Press Restrictions At Kim Meeting Caused By Donald Trump

If you thought the dictator of North Korea might have been the reason for tensions with the right of journalists to do their job this week in Vietnam, well, you would be wrong.  The press who were to cover the events concerning the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump were disrupted by of all people, an American.  (An under-educated one for sure.)

The White House restricted press access Wednesday to portions of Trump’s summit with Kim.  Four American journalists were barred from covering Trump’s dinner with Kim after two of the reporters called out questions to Trump at an earlier appearance.  Oh, the travesty of a president being asked for accountability!

Reporters from the Associated Press and Reuters had asked about Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress, along with queries about North Korean denuclearization during a “pool spray” with Trump and Kim.  Not able to respond with any clarity Trump fumed.

Not able to grasp that reporters have a job to do, or recognizing that Americans have a right to know the actions of their leaders, Trump struck back in his usual childlike way.  With little hands flailing he took action so that ultimately, just one print reporter from the pool of 13 journalists that shadows Trump on foreign trips, was allowed into the subsequent dinner meeting between Trump and Kim.

There is little room left to wonder why we smirk and are so dismissive of Trump.  He is contemptible.

And as result he looks even smaller.  His hands might even disappear from view!

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Corruption Catches Up With Him

I am exceedingly pleased with the news that has been flying under the radar for many years.

Israel’s attorney general announced his plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.  First, and foremost, this was a legal matter that needed to be addressed.  I am always upbeat when justice prevails.   Or is on track to prevailing.

But the second reason this is warming to my heart is due to Netanyahu’s political future.  We are just 40 days away from him standing for re-election.  With the news today this places him in a most precarious position. That limbo, and possible fall, is precisely what would be in the best interest of the regional needs in the Middle East.   For far too long news operations from the BBC to The Economist have reported on his shady business dealings with wealthy businessmen, including a Hollywood movie producer, Israeli newspaper publishers, and the head of the country’s largest telecommunications conglomerate.

The process that is about to unfold is perfect political theater, but also perfect comeuppance to a truly underhanded leader.  Netanyahu, who is running for his fourth consecutive term as prime minister, is now entitled to a hearing to challenge the charges.  If the case proceeds, (and it will) he would be the first sitting prime minister to be indicted.

As an American I hope he is expelled from office like an olive pit.  His actions over the years have severely damaged a policy for a two-state solution.  Last week I read news reports where he encouraged Jewish Pride, the racist party of Rabbi Meir Kahane which encourages hatred of Arabs, to enter his coalition.

Then there is the Genesis Prize, an embarrassing $1 million annual scheme that Netanyahu concocted to dole out to wealthy American Jews whom he perceives as ‘valuable’. This year’s winner is, none other than Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.  He’s just been criminally charged for paying a trafficked slave in Palm Beach to perform sex acts on him.  (Wow.)

Netanyahu will, no doubt, accuse his political adversaries of a witch-hunt.  But with justice leading the way he will be saying those words as he also spits into the wind.

Readers who have been following this blog for a long time know I find the political leadership of Israel to be most frustrating.  I would never urge our nation to follow their lead on anything.  Until now.  This is an instance I hope our nation follows Israel’s lead and indicts our corrupt, fraudulent head of state.

Attendees to Madison School Board Meetings Need To Grow The Hell Up

Once again this week the antics of those who attended the Madison School Board meeting made news.  Top of the late-night news broadcast type headlines.   Once again, embarrassing to this city.

The Madison School Board conducted its business in a closed room Monday after chanting and protests drowned out conversation.

An impassioned group of parents, students and community activists expressed outrage and demanded change Monday during the board’s public comment period over an alleged altercation between a middle school employee and 11-year-old student.

A couple of hundred people filled the rows of the Doyle Administration Building’s auditorium the week after it became public that a Whitehorse Middle School staff person was removed from the school for allegedly pushing, punching and pulling the hair of an 11-year-old African-American girl.

When the public comment period ended, though, the board started its regular agenda items, which was met with call-and-response chants, making it difficult to hear what was being discussed.

I am not sure where these people were raised, but wherever that might have been it was not in a cultured environment where decorum and manners were stressed.  And yes, those things matter in society.  It was as if many in the crowd had just been released for the first time in the general public and had no idea what was expected of them.

That the school board needed to have a secondary location to do the work of the community is shameful.  That there are so many thoughtless members of society which makes such a plan necessary is a stain in our city.

