Better approaches to poverty

Alexandra DeSantis:

It has been nearly 80 years since the progressive movement began its attempt to alleviate systemic poverty with federal action: first, in the 1930s, via Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” and then, in the 1960s, via Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.” But judging by today’s landscape, neither vision has proven adequate to the task. Today, government at both the federal and state level spends a combined $1 trillion per year on programs meant to help low-income Americans. Over the last half-century, an estimated $16 trillion has been spent in this manner. And yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent, no better than it was in 1966.

In a recent column for National Review Online, Florida senator Marco Rubio offered a possible reason for anti-poverty programs’ lack of success: “Where liberals see the world of individual and state — that individual needs must be met by an ever-expanding, top-down government — conservatives have the opportunity to promote a vision of society that embraces community-driven, grassroots solutions.”

Most leftists would have voters believe that all conservatives despise the poor and are desperate to end entitlement programs so that they can funnel more government money to big businesses. But as many Republican leaders have proven through their efforts, the GOP’s locally oriented approach is often more successful at lifting people out of poverty than are expansive welfare programs.

One such leader, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, is a staunch advocate of community-based solutions to poverty and unemployment. Moreover, in attesting to the value of local anti-poverty efforts, Johnson can point to his considerable firsthand experience. After traveling around Wisconsin during his first five years as senator — he was elected in 2010, in the wave of tea-party enthusiasm that brought many new conservative faces to Congress — Johnson realized that despite the high levels of unemployment in metropolitan areas such as Milwaukee and Madison, manufacturers across his state still had thousands of unfilled jobs. And so, seeking to solve both problems at once, Johnson partnered with a Milwaukee-area church to institute the Joseph Project, a program that recruits and trains impoverished people, connects them to potential employers, and supports their subsequent careers.

In Milwaukee, where the recent shooting death of a black man prompted three days of riots, it is easy to see why low-income black people are dissatisfied with their situation and ready for new solutions. Wisconsin had the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country for African Americans in 2015, with black unemployment hovering around 20 percent, as well as a high quotient of violence, illegal drug usage, and failing schools. And the unemployment rate for blacks in Milwaukee was four times higher than that of white Americans in the city.

In the face of this untenable situation — one mirrored in most metropolitan areas across the country — Johnson and his staff teamed up with Pastor Jerome Smith Sr., of the Greater Praise Church of God in Christ, to provide unemployed people in Milwaukee, usually African Americans with a history of incarceration or drug and alcohol abuse, with a hopeful path out of poverty and crime.

The project was “a coming together of concepts, of the knowledge that you have all this job opportunity and yet so many people are trapped in that cycle of dependency, despair, and poverty,” Johnson told NRO.

According to Smith, the idea for the project arose after he and several other pastors visited the Sheboygan Economic Development Corporation about an hour’s drive from Milwaukee, a visit facilitated by Orlando Owens, who was serving as director of African-American outreach for the Wisconsin GOP and who later joined Johnson’s staff. It became clear during this trip that a number of corporations had unfilled manufacturing jobs, while Smith knew of countless people in the Milwaukee area who were looking for work.

On the drive back, the Joseph Project was born. Two weeks later, Smith, Johnson, and members of Johnson’s staff conducted the inaugural training session with a class of 14 individuals. Now, almost a year on, nearly 140 people have received job interviews; more than 80 of them have received job offers, and about 60 have maintained employment since.

For each session, Smith identifies about 60 people through his church who are looking for work; he then interviews them to select ten or twelve who are most committed to contributing the effort needed to succeed. Each week-long session takes place in the Greater Praise church building and teaches participants soft skills such as time management and spiritual fitness, as well as how to interview. So far, the Joseph Project has held twelve sessions, and as the program has developed, successful graduates have returned to speak to each new class about the importance of hard work.

Johnson himself has attended nearly every session to give an orientation pep talk. “Having been an employer myself, I tell them the most important attribute to exhibit in an interview is a good attitude,” Johnson said, “and the fact that you want to help the organization succeed.”

Smith gave an analogy to explain Johnson’s essential role in the initiation and continuation of the Joseph Project. “Senator Johnson . . . goes out and kicks open the door by talking to manufacturing companies, and he convinces them that we’re the type of organization that they should be taking employees from,” Smith said.

Smith and the staff members running the program then work to keep that “door” open. “It’s like a big fire door,” Smith explained. “The people trying to close the door are the people in the program who don’t show up for the van on time, who don’t show up for class, who call in sick to work.” …

Both Smith and Johnson stress the dignity that stems from being able to provide for oneself and the crucial role this dignity plays in the Joseph Project’s success stories. One young man, Trayvonn Brown, said in a video that the Joseph Project taught him the distinction between a job and a career. “A job is something where you just work to get by,” Brown explained. “A career is something you do with your life, something that you like. So, I’m trying to find a career.”

“This program shows that local control and local involvement, as well as a faith-based approach, actually work, and we can provide the pilot to have this grow into something bigger nationally,” Johnson said. “I’m not just doing this because I’m a United States senator. . . . I’m trying to use my position here to highlight a success and provide an example for others to follow.”

He also noted that the tremendous government resources poured into anti-poverty efforts have not paid off as anticipated: “There were 29 million poor Americans when the War on Poverty started, now there are 46 or 47 million. The evidence is clear that when we outsource our compassion to the federal government, it hasn’t worked.”

