareness in 2020 on localized contests. It is a year where there is no Senate race in on the ballot and the Republicans, despite departures, still dominate the House and the state’s two legislative chambers.

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 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

EVEN OLD MOVIES KNOW AMERICA BETTER THAN TRUMP DOES

By Dominique Paul Noth

When Trump originated his MAGA chant (Make America Great Again) my reaction was what the hell was he talking about?  It quickly became clear he would destroy the actual past for his own fabrication and he dreaded building his policies on past American dreams and progress. He found a cadre of voters that knew as little as he did or thought his fact-free style would improve their lives.

He set out to dismantle every good thing previous administrations had accomplished -- and even the good halfway steps they had taken in hope that America would continue to evolve.

Now after nearly three years, the citizens are at a crossroads – try to get rid of Trump now in what is shaping up, as Nancy Pelosi feared, to a one political party impeachment or grind it out until the end of 2020 while Trump kicks up the level of damage to American institutions and principles, destroying our global reputation while banking on an economy growing shakier every day.

His MAGA chant evokes some imaginary US past in his fevered brain, maybe the Gilded Age of the 19th century when business ran rampant, maybe the 1920s when businesses again ran rampant on the way to the Great Depression, maybe some aspects of the Eisenhower years with the widely spread but misleading slogan “What is good for General Motors is good for the country.”

I don’t like going back when the nation has to keep pressing forward, but Trump clearly isn’t thinking of the era when America’s democratic fortitude emerged and scared the right wing half to death – the greatest generation as Tom Brokaw called it – the 1940s after the war. 

Gregory Peck, Celeste Holm and John Garfield confront
a drunken Jew hater in 'Gentleman's Agreement'
Even Hollywood, a studio dream machine built around making money, was forced to confront the changing globe confirmed by World War II.  Suddenly, even the movies with their historic caution began to say things that were universally American in values.  They had done so hesitantly in earlier decades but this time the bite was more socially pronounced.  Trump would have hated the impulses.

The movies remained cautious on what we now call civil rights, making films where Southern theaters could snip Lena Horne solos out of MGM musicals.  The movies were particularly bad for blacks and native Americans and by the 1960s routinely added Hispanics to the stereotypical mix. 

But there were glimmers.  In 1943’s “Sahara,” starring Humphrey Bogart (and not to be confused with later movies of the same title), a veritable United Nations of straggling soldiers gather in the desert to fight the Germans and it is here that a black man is allowed to kill a white man on screen to the cheers of the audience.  The white man is a blond despicable Nazi and the black man is a Sudanese soldier (played by a famous black actor, Rex Ingram). 

Hollywood was in the myth making business but slowly the world was creeping in.  Noted directors and actors went to war and came back with a harder edge.  Even studio solvers from the stage world like Vincente Minnelli could play a dual game – creating one of  the best showcases for black talent in “Cabin in the Sky” (1943) yet sending a valentine vision to GIs of the white America worth saving -- loving, comfortable,  family knit,  untouched by social upheaval.  His “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) is a great musical, yet what it doesn’t show is alarming.

Turn of the century St. Louis had  a half million residents,  but 35,000 were blacks, and there is not a black face on the screen, much less horror at how many lynchings were taking place around the World’s Fair. The boy next door romancing sweeps away any sense of darkness until a cork face Halloween nightmare Minnelli inserts.

The right wing had an angry counterblast that roiled the nation after the war with (is this where Trump got it?) fears of socialists, Communists and military Armageddon resulting in HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee, which gave rise to such political stars as Richard Nixon) and the McCarthy era. Socially aware Hollywood names were blacklisted for more than a decade in a fever that also served up politically neutral figures whose celebrity was now sought by Quisling replacements.

So rampant was this fever that a staunch Republican like Ginger Rogers would be dragged through the mud for making a homefront drama about women working in factories, “Tender Comrade” (1943),   because the title  could be made to sound so Bolshevik.

Yet “Tender Comrade’ actually represented a flowering of socially conscious Hollywood movies built around American principles like immigration and justice.   Almost all their creators wound up on the blacklist. 

Dreamers confronting reality: Peggy Ann Garner and
James Dunn in 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'.
Director Elia Kazan, excoriated later for cooperating with HUAC, always urged looking at his films rather than his behavior, because he was 20th Century-Fox’s go-to guy for social dramas. In his first film, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), set at the turn of the century, a grandmother from the old country in tortured English contemplates how, now that she’s old, she sees what drew her to Brooklyn:

In that old country, a child can rise no higher than his father's state. But here in this place, each one is free to go as far as he's good to make of himself. This way, the child can be better than their parent and this is the true way that things grow better. And this has to do something with the learning, which is here free to all people. l who am old missed these things. My children missed these things. But my children's children shall not miss it.

Weirdly, the same immigrant dream remains 74 years later.

By 1946, returning American veterans confronted the emerging nativism that Trump so typifies in “The Best Years of Our Lives,” from newly observant Hollywood master William Wyler. The encounter then was with an America First boor (sound familiar?).

