Sunday, March 24, 2019

HOW THE SENATE DOOMED THE MUELLER PROBE MONTHS AGO

By Dominique Paul Noth


Rejected as Trump's personal lawyer, William Barr then wrote
a memo and became Attorney General.  A good background
to know in absorbing his letter on the Mueller probe.
Approaching age 69, William Barr may be technically younger than the president but he was clearly in full retirement and not even in consideration for the job of attorney general – until he came out of nowhere in an unsolicited memo  to praise the absolutism of presidential authority and criticize the mere existence of the Robert Mueller probe.

Hardly a surprise, Trump nominated him for the AG job and his defenders made much of his association with Mueller decades ago and his old rep as good lawyer.  Even legal pundits on outlets as varied as FOX and MSNBC made noises that the Barr they knew from 30 years ago would dominate over the Trump fawning of his most recent statement.

Those assurances and three Democratic votes (Doug Jones, Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin) led the senate to easily confirm him in December, with his open promise that he would not let the president’s manner and politics sway him – at least anymore than they already had. 

That action clearly doomed the Mueller report to the trash bin.  We actually don’t have the report just a four page summary by Barr, which in fairness to the president and his critics needs some deeper examination.  I suspect we will never have the full report.

Mueller confirmed the Russians interfered with our election, demonstrated in 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, multiple indictments and 40 FBI agents echoing the firm conclusions of the US intelligence agencies.  The larger question was whether the Trump campaign participated (colluded) with the Russians or if the Russians did it so well and thoroughly on their own.  

Mueller concluded that  he could not tie such efforts to Trump or his campaign despite “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” according to Barr’s four-page summary of the report, reducing any of Mueller’s sentences to footnotes and phrases. 

So what was behind Manafort’s sharing of campaign data with the Russian? What were the frequent offers of help from the Russians about? Why was the Ukraine plank added to the Republican platform at the Trump campaign’s insistence?  Why, most strangely, did so many in the Trump campaign or hangers-on try to hide their Russian connections?  For those questions, we have no answer. 

Conversely, Mueller could not prove to his own satisfaction under a limited law the president’s criminal role in obstruction of justice, which is doubly hard to prove without the underlying criminality of collusion.  Was the president worried that James Comey and then Mueller could find something there anyway? (He could not know how deep they were looking or who else was talking.)   Was he just being his typical run at the mouth self?  Mueller left that decision to others – maybe thinking of Congress? 

Unless the full report is released or Mueller is free to testify, there are many more key questions we can’t answer.  For instance, Mueller never questioned Trump in person.  Was that because of DOJ policy?  Or did Trump threaten to take the Fifth Amendment if questioned?

Did Mueller intend his refusal to exonerate the president as a way of opening the door for Congress to decide though the impeachment process? My children may be in their sixties decades from now in order to learn what Mueller intended.  That’s when historians scrape the barnacles off the record and if people still care enough to resurrect the truth.  This is my negative judgment about how much Congress will uncover in the next few months.

The House wants Barr and even Mueller to testify. The Democrats want to see the underlying documentation. But some of that may never happen or not be very satisfying. There are Department of Justice rules that need to be worked around.  Such things as grand jury testimony and conversations among prosecutors.  “I decline to answer” may be the most common response. The House will try but the process will be slow and exhausting. The difficulty – the maddening frustration -- may spur Trump’s opponents to turn out to vote heavier against him in 2020. Or they may slink away at how little we know.

Given the rules that encourage obfuscation, given the 5-minute question limitations of House hearings, given  the Republicans still in charge of the Senate, and  given Nancy Pelosi’s wise instructions to not  give Trump  the satisfaction of a vindictive enemy, impeachment seems off the table. Whatever Mueller intended.

That was written on the wall last December when Barr supporters said he would act as an old-fashioned traditionalist rather than a Trump partisan.  He didn’t.  Mueller may have well wanted Congress to decide on such issues as obstruction of justice, but Barr stepped in and decided on his own that no such inquiry was warranted. This, frankly, is the most obvious misstep – Barr concluding over a weekend something that Mueller was gathering reams of evidence on for two years!

The House may complain.  It may try to have more of the report released now rather than decades from now for historians.  The main comfort for Trump’s opponents is how  many other legal avenues there are that Mueller was only indirectly involved in – the behavior of the Trump foundation, revelations in his tax returns, the emoluments lawsuits.  The real punishment of Trump remains in the hands of the voters.

What does all this prove? I can only echo an unlikely Democratic candidate for president, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg: "The country should never have let someone like Trump even get within cheating distance of the White House."


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.




Tuesday, March 19, 2019

WHAT’S WRONG WITH EVERYONE?

ONLY FIVE BUT STORY DETAILS 13 in Democratic presidential field. Clockwise from top left, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke and Elizabeth Warren.
By Dominique Paul Noth

On social media at least, the squabbling among Democratic candidates for president has started way too early and it is hard to tell how seriously the snipes should be taken.

Though socialism and capitalism have actually mixed match for a century, new disputes have broken out over semantic purity, as if a Socialist Democrat can’t be a capitalist and a capitalist can’t like aspects of socialism.  Though for decades the stuff called socialism has been hijacked by what we now think of as a capitalist democracy and even a Socialist Democratic democracy.