The senator feels strongly, too, that support for local efforts such as the Joseph Project shouldn’t be confined to one political perspective. “There’s no one political party that has a monopoly on compassion,” he said. “We all want our fellow citizens to succeed and to have the opportunity to do so.”

He shot back at those who would accuse Republicans of lacking compassion for impoverished Americans, accusations often based on the fact that conservatives tend to support welfare or entitlement reform. “The charges that Republicans are uncaring are just false. The Joseph Project proves that I certainly care about each of my constituents.”

“This [project] has crossed political parties,” Smith agreed. “It has crossed denominational boundaries. I’m not aware of any other single thing that’s doing that. It’s crossing racial boundaries. That’s powerful. This is making a heck of an impact in the lives of people. Because of us, people are going to eat well on Labor Day and will go shopping with their kids for school.”

Johnson said that local programs such as the Joseph Project are closely tied to federal anti-poverty efforts like House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America” policy proposal. As NRO has previously reported, Ryan traveled extensively to meet with low-income people across the country as he developed this plan, and an old friend of his, Bob Woodson, facilitated many of those meetings. Woodson, who founded the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, is also the author of The Triumphs of Joseph, the book that inspired the name of the Joseph Project.

Ryan’s plan is practical, detailed, and comprehensive, disproving liberals’ assertions that Republican leaders don’t care about the fate of poor people. Drawing on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, much of the proposal focuses on solutions grounded at the local level, where it is easiest to identify and address the particular causes of poverty. And, like Johnson and Smith’s program, Ryan’s anti-poverty agenda emphasizes the inherent dignity of work, a dignity afforded to impoverished Americans when they receive employment opportunities rather than a government handout.

Ryan’s chief goals are to limit government regulation and provide financial incentives to those who enable the transition from welfare to work. According to the Republican agenda, the federal government’s main contribution to state-level anti-poverty efforts should be to foster public-private partnerships that support local programs. …

“We have seen the fruits of an approach to welfare that puts work first,” Rubio wrote at NRO. “We must now apply this principle through federalism, empowering problem-solvers who are closest to the ground while teaching the benefits of a working, productive life from doorstep to doorstep, not from on high in Washington.”

No matter how vociferously liberals insist that federal regulations, expansion of welfare, and protection of entitlements will lift citizens out of poverty, the record shows that, in practice, compassionate, conservative leaders such as Senator Johnson are the ones supporting and empowering low-income Americans.

Sucky and suckier

Kevin Binversie confirms what discerning voters should already know:

The two major party choices the American people face this November flat out suck.

That’s not just my opinion, that’s the opinion of a focus group conducted in Brookfield by professional pollster Peter Hart (famous for doing the NBC News / Wall Street Poll). According to the Washington Post , “fear” and “loathing” aren’t just reserved for the likes of Hunter S. Thompson ; they’re how the average American voter is feeling as Election Day ticks closer and closer.

For a small group of undecided voters here, the presidential choices this year are bleak: Hillary Clinton is a “liar” with a lifetime of political skullduggery and a ruthless agenda for power, while Donald Trump is your “drunk uncle” who can’t be trusted to listen even to the good advice he’s paying for.

Describing the election as a cesspool, 12 swing voters participating in a focus group Thursday in this battleground state were deeply negative about both candidates, starkly describing their choice this year as one between a candidate they loathe (Clinton) and one they fear (Trump).

Clinton was described as untrustworthy even by people who are leaning toward voting for her . Although 11 of the 12 predicted she will win, the ambivalence or outright distaste for the Democratic candidate was a dominant and recurring theme in a two-hour discussion in this Milwaukee suburb.

Trump was described as a bully, an egomaniac, a lion in the zoo, proud of his luxuriant mane. Even among those leaning toward voting for him, more than one participant criticized his lack of a filter — and more than one questioned the value of his board room experience.

This isn’t new. We mentioned similar feelings in our“Quick Takes” regarding the June Marquette Law poll.

Marquette Law Poll director Charles Franklin said it best during his presentation, “These are the two most unpopular presidential candidates on record. I had to go all the way back to former President Jimmy Carter to find numbers even remotely close.”

“Remotely close” is negatives in the 50s and 60s. Donald Trump has an unfavorable rating of 64%. Hillary Clinton is right there behind him with an unfavorable rating of 58%. Numbers like this all but guarantee a contest between the two of them where issues will take a back seat and the world’s greatest unpopularity contest will take its place.

All of that and then some came out in spades in this focus group. Here’s how some of the focus group described Hillary Clinton:

The group returned several times to the issue of Clinton’s use of a private email server for her government work as secretary of state, and to the general issue of whether she can be trusted.

“Liar” was the most common word selected by participants asked to give a one-word assessment.

“She’s a smart woman with a lot of experience,” but there are too many questions about Clinton’s priorities, said Beth Gramling, 50, a payroll analyst whose recent voting history matched Jones’s. “You can’t trust her. The trust to know between right and wrong, and integrity. I don’t think that she has that, and it’s a shame.”

Here’s how others in the focus group described Trump:

Steve Watson, a 35-year-old retail operations manager who was among the firmest Trump supporters, still described himself as “apprehensive.”

“We know Donald Trump has good intentions, that he can fix the country,” said Watson. “But he has to understand that this isn’t a boardroom. Everything he says as a candidate for the American presidency is taken and it can be construed a thousand different ways.”

