Sunday, July 21, 2019

MUELLER'S EXPECTED DRYNESS ALREADY KINDLING SPARKS

By Dominique Paul Noth


The Internet brims with podcasts delving deep into Robert
Mueller's findings.
Trump by his mere presence in the White House has placed the American voter in a moral dilemma. The worst fears of his opponents – that he’s an imposter -- sound like the crazy conspiracy theories of his rally followers.

In conversation with Trump detesters, many are now convinced there are enough racists and ignorant people in the US to explain his presence in the White House. Some don’t want to believe that white privilege and fear of the brown and black is that deep in our psyche, but others believe it fervently.

But then there is the growing evidence of the Mueller Report.  The special counsel is set to testify Sept. 24 while the Internet is aflood with podcasts from people who have actually read the report and weighed its implications.  Among the best is one from Lawfare, a distinguished legal blog since 2010 whose first episode in entitled “Active Measures” for the Russian term for its cold war style methods of attack.

I hope everyone listens to Mueller’s House testimony yet don’t expect him to draw a simple road map for the unthinking. He clearly believes his report has outlined his findings and explains his limitations as a dutiful member of the Justice Department, which has opined (to my personal dismay) that a sitting president can’t easily (some say ever) be criminally indicted.

Mueller, a lifelong Republican, is hardly bringing a flaming hot partisan poker to his testimony and will probably invite America to absorb his report, as Lawfare clearly has done.

But a cogent reading throws in doubt whether Trump would have won without Russian propaganda – as hard as that is for even voters who don’t like him to admit. Clearly, when Putin started his disinformation campaign against US voters – taking advantage among other things of the popularity and immediacy of the Internet on millions – Trump was nowhere in his mind.  But certainly by 2015 the propaganda direction had switched to support Trump over Hillary Clinton, whose stern warnings to Putin when US secretary of state under Obama still rankled Putin. 

Mueller details an astounding degree of Russian involvement but he was also dealing with legal realities that allowed him to charge some Americans and many Russians but not the president.  He also refused to clear Trump of criminal obstruction in other dealings.

Now no one will ever prove beyond reasonable doubt that Trump won 63 million voters in 2016 by crook more than hook. None of these voters will probably ever admit they were duped and most of his opposition (who have some other weird political explanations for the results) would rather blame Democratic Party leaders than the Russians.

But millions of US citizens were clearly bombarded with views on Hillary that don’t pass muster in the light of day. Millions were subjected to rallies and messages that sounded American, supported Trump with lies -- and could have affected their opinions in the voting booth.

And yet, and yet  those who oppose Trump and suggest his election was tainted tend to sound like conspiracy theorists of their own, like the people who still think Saddam Hussein bombed the towers or believe Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar supported Isis.

We are a-sea in a loony world of attitudes and extremes that lend credence to our Founding Fathers’ concern that education was the key to a winning democracy – “if you can keep it,” as Benjamin Franklin warned.

Psychologists are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect and it suggests some fascinating connections to today’s conundrum. “Dunning-Kruger” is a type of cognitive bias, where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise and the ability to pass judgment on others. This overestimation occurs because they don’t have enough knowledge to know they don’t have enough knowledge. “Not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence,” the effect’s scientists explained in 1999, “they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.”

It sounds contradictory as does Catch 22 (based on a 1961 war novel but often described as the belief you have to have money to make money, just true enough to sound convincing).   Dunning-Kruger has been extensively explored in psychological terms in the workplace but a recent story in Psychology Today suggests it should also be “studied in one of the most obvious and important realms: political knowledge.”

If it is studied in connection with reading and thinking about the Mueller Report, Trump’s support base will be confronted by some harsh truths. The rest of us can argue about who should succeed him and whether the Democrats have their own Dunning-Kruger groupies.  But replace him we must.


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, July 16, 2019

HOW FAR LEFT IS TOO LEFT?

By Dominique Paul Noth

Underneath all the turmoil of the Democratic presidential race our headline seems the real issue for voters. Are the most leftist ideas in the field a bridge too far for the winning electorate? Or is a more measured approach failing to seize the public mood?