I have had the opportunity on many occasions to cover news events for a radio station.  Many a contentious county board meeting, school board, or city council where emotional issues were on the agenda.  But never once did I witness the childlike and boorish behavior of the kind which made for headlines this week as result of the school board meeting.  If this is how some people act in public when they do not get their way let us pray we never have to learn how they act out in private when confronting facts they do not like.

While working with State Representative Lary Swoboda I attended several highly charged public meetings designed to hear feedback on property taxes.  Picture irate farmers from Southern Door County wearing overalls and boots that should have been left in the barn.  While passions were high no one ever cussed or started to talk before Swoboda called on them to offer comments.  While no one got what they wanted from the meeting there were no wild outbursts or untoward displays.

Readers should not conclude that I have always had an easy time at meetings.  When I was a focal point at one of them I made a choice how to proceed.  How to act.  It is a lesson that I wrote about in my book Walking Up The Ramp.  Acting with civility is not that hard.

Shortly after starting my job Lary wanted a press release to the local papers and media concerning the new addition to his office.   Being the person in the office charged with handling the media, and writing the releases I again found myself writing about myself as I had when working in radio.   The release was brief, and factual.

There was no way to have predicted that some women in Kewaunee County who found it their mission to overturn Roe v. Wade would turn on me, and force Lary to feel the heat.   They were quite concerned about the Letters to the Editor that I had penned relating to abortion while living in Door County, and serving as chairperson of the county party. I had staked out a clear pro-choice position.  These women were adamant that Lary replace me in the office with someone who championed placing their head in the sand.

Lary confided that we needed to stem the issue, and since I presented myself very well he thought a meeting in the district with those who were all in a lather would be a wise move. I advised Lary that he might want to alert the women to the fact he runs his office, and will make the decision as to who is employed. Nothing is more unseemly than having the tail wag the dog, but clearly a small group of constituents were attempting to do just that very thing.   Lary always liked it when he could look to be in charge, and giving him the construct of how to handle this matter while making him the leader was the perfect political starting point—both for me, but also for him.

On a Saturday morning at a local gathering spot in Kewaunee County we entered to find a gaggle of women upon whom I had never set my eyes looking sternly in my direction.   I felt they were waiting for my head to spin and for some scene reminiscent of The Exorcist to play out. Instead I walked over to each of them, introduced myself and shook their hand. I offered pleasantries to each of them. Disarming political opponents in ways they cannot refuse is always the best choice.

In the conversation that followed they brought up my letters and views. I reminded them that it was very accurate to say I agreed with the 1973 Supreme Court decision, but that it was also true Lary cast the votes on the Assembly floor, should any issue regarding abortion require legislative action.

Meetings scheduled and attended by adults, be they for the school board or for a political purpose, should be handled in mature and reasonable ways.  Too often, however, the ones who come to sit and holler at the school board remind me of the boots worn by the farmers those many years ago.

They should be left outside the building.

As Michael Cohen Testifies Questions Surround Donald Trump

There are more headlines today from the testimony of Michael Cohen than most people are going to have time to digest.  But at the end of the headlines remains all the questions which now are focused on Donald Trump. 

Make no mistake about what happened today.  What was aired today live on television from Cohen is without doubt the most damaging testimony concerning a president since John Dean gave evidence during the Watergate hearings.

When it was Rep. Paul A. Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) turn to question Michael Cohen at Wednesday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee, he was ready to go off. Like many Republicans before him, he instantly went after Cohen’s lies — including those to Congress. “You’re a pathological liar,” Gosar said.

Cohen, by this time comfortable jousting with the panel’s Republicans, shot back sarcastically: “Are you referring to me or the president?”

The exchange was interesting in and of itself, but it also betrayed an uneasy reality of this hearing for Republicans: Many of the things they attacked Cohen on could carry collateral damage for the very man they were defending: President Trump

Cohen’s lies are a matter of public and judicial record. But if the standard is that someone who has lied repeatedly about weighty matters should never be trusted again, what about the president, who has uttered more than 8,000 falsehoods while in office? Not all of those falsehoods are lies, but even media outlets have grown comfortable labeling some of the most high-profile ones as lies. Many of Trump’s falsehoods, in fact, deal with the same topics Cohen was lying about, including hush-money payments to women and the pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow. If we can’t trust Cohen for this reason, what about Trump?

Governor Evers Correct: Wisconsin Needs Nonpartisan Redistricting

For the second day in a row Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers made for smiles.  Not necessarily from just partisans, either.  All those who take pride in smart governing that is process-driven have ample reason to feel positive about his recent actions.