Participants called the Republican businessman reckless, inexperienced and mouthy, a potential threat to U.S. stature and influence abroad. Nearly all condemned statements Trump has made about a Mexican-American judge and a Muslim mother whose U.S. soldier son died in Iraq.

Not surprisingly with attitudes like that, many are looking at third-party candidates.

Asked to rate how things are going for the country on a scale of minus 10 to plus 10, the lowest rating was a minus six and the highest was plus five. Eight of the 12 people predicted that conditions for the country will worsen.

Four of the group said they are seriously considering voting for a third-party candidate.

The choice is very, very bleak America. We only have ourselves to blame for it.

Presty the DJ for Aug. 28

The number one single today in 1961 was made more popular by Elvis Presley, not its creator:

Also today in 1961, the Marvelettes released what would become their first number one song:

Today in 1964, the Beatles met Bob Dylan after a concert in Forest Hills, N.Y.

Dylan reportedly introduced the Beatles to marijuana:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 28”

Presty the DJ for Aug. 27

We begin with an interesting anniversary: Today in 1965, the Beatles used the final day of their five-day break from their U.S. tour to attend a recording session for the Byrds and to meet Elvis Presley at Presley’s Beverly Hills home.

The group reportedly found Presley “unmagnetic,” about which John Lennon reportedly said, “Where’s Elvis? It was like meeting Engelbert Humperdinck.”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 27”

The potential future voyage of Jack Aubrey

Though I have seen perhaps one minute of it, the HBO series “Game of Thrones” is in its final season.

So what should replace it? Christopher Orr has a suggestion that readers will recognize:

Fifteen years ago, when I finished reading Patrick O’Brian’s magisterial 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series for the first time, I remember thinking, damn you, Horatio Hornblower. C.S. Forester’s renowned nautical protagonist was at the time enjoying the starring role in the British TV series Hornblower, and given the close similarities to O’Brian’s oeuvre—both concern the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era—it seemed unlikely bordering on inconceivable that anyone would try to adapt the latter for television.

That was, of course, at a time when it almost went without saying that a project of such scope and pedigree would have to be British. But the televisual times have since changed immeasurably for the better on this side of the Atlantic, and now it’s easy to envision O’Brian’s books—which The Times Book Review has hailed as “the best historical novels ever written”—being adapted by any number of networks: HBO, obviously, but also AMC, FX, Netflix, USA … the list grows longer by the month.

Which is a very good thing, because if someone would merely get around to undertaking them, the Aubrey-Maturin novels could easily provide material for exquisite television, offering the action and world-building scale of Game of Thrones, the social anthropology (and Anglo-historical appeal) ofDownton Abbey, and two central characters reminiscent of (though far more deeply etched than) Rust Cohle and Marty Hart in the first season of True Detective. Someone really needs to make this happen.

I was reminded of this when I rewatched Peter Weir’s 2003 big-screen O’Brian adaptation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, on a recent transatlantic flight. It is a fine film (I reviewed it here), but it scarcely attempts to scratch the surface of its principal characters, let alone the rich supporting populations who orbit them.

Those principal characters are Captain Jack Aubrey—brave, gregarious, impetuous, not infrequently subject to romantic indiscretion—and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, an accomplished but introverted scholar and naturalist. (He’s also gradually revealed to be a high-level spy, as well as an uncommonly gifted duelist and assassin.) The two meet-ugly at a concert in Minorca on April 1, 1800—Maturin is infuriated by Aubrey’s tapping to the beat “a half measure ahead”—but quickly become fast friends in part thanks to their shared love of music. Together they form what Christopher Hitchens described as “one of the subtlest and richest and most paradoxical male relationships since Holmes and Watson.”

In Weir’s film, Aubrey and Maturin were played, respectively, by Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany. And while both actors offered solid performances, neither was particularly well-suited to his role: Crowe is too dark for Aubrey, and Bettany not dark (or small) enough for Maturin. Properly cast—a pairing such as that of Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard’s underrated Rush would be closer to the mark—both are potentially career-defining roles, Maturin in particular.

Though you wouldn’t know it from Weir’s film, which took place entirely at sea, O’Brian provides solid female roles, too, in Aubrey and Maturin’s contrasting love interests, Sophie Williams and, especially, Diana Villiers. (It’s no coincidence that the author to whom O’Brian is most frequently compared—more than Melville or Conrad or Forester—is Jane Austen.) Outwards from this core are found an absurdly generous constellation of supporting characters: Tom Pullings, Barrett Bonden, Preserved Killick, Padeen (if he wasn’t an inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s Hodor, the resemblance is a remarkable coincidence), Sam Panda, Mrs. Broad, Clarissa Oakes, Heneage Dundas, Capitaine Christy-Pallière, the poor, doomed Lord Clonfert, and on and on.

There would be some narrative issues to untangle in adapting O’Brian’s work for television—chief among them the long, alternating storylines at sea and on land—but material this rich and vast could be sewn together in innumerable ways. And while it would inevitably be an expensive production, Hornblower showed that a similar feat could be pulled off way back in 1998. (Moreover, if financing can be arranged for an excellent but decidedly eccentric literary adaptation such asJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell—well worth checking out, incidentally, for those who haven’t—surely it could be found for a series with the relative commercial appeal of Aubrey & Maturin.)