Then a Hollywood flavored portrait of American middle class anti-Semitism emerged under Kazan in “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947, like “Tree” based on a nationwide best seller). The gimmick is that Gregory Peck pretends to be Jewish to feel firsthand the rejection and humiliation felt by Jews.  The movie simplifies like a lesson play and actually paints over a nasty past when FDR’s state department itself was riddled with anti-Semitism (while McCarthyites later claimed it was riddled with Communists!).

But it contains an interesting excerpt from Peck’s fictional magazine piece after being rejected at the “restricted” (euphemism for anti-Semitic) Plume Inn:

Driving away from the inn I knew all about every man or woman, every youngster, who'd been turned down by a college or a summer camp. I knew the rage that pitches through you when you see your own child shaken and dazed.  From that moment, I saw an unending attack by adults on kids of seven and eight and ten and twelve...  on adolescents trying to get a job or an education or into medical school.   
     
And I knew that they had somehow known it, too. They, those patient, stubborn men who argued and wrote and fought and came up with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They knew the tree is known by its fruit and that injustice corrupts a tree, that its fruit withers and shrivels.

The allusions back to nature are typical of the era, conjuring up an integrity to Earth that American principles embody in the writers’ minds.  Seldom since have the Founding Fathers been so nobly portrayed.  Seldom since have the purposes of a free education and a free integrity for all people been so artistically explained to the masses of Americans, assuming a universal level of language and interest in the American ideal.

By 1949 even the issue of undocumented immigrants was recognized for what it really was – an exploitation of cheap labor by business owners and their middlemen  (“Border Incident”), a vision of desperate immigrants  that seems to have vanished from the White House.

For all its warts – and the eras of my childhood had many – there was a presumption of universal acceptance of basic principles.   The MAGA of Trump by his own behavior rejects all that.  I fear he is talking to an audience that, because of their own upbringing and indifference to learning and self-education, has no idea what I’m talking about – or what the majority of Americans are fighting to preserve and restore. 

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 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.





Friday, August 9, 2019

THROWING A RED FLAG ON RED FLAG LAWS

By Dominique Paul Noth

The idea sounds good.  The police would be empowered to temporarily take guns away from citizens in danger of hurting themselves and others. There is supposed to be follow-up counseling to keep the community safe and decide when the guns can be returned. 

Versions vary from state to state – several have the red flag laws -- but the concept basically is police or family members can petition a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.  The idea of a judge is central to the concept, until you start thinking of judges whose political views tend to control their opinions.  That’s when the slippery slope of due process, much more important to me than restriction of gun rights, rears its head.

A plus for the idea is that the NRA is against it and another is that Republicans who have avoided gun legislation find aspects of this attractive. Moscow Mitch is even making favorable grunts.

I frankly find their attraction suspicious. 

Red flag laws are a decent tool if carefully written to not make someone who talks about taking action against Trump sound crazy and committable. If you think my fear is far-fetched, try applying the law to judges who rely on politicians as well as voters to get into office.   Try thinking about the need to remove weapons.  Who decides?  The sheriff? The spouse?   Which judges in Wisconsin?  How is the evidence gathered – and by whom?

In a country when so many gun deaths are suicides, red flag laws have proven to help take guns away from people going through obvious trauma, or drinking bouts or opioid distress.  There is evidence that taking away the methods of suicide – guns, pills, whatever –deter suicidal folk.  But there is little evidence that, outside suicides, red flag laws are more than a drop in the bucket of blood our society endures.

No, this has merit, but limited merit.  It is a feel good piece of legislation rather than a direct assault on our gun culture.  It is shaping up as another salve to the GOP conscience – and frankly, to the Democratic conscience because the Republicans have blocked everything else and now we can all pretend to real progress.

Don’t misunderstand. Guns should be taken away – but not just from people with chronic mental problems.  We all have moments of sickness, of anger, and it is foolhardy to believe police officers or a judge will know best when our fit has passed and we can go about our regular lives.  Temporarily named can become permanently stigmatized. In an era when people lose it for a moment on a phone video, and that moment flies around the globe, a Big Brother mentality can create a lot of problems. 

And once guns enter the picture we have plunged into a world that defies logic. Gun owners are fiercely protective that there is nothing wrong with them and people who fear gun owners are not the best judges of who is safe and who is not.

Moreover this is all happening in the world of Trump.  Law enforcement in general and national security in particular are being politicized.  The president is electing friendlies to the justice department, the intelligence community and the federal courts, which some legislation would seek to get involved. Is this a time when we want to extend police power and claim it will always be rationally employed?

Red flag laws that give more power to law enforcement and to judges in a partisan environment strike me as multiple kinds of danger.

Obviously the legislation has to be tightly crafted. Equally obvious, there will be human beings taking action – motivated after a mass shooting, motivated by a presidential tantrum, perhaps more careful during a lull; hyped with genuine concern about a loved one,  stridently worried about the unloved. 

Republicans now want to do something, but the public shouldn’t let them use baby aspirin when major surgery is required. 

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 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 DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.