Bernie Sanders’ occasional reluctant toe in the water to define who he is may have contributed and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may have added to the confusion, though I found her university-level explanation of how capitalism and socialism blend to be admirable. But isn’t this too pedantic a debate to sidetrack the country in its search for a new leader?  

Underneath there is a more serious discussion unfolding: How progressive can the final Democratic choice be? If he or she labels themselves a Socialist Democrat, will traditional Democrats run screaming as if the Frankenstein monster had been set loose from the castle?  If the candidate’s label is proud Democrat, will Socialist Democrats sniff like superior nobility and stay home?

Is the country after Trump ready to be pushed into a daring Green New Deal and economic restructuring or more inclined to a step by step approach?  On the other hand, where else are the voters who want to be rid of Trump going to go?

Then there is gender bias.  Are white men inherently so privileged and dominant that they pale in comparison even to white women? And certainly to women of color.  Does #MeToo mean #NotThem?

Did Beto O’Rourke, despite the money he raised in the first days, doom himself by telling a little white lie? That he was born to run despite teen years indulging in many escapes from society that all teenagers engage in.  Clearly he meant he felt the need to be of public service very young, but it was amazing how many pundits – and mainly female pundits – seemed waiting to jump on him and move him to the level of domineering chauvinist. 

Underneath this petty uproar is a deeper question about whether Beto is too conservative as well as being too white, and you sense a real argument (what is a real progressive?) forming around the unannounced (at this writing)  Joe Biden who will also be a mighty fund raiser.

Progressive is not my main concern about Joe. It is his age, though his health regimen is amazing. But does his age make him more a one-term uniter, forcing the US to wait another cycle before tapping the younger crowd?

It may take Biden awhile to find the responsible answer to progressives who will slam him for past statements dating back to the crime bill and Anita Hill, where he seemed way too cavalier about concerns of minorities.

There I think Biden probably has a good answer that most Americans and even minority Americans will sympathize with – he, like America itself, grew up and became more understanding of social issues and trigger points. It’s unfair, he could argue, to take someone viewed as progressive in the 1980s and tar him with the 2019 brush, blaming him for being far ahead of most of the country then but attacked for where he was 30 years ago.  Isn’t it most important that he changed?

Unlike that mischaracterization of Beto’s statement, people are not born fully formed in their opinions and many can and do get rid of the bigoted opinions they grew up around.  And all those older voters count, too, even the ones that can’t quite get rid of that old mud.

It could be that beliefs of young voters that look so solid today will be refined over time as well. There’s hardly anyone with a long career in politics who hasn’t disappointed at one time or another. Now even newer presidential candidates are learning the power of the old YouTube clips, Twitter wars and reams of articles about you. Plus the weird pressures of celebrity expectations. These pressures seem to make us neglect what a talented field of candidates has emerged in our haste to fling garbage.  

Aside from being too pragmatic to carry the label progressive (where did that canard come from? Read up on Milwaukee’s “sewer Socialist” mayors) Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is under attack. Her sense of humor may delight her fans but she is apparently too mean a boss, a criticism that somehow has never been landed on any of her male opponents. A converse thought – maybe their behavior as a boss should have been talked about and society is just catching up on a gender discrepancy. 

Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was too cozy then and too cozy now with Republican ideas -- how dare he in an era when any good Democratic candidate must hate Republicans!

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is making waves out of nowhere –a former Afghan veteran and piano player who knows many languages and handles town halls with ease. He has openly faced up to the issue of his youth as well as his gayness and encouraged an intergenerational approach to the issues of the day.   His very presence in the race brings back to mind the famous gay soldier episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom.”

Cory Booker confirms he is dating Rosario Dawson, so stop those whispers that he would be a potential ABC’s “The Bachelor” in the White House.  (His larger problem may continue to be his support of voucher schools when mayor of Newark.)

Though black and as charismatic on the stump as any of the others, Kamala Harris is being forced to prove that her outstanding record as a California prosecutor in no way diminishes her commitment to the issues of diversity – immigration, police brutality, wages, you name it.

Julian Castro, former cabinet leader and, like Beto, another Texan vying for national attention (not to be confused with his equally handsome twin brother, Joaquin, who is making noise in the House) sought to separate himself from the pack by embracing the concept of reparations for the descendants of slaves.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee saw the nation’s high school students, unsolicited, leave schools to draw attention to his and their central issue – climate change.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has jumped from unknown to much talked about (on the Internet at least) with his warnings on automation costing millions of jobs in the next decades. He is, to oversimplify, seeking to create a universal income base by taxing Amazon.

New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand actually waited until March 18 to formally announce, though no one had a doubt she was in the race.  The first thing she had to do is explain her insensitivity on the gun issue in the past.  The other complaint she has to fend off is that she acted too quickly about Al Franken.