So if you happen to know a network executive (or, better yet, are one yourself), please raise the idea with all available alacrity. The possibility of historic television, in both senses of the word, awaits. Until then, we will make do with O’Brian’s novels—which, if it is not already apparent, I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who has not already had the good fortune to encounter them.

The movie was more than “fine” as far as I’m concerned.

It seemed obviously destined for a film series, but the series ended at one. But having the source material of 21 novels (more than the source material for “Game of Thrones”) would, you’d think, be more than enough as a starting point for Aubrey and Maturin.

I watched the “Hornblower” series and enjoyed it.

I have also seen the movie starring Gregory Peck.

In neither case does it seem as though the novel Hornblower became the movie and TV version. The TV series starts with Hornblower as a seasick midshipman who grows in his duties and skill, whereas the movie has Hornblower already as a captain. The always-accurate Wikipedia describes the print version, praised by none other than Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill, as …

… courageous, intelligent, and a skilled seaman; but he is also burdened by his intense reserve, introspection, and self-doubt, described as “unhappy and lonely”. Despite numerous personal feats of extraordinary skill and cunning, he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears. He consistently ignores or is unaware of the admiration in which he is held by his fellow sailors. He regards himself as cowardly, dishonest, and, at times, disloyal—never crediting his ability to persevere, think rapidly, organize, or cut to the heart of a matter. His sense of duty, hard work, and drive to succeed make these imagined negative characteristics undetectable by everyone but him and, being introspective, he obsesses over petty failures to reinforce his poor self-image. His introverted nature continually isolates him from the people around him, including his closest friend William Bush, and his wives never fully understand him.

Well, the insular Hornblower is not really Peck’s Hornblower, nor is it Ioan Gruffudd’s Hornblower. What about Aubrey?

In his early career, according to HMS Surprise, Aubrey was not a skilled mathematician. In that book, he is described as learning mathematics and “…he studied the mathematics, and like some other late-developers he advanced at a great pace.” In later books, Aubrey is presented as interested and skilled in mathematics and astronomy. He is also a great lover of music and player of the violin; he is a hearty singer. He is a man of even temperament, generally cheerful, sociable and alert to the feelings of his shipmates. He knows every aspect of the ships he sails and how best to gain speed over the oceans from each one by use of the sails without putting too much stress on the masts or yards (which would then break), a complex and hard-earned knowledge. He has been described as “the bluff and ultracompetent Aubrey”.[8] He feels the joy of battle; he is skilled in planning his attacks and in carrying them out, using cannon or hand to hand fighting. By contrast, he cannot watch his close friend, Dr Maturin perform a surgery, and is offended at the sight of blood on Maturin, the natural result of performing surgeries. On board ship, Aubrey on his violin is generally accompanied by his friend and shipmate Stephen Maturin on the cello. Aubrey is particularly fond of the music of Corelli and Boccherini. He is noted for his mangling and mis-splicing of proverbs, sometimes with Maturin’s involvement, such as “Never count the bear’s skin before it is hatched” and “There’s a good deal to be said for making hay while the iron is hot.” …
He enjoys the company of women. From the incident of keeping a girl aboard ship in his youth, unbeknownst to him, she was pregnant when he sailed away. Their son, Samuel Panda, appears in Aubrey’s life fully grown and educated, a dark-skinned version of himself, but a Catholic priest. Before he knew of this young man, Aubrey married Sophia Williams, whom he met and courted in the peace of 1802, when he was on land. They married and had three children, twin daughters Fanny and Charlotte, and a son George. He loves his family, though most of the time he is away on a ship.

Successful TV series are about the characters. Aubrey and Maturin are substantially difficult, yet friends and comrades. Done right, a series would be compelling TV.

Offense! (clap clap) Offense! (clap clap)

Here’s a news report about a news report, from 24/7 Sports:

When the news broke that Jordy Nelson has been cleared to practice, Adam Schein of CBS Sports said that this was huge for the team going forward. In fact, he would go on to say the Packers would have “the best, most explosive offense in the NFL” heading into the 2016 regular season. …

Schein mentioned the Packers going to the playoffs and winning a playoff game without Nelson last year. But he also said the Packers were never dominant. That should change with Nelson back because he will stretch the field and he will be Aaron Rodgers’ security blanket.

Also, with Nelson back, that means the pressure is off Randall Cobb to be the No. 1 receiver. Schein did say that Cobb is a No. 2 receiver and having Rodgers, Nelson and Cobb back together can only mean good things for the Packers.

However, the run game needs to be better and Schien did say that with Lacy back in shape, he should have a bounce-back season. In 2015, Lacy only rushed for 758 yards and three touchdowns. His lack of production was a big reason why the Packers offense was very inconsistent last season.
It’s clear that Schien is a big believer in the Packers, and he should be. Even if they don’t have the No. 1 offense in the NFL, they should and will make great strides in 2016.

On offense. So the best-case scenario is that the Packers could have as explosive an offense as they had in 2011, when they set all kinds of team records for offensive production. Nelson is a receiver hard for defenses to deal with, having both size and speed and ability to  get open in the red zone. Randall Cobb is probably a better number 2 receiver than a number 1 receiver. Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers …

… and If the pass offense is better the run offense is likely to be better too due to their opponents’ defenses having to worry about all those receivers.