On Monday Evers pulled Wisconsin National Guard troops from the southern border, while making it clear keeping the borders safe and protecting immigrants seeking asylum is the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s job.  I strongly urged that move earlier this month, and applauded the executive action by Evers, due to our need to value the reasons these state residents signed up for duty in the first place.   It was not to demonize people fleeing violence and economic privation.

Now there is another strong and central reason to nod with deep approval for an action taken by Evers.  A new proposal will be offered to do away with the state’s partisan redistricting process and give the responsibility of drawing the state’s political maps to a nonpartisan agency.   I have blogged and commented on this need for a change in how political boundaries are crafted since I had all my hair.  The reason for my abiding conviction is due to the fact many of the problems we see in much of our dysfunctional politics can be traced back to the way political boundaries are drawn.   If you shake your head in derision when congress balks at even the most lukewarm gun control measures, or the lack of common-sense measures for immigration reform chalk it up to the way district lines are designed.  Redistricting reform may appear ‘boring’ at first glance, but it is central to much of the discord in the state and nation today.

We know Evers speaks in soft political tones on most issues.  That style is one that endears him to voters.  But if one listens to the average conversation on the street, or in a coffee-shop, the language can be more blunt when it comes to the issue at hand.  Voters are tired of being the pawns of power-hungry lawmakers, and are now fighting to take back the map-making process.  The more cynical citizen even will ask just how rank does a redistricting plan have to be before it runs afoul of the Constitution?   That is not what we wish for voters to feel when it comes to how district lines are drawn.  That is why this move from Evers is bound to be very popular around the state.  People who understand the problems with the current system want redistricting reform.

The Evers plan is aimed to solve the central issue that drives so much controversy over redistricting.  We cannot have a functioning republic if the politicians choose their voters.

Evers’ proposal would give responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an existing state agency, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, at the direction of a newly-formed, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. The state Legislature would still vote on the redistricting bill, but it would be restricted in the changes it could make.

There really should be no partisan stones cast when it comes to drawing boundary lines.  BOTH parties deserve criticism for the secretive and stubborn way they handled redistricting.  Wisconsin Democrats had the majority power during the time of Governor Doyle to create a commission for redistricting reform and chose not to proceed.  We know elected Republicans would not even hold a hearing in 2013 on a proposal to create a commission to deal with district lines.  Newspapers from around the state came together in their weekend editions to urge a hearing on bills then proposed in the legislature.  Perhaps the most concise writing that summed up the mood then–and now–came from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Competition among political ideas is good for democracy. But the opposite also is true. When districts aren’t competitive in general elections, the real election occurs in the primary, which typically is dominated by partisans.

The result: Candidates play to the partisans — to the wings of their parties — and the debate moves away from the center, where the real work used to get done in Madison and Washington.

I suspect that most voters from Ashland to Beloit believe that redistricting should not be partisan, but rather what is best for the process of governing.

If it seems like we have been fighting this issue for a long time, well, we have.  Political boundaries and the drama they create are as old as the nation itself.  In 1789 Patrick Henry helped draw the lines in Virginia in such a way as to place his enemy, James Madison, in an anti-Federalist district.  In fact before the term ‘Gerrymander” was in vogue there was a term called “Henrymander”.   Times change but the desire of partisans to control power does not.  That is what needs to be bridled.

This issue is not one that only currently resonates in the Badger State.  The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) found 71 percent of voters (nationwide) oppose permitting politicians to draw election districts crafted to assure the election or defeat of one party’s candidates.  Many people locally have spoken with sincerity over the need for a redistricting commission.  Todd Berry, former president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, was one of them.

But the problem with our elections goes deeper. Because of how legislative districts are drawn and because of where people choose to live, few districts are competitive with seats regularly changing party hands. That makes August party primaries pivotal. They are low-turnout affairs dominated by “true believers” and party activists, and subject to monied intervention by special interests. To win a primary in Democratic Dane County, a candidate moves to the far left; to win a primary in Republican Waukesha County, the reverse is true: GOP hopefuls compete for a subset of voters on the right.

I had hoped during last year’s gubernatorial campaign that someone would take up the torch for needed process reforms and run with it to all corners of the state.  Evers not only did that, but now is holding firm to his mission from the East Wing.  I am most confident that a growing mass of vocal fellow citizens will soon materialize to help urge this matter forward.  We need to again think back to our civics lessons as to why being a process (small d) democrat matters. Unless the way we elect people is based on a more equitable and level-playing field all the grand ideas we may hold about building a stronger society will be left in drafting folders on a shelf.