But since Vermont didn’t have much of a gun issue either, Bernie has joined her in mea culpas to the gun control crowd.  We will have to see how this excuse plays out – that argument that guns or racial problems, etc.  didn’t impact some candidates growing up as much as it did others.  But it becomes a campaign negative when you have to prove your heart is pure. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has produced the most detailed platform of legislation and methods of any candidate for president.  But you will scour news stories in vain for the details, since that is apparently more boring than all that celebrity stuff and who is raising the most money.

Let’s all take a deep breath.

The money figures for all candidates, particularly where they reflect small donor enthusiasm, are impressive.  The unspoken central purpose – to expose Trump as a silly choice who should never again darken the White House – certainly looms large for all of them, along with the fear he still has enough weaklings around him in the Senate to deny impeachment. 

Wildly liberal, leftist moderate or pragmatic, the Democratic candidates are moving in the same direction, even if disagreeing on terminology.  Since words are my stock in trade, I sure can’t blame them.   Medicare for All is the  term of choice for some but not others. They use single payer, universal coverage, Medicare for 50 and up, but it’s hard to find any who don’t regard affordable health coverage as a right. 

Many are now talking as Sherrod Brown wanted before he dropped out – making the dignity of all work important to their campaigns.  You’ll still find platforms elusive about reparations,  automation and eliminating the electoral college but pretty uniform about immigration, wages, climate change and voting rights.  The public is being asked to decide which ones are doable, which are desirable and which rely on electing the right people to work alongside the new president. He or she can’t do it alone.

More people than usual are paying attention, but the interest and opinion-making has not  yet reached the 70 million the winner must attract to win. 

Right now the biggest maneuvering is around breaking through the media puffery – either on issues or personality.  (Few seem to remember that back in 2008, Barack Obama took some fairly unpopular positions on issues at the time but the nation trusted his interior compass. Personality and issues can go together.)

All concede that Inslee is technically right on the closing window of time for climate change – we must make it important -- but suspect it will still be health care, wages and such bread and butter that many feel won the field in 2018 and think will win the field again. 

Some of the arguments leading to the finale are worth having to clear the air and probably healthy.  But some of the disputes are so hot so early that they are likely to burn themselves out. 


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.


Sunday, March 17, 2019

WHY VOTERS MUST SELF-MOTIVATE APRIL 2

By Dominique Paul Noth

Lisa Neubauer
November 2018 brought the nectar of what progressive energy could look like in Wisconsin. But will that energy dissipate on April 2? There is so little attention in the media that citizens have to motivate themselves for these so-called nonpartisan spring elections.

Such contests look so infinitesimal in comparison to the fall biggies – and they are tiny in terms of number of races and turnout.  Yet these are precisely the contests in which democracies shape themselves on the neighborhood level. These itsy bitsy elections have impact that can linger for generations. 

Reality may say there is only one statewide race to look at April 2 – but what a race!  It will have reverberating impact on state politics for generations.

And it ought to be a slam dunk for a real progressive justice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court,   Lisa Neubauer – despite the fact that her opponent is, like her, a sitting appeals court judge. But Brian Hagedorn keeps exposing himself as the least qualified candidate imaginable for the high court – especially in terms of having already made up his mind on social and political issues. 

His campaign is trying to explain why routine hard-core GOP supporters like the Realtors and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce are deserting him. It’s all tied into his political past and continuing behavior, include writings equating homosexuality with bestiality.  That was in his twenties and he is now in his early forties and proudly owns the writing. His defense? He accuses critics of being anti-Christian!

He has never faced the voters, since he ran unopposed after Scott Walker appointed him. Neubauer was appointed by Jim Doyle but then faced the voters along her way to becoming chief judge on the same appeals court he sits on. 

He was named to that appeals court four years ago by Walker after having helped concoct Act 10 and other Republican nasties in the legislature.  A judgeship was openly his reward and it is unlikely that the state voters want to continue that farce.  Especially when he indicates he won’t recuse himself if Act 10 comes before the high court, which is looking more likely every day. Yet he helped draft Act 10!

Neubauer is clearly the only progressive choice to replace Shirley Abrahamson who is retiring.  Her election won’t change the 4-3 conservative edge people talk about on the high court, but it sets the plate for 2020 when the balance can be changed. That’s when another Walker unknown who has never faced the voters, Daniel Kelly, is forced to defend his appointment on the same date in 2020 as the Democratic presidential primary.  (The legislature tried to change that date in its lame-duck session but was stopped cold.)

The motto of people supporting Neubauer  is to look around the corner and elect her, then defeat Kelly  -- “one important step at a time.”  Her campaign supporters are taking her election seriously, aware that Wisconsin is still considered a battleground state for Republican right wing forces  -- despite the flight of big money backers

In Milwaukee, there is only  one competitive contest for a Milwaukee County circuit court seat, stemming from Rebecca Dallet’s elevation to the high court, which opened her Branch 40 seat.  And it is a progressive voice  against a  Walker fill-in. 

Walker moved quickly after last April’s election to fill Dallet’s post with a lawyer of his liking the public had never heard of, Andrew Jones.  Now a progressive black woman, Danielle Shelton, is challenging him April 2 for the seat.

The city of Milwaukee also has a chance to elect a unified progressive slate to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.  (More on those non-judicial contests later.)