You may remember that the 2011 season didn’t end with a Super Bowl ring, however. As we have seen the NFL regular season and postseason are two different things. If you have an elite offense, defense could be defined as scoring more points than your opponent in the regular season. But the postseason consists of teams that can actually play defense. When you run into one of those teams — for instance, the Giants in the 2011-season postseason — you end up with an unenviable 15-2 record.

Packers fans are sometimes driven nuts by their defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers. However, Capers has the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV ring, following a regular season that, you’ll recall, required the Packers to win their last two games just to get the sixth and final NFC playoff spot. Assuming the Al Jazeera-accused PED-users on the defense don’t miss significant time due to suspension, the key will be how the defense is playing by the playoffs.


Trump vs. Wisconsin talk radio

Ted Cruz’s Wisconsin Republican primary win over Donald Trump was credited in large part to the united front of conservative radio hosts Charlie Sykes, Mark Belling, Vicki McKenna and Jerry Bader against Trump. (Because Trump is neither a Republican nor a conservative.)

So what now after Trump got the nomination anyway? Darren Hauck looks at Sykes:

Since last year, the most influential political talk show host in Wisconsin has found out just how hard it is to be a #NeverTrump conservative on right-wing radio. Ever since Sykes began denouncing Donald Trump on the air—which he does just about every time he talks about the presidential election—he’s strained his relationships with the listeners of his daily radio show.

Sykes’ many arguments with listeners over Donald Trump’s serial outrages have exposed in much of his audience a vein of thinking—racist, anti-constitutional, maybe even fascistic—that has shaken Sykes. It has left him questioning whether he and his colleagues in the conservative media played a role in paving the way for Trump’s surprising and unprecedented rise.

A few days before the Wisconsin congressional primary in early August, Sykes seized on remarks by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s opponent, Paul Nehlen, that raised the idea of deporting all Muslims, even American citizens. It’s the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that has become the norm during a presidential cycle that has featured Trump’s calls for immigration bans on Muslims, loyalty tests and mass deportations. A friendly and round-faced guy with glasses, Sykes, 61, doesn’t even try to conceal his disgust, but a large segment of his listeners, like Audrey from Oshkosh, are eager to defend ideas that Sykes believes violate fundamental conservative principles.

“Yeah! Let me make a comparison, and I don’t mean this in a bad way,” Audrey says. “They’re talking about phasing out breeding of pit bulls. Well, not all pit bulls are bad.”

“You’re comparing American citizens, Muslims, to rabid dogs,” Sykes responds.

“No, I’m saying, they’re talking about phasing out the breed because so many are bad. No one wants to phase out poodles! I mean, there’s no Lutherans doing this! We never know when one of these people are going to be radicalized.”

“One of these people,” says Sykes.

Sykes ends the call. He’s silent, broadcasting dead air. He looks upset, like he’s stopped breathing. He goes to a commercial break.

“OK, that doesn’t happen very often,” he says off-air. “I’m not usually absolutely speechless.” He says his listeners never talked like this until recently.

“Were these people that we actually thought were our allies?” he asks.

Sykes remains confident that Trump will lose badly in November, and he is equally fearful that Trump will drag longtime Republicans, like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, down with him. This has Sykes thinking about the long-term future of the party and what might have precipitated its looming collapse. He wonders: Did “the faux outrage machine” of and other right-wing outlets foment the noxious opinions that Trump has stoked so effectively on the trail?

“When I would deny that there was a significant racist component in some of the politics on our side, it was because the people I hung out with were certainly not,” Sykes says. “When suddenly, this rock is turned over, there is this—‘Oh shit, did I not see that?’

“I kind of had that reaction this morning, with that woman: Did we ignore this? There’s got to be some serious introspection, because of the things that we either didn’t see, or that we ignored, or that we enabled.”


Few people outside Wisconsin had heard of Sykes until this spring, when his explosive interview with Trump became national news. In the 17-minute confrontation a week before the Badger State’s primary in April, Sykes exposed several flaws in Trump’s candidacy, including his lack of preparation and obsessive grudges. “Before you called into my show, did you know that I’m a #NeverTrump guy?” Sykes asked. “That I didn’t know,” Trump replied. Sykes gave Trump several chances to back off his feud with Ted Cruz over online insults about each other’s wives, but Trump couldn’t let it be. “He started it,” Trump kept saying. “We’re not on a playground,” Sykes replied. “We’re running for president of the United States.”

When Cruz beat Trump—the #NeverTrump forces’ last big win—many credited Sykes with a key role. “Midday with Charlie Sykes,” on 620 WTMJ-AM, where he’s been a host for 23 years, reaches 200,000 listeners a week in the Milwaukee area alone, and more beyond. Sykes is Wisconsin’s most prolific conservative media personality: He also hosts a weekly TV show and edits the website Right Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s magazine Wisconsin Interest. His support has boosted conservative candidates across the state, most notably Scott Walker. Sykes and the governor are close, often exchanging texts and emails. Sykes supported Walker throughout his rise to power, the fierce backlash to Wisconsin’s 2011 anti-union law, and the failed 2012 gubernatorial recall.

“[Sykes’] contributions to the conservative movement in Wisconsin cannot be overstated,” Walker said in a written statement. “I value his friendship.” Walker’s support for freezing tuition at Wisconsin’s state universities parallels the ideas in Sykes’ eighth book, published this month: Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education, a thoughtful critique of the spiraling cost of college and the “culture of victimization on campus.”