The answer may depend on where you live.  Folks in New York City and Los Angeles and perhaps even Chicago seem to relish the ideas that moderate Democrats call extreme.  In states like Wisconsin, where the voters may lean Democratic, the successful gerrymandering of a decade has locked the Republicans in legislative power -- despite a smart Democratic governor

Individual voters who may passionately like the lefter the better are being pulled up short remembering they live in a country with Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell leading the baying pack on the other side of the divide. They fear that America has revealed itself as a country in which too many forgive moral cowardice and racism, thinking they are getting what they want despite the racism and cowardice.  The underpinnings are beginning to strip the economy into failing pieces, but that is of no interest to those enamored of the surface prattle from the right.

In Wisconsin, party leaders are openly seeking Democrats for the legislature who fit the dozens of districts long controlled by the GOP.  Flamethrowers not welcome because, the theory goes, they can’t win.

Interestingly, both the so-called moderates and the so-called leftists agree on the final goals – universal health care, expanded social security, higher wages, genuine concern for workers, progressive taxes that make the very rich dig even deeper, immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and on and on.  The important differences are in how to get there and how quickly and how cost effective. 

And there is not even general path agreement among the most progressive.  “Medicare for all” is a term made popular by Bernie Sanders and embraced by other presidential candidates (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bill De Blasio). 

But each candidate advocates something a little bit different.  Several other candidates noted how private insurers play key roles in national health insurance in other countries.  Sen. Amy Klobachur, flat in the polls, nevertheless has made inroads saying fixing the ACA is an essential first step to universal health care.  (The differences continue in education policy though all are pushing for less costly (or no loan) higher education at public institutions.)

Former VP Joe Biden shaped the curve within the Democratic electorate, insisting that the most socially progressive are smart people but the country is not there yet, and that his first step – restoring the best of Obamacare – is where the voters stand.

Right or wrong, the way forward is not just a national question. It  will determine the winning candidates particularly in crucial state elections that percolate under the presidential scene.

State upon state are forming interesting races for the US House and Senate that rely on voter attitudes and also feature some sellable names.

Former Marine pilot and Democratic moderate Amy McGrath has raised impressive money in a bid to defeat Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.  Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords and a leading voice in sensible gun control, is attacking Arizona’s appointed Republican senator Martha McSally.  In a New Mexico House race, a noted name from the past, Valerie Plame, exposed as a CIA agent by the Bush II administration, is running in a crowded field  for  the Democratic seat held by Ben Ray Luj├ín, who is moving up to try and replace retiring Tom Udall as senator.    On and on around the states there are races local newspapers are eager to write about.

But not so much are they crazy to write about races on the level of state-wide legislatures. It’s hard to get the media and the public interested, yet those races are even more critical for the Democrats. 

Many states are fighting extreme partisan gerrymandering imposed by the Republicans that the conservative US Supreme Court, while expressing its disgust, suggests that only the US legislature can remedy. The high court refuses to.   Obviously, given the moral cowardice of the GOP Senate, a legislative remedy won’t happen. It is actually a great incentive in November 2020 for Democrats high and low, elevating in importance local contests as well as getting rid of Trump.

Speaking to experts in state politics though, with more than half the states controlled by Republicans, they estimate that  Democrats will have to punch 20% to 25% above their natural political weight to turn things around.  (In 32 state legislatures, Republicans control 1,000 more seats than Democrats.)

“Like it or not,” said one Democratic leader in Wisconsin, “the bill we have for partisan-neutral redistricting is not going anywhere with this GOP and we will have to live within the existing gerrymandering.”

Democrats, those interviewed added, are still working out their election strategies since many districts controlled by Republicans do not yet have “a viable Democratic challenger.”  Many leaders are concerned that efforts to turn Wisconsin’s Assembly and state Senate are not high among voter awareness.

The feeling of these political insiders is that the core minority sticking with Trump is abetted by the weakness to resist of elected Republicans. In that situation, the issue of how to rouse the voters into action differs from state to state, from rural to urban politics.

How far left is too left? That seems to depend on what you want – and what you can get.

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.