What is unusual about both the Neubauer and Shelton races is the mode of attack the Republicans have chosen in these supposedly nonpartisan contests.  

Nowhere is this clearer than in Hagedorn against Neubauer.  His plea to voters is  basically “I’m not the ogre being painted”  since he and his wife adopted a child with opioid problems (why that makes him a choice for justice is beyond me). But mainly his campaign is attacking Neubauer for what he is doing in debates and in every piece of campaign literature, accusing her of partisanship.

Neubauer is being attacked for being a Democrat who dared in 2007 to openly participate in a climate change march! This attack probably added to her vote totals since it indicates a lifelong commitment to taking the role of science seriously. 

His campaign has  tried to  use family stuff against her,  such as being the mother of a Democrat in the Assembly, Greta, and being married to a former legislator. They keep coming up empty. Her role on the bench is largely blameless and full of tough decisions often agreed with by other noted conservatives, including several supporting him now who supported her in the past as one of those “sensible Democrats” they could work with.

She is also now getting support from former US Attorney General Eric Holder based on her record and solid approach to the bench. Curiously it is not the help she sought or even wants, telling reporters: “I called on the outside money to stay out. I believed in that then, I believe in that now, so I've been consistent all along."

She may know her opponent’s kneejerk reaction better than those outside forces do. In the minutes after Holder’s visit to Wisconsin,  Hagedorn went up with a commercial accusing Neubauer of being a tool of liberal interests. 

Yet many who have worked with her over the years confess they didn’t even know she was a Democrat because she avoids political discussions, like a good judge should.

Danielle Shelton
The Shelton race is equally suspect in the nature of its attacks.  I can find no blame to attach directly to lawyer now judge Jones, who was largely unknown to the electorate when tapped by Walker to replace Dallet.  He had been a board member of  law firm Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek and served as a city attorney in New York when Walker reached down to grab him.

But someone in his camp reached out (by FAX machine?) to local media to remind them that Shelton 20 years ago been arrested for disorderly conduct in Oconomowoc (which seems in retrospect a case of arguing on the street while black). The newspaper articles glanced past her work as a single mother of two grown young women, a military veteran,  a public defender, an  activist for restorative justice and her work with immigrant mothers.

 (I talked briefly with Shelton at a fund-raiser in Shorewood, where she lives, and she confessed to mystification at the tone of that news coverage.)

As far as I can tell, the only criticism against her is being feisty while black. Last week, out of embarrassment, Shelton took down a celebrity endorsement from a parent caught up in that national college admissions scandal.

Turning to the MPS races, I pretty much agree with the recommendations of the Working Families Party (agreeing is not always the case with me).  They were recommendations echoed by Citizens Action of Wisconsin.

This is the first time in years that strong supportive voices for Milwaukee public schools are running as a bloc, as opposed to the shenanigans and curious hidden campaign processes of voucher and charter schools dabblers. Those dabblers have long hidden behind state funding methods that allow them to pretend to be a part of MPS and run candidates who are in their hip pocket.

Bob Peterson
Leading the charge for all of the city of Milwaukee is the “board at large” seat being sought by veteran educator Bob Peterson, a major voice in Rethinking Schools, a former MPS teacher and president of the teachers’ union (MTEA) and a deep detailed  thinker as well as activist for public schools I have known for decades.

His wife, Barbara Miner, a noted photographer and author, wrote one of the definitive texts for anyone who wants to learn about the history of Milwaukee public schools, the 2013 “Lessons From the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City.”

He is being opposed by a personable mother of three public school children, but Stefanie Dugan’s campaign seems largely built on the current interest in female candidates and of mothers stepping outside  of that domestic role to run for office. Which is great when they’re qualified.

In her case that is an amateur experience by someone who can’t explain what a board member does, at least in video I have seen.  Her knowledge  pales in comparison to Peterson’s writings and lifelong interest in public education

Dugan has won endorsement from AFSCME Council 32’s People committee but the larger collection of labor groups including AFSCME, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, has enthusiastically endorsed Peterson.  While Peterson has not been campaigning on the endorsements but on his ideas, it is notable how quickly US Rep. Gwen Moore came out to support his campaign. 

Marva Herndon
In MPS District 1, a longtime activist for public schools and inner city children, Marva Herndon, is stepping up to the board.  She is noted for peppering that board and the various charter approving agencies in Milwaukee (especially the city) with deep and often embarrassing facts and research from her citizens group known as Women Informed.

This time she is running against Shyla Deacon, an MPS product and former policy maven at Next Door Foundation.  It’s becoming an important race between a veteran agitator for public schools, Herndon, and a newer voice trying to establish a foothold.  Herndon is getting my nod because I frankly think the MPS board needs someone who has been attacking them from the outside to finally get inside. Her views have proven correct over the long haul anyway.

Over in District 2, the progressives have taken hard aim at someone they supported in the past, Wendell Harris. He has tried to simplify their disagreement as his support of Carmen School, a charter taking root at Pulaski High School, but if you talk to teachers and other interested champions for public education, the dispute is far deeper.  Harris seems to have been talked out of the principles that first got him elected.