So on this Friday in August, Sykes is juggling his many conservative roles—radio host, thinker, translator of Wisconsin political mores for the outside world. Young reporters from Vice and Milwaukee Public Radiointerview him about his book’s argument that spiking student debt isn’t worth it. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and NBC political reporters ask him about the Ryan-Nehlen race and whether Trump will endorse Ryan. Meanwhile, he’s wrestling with his listeners, from whom he is feeling increasingly estranged.

“I am dealing with the daily flood of emails on how we’re never going to listen to you anymore,” Sykes says. Longtime listeners write him to say conservative talk radio should criticize Hillary Clinton and not Trump.

“If I lose listeners, that’s a price I’ve just got to pay,” he says. He’d rather say what he really thinks than fall in line with other broadcasters’ embrace of Trump. “I feel dumber every time I listen to Sean Hannity. I don’t want to be that guy.”


Paul from D.C. is on the line.

“This is not the U.S. Constitution; this is not the Bill of Rights,” the speaker of the House responds after Sykes plays him Nehlen’s anti-Muslim comments. “This is not Wisconsin conservatives, Wisconsin Republicans. That kind of dark, grim, indefensible-thinking comment is going to be thoroughly rejected and repudiated Tuesday, I believe.”

Sykes sees an opening. “OK, so here’s my question: What would you say if Donald Trump is asked about this comment and refuses to disavow it? Would that be disqualifying for you?” Sykes’ face has turned red. He’s smiling.

“I’m not going to go into hypotheticals,” Ryan answers testily. “You and I have had these conversations. By the way, with any endorsement of anybody, there’s never a blank check. And you know that.”

This is how Sykes’ show has gone since Trump clinched the nomination: The biggest names in Wisconsin Republican politics call in—like Walker and Johnson—and the normally sympathetic host grills them about their support of Trump.

This time, Sykes reads from an especially punishing New York Times column, in which Ross Douthat claims Trump has “laid waste” to Ryan’s reputation for “moral and substantive authority.”

“I’m the speaker of the House,” Ryan replies. “With this job comes different responsibilities than, say, if I were just a congressman from Wisconsin. … This man won the votes fair and square. … As part of my responsibility for this job, I have the duty and obligation to honor this process.”

Sykes met Ryan when the speaker was first running for Congress, and he’s always been impressed with Ryan’s talent and intellect. They’ve matured together, Sykes says. For instance, they’ve both moved away from their earlier rhetoric about a country divided between “makers” and “takers.”

Wisconsin’s conservative talk-radio hosts are closer to Republican elected officials than radio populists elsewhere. They share pride in the successes of the state’s brand of conservatism: They brag about Ryan being the national Republican Party’s intellectual leader, and they celebrate Walker’s sharply conservative agenda. Decency is also a big part of the Wisconsin Republican self-concept, which clashes with Trump’s self-aggrandizing bombast.

“The elected officials in Wisconsin are all pretty much anti-Trump,” Sykes says. Nevertheless, nearly all of them endorsed Trump once he became the presumptive nominee. Sykes thinks none of them have their heart in it.

“Walker and Ryan have no illusions whatsoever about who Donald Trump is,” Sykes insists with the authority of a confidant. “They could have a conversation for an hour and a half with me, and everything [I] say about Donald Trump, there would be no disagreement. It’s just, at the end of the conversation, they would say, ‘Yes, but we can’t elect Hillary Clinton.’ I would say, ‘I can’t bring myself to vote for Donald Trump. I think he’s unfit to be president.’”

Sykes sympathizes with Ryan’s and Walker’s political quandary, but he’s unsparing in his critique of Reince Priebus, who, as the state GOP chairman, boosted Ryan and Walker’s careers before he ascended to the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. After Priebus declared Trump the presumptive GOP nominee, Sykes stopped talking to him for a couple of months.

“I just didn’t want to hear about the Kool-Aid,” Sykes says after a long sigh. “Reince is a friend. Reince has no illusions about Donald Trump, but made this decision not just to support him, but to go all in. It was painful watching somebody who I knew knew better. That’s why I describe him as a tragic figure.”

Priebus, he notes, commissioned the famed post-2012 election “autopsy” that called on the GOP to become more inclusive. “To watch him bow and scrape before the Orange God King—it was difficult!”


The reluctant right’s most powerful argument for supporting Trump, the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, doesn’t persuade Sykes—even though it affects someone close to him. His ex-wife, Diane Sykes, is on Trump’s short list for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since their 1999 divorce, Diane Sykes has risen from local judge to federal appeals court judge and has developed a national reputation as a respected conservative jurist. In a February debate, Trump offered her as an example of a judge he might appoint to the high court.

Sykes says he’s “very close” to his ex-wife. “She would be absolutely fantastic for the court,” he says. “That would be an outstanding choice.” There’s just one problem. “I don’t trust [Trump] that he will appoint the people he says. I don’t believe the promises he’s making aren’t negotiable. He’s backed off virtually everything.”

This does not mean he can contemplate voting for Trump’s opponent. (When pressed, he says he’s willing to consider voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson.) “Hillary is awful and potentially corrupt within historically understandable parameters,” says Sykes. He holds his hands about a foot and a half apart. “She’s awful like that.

Then Sykes throws his arms out wide. “Trump is potentially awful at thislevel,” he says.