Was Wrong, But Still Pleased

Film Reels, Clapper board and movie projector

Though I was confident that Roma and Best Actor nominee Rami Malek, for his role in Bohemian Rhapsody, would do well at the Oscars I also wrote that the ratings for the show would tank without a host.  I was correct about the movie and actor, but very off the mark concerning the ratings.   But I am always pleased to be wrong about matters that turn out to be better than expected.   Especially when it comes to the beloved Oscar Awards show.

The first host-less Academy Awards since 1989—which ABC had initially worried would cause Oscars ratings to plummet even further—instead resulted in a year-over-year ratings jump for the telecast, its first audience increase in five years.  That is remarkable and shows the strength of movie lovers in the nation to watch a show which had a number of awards for very important movies this year.

Putting the numbers to the ABC’s broadcast proves the show averaged 29.6 million viewers, a 11.5 percent gain over a year ago. The hostless show also scored a 7.7 rating among adults 18-49, a 13 percent gain over last year.   But the downside is that while the figure is up from last year’s historic low, this year was the second smallest audience ever for an Academy Awards telecast.

In total viewers, recent predecessors went as follows: 26.5 million in 2018 (Best Picture: The Shape of Water), 32.9 million in 2017 (Moonlight), 34.4 million in 2016 (Spotlight) and 37.3 million in 2015 (Birdman).

Green Book winning the Best Picture award Sunday was the most-talked-about moment on both Twitter and in the dentist office I visited for teeth cleaning Monday afternoon.

Movies are the way we connect and grow while showing our humanity on the big screen.  In so doing we all are winners when it comes to film.

Democrats In Driver Seat To Stop Constitutional Crisis Caused By Trump Over Emergency Declaration

Congress will do the work of the nation in a few hours with an unprecedented effort to overturn a presidential emergency declaration. Democrats have the votes, while Republicans are working to limit defections.  Make no mistake about what this matter is all about.  This is a constitutional showdown with Donald Trump.
The Democratic-authored resolution would nullify Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.  Congress has never before sought to cancel a national emergency declared by the president since passage of the National Emergencies Act in 1976.
The resolution is expected to pass the House easily with unified Democratic support.  But GOP leaders were urging their members to oppose it, aiming to keep the final tally low enough to demonstrate that Congress would be unable to overturn the veto that Trump has blustered about over past days.
Democrats are in the drivers seat with the law as this is a constitutional issue since Trump used an emergency declaration to get border-wall money denied by Congress. Once the House passes it there will not be any effort made to stop in in the Senate–since that body is REQUIRED to vote on it 18 days. That is based under provisions of the National Emergencies Act.  If all Senate Democrats vote for the disapproval resolution, only four Republican votes would be needed to ensure passage, since just a simple majority vote is required.
Those fours votes will be found.  Senator Collins will be one of the four.

Governor Tony Evers Brings National Guard Troops Home From Southern Border

I am very pleased, from a policy perspective, that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is withdrawing the Wisconsin National Guard from the US-Mexico border.  I am delighted that facts won out over fear.

Evers said in a news release announcing the order that about 112 troops are currently serving in Arizona.  He made it clear in the news release that keeping the borders safe and protecting immigrants seeking asylum is the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s job.  But even more importantly was Evers making it clear that there is not enough evidence to support Donald Trump’s declaration that a national emergency exists along the border.

This month I wrote a column which was posted and linked statewide that called for our troops to be sent home.  

President Trump manufactured an emergency at the southern border and requested states contribute 4,000 National Guard members to be used as props for his grand power-play.  Former Governor Scott Walker, in an election year, strongly supported Trump’s efforts by referring to them as “aggressive actions” to secure the border.  Walker stated that sending our troops to the border would help reduce drug trafficking.  Unless those troops are stationed at the ports of entry, where most of the drugs come to our country, they are not meeting the expectation of Walker.

We know why Walker made the choice to send our state residents on such a highly publicized mission.  It was to play to the same base of voters in Wisconsin who championed Trump’s original disingenuous claims about caravans and chaos galore.  Walker cared more about playing to the fear factor in the election than about the facts at the border.   It was painful on a moral and ethical level to see such disregard for those who sought asylum; simply assuming they did not meet the established criteria for entry to our nation.  The lack of humanity was stunning to witness.

But now we have a new governor.  And there needs to be a change in policy regarding our state troops at the border.   The men and women who signed up from Abrams to Yorkville should not be used to further a false and dehumanizing operation from the White House.   We need to value the reasons these state residents signed up for duty in the first place.   It was not to demonize people fleeing violence and economic privation.