A dynamic substitute has stepped forward, Erika Siemsen, for 31 years an educator at Neeskara Elementary School (an MPS school in the Washington Heights area).  She comes from an active teaching family.  She wants “learning environments where students have the opportunity to participate in art, music and physical education and where teachers have time to teach and are supported with appropriate resources.” That falls directly into the wheelhouse of what all the districts desire.

MPS Districts
District 3 offers a rare opportunity to make a whole public servant out of Sequanna Taylor. By statute imposed by the Republican legislature (Act 40) she can only be paid part time ($24,000 I believe) as District 3 supervisor on the Milwaukee County board.  As past president of MTEA educational assistants  as well as an MPS graduate and parent, she is ideally suited to fill the board seat that is presently vacant.  The MPS pays a yearly stipend ($18,000) to board members,  which together with county wages comes close to respectable income, pulling together  jobs we may call part time but are emotionally, intellectually and physically demanding. 

In District 8, it is a mother of two MPS students, Megan Halloran, who is getting my endorsement since she has been heavily involved as a community activist including a sanctuary school district, fund raisers and rallies. She has proven far more understanding about the realities of MPS finance and decision-making than her opponent, who carelessly picked up figures from a right-wing source and was called out by an unopposed MPS board member in his blog.

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.



Sunday, March 10, 2019

EVERS AND GOP FIGHTING FOR WISCONSIN’S POLITICAL SOUL

By Dominique Paul Noth

Evers sells his budget on listening tours of the state.
There’s a remarkable contrast between the voices on the street and the coverage in Wisconsin media, an automatic cynicism in the press that may have some historical justification but actually steps hard on budding optimism among the voting public.

The new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, has put together a two-year budget proposal that virtually every newspaper article declares DOA (dead on arrival) because of opposition in the Republican controlled legislature.  There is even talk that the GOP will try to supplant his budget by amending the old one.

That’s not the word you hear on the street. What may have been true for eight years under GOP’s departed governor Scott Walker is undergoing the crashing sounds of change.  Many in both parties now realize that Evers is not the extreme partisan the GOP tried to paint (in fact, several Democrats don’t find him extreme enough). Several of his proposals have considerable majority clout behind them, given past actions from all sides of the electorate. 

There is particular joy not just from diehard progressives in how aggressively Evers is stepping forward on issues of climate change, clean water and environmental sanity after years of cutbacks.

Moreover, he has listened to Wisconsin about their children. Even in conservative districts there has been unprecedented positive momentum on funding public schools. Many communities on their own used referendums to break Walker’s intrusions on local control.   

When you go out to hear the voice of the citizenry at shops, restaurants and malls, or listen in to social media among even the nonpartisan, you hear something different than the press is reporting.  What a breath of fresh air, people are saying, to see budget proposals that lean forward on issues like transportation and health care. How nice to read about efforts to expand Medicaid and attack higher health insurance premiums without the pretense of the Walker years (when the state was suing to stop ACA coverage of pre-existing conditions while still pretending it wasn’t).

Right now, the nice words run even deeper in Milwaukee where the state’s poorest and most troubled ZIP code, 53206, may have been the subject of news stories and documentaries but was pretty much ignored at the state level.  Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes have turned that around in a budget focus that even includes an urban gardening center for a troubled inner city community.

Some Democrats feel Evers is not leaning forward enough for some progressives concerns like the long lingering dislike by unions for Act 10, which eliminated collective bargaining for public service unions even as it imposed limits on local taxes for roads and education.  People are reminding Evers daily that he promised to address the union part of Act 10 as well as the school part during the campaign.  Evers is clearly first emphasizing the areas where the public has already expressed dissatisfaction in referendums.  The union issue is more complex after years of GOP harping on the money for liberal causes that unions have raised.

But Evers is directly attacking so-called “right to work” – an attack on unions – in seeking a straight repeal of that Walker era law and a return to prevailing wage.

When Evers talks in his budget about committing $1 billion more for real tax relief and full two-thirds funding of local schools, the Republicans may scream but many voters see that simply as the cost of restoration and progress. He has offered ways to pay for the increases. Among them, he has asked for a cutoff in voucher school enrollment and a freeze in charter schools.  Moreover, he has made bipartisan proposals on transportation funding, including an emphasis on the potholed local roads people use more than the expensive highway projects they never asked for.

His environmental effort includes restoring scientific positions that Walker cut.

He has also signed executive orders requiring the Department of Transportation to explore expanding days and hours to allow residents to obtain photo identification cards for voting purposes and,  separately, to explore how driver licenses can be made available for the undocumented.

Still, some in the Democratic camp argue that Evers and his staff are being too cautious, an echo of an emerging national debate about how fast or how carefully to attack some lingering GOP attitudes about helping the citizenry.  It’s even tougher in Wisconsin thanks to gerrymander realities around the state legislature.

Those Republican leaders are insisting that not one sentence of Evers budget will be passed, but political insiders in both parties believe they are whistling past the graveyard.  State Speaker of the House Robin Vos believes he still rules Wisconsin because he has a 30 plus vote margin in the Assembly.  But even fellow Republicans worry that he is delusional about the impending political realities – those Republican drawn district maps at the center of court action.