In Sykes’ eyes, Trump is “a serial liar, a con man, a fraudster, a narcissist and authoritarian.” Clinton, meanwhile, is “a welfare-state liberal Democrat” and “big government” supporter with her own character problems.

“In any other scenario, Hillary Clinton’s lying about her emails, and her pay-for-play relationship with the Clinton Foundation would be disqualifying issues,” he argues. “The only reason they’re not disqualifying is because Donald Trump is a fundamentally more repellent, dishonest figure.” He predicts Trump will lose Wisconsin, take Ron Johnson’s Senate reelection bid down with him, and poison the Republican Party’s chances to ever make inroads with women, minorities and the young.

He predicts doom for the GOP ticket in Wisconsin in November. Trump, he says, is “uniquely unpopular in the biggest Republican areas of the state”—meaning the Milwaukee suburbs, where Sykes’ show has its deepest reach. Though Sykes thinks Johnson is an “outstanding” and “fantastic” U.S. senator, he thinks the Tea Party favorite will lose to liberal Russ Feingold, who’s running to take his old seat back. Trump’s unpopularity will trickle down the ballot and wound Johnson, Sykes thinks: “It’s not going to be pretty.”

Besides, Sykes notes, Wisconsin’s conservative revolution is based almost entirely on success in off-year elections. The Badger State hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. (George W. Bush lost Wisconsin by less than 1 percent in 2000 and 2004, but Barack Obama won it overwhelmingly in 2008 and 2012.)

“After November, the #NeverTrump conservatives will basically find themselves in the wilderness,” Sykes says. “Our role is going to be opposition to whatever is the ruling regime installed next year. I don’t want to be complicit in it one way or another.”

Instead, Sykes wants to help Ryan-style conservatives take the Republican Party back from Trump’s angry nationalists. “I hope to spend next year writing my next book,” Sykes says, “which will be titled Howthe Right Lost Its Mind.” He wants to figure out why, in his opinion, things went so wrong for the conservative movement. One problem, he thinks, is his fellow talk-radio hosts.

“Talk radio made itself relevant by beating up on other Republicans, vilifying other Republicans,” he says. “It fed this faux outrage machine that raised expectations unrealistically”—for instance, asking why Congress didn’t repeal Obamacare, though Obama’s veto pen made it mathematically impossible. Later, he would tell Business Insider’s Oliver Darcy that talk radio’s attack on mainstream-media bias has backfired, because its listeners now dismiss legitimate media fact-checking as untrustworthy.

Sykes warns his listeners to step outside the “alternative reality bubble” of and other right-wing websites. Part of his audience thinks he’s sold out, he complains, because he won’t parrot dubious claims they’ve read on such sites. “A lot of the conservative talk shows around the country embrace almost whatever comes over the transom,” he says.


Eight days after the Nehlen show, a Milwaukee policeman fatally shot an armed black man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, after he fled from a traffic stop. Rioters burned down stores, injured police, threatened and even attacked reporters, fired gunshots, and shot an 18-year-old white man in the neck. On the following Monday, the first day back on the air, Sykes drops his coverage of the presidential race and devotes his entire show to the unrest, Milwaukee’s story of the year.

“A riot—not an uprising, a riot,” he says. Sykes sounds like a conventional conservative on this issue, blaming cultural and family breakdowns and criticizing a black Milwaukee alderman for rhetoric that he thinks excuses violence. But he also subtly challenges himself and his audience by bringing on Mikel Holt, a columnist for the Milwaukee Community Journal, the city’s black newspaper, and taking callers from the city, not the Republican-leaning suburbs. Holt pushes back against some of Sykes’ assertions that city politicians have provided poor leadership, and he argues for drawing clear distinctions between the rioters on one side and idealistic activists and law-abiding city residents on the other.

“This was a really important message for my audience to hear,” Sykes says the next day, “that some of stuff they’re seeing on TV is not representative of anything more than a small minority of the community.”

A week earlier, Sykes had said Milwaukee’s racial divisions would also be a part of his coming reevaluation of the conservative movement. He’s thinking again about a 2014 New Republic piece that depicted Scott Walker’s political base in the Milwaukee suburbs as a hostile racial environment and argued that conservative talk radio hosts such as Sykes play a role. Sykes calls the piece “ridiculous,” “tremendously overblown” and a “really, really negative hit job.” But he says he’s going to grapple with it when he writes his next book.

“I’m going to reread it and go, ‘OK, as much as I really seriously hated this story’—this is the nagging thing in the back of your head—‘Is there some grain of truth in the criticism that I spent 20 years denying?’”

Do you know anyone from the world of the liberal commentariat who would conduct a self-examination that might counter the liberal shibboleths? I bet you don’t. (Of course, liberal talk radio has been and continues to be a commercial flop with rare exceptions, because it doesn’t bring in enough listeners and therefore enough ad revenue.)

Sykes (with whom I appeared on his “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes” TV show back in my business magazine days) is the object, if that’s what you want to call it, of the “Sykes effect,” his ability to influence GOP legislators within the sound of WTMJ’s signal, but not beyond it (such as in western and northern Wisconsin). I doubt his influence on the state GOP is going to diminish regardless of this election’s bad results, because he’s had influence in the GOP long before Trump decided it would be yuuuuuuuge to run for president. (Friends in high places, as they say.)