Some believe Robin Vos is relying on his
Assembly power base to prepare a run
for governor.
Vos famously called Evers budget the “opening move in a chess match,” rather than admitting it reflected the wishes of the public that elected him.  Vos is dealing with spots of rebellion within his own caucus, some from politicians even more right-wing than he is but some from moderate conservatives worried he is relying on a gerrymandering situation that may change and leave them voted out of office in 2020.

In the state Senate, there is a mere three vote GOP margin, which forces a lot more compromise.  Vos and Assembly Republicans no longer have a governor’s coattails to hide behind. 

While the GOP has made constant efforts to paint Evers as some sort of extremist progressive, those arguments have died on the vine as he and the new lieutenant governor, Barnes, continue their listening tour around the state, another piece by piece way to introduce their two-year budget and intentions to the public.

On a recent visit to Green Bay, Evers put it simply.  “Any time something like this happens -- a change in administration or a new budget -- there's going to be a lot of political posturing and huffing and puffing, but at the end of the day we have to find common ground, and I look forward to doing that." He also flat warned the GOP that if the party leaders didn’t work with him “I will veto the entire budget if it’s extraordinarily bad" for the state.

Slowly, the more intelligent in the media are coming around to recognizing that in his steady way Evers has a lot of room and time for successes. He is not biting off more than the public can chew and he is making the opponents digest regular chunks of change.

Moreover, the state constitution gives the governor the biggest partial veto pen in the nation.  The governor has the ability to strike individual words and numbers from any spending bill and replace them with new figures. That power is unique because it gives the governor the ability to change policy, said Miriam Seifter, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, in interviews with the media.

Actually, because he already had a legislature in his pocket, Walker did not wield this power as mightily as Evers can.  The three-times elected state superintendent of schools now has a gubernatorial staff eager to display their prowess with grammar.

Republicans are warning themselves not to give Evers word salads in the laws they write and in spending bills they hope to pass despite him.  First, there is still the straight veto, which is powerful.  Then there is the ability to rewrite their bills, as one Assembly Democrat told me off the record in colorful language. 

“They haven’t had to put their brains to any real test for eight years,” he said. “They aren’t clever enough by half to recognize what Evers can do.”

Another Democratic legislator sees it differently.  “Vos and his people are at the height of their political powers and machine organization, so they’re still dangerous,” he said. “They may soon start downhill but not quite yet.  Evers’ people are notoriously cautious and still feeling their way but can only get stronger.” 

These legislators measure the battle for Wisconsin’s soul in months and years, not days and weeks.  

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, March 1, 2019

TRUMP’S FIXER FORCING AMERICA TO REFOCUS

By Dominique Paul Noth

Michael Cohen responding to a GOP questioner.
The great American parlor game for the last week has been dissecting the one public Michael Cohen hearing.

Even Trump supporters who wanted to dismiss all seven hours as the revenge of a liar were drawn to an insider’s tales of how the Trump world works, of the coded language so hard for prosecutors to explain to build a RICO case, of how assets were inflated to bid on the Buffalo Bills, on threatening letters to colleges to keep Trump’s grades secret.

Those folks sick and tired of TV talking heads reviewing Trump tweets – and his thousands of statements with only a fleeting relationship to reality – were drawn to helping CSPAN, MSNBC CNN, etc.  to one of their best ratings weeks in history.  The leading inquiry from binge watchers in my neighborhood was, “Who taped it?”

Newspapers, too, found almost bottomless appetites for stories offering  5 or 6 or  27 take-aways from the Cohen hearing  and joined the provocative game of which named  insiders  will be called next to testify, the proverbial bread crumbs to future revelations. 

Another ocean of laughter was the GOP.  This format of five minute questions brings its own delays and interruptions of any clear narrative (viewers had to work hard to connect the dots), yet the Republicans hardly ever mentioned Trump in their delaying intrusions to declare Cohen a liar (which is why he is going to prison) and introducing to the record again and again every story about Cohen’s evil past their staff could lay their hands on (which just underlined how much he was risking in testifying against this president).

Cohen is now being called back for a March 6 hearing to develop some leads he provided in private testimony.  The view that nothing he says can be believed may be the mantra for the GOP, but most of the country has had their appetites whetted. Strong instincts toward the basic Christian doctrine on confession and repentance were not washed away in WASP sneers.

Didn’t he lie to banks?  Well, yes, to inflate Trump’s worth. Did he ever bully and intimidate people? Yes, probably 500 to protect Trump and here are the letters.  Next question?  And then Cohen asked the Republicans if they weren’t protecting Trump the way he had for a decade.

The hearings veered off into a curious moment most viewers didn’t understand, involving House rules. (You can sully anyone except a fellow member of the House).   That was when Republican Mark Meadows bridled at the suggestion that he was racist because he used a racist prop – a black woman who worked with Trump, as some sort of signal that the president could not be racist, no more than the Southern plantation owners who bedded black slaves.