Sykes gets to continue on radio because of his ability to bring in listeners and therefore ad revenue, and that is unlikely to change once Trump’s candidacy goes away. (Certainly four years of Hillary! the Corrupt will provide Sykes et al with more than enough material.) WTMJ’s former owner, Journal Communications, and current owner, Scripps, has devoted significant resources to the Right Wisconsin platform, and Sykes really has an unprecedented role within Wisconsin radio right now. As long as Sykes is making money for Scripps, Sykes will get to keep doing that.

Sykes is also correct, by the way, that Trump is and will be a disaster for the Republican Party, though the party in Wisconsin and at the state level elsewhere will survive Trump.

Trump vs. trade

Yet another sign that Donald Trump is not a Republican is that he opposes free trade.

Who benefits the most from free trade? Consumers, which total nearly 100 percent of the public. U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R–Washington) gives the economics lesson Trump ignored:

The benefits of free trade to our economy are proven and easily seen: small business expansion, job growth, wage increases, lower consumer prices, and an overall strengthening of the economy.  But the overwhelming benefits of trade can also be tracked through the journey of tiny hay seeds planted in the fertile soil of Ellensburg, Washington.

Calaway Trading is a hay and agricultural exporter headquartered in my home state of Washington. Founded in 1987, it has successfully expanded because of trade with Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and 11 other countries across the globe. Now one of the ten largest exporters of hay from the western United States, it has grown its employee base to over 100 workers. With export sales continuing to grow by 5 percent annually, the possibilities for this family-owned farm are endless.

Calaway Trading’s story of expansion through increased international trade is a narrative that is shared across industries for many American companies – both large and small. America’s agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors have seen their production increase, sales grow, and revenues rise as they tap into the vast consumer base that lies across oceans and outside of America’s borders. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living abroad, opportunity and trade have become linked.

This is especially true for small to medium sized companies, which make up 98 percent of America’s exporters. Like Calaway Trading, they have discovered that consumers outside our borders are willing to pay for high-quality American-made goods and services. But the extent consumers abroad are willing to pay for even the finest American products has its limits – and that is why strong trade agreements are critical for our job creators to remain competitive globally.

The connection between strong trade agreements and economic growth in the United States is simple, basic math. When we negotiate a trade agreement between the United States and a partner country, we break down tariffs and other barriers that country had in place to limit American businesses from reaching consumers inside their borders. That was the case when we negotiated a trade agreement with South Korea. Prior to that agreement, U.S. cherry growers faced a 24 percent tariff when they sold their cherries in Korea, but our agreement with Korea eliminated this tariff.

In the year after the agreement took effect, our cherry exports to Korea nearly doubled and have continued to grow, making Korea our third largest market for cherries. This is not our only success. Take for example the reduction of tariffs and other barriers that were limiting U.S. exports of pork to Colombia. Because of our trade agreement with Colombia, American pork producers can better compete with their foreign competitors and their exports have tripled in value, increasing the number of Americans they employ right along with it. These are just two examples of how trade agreements result in more jobs and more revenue here at home.

These facts have been confirmed by the independent International Trade Commission (ITC) in a recent report. According to the ITC, trade agreements have positively impacted our trade deficit, increased U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), and increased U.S. employment and wages. And for middle and lower income Americans looking to provide for their families, trade agreements have offered greater consumer choice and lower prices. Further, workers seeking a pay raise also benefit as U.S. trade jobs pay 13 to 18 percent more than non-trade related jobs.

It is not just American workers and families who recognize trade is the key to succeeding in the 21st Century economy. Our competitors across the globe are tapping into foreign markets too and are – and will continue – negotiating trade agreements with or without us. If we fail to implement trade agreements while our competitors race ahead to aggressively knock down trade barriers for their own benefit and increase their own market share, we will lose our competitive edge as our costs go up and opportunities drop.  Sitting on the sidelines also means countries like China, not us, will be writing the rules and setting the standards the rest of the world will be forced to play by.  Trade agreements give us tools to enforce our rights and make sure our trading partners are living up to their obligations.

Critics of trade often blame trade agreements for any negative development in manufacturing.  I certainly acknowledge that sometimes trade can displace workers in particular sensitive sectors. I also agree that we should help these workers. In fact, I introduced bipartisan legislation last year, which became law, to provide cash benefits and training for workers affected by trade to give them the tools to remain in the work force.  However, the majority of U.S. industries and their workers strongly benefit from trade agreements.  Blaming trade agreements for any and all negative events ignores the dramatic influence technology and current economic environments have had on different sectors around the world. What once was done by many hands is now often done by machines and smart devices. Are opponents of trade willing to give up their cell phones to reignite the switchboard industry? Just as carriage makers surely took a hit with the invention of Henry Ford’s Model T, technologies evolve and industries, workers, and economies must adjust.

The best way to help our companies grow is by removing burdensome tariffs and opening up new markets, allowing us to generate new jobs, design and create more products here in the U.S., compete on a global scale, establish our standards abroad, and bring home more profits. American workers, businesses, and producers create and make the best products and services in the world – don’t we want to give them the opportunity to sell in markets around the globe?  When we knock down barriers for our exporters, they always compete and win.

Free enterprise and competition pave the way to prosperity. These principles do not change when you cross national, regional, or party lines. If America is to remain the world’s economic leader, we must embrace trade and all it has to offer.

I cannot believe there are Wisconsin Republicans who have embraced Trump given the damage that would occur to Wisconsin’s economy were it not for agricultural exports.