Chairman Elijah Cummings
Chairman Elijah Cummings took several minutes to restore order. His touching closing remarks became one of the most replayed segments of the hearing.  

There were many moments that intrigued and clearly suggested further avenues of inquiry.  But two stuck in my mind – the first as confirmation of what I suspected a long time ago that Trump never expected to win and thus played fast and loose with illegal contacts and intimidation techniques that will inevitably nail him.

Cohen is even blunter, suggesting Trump never played to win while I think sometime in the summer of 2016 his hopes against hope changed and he started worrying about cleaning up his reputation. But before then, look at his behavior.

The self-protection games were just what he had learned in New York circles. Cohen called running for president the biggest infomercial Trump could envision to elevate his name.  All the Republicans he met on the campaign trail who believed he was sincere are just realizing how stupid they were. The initial goal was to make mischief. 

Somewhere after destroying a particularly dismal field of GOP candidates (did anyone ever think that Cruz or Rubio or Ben Carson has a chance against Hillary or even Bernie?), Trump began to think of cleaning up his act.  Suddenly he was firing campaign managers right and left.  It all confirms why Robert Mueller and other investigators are likely to have a field day through the early months of his presidency when he fired James Comey and screamed about the Russian witch hunt.

Even then Trump didn’t realize how his firing frenzy played out in the real world. All the highhanded stuff worked with the New York celebrity media, but it was not working with a national media closing in. Deceptions that may have seemed cunning in Manhattan, where Trump also played up his image as a ladies’ man and a real estate maverick, looked dangerously clumsy and inept in the White House. Cohen’s testimony about codes of instruction and payoffs to women led the New Yorker to ask, “Could a man associated with some of Trump’s most ridiculous and amateurish schemes actually seem competent?” The magazine concluded that Cohen has actually helped us see why Trump is so vulnerable.

As the New Yorker said, Cohen “was like a man shouting at a crowd to get off the sidewalk because there’s a drunken driver headed its way—stricken by the fact that he helped hand that driver the keys.”

Even in the hands of a New York amateur borrowing techniques from the Mafia, we will probably never get a perfect evidentiary case against Trump, particularly for those who scorn coincidences and timelines.  It depends on what you define as a high crime and misdemeanor. But in the world of basic crimes and white collar felonies, Trump is already toast.

The other moment that brought me up short was Cohen’s dire prediction for the future. He made the statement even before an outbreak of GOP subservience at the hearings lent teeth to an implausible scenario.

 “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump,” said his once-slavish fixer, “I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”

You only have to work through some obvious scripts of the future to understand how frightening yet believable that fear is. It is only now beginning to dawn on the US public that you can put Russia to one side and Trump has clearly violated any number of laws.  But in this D.C. with the GOP controlling the Senate, do they rise to high crimes?

The Democrats are biding their time on impeachment but passing it in the House already seems secure . . . and somewhat ineffective.  It still requires a Senate trial and only with a “kick him out” conclusion is there a formal way of removing Trump from office.  Otherwise it is just a giant slap on the wrist rather than the devastating blow recorded in democratic history.

Most don’t see conviction happening in today’s Senate.  Few have confidence that Trump will lose -- as he should, if you listen to lifelong Republicans -- the GOP nomination.  The sentiment of the country, absent a war or similar crisis he could manufacture, right now seems firm against his re-election.

My children, recalling my devotion to hours of Watergate hearings, asked me if the Cohen hearing was equally interesting.  No, I said, because out in the nation we could see a pending firm conclusion with Nixon’s inevitable removal at the end of the evidence parade. This was an era when Republicans were capable of standing by the Constitution. Such belief is absent today.

Cohen’s warning should remind us why there is no such Watergate clarity. Trump’s legal problems won’t end with a helicopter wave of impotent triumph and a flight to nowhere, a la Nixon.  Trump’s legal fiascos are on so many federal and state tracks that they cannot end with his removal from office (without one hell of an immunity agreement) and will close in when he leaves office if not before then.  There is no incentive of freedom waiting him at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Even the vision that he would step aside and get a Pence pardon seems unlikely, since Pence can’t pardon the full range of legal cases facing Trump.

Beyond that, his stock in trade has been not to ever apologize or back down and his tendency is to misread the actual powers the Constitution has given him, which are considerable.

Cohen is asking us point-blank, What if he doesn’t leave? What will the country do and how? If he takes to the mattresses, will the body politic?

Compared to that vision, the nightmares of today are pale shadows for children.  

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.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

WHERE TRUMP HARMS US THE MOST ISN’T YET AT CORE OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE

By Dominique Paul Noth

President Trump has done his most damage to the US image in foreign reputation and action, yet American voters are choosing Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 based on their domestic policies.

That’s not unusual. Unless we’re in a shooting war and a draft for young men and women affecting every household, foreign entanglements seem distant to voters.   But it may be short-sighted this time without knowing which issues will rise to the top in an election 22 months away. It actually could be a shooting war.

No one running is putting foreign policy experience first.  The public assumes again that someone who can handle our basic economic issues will do right in foreign quarters, but it is a dangerous assumption, given how many countries no longer look to the US as the necessary partner and adviser. There will be a lot of healing in world affairs required in the choice of next president.

Congress can’t stop but it can slow down Trump’s effort to change the face of the judiciary.

It can block some of his most outrageous initiatives to spend taxpayer money.

But it has pretty much let him do what he wants in the foreign arena, unless you count tsk-tsking, screaming and feeble attempts to control troop movements. That is very strange since the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war and approve treaties.

Yet with barely a murmur, Trump has pulled the US out of or damaged our central position with: 

The Paris Agreement on climate change. Not only does Trump deny climate change exists and needs to be addressed, he has forced nearly every other country in the world, plus many US states, to move ahead on their own in curbing fossil fuels and muting the impact of human activity on our water, air and Earth.

The Iran nuclear deal.  Other nations are struggling to continue icing Iran’s nuclear capabilities for 10 years in exchange for eased sanctions.  Trump is at war with his own intelligent experts on whether Iran is standing by the deal or not, but he’s pulled out in any event, leaving the other nations involved to fend for themselves.  

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Deal with Russia, credited since 1987 with slowing the pace of ballistic and cruise missiles development and implementation.  Pulling out struck many allies as an extreme reaction to small Russian violations and a preliminary to a new arms race.

Undermining the G7 unity. The major developed economic nations had united to speak out against Russian intrusion  into Crimea and kick that country out until it behaves, but Trump now wants to readmit Russia without mentioning its invasion of Ukraine territory.

His Singapore Agreement with North Korea’s dictator abandoned a uniform front against Kim Jung-un. Trump claims, and the experts disagree, that his one-on-one diplomacy  averted a war.  The critics argue he was encouraging a hot war with verbal insults hurled back and forth – and so far his summit style has resulted in a lot of promise of nuclear cutbacks that North Korea has not delivered.

The World Trade Organization.  It has existed in some form since 1947 and has angered labor rights activists for giving corporations an equal place with nations in its procedures.  Trump doesn’t want to end that, but he doesn’t like other nations telling him when the US is on the wrong side of their rules.

Similarly, NATO. The military alliance credited with balancing North American policy since World War II has been savaged by Trump as costing too much and not being important.

The United Nations.  Trump has pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

That top of my head list does not even include trade deals. Americans have mixed feelings about those and about the value of Trump imposed tariffs that seem to be harming US farmers and businesses more than its supposed target, China.

Lori Wallach, head of the influential Global Watch, has summed up the dilemma in her talks – Trump sometimes  grabs the right end of the stick for the wrong reasons. 

The self-described great deal maker has only partly replaced NAFTA with the USMCA, which still needs congressional approval. He has renegotiated portions of KORUS, the deal with South Korea, to miniscule effect.  While 11 other nations remain active in Asian trade policy designed to curb China’s influence, he has dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with no replacement on the horizon, talking vaguely about deals one by one with other nations.

That only scratches what experts and think tanks describe as the harm Trump has done to the US international image.  Suspicions that Trump harbors colonialism instincts have encouraged rebellion against US influence on continents from Africa to South America and countries like India and Indonesia, where Chinese business initiatives are making headway.

European nations are openly struggling to develop a future that doesn’t rely on US involvement. Mideast nations waffle between playing up to Trump or seeking other alliances. Israel is facing a corruption scandal of its own, with Trump firmly on the side of the accused.

The US standing in international polls has plummeted even as Trump boasts how well he is doing.

Another dilemma facing US voters: Several economies affected by global politics. Wall Street seems to thrive when companies lay off workers but it clearly reacts in both directions over little blips of financial news from around the world.  Small businesses, farmers and Main Street retail respond to different data points and realities. Even with Trump’s boasts of a strong economy, his “wrong direction” numbers in polls are staggering.

In such an atmosphere, it will be essential which economic and social policies  generate enthusiasm among people who want Trump gone.  Will it be health policy, which drove many elections in 2018 without specifically speaking about Trump?  Will it be wages and a healthier middle class, which some candidates are already emphasizing?  Will it be voting access and accountability, the first bill out of the gate in the House?  Will it be comprehensive immigration reform? Infrastructure? 

Foreign policy is not in there.  Sadly it might take warlike tensions to make it No. 1, though how Trump handles Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russian excursions, Turkey and the Kurds could heat up voter worries in a hurry.

To this point, among the talked up candidates, only Joe Biden has considerable foreign experience. But if he enters the race, many see him as a one-term placeholder to knit the country together.  Two senators likely campaigning, Sherrod Brown and Amy Klobuchar, have  considerable foreign policy experience from their long-time roles in the Senate.  Another senator, Elizabeth Warren, has spoken up on Israel in a way not comforting to those concerned about the Palestinians.  Three other candidates,  Kristen Gillebrand, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, are something of a cipher on details of foreign policy.

All, frankly, are hoping the voters will continue their indifference to foreign policy decisions, relying on the old habit that someone good on domestic issues will do right by the foreign policy side.  Problem is, no president has given such enormous troubles to his successor in that region as Trump is handing whoever replaces him.  It’s almost as if he intends to make it so bad that voters will believe his statement that “I alone can fix it.